Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Games and Learning, part 2

Greetings, fellow vagabonds. I hope you'll excuse the absence, as I was off canvassing in Bucks County, PA, trying to salvage a few candidates for the Dems. So it goes.

 Anyway, as we were discussing last time, games can best educate when they put you in someone's shoes, and give you a better sense of the decisions they had to make, moreover of what their decision space was. You need to have the freedom to see all of the options available, and to take those paths as best you can. Historical simulation games are, almost by definition, also contrafactual alternate-history generating games. If you want to see figure out what was in Napoleon's head at Waterloo, then set up the table with a couple of friends (Or, the computer alone) and play it out.

The logo of the
 most famous war game
 fail of all time
But there are a few wrinkles involved. Particularly when it comes to wargames. Despite their attempt to include Clausewitzian concepts like "fog of war," a lot of wargames basically presume perfect command, control, communications, and intelligence. (This was part of the problem with Millenium Challenge 02, from what I gather.) When we play on computer, every epoch of war is translated into our modern information-centric model, where the commander has perfect knowledge of what's going on and perfect confidence that his troops will do what he says. This is because it's built into the interface to be responsive and transparent.

But any student of military history, (or indeed any warrior today) could tell you that reality is not necessarily so. You may issue orders that may or may not be interpreted correctly (rivers of ink have been spilled over whether Richard Ewell misinterpreted Robert E. Lee's command to "take the hill, if practicable.") I may be uninformed, but I haven't seen any really good way in games to model unreliable communications and signals intelligence, despite the fact that entire campaigns have turned on such things. And with a few exceptions, there seems to be little emphasis placed on lines of supply and communication, cutting of which is one of the main points of modern war.