Friday, July 25, 2008

Wargaming Fourth-Generation Warfare

I am slowly making my way through the papers available at the website of the Center for Naval Analyses (previously mentioned here). Wargaming Fourth-Generation Warfare is another excellent resource from their archives. Though it deals with more operational concerns than most of the games I focus on here, the concepts that it lays out to address the issue of fourth-generation warfare are applicable to any structure of game.

The paper includes a fairly full description of the development of the idea of fourth-generation warfare as a way of distinguishing the way armed conflict occurs in the modern world from previous kinds of war (e.g., Napoleonic, WW1, WW2). This is the sort of thing that one hears a lot about in security studies, but perhaps not as much elsewhere. Regardless, at its core, fourth-generation warfare is a way to think about the way changes in technology and the phenomenon of globalization, among other factors, have fundamentally altered the environment in which conflict takes place. In a broad sense, this shift is relevant to disciplines far removed from security studies, which makes this paper useful outside of the military or political-military context.

Some of the hallmarks of fourth-generation warfare are the increased importance of non-state actors (clans, terrorist organizations, corporations, criminal organizations, etc.), a related loss of the nation-state's presumed monopoly on violence, and a diminution of traditional distinctions between combatant and non-combatant. The paper describes these shifts in terms of increased asymmetries of worldview, purpose, actions, and means between the relevant world actors, which is not how I have previously conceptualized fourth-generation warfare, but which sets up a useful framework for considering how to model the phenomenon in a game.

The authors address the basic question of gaming fourth-generation warfare: how do you build a game that integrates vastly different worldviews on the part of the opposing sides? The goals of the various relevant actors might be so diverse that their very perceptions of the "battlefield" might be incompatible. Designing a game in which the setup, goals, and options available to each actor allow (and encourage) the expression of each actor's distinct worldview is a huge challenge. As the authors suggest, it basically means designing multiple games, each from the perspective of one of the actors, and finding a way to accommodate or merge them together.

This is a fascinating paper. Presumably there has been more research along these lines at CNA and the Naval War College, since fourth-generation warfare appears to be here to stay, and with it the thorny problems of designing games with it in mind.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Virtual environment for distributed seminar-style wargames

Wired's defense blog, the Danger Room, has an interesting post about the Army wanting a virtual reality space for conducting distributed seminar-style wargames (where participants are not in the same geographic location) to complement its collection of training video games:

What's missing, according to Major Kyle Burley, a staffer at the Army War College, is a game that simulates decision-making at strategic levels -– something to help make better generals. He calls it "a first-person thinker."

Today Burley uses a moderated, text-based game that simulates top command during an imaginary Second Korean War. Essentially, the game is just a series of chat rooms where colonels hash out potential command decisions, and a moderator decides whether they’re good decisions or not. What Burley wants is an "immersive" game with a live 3D environment and avatars for the players. "Ideally, we would have a virtual, online, Web-access roleplaying environment which allows students to be an avatar [that] probably looks much like the student, and they're given a skin like in Second Life that is equivalent to their position, and they go into different moderated rooms and talk to fellow roleplayers that are in that scenario."

It's unclear from the post whether the actual conduct and structure of the game would change much, but if this makes strategic-level gaming more accessible or the necessary suspension of disbelief easier to achieve, that could be a big step forward for this sort of distributed game.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Center for Naval Analyses

Peter Perla, author of The Art of Wargaming, works for the Center for Naval Analyses, which has a number of his papers available online, along with others related to wargaming. A few of particular interest are:

An Introduction to Wargaming and Its Uses and Wargames, Exercises, and Analysis
Two short papers from the mid 1980's, these provide a good basic introduction to the terminology and the concepts that the military (particularly the Naval War College) applies to wargaming. Most notably, in both cases, wargames are presented in the context of other types of analysis. These papers also demonstrate the way that strategic-level political-military games (of the type this blog spends the most time considering) are viewed as one segment of the broader wargame genre. I found that seeing this sketched out helped me better understand the approach that some military and defense sources take when discussing these pol-mil games.

Wargame-Creation Skills and the Wargame Construction Kit
This paper and accompanying kit are not a complete course in wargame design, but they do lay out some of how the Naval War College approached creating such a course. Some of the material was deleted when the report was declassified, so the kit is no longer a complete wargame in and of itself, but I found a lot of useful ideas in both the report and the kit.

Game-Based Experimentation for Research in Command and Control and Shared Situational Awareness and Gaming and Shared Situation Awareness
These papers describe two series of experiments conducted using a simple computer game (called SCUDHUNT) to measure the degree to which players developed a common mental model of their operational environment. The focus of the game is tactical/operational rather than strategic, but the approach represents a new and fascinating way to study fundamental questions of perception, decision-making, leadership, and other issues, all of which have great relevance when considering human action at any level. In addition to the practical military consequences of understanding shared situational awareness, it seems to me that a better understanding of how these shared mental models are formed (or not formed) would help game designers address the fact that different participants in a game (particularly a large one) will have very different experiences, which could lead to vastly different conclusions being drawn. I don't know if anything has come of the authors' proposal for a game-based laboratory to apply this sort of technique, but I hope something will.