Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

History of Military Gaming

Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

History of Military Gaming

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

GAMING has long been an important tool used by militaries to assist in training, analysis and mission readiness. What began 5,000 years ago as warfare models using colored stones and grid systems on a board has evolved into state-of-the-art computer-simulation systems that allow users to customize their virtual experience based on real-life events.

Military simulation games evolved over time, eventually leading to the Roman legions' use of sand tables and miniature replicas representing the battlefield in the 1st century A.D. They were visual tools used to play out strategic scenarios. These devices remain in use today at military academies and schools, but are slowly being replaced by computer simulations.

Early Systems

The greatest advancements in pre-computer war games came in the mid 17th century, said Roger Smith, chief scientist and technology officer for the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. Germany's Christopher Weikmann designed "Konigspiel," "the King's Game," one of the earliest warfare board games, which allowed a player to visualize the movement and actions of his forces on a playing board.

"That was the beginning of the most important changes. Before that everything was literal, a direct representation of the battlefield with no way of abstractly representing behaviors," Smith said. When the Germans started using paper board games, they were able to estimate battlefield actions using probability and other forms of mathematics.

In 1811, another German, Baron von Reisswitz, developed "Kriegsspiels," a more detailed board game using contoured terrain and porcelain soldiers, which introduced the concept of a starting scenario with a stated military objective, Smith said. The Germans were "creating the foundations of mathematically driven warfare that would be programmed on computers in the 1950s."

Inventors further refined the board war game in the 1950s with hexagonal overlays to track movement and engagement, and a combat-results table for calculating attrition and movement, which incorporated the impact of terrain on combat activities, Smith said.

"The RAND Corporation was working on a system to present theater-level warfare in a form that would allow more mathematically accurate actions than those found on sand tables and board games of earlier centuries," he said.

At the same time, Charles Roberts, an entrepreneur awaiting his Army commission, developed a similar game. Both systems also introduced combat-results tables and the use of dice to add random events and outcomes to the "battle."

Roberts established Avalon Hill, a commercial entertainment company, in 1958, and used the military planning and training tools to popularize war-gaming as a form of entertainment. "Thus was born the lasting tension between games as serious military tools and games as a form of entertainment," Smith said.

Casual players wanted a user-friendly game, but the military needed accuracy and began using computing machines to assist with more involved calculations. Technological advances made these devices more accessible, Smith said, and incorporated more detailed mathematics and logic into game play. The forms of the games themselves though, remained relatively unchanged.

Computers Arrive

The Army Operations Research Office at Maryland's Johns Hopkins University developed the first truly computerized war games. Beginning with "Air Defense Simulation" in 1948 and the "Carmonette" series of simulations in 1953, these systems eliminated much of the manual work of moving pieces, rolling dice, looking up results in a table and calculating final results, Smith said.

"The players could focus on the tactical movements and leave the complexity of manipulation to the computer," he said. Game size was expanded, limited only by the computer's capabilities. …

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