Leadership: September 29, 2002

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One of the problems with using wargamers for exploring the ins and outs of potential military operations is the different attitude people bring to the play of wargamers. While wargames have been used for nearly two centuries, until commercial ones became in the 1950s, these personality differences were not all that important. Before that, wargames were for professionals. You were ordered to play them and they were usually pretty elaborate exercises that required a lot of manpower. Commercial wargames, which largely dealt with historical battles and campaigns, were simpler than the professional wargames, and usually designed for two players, or a single player just investigating the situation portrayed in the game. When an explosion of commercial games arrived in the 1970s, the designers quickly learned that there were four kinds of players, each with a different agenda and approach to the wargames (or any games, for that matter.) 

First, there was the "play to win" crowd. Some of these guys (wargames are 95 percent a guy thing) were very good. Those that were not good, were annoying, as those who play to win, and don't, tend to be poor losers. 

Next came the "students of the game." Most of these were military history buffs who saw they game not as a competitive one, but an investigative opportunity. They would often "play" the game by themselves, because they were mainly interested in the ins and outs of the historical situation. 

Another "student of game" type is the "cracker." They look at a historical game as a mathematical system (which it is) and work out the best way to defeat opponents by exploiting any weaknesses in the game. The "cracker's" ultimate goal is to find flaws in the game system that make it unplayable (at least for crackers who know the flaws, which are often subtle.) Crackers actually serve a valuable purpose, as they find flaws that can be fixed. When testing a new game, you should try and have a cracker or two involved. And don't play poker with these guys.

Finally we have the "recreational gamer." Chess players have long known of the "wood pushers," who were basically playing the game to socialize, and not break a sweat trying to win or figure out a new game tactic. A special class of games, the simple "beer and pretzel" type game, was invented for this type of gamer, who comprise the majority of gamers. 

All of this creates a problem for professional wargames, for when you put together teams of people to run professional wargames, you can have very different results depending on which of the gamer types (described above) you have on each team. This phenomenon is not generally recognized by professional wargamers, but does explain some of the unusual results coming out of Pentagon wargames.

 


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