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Commercial Wargames and Experiential Learning

One of my wargame friends, David Redpath, shared a short article about wargames and learning that I felt addressed why a game like Tractics can work well. I think that these benefits are enhanced when moderated by a judge. Here's a quote from that article. I highlighted some items for emphasis:


What is the Black Box? In wargame vernacular the Black Box represents the behind-the-scenes systems that support gameplay. These systems are referred to as a Black Box because they essentially are hidden to the player. They are hidden to prevent the players engaging in information and processes that would encumber the game’s flow. Although the Black Box is hidden, it is essential because it is the actual game.
There is an ongoing controversy about the use of manual versus computer wargames. Computer games ... are typically designed as a single player experience. The immersion is often solitary immersion and the deeper learning objectives are unspecified...
What about the use of manual wargames? They are low tech and a fraction of the cost of computer games. The games can be modified on the spot and the black box can be evaluated at the player level.
Manual wargames encourage engagement instead of immersion. The immersion comes once the player groups are engaged. The engagement allows social learning to develop.
Adults are attracted to the immediacy of learning and the connection to application. Adults are most interested in what impacts their lives. They are drawn to problem-solving instead of content gathering. Finally, they use their experience as a foundation for learning...
This approach is empowered by situation cognition theory as developed by John Brown, Allan Collens, and Paul Fugiud. They observed that knowledge comes through doing. The student learns best in a familiar environment using real-world tools.
The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky observed that learning increases during socialization, where cross-pollination of thoughts and experiences can occur.
Wargaming offers experiential learning where students learn through doing. During this process, operant conditions may emerge. An example of operant conditioning is learning that touching a hot stove will burn your finger. In wargame terms, this might be the importance of logistics, or why guarding your flank is critical for survival.
Peter Perla and Ed McGrady explored these concepts in their excellent article Why Wargaming Works. They note that players develop a narrative experience. The wargamers become engaged both in participation and constructing a narrative.

I suggest that players step back from pure competition and accept that the wargame will not always go their way. With a combination of role-playing and good sportsmanship, a memorable narrative can be written together to give another dimension to learning about history.

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