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.

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