Ngram-ing “wargame”

Google’s Ngram feature allows anyone to examine the historical use of a verbal term in printed materials by displaying a frequency graph of that term based on material scanned and stored in Google books. It isn’t perfect as a research tool because of sampling issues—that is, the material scanned may not be a valid measure of all printed materials, and it certainly doesn’t give the user any indication how widely-read the material was (with limited-circulation pamphlets and best-sellers all counting equally). Nevertheless, it can give some approximate indication of historical trends.

As a brief distraction from a backlog of email tonight, I decided to run an n-gram on how often the terms “kriegspiel,” “kriegsspiel,” “war game,” and “wargame” appear. As you can see from the graph above (which represents a moving three-year average), there is substantial growth in use of these terms in the late 19th century, a spike upwards during WWI, and then a slow decline until the 1950s. Thereafter the terms then appear more and more often, albeit with a sharp and temporary decline in the 1990s (corresponding, perhaps, to a low point in the miniature wargaming and boardgaming hobbies).

Now back to the email…

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About Rex Brynen

Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University.
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One Response to Ngram-ing “wargame”

  1. Mike Nagel says:

    Rex, ngramming is really cool.

    I think the decline in the wargaming terminology use during the 1990s is less due to the temporary decline in the hobby (which has been steadily increasing with the greater accessibility to publishing over the past two decades) than due to the relative period of peace between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, and the lack of references to military wargames occurring in the “enemy’s” back yards in popular media. Out of sight, out of mind.

    Just a thought … 🙂

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