What do gamers need?

I want to pull out an insightful comment that was made on my previous post, because it touch on a lot of the issues that both started this blog, and the speaker series that Dr. Perla’s remarks were part of.  In his comment, Graham Longley-Brown points to three problems that hold gaming back:

1. A lack of agreed definitions. This starts, as Peter made very clear in his talk, with ‘wargaming’ itself. We often fail to communicate in our field, even (especially!) among expert wargamers.
2. Poor wargame design. Peter also made it clear that the aim of a wargame is too often just an afterthought. Not having the aim of a wargame stamped on everyone’s forehead from start to finish inevitably leads to a suboptimal solution.
3. Not having the correct wargame design team working together from the outset

I know the American community has also been fighting the definition monster.  The other two points seem far more pressing- gamer don’t know how to do our craft (or at least not how to d it well) or know who they need to preform it.  That’s a strong, but often not unwarranted indictment of the field.

One of the things I’m trying to do with the series of speakers it to start to identify what the practical lessons we need to get gamer’s early in their career.  My starting list is:

  • Styles of games and game designers (“Way of the Wargamer” falls in this category to me
  • Creating good game objectives (client management, condensing objectives, appropriate scopes for a game, carrying objectives through the design process)
  • Scenario Constructions
  • Role Constructions
  • Rules of Engagement
  • Selecting and managing players
  • Adjudication
  • Using models and simulations in gaming
  • Social Science and gaming
  • Hard science and gaming
  • history of gaming
  • gaming in different places (ex. how do different services game differently)
  • gaming for different purposes (ex. training vs. education vs. analysis)

(For many if not all of these there is more than one right answer- my hope is that over time there will be multiple lectures on each topic to show the different styles and perspectives that are out there.)

So my question to the group is what is missing here?  Is there a better way to approach these issues that would make them more understandable to a non-expert?  What will help us establish good design, and put together the team to execute that design?

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About elliebartels

Strategic Gaming and Middle East wonk... All writings here reflect my own opinions, and do not represent the views of the National Defense University, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.
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2 Responses to What do gamers need?

  1. I’m gratified you say my comments are insightful, Ellie – but I’m not so sure! I’ve been designing and delivering professional wargames for 14 years now (having been a recreational wargamer for 40 years), and the problems I listed are those that I face on a daily basis. I’d be
    surprised if others don’t see them too. They’re certainly not original. As I allude to, Peter Perla wrote about them back in 1990 and you yourself talk of the ‘definitions monster’.

    That said, I used to introduce these points in various talks with a small anecdote because I thought I was explaining something really obvious until people started coming up to me afterwards saying ‘thank goodness someone is actually saying these things’. (The anecdote is a cracker: Rosabeth Moss-Kanter (a business guru) once presented to the board of a multinational company. At the end of the talk a board member said to her ‘All you have told us today – at great expense – is no more than obvious common sense.’ Her reply: ‘Of course. If it wasn’t common sense you wouldn’t pay me; but, if it’s so obvious, why aren’t you already doing it?’).

    My point? These things are obvious; fundamental, even. But we, as an industry, fail to do them. And these are just some of the more apparent ones.

    So what? While the intention to train game designers is laudable, I think it might be wise to major on the basics rather than try to teach a comprehensive syllabus. Indeed, and this might be contentious, I think there is a strong argument that game designers are born, not created.
    It is obvious – to me at least – when I meet someone who ‘gets it’ (‘it’ being wargaming) and also when I meet someone who doesn’t. I have lost count of the times I have nearly cried in an Excon meeting, design workshop, or some such, when a Game Controller or senior figure comes out with something that will de-rail proceedings. Sometimes it’s because they see things from deep inside their own stovepipe (or is that ‘cylinder of excellence’?), be that military, operational analyst or software engineer. And many of these people are experienced or qualified wargamers (although too often a simulation qualification is mistakenly assumed to equate to a wargaming qualification).

    Is this not why Peter called his book The Art of Wargaming; as a play on Clausewitz but also because designing and delivering good wargames is as much art as science?

    Hence the point I was making in my original reply: Peter’s The Way of the Wargamer will have been understood by just a handful of gamers in the UK. I know you guys are ahead of us in the US but, while laudable, I suspect that educating cohorts of effective game designers might best
    be achieved by careful selection (spotting those who have ‘got it’), majoring on the basics and then developing their experience.

  2. Bill Haggart says:

    Game, simulation and conflict simulation design as developed in a variety ways in the last thirty years. It is now a very technical endeavor. Whether commercial wargames, computer simulations or board games, one thing that is missing in that list is an agreed-upon technical language to describe what it is we are doing. As Dr. Perla’s need to define such things as ‘wargames’ and the types in his presentation demonstrates, we are barely started in developing a common language for designing wargames. Because of the wide range of balkanized definitions, gaps in descriptions and methods, to talk about design, we have to continually return to the starting line and define ‘wargames’ and such. It’s no wonder that many wargames are designed without an end goal in mind…

    Personally, I think another missing ingredient is testing, validation or whatever you want to call it. Wargames are procedural systems designed to do particular things, supposedly have particular goals, but being able to discern whether the design actually works, is successful, still seems to be a matter of personal opinion. Again, a good reason why so many wargame designs seem to have no real goals. Why bother if you can’t meaningfully establish whether the goals were achieved or not?

    So I would add a technical language, a set of universally useful methods and concepts that can be built on. Most technical hobbies have such things, like RC model planes or coin collecting.

    I would also add Validation methods, more objective methods for testing whether a design does simulate, model or replicate whatever it was designed to capture in a game system.

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