A Wargamer, an Analyst and a Warfighter walk into a bar.

The MORS Special Meeting on Professional Gaming last week was quite interesting. Rex Brynan posted some great reporting at PAXSims. One of the undercurrents that flowed through the event was what some would call a misunderstanding, others something ranging from ignorance to arrogance. All three words were used to describe the relationship between quantitative analysis and wargaming and the practitioners of each. Keynote speaker’s remarks ranged from talking around the issue to jumping off the top rope into the fray. One took it lightheartedly and started a joke: “A Wargamer and an Analyst walked into a bar…” but admitted that the punchline eluded him. I joked to a table-mate “A barfight”, another speaker offered that they should be the same person. Upon more serious reflection, I think that to get to the heart of matter a third drinking companion was needed – the Warfighter.

My perception of the analysis vs. wargaming debate is indeed neither arrogance or ignorance, but misunderstanding. Analysts look at wargaming and see the lack of a foundation in data traceable to observables, a design and execution process at best “artful” and at worst an appeal to Oracles through Witchcraft and Shamanism. Wargamers look at quantitative analysis and see a foundation in scientism and a design and execution process that wishes away the role of humans as other than “sand in the cogs of a Newtonian War Machince”, which, but for them, would operate at maximum efficiency. More generally an attitude that “if it can’ be measured, it can’t really be that important”. I overheard (and participated in) many discussions where one side or the other tried to enlighten the other as to the above pathologies and how they needed to “turn from the Dark Side” and join the true Jedi Order. Each thought they were the Good Guys. Each has a point.

In full disclosure, I started playing wargames when I was about 8 or 9 (the American Heritage “Dogfight” game with which I spent about as much time “playing with” the pieces as “playing at” the game…) and so became a Wargamer first, a Naval Officer 2nd, and an Analyst later after earning an M.S. from the Naval Postgraduate School. Having the longest experience with the wargaming “worldview”, it resonates most strongly with me but I feel a strong connection to the arguments made on the analytic side, having practiced that discipline over 25 years. However, I also have third strand of DNA in my experience as a Naval Officer that makes me ask “Hey guys, what about ME?

(As an aside, relative to “real Warfighters” I put my own experience in the Navy in the context of someone who learned enough of the mechanics of playing a musical instrument to really appreciate the artful performance of those with virtuouso talent.)

In the set-up to the joke without a punchline, if a barfight breaks out between the Analyst and the Wargamer, its over the object of their affection…the Warfighter. There was an interesting cross section of uniformed, academic, and contractor analysts; together with uniformed, academic and even a couple commercial wargamers at the meeting last week. A respectable cross-section had significant experience in both. The only representation by Warfighters however, was by a few who happened to find themselves in leadership roles within the associated “sponsor” bureaucracy and a couple of others.

Having overheard a few of the comments from a couple them, they didn’t seem to feel like their perspective was being considered in the mix. The gist being a Yoda-like opinion to the effect of “wargamers tell me one thing, analysts another, my own counsel I will keep on what to do”. Analysts have ruled the decision support roost for quite a while. The past contributions of wargamers are being rediscovered, but are not in and of themselves a solution to the warfighter’s feelings of trepidation looking ahead to a more uncertain and competitive future. The problem is not simply between the analysts and wargamers, but how they support the warfighters sitting back shaking their heads at the two of them. So in my mind the debate between wargaming and quantitative analytics needs to be a dialectic about how to best support the warfighter – who needs the expertise of both to be successful in an increasingly dynamic, chaotic and deadly environment. Each by themselves is insufficient, a new alliance must be forged between them – with the warfighter as both a customer and a partner.

So rather than poke at perceived inadequacies in each other (many of which they share if they look hard at themselves) they need to focus on enhancing the complementary advantages they each offer.  I think we need to consider a little philosophizing to frame the pursuit of that goal. Dr. Lademan of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory offered the analogy that “assessment is to analysis as philosophy is to science”.  I would offer as a corollary, that “wargaming is to assessment as metaphysics is to philosophy” but I digress… I think it better to return to the Perla Trinity – in this case in the context of assessment – to consider as a framework for incorporating the perspectives of analysts, wargamers, and warfighters.

There was a good bit of discussion of what Dr. Lademan meant by “assessment” in his analogy and subsequent discussion. If we take his analogy at face value, what is the relationship between philosophy and science”. As an occasional student of philosophy I would offer that philosophy provides a worldview within which we assign meaning to our experiences. Science provides a mapping between objective reality and our experience. So if we carry forward the analogy, assessment in the military context looks to also provide meaning to experience – to understand what happens and why in a military operation. Military analysis would then provide a mapping between the “objective reality” – the observable, quantifiable aspects of military operations, and our experience – the results and outcome. Military assessment looked at in this way is considerably broader than what military analysts and wargamers normally consider.

Assessment Cycle

I would offer further that philosophy also offers tools to assist in applying our minds to questions. Deduction, Induction and Abduction (or retroduction) are methods by which we can apply our mental energy to form understanding. Similarly these tools can be used in military assessment in this context. If we consider that warfighters contribute direct experience, that military analysts  provide quantitative examination and wargamers provide conceptual insight, we can (in general – all three methods of reasoning are always in play) characterize the predominant form of reasoning enabling “knowledge to maneuver” (Dr. Lademan’s terminology) between them.

Assessment helix

So does any of this help in forging new relationships between the three points of view? I think it does, but have to think on it some…more later!


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."
This entry was posted in Analysis, Design, General Games. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Wargamer, an Analyst and a Warfighter walk into a bar.

  1. joesaur says:

    You make a very good point regarding warfighters, and the lack of attention to their needs. Most of both the wargamers and the analysts at the workshop work at the strategic level, and their efforts, whether games or analysis, are focused on strategic level questions: “How many (carriers / divisions / wings / whatever) do we need?” “What should they carry?” “What are our options in (pick your favorite country or region)?” Who was not there were the folks who work at the tactical level to answer questions directly applicable to the warfighter.

    Warfighters are more interested in games akin to “Duffer’s Drift”, and which can give insights in two directions: what are the tactical options available, and who would be the best subordinate to carry them out? Questions like these:
    – How do I organize and execute an assault on a single Spratley island held by a Chinese force consisting of ….?
    – In a land assault, which company (commander) is best suited to be the anvil? The hammer? The reserve”
    – For a Straits of Hormuz passage, which TAO should be in CIC, and which is better off in the engine room?

    For games like this, game systems like VBS-3, JSAF, etc., have two shortcomings:
    – They hide too much of the mechanics, the odds, the behaviors to be of much use in visualizing the interaction of forces, and to discern the whys and wherefores as they occur
    – By limiting the behavior of both Red and Blue to what the game designer has included in the game, they restrict the ability to innovate during the battle.

    What we saw last week were games and analysis at the level of, and in answer to the needs of, admirals and generals. What the lieutenant commanders and majors need might be more like the old tabletop version of NAVTAG, or Squad Leader. Besides, they’re a lot more fun to play!

  2. Pingback: wargaming - The Sullen Bell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s