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 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.
Interestingly enough, Guy Debord, after retiring from the Situationists, went on to develop a game based on Clausewitz that placed major emphasis on lines of communication. I haven't played his "Game of War," but I certainly intend to.
|All I know, is that I don't know|
if he's going to zerg rush.
In some ways, Starcraft is a better simulation of the cognitive experience of leading an army than Civilization or Axis & Allies. There's resource depletion--if you run out of vespene gas, you're kind of screwed. There's fog of war, of course, but there's a real use for reconnaissance, because you as a player have to deal with the uncertainty of "What's he building in there?" Because once intelligence fails, psychological speculation fills in the gaps.
When approaching an opportunity that might be a trap, you must ask, is my opponent the kind of man to trick me, or is he simply foolish? That personal side of generalship, sizing up the opposing commander, his forces, and his intentions, starts with Sun Tzu and continues unabated to the present day. Gladwell devotes a good part of the chapter on Millenium Challenge 02 in Blink to discussing Paul Van Riper's appreciation for how and why Joe Hooker balked at Chancellorsville. There's constant epistemic doubt about what you think you know, and Lee was a master of inducing doubt, so much so that McClellan was convinced that he was facing armies three times their actual size.
So, getting back to games and learning, games definitely do have an opportunity to give us "Extra Lives," to give us mental experiences without the attendant consequences. Thus the entire 'simulator' industry, which kind of doesn't want to admit that they're basically games. A friend of mine in medical school tells me that they're doing lots of simulator work, not only for operations, but also in RPG-style dialogs with patients. That makes a lot of sense to me. On another front, one possible reason for the current profusion of true-freshman quarterbacks in college football might be that they played a lot of Madden.
This is why I'm looking with interest at the Game Show NYC, coming as it does with hopes of linking art, education, and games, and doing so under the theoretical aegis of Dewey's "Art and Experience." I may just submit an application, if I can get the right people together. I'm no Terrorbull Games, but I'm kicking around a couple of ideas.