WARGAME WEDNESDAY: Elements of Wargaming: Education and Games

Wednesday , 8, March 2017 1 Comment

I have previously discussed the educational element of Wargames and their usefulness for all manner of extra-entertainment pursuits and virtue-building, but I would like to approach from an inverse angle this time: What can Wargames take away from games which are designed for education and classroom environments? What can Wargamers and designers learn from students’ interactions with games? How can we make Wargaming a better hobby and on-board interested players more quickly and smoothly?

Gamification is a serious consideration, and one of the best sources of data on the subject of games as education has come from the folks here. Educational games can be a huge draw, especially if they successfully deliver on their teaching as much as they deliver on their broadcasted engagement of the students. Incidentally, there’s a free-to-use game for university-level classes called the Beer Distribution Game you can check out if you’ve never heard of gamification, as well as a lot of good commentary from the Youtube show Extra Credits. If you’ve ever wanted to improve your ability to homeschool or teach someone life or character lessons, or reinforce the usefulness of your Wargame hobby, these resources are excellent.

That said, Wargames and games marketed for use in education often fall down on their faces. Educational games struggle to balance engaging and fun gameplay with useful learning and frequently do one but turn off the other completely or fail at both spectacularly, while Wargames often struggle to overcome the initial barrier of entry and frequently I have heard games introduced to new players without telling them the real points of picking up a Wargame, and new players often get disillusioned by all the bookwork, and subtlety, by the thought process of ‘why do all this work to have fun when I could just play a computer game or watch tv to have fun?’ because they are never engaged with why Wargamers want to Wargame and the things which make Wargaming an awesome hobby.

If we want Wargaming to continue to expand, we need to adopt strategies which will succeed. If you want to pull your local community together and host bigger, better tournaments for your favorite game, look around: Is there someone who’s already working to do this? Support them. Is there nobody? Get up, do some research and skill-building, and get moving! If you’re half as excited about Wargaming as me, you can convince someone that Wargames are worth investing their time and energy in–but you have to live it. Run some demos, ask people you meet or know, reach out and be courteous. There are a lot of people who feel disconnected and are looking for a good community, stable, and respectful peers like I’ve met so often in game shops over a Wargame.

There are certain Wargames that are better than others at starting a conversation or showing a new player into the hobby, and some are better than others at teaching certain aspects of virtue or rewarding certain behaviors or patterns of thinking. My top piece of advice for a Wargamer who wants to grow their Wargaming community is to educate yourself; find out about a lot of Wargames, and engage people you know with things they would prefer more. Know a few people at work who like superhero movies? Maybe show them Heroclix or a Wargame built around some theme they like already. Your kids like Japanese cartoons or your little cousins like Star Wars? Find a game they like and teach it to segue them. Many Wargamers in my local area act like snobs, denigrating Wargames they left for their faults instead of using their experience for the positive value it might have.

On the design side, the importance of depth to intricate games like Wargames is something that will need to be addressed as we move into the future with the design of tomorrow’s Wargames. Many Wargames are disconnected from any deeper purpose, and treating even these as educational tools or life-practice or experience can go a long way toward adding depth. How many Wargames are built around the concept of number-crunching instead of puzzle-solving? How many lean on RNG instead of damage-modeling or giving the opposing sides blanket resources like some of the magical items in Warhammer Fantasy? There are a great many angles that game design could be approached from, but there’s a designer’s fear of spending a lot of time and energy developing a game and being dismissed out of hand for being too different; puzzle-style and rules learned from tabletop games and board games can enrich Wargaming just as well as they might detract from it.

One of the greatest things I love about a good game of any kind is ambiguity of optimum play, a term I must credit to a kindred spirit who I have never met but learned a great deal from. This same sense that there are not so much paths but rather a wide open field to explore and develop a style and find your niche or preference in a game can be applied more broadly to the concept of education and Wargaming. Maybe the right way is not to take your kids and get them to play a complex Wargame insisting that it is fun. Maybe you can find a different and more effective approach. Maybe instead of handing someone a spare rulebook and playing the game like you might usually, you can set up an engaging historical scenario or draw an analogy that might be more engaging. Education is vital to raising the next generation and expanding the hobby we all love, and every veteran Wargamer needs to capitalize on the fact that they have likely taught a variety of friends tips and tricks, or maybe even whole systems already–why not do it more deliberately and purposefully spread the joy?

It all boils down to how you approach education, and the Wargames we love. My favorite games are the ones I can share easily with a new friend, and learning to educate is a useful skill. Ultimately, to become a teacher and expand our hobby, you’ll have to hit your own stride and find your own approach. Is it a part of Wargaming at all though?

Guess that’s for you to decide…

– Paul A.

One Comment
  • As you may imagine, games are used a lot in business education (though not as much as they would be if Harvard were good at designing games rather than writing cases).

    There’s a bit of literature and a lot of lore about how to design these games, some from people who have a wargaming background, some from a more formal game theory background (that’s math, not negs & closes).

    There’s a bit of this too in actual strategic thinking (a/k/a “gaming the scenario”), but that’s a whole different field, those are ecological games, not ludic games (games where players, rules, actions, payoffs are known or determinable by rules).

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