By Simon Carless
October 31, 2005
In the first half of a dual-speaker keynote on the first day of the
Serious Games Summit in Washington, DC, Dr. Peter Perla, the Director
for Interactive Research at the U.S. Government-funded Center for
Naval Analyses, and a veteran wargaming expert with over 30 years of
hobby and professional experience, kicked off the conference with his
look at the concept of "wargaming science."
Perla, whom noted author and game designer Larry Bond has called "the
leading wargaming expert in the United States" is the author of
important reference tome The Art of Wargaming, published by the Naval
Institute Press. Perla started his lecture by noting that a colleague
at the Naval War College, though a noted eccentric who suggested that
the Department of Defense pursue research into using pigeon brains as
the basis of robotic control systems, had challenged Perla to write a
Vol.2 to his book, called The Science of Wargaming. This brought up an
important point for Perla, as he recalled his internal response to
this request: "Wargaming isn't a science- it's an art, it's a craft,
but it's not a science."
However, his colleague's response was that much of what a physician
does could be considered an art, but it obviously also referenced
science in a major way - would you trust any doctor who didn't have a
good grasp of science? This made Perla think seriously about
scientific elements of wargames, and try to map out some scientific
concepts that would map to "serious games" of any type.
Wargaming - An Overview
Firstly, Perla took a broad overview to define wargaming, arguing that
a traditional definition: "Any type of warfare modeling, including
exercises, campaign analysis, computer simulation without players," is
not necessarily the best. He proffered an alternative definition, even
broader still, suggesting: "A warfare model or simulation that does
not involve the operations of actual forces, in which the flow of
events affects and is affected by decisions made during the course of
those events by players representing the opposide sides." The
important point, it was argued, is that "We create a synthetic
universe in which our players have to live," however that occurs.
So, when trying to get scientific with wargaming, what parameters can
we possibly define to help us do this? Perla laid out what he
described as the essential "wargame dimensions," as follows: time,
space, forces, effects, information, and command. In this case, he
explained, forces means both military force and forces in broader
sense, including friction and momentum. That's the abstract, but
getting to understand how it acts is equally important, and Perla
referenced a book named Understanding Information Warfare, which
proposed a construct that defined 3 domains of real war - physical,
informational, and cognitory. In this model, the physical domain feeds
information, which goes through human perception into the cognitory -
filtered into people's thoughts. Perla explained, quite simply, that
"science defines, constructs, and proves connections between the game
and reality," and the measure of a game's realism is how well that
relationships within the player's algorithms map with real domains.
The Four Wise Men
Next, Perla segued into important influences on any scientific model,
whom he referred to as "our four wise men." These included Prussian
general Carl von Clausewitz, author of the seminal tome Vom Kriege
("On War"), published in 1832, whom the speaker referred to both as
"the most influential military philosopher in the West" and as "our
mandatory dead philosopher," as well as Booz-Allen and Hamilton
researcher Mark Herman, who has been extremely influential in
proposing the entropy-based warfare model. Perla also cited Martin Van
Creveld's work on command and uncertainty and Paul Vebber's research
into network effects as being extremely important to any model.
Perla went on to discuss the conceptual keys to real-life operational
warfare, key to an understanding of what should be modeled. These
include friction of various kinds (destruction, disruption, and
chance), entropy (the inherent energy that's unavailable for carrying
out the mission, and increasingly important), and circumstances in
which entropy leads to uncertainity, which military command systems
exist to overcome. In addition, what needs to be carefully monitored
is the way that command counters friction/direction - essentially, it
was suggested, in war, success is often a relatively better control of
entropy. Perla urged: "As game designers, our task is to find a way to
represent this." Needless to say, with a near-infinite amount of
possible outcomes to any action, this isn't easy, but Perla suggested
ways in which simulations could create system of interlinked
topologies - essentially, both information, operational, and command
As for realism in wargames, Perla has a simple answer: "The true
measure of realism of a game is the degree of agreement between how
the players relate to the game's universe through the game system's
topologies and how real combatants relate to the domains of real war."
In other words, it's whether players identify clearly with the
problems and can relate them to real life in a practical manner,
rather than any other glitz factor, that makes the most sense.
In concluding, Perla tried to frame his debate in broader ways that
would help all people trying to make "serious games" of any kind.
Going back to first principles, he pointed out that anyone wanting to
make such a game should identify the basic scientific principles
behind the concept, and then identify the philosophers who have
thought most widely and deeply in that field. Only then, after asking
what basic concepts your game must represent and how you can make them
tangible in your game universe, can you go ahead and use your artistic
skills to make the game. In the end, Perla argued, better science will
better make for better art, ending on a slide pastiching Alton Brown's
factual and science-infused Food Network show, and urging the audience
to consider "Good Games" in the same way as "Good Eats."
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