Five theoretical challenges for analytical wargaming

By Ivanka Barzashka, March 15, 2019

Credit: King's College London. Credit: King's College London.

The professional wargaming community has made good progress in advancing wargaming techniques and their applications. But more theoretical and practical work is needed to build on the current baseline. Today, analytical wargaming faces five key challenges that concern what we can know and how we can know through wargaming.

What’s the purpose? If the purpose of analytical wargames is to inform decisions, then their role is to help shape the future, not predict it. What does this entail for wargame design and analysis? How do we consider the ideological or political agendas as well as the financial interests of wargame producers?

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How do we produce valid conclusions? Wargame participants often have diverging perspectives on what happened and why it happened, and these perspectives can differ from or contradict the conclusions of wargame analysts. Who is right? Can we distinguish intuitive insights from analytical conclusions?

What does wargaming done right actually mean? How do we judge fairness in wargaming procedures? Who judges whether wargame execution and analysis are done right? Does anything go in the art of wargaming?

How do we structure and generalize knowledge gained from wargames? Games are not controlled experiments and involve different producers and players playing in different contexts. How do people learn from analytical wargames in the long-term? Can we produce valid insights from disparate wargames?

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What’s the role of wargaming as part of the broader analytical toolkit? How do we integrate wargaming methods with other means of analysis in a manner that is systematic and produces valid conclusions? What is the appropriate role of wargaming as part of a mixed-methods research program?

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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