War games and crisis simulation are exercises where participants make decisions to emulate real-world behavior. In the field of international security, games are frequently used to study how artists make decisions during conflict, but they can also be used to model human behavior in numerous other situations.

According to Benjamin Harris, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science and convener of the MIT Warming Working Group at the Center for International Studies (CIS), war games take place in a “structured-unstructured environment.”

This means that the game runs on two levels – a broad structure of what kind of movements players can make, but the interactions between team members are unstructured. As a result, people from different backgrounds are forced to engage in the whole simulation and learn from each other. “The game goes where it participates,” says Harris.

MIT researchers have been developing the art of war gaming since the late 1950s. In “CIS’s Pioneering Role in American War Gaming,” Reed Poly, PhD ’19, an associate professor at Brown University and affiliated with CIS research, credits modern war-gaming methods to a large number of MIT professors, Lincoln Bloomfield, and others. Attached to CIS.

Today, CIS is again at the center of new developments in methodology, pedagogy, and the application of war gaming. Over the past few years, CIS and MIT security study programs have responded to the growing demand for war gaming among students and the policy community. This has resulted in new curriculum offerings, student and professor-created research, and on-campus simulations.

Learning through games

PhD students Suzanne Freeman and Harris started the Wargameing Working Group as a platform for students to engage with the war-gaming community on campus and in the policy space. Now in its third year, the group has developed a partnership with the Naval Post Graduate School (NPS) that brings together mid-career military officers and academics for the annual simulation.

Richard Samuels, a professor at Ford International of Political Science and director of CIS, participated in his first crisis simulation in a game hosted by Bloomfield and then hosted nearly a dozen major games at MIT during the early 1990s and early 2000s, focusing on the most. Asia-Pacific Security Mobility. Eric Haginbotham PhD ’04, leading research scientist at CIS and Christopher Toome PhD ’05, was an active participant. Together they formed a working group partnership with NPS, where Tumey is an associate professor.

This year, participants worked in a crisis situation focused on the melting of a nuclear reactor in Taiwan. Teams were assigned to represent Taiwan, China, the United States and Japan, and the game was designed to illustrate how civilian and military sub-teams would interact in times of crisis. Freeman and Harris presented some of the findings of the war game at Georgetown University in October 2021.

In addition to planning tabletop exercises at MIT, the Working Group invites speakers from universities and think tanks to present war-gaming research, and hosts online war games when MIT became virtual due to Covid-19. The working group has been particularly successful in bridging the gap between education and policy, allowing PhD students and military officers to learn from each other, Freeman says.

For students hoping to further explore the history and practice of war gaming in a classroom setting, MIT now offers “Simulating Global Dynamics and War”, a biennial co-taught by Samuels and Haginbotham. During the semester, students participate in four war games – an operational war game, a political-military crisis game, an experimental game, and a game designed by students as their final project.

While class safety studies are designed for students and military colleagues, it includes students and practitioners from other fields who are interested in incorporating gaming into their work. Curriculum lessons can be applied to issues such as the global epidemic or the refugee crisis, says Heginbotham.

While MITs offer political science courses for undergraduates, war gaming is an educational tool used to consider the consequences of strategic decisions. In the fall of 2021, students from Eric Lynn-Greenberg’s National Security Policy class participated. Simulation Focused on cyber attacks on US soil. The students worked in teams to represent a U.S. government agency at a meeting of the National Security Council Principles Committee. Lynn-Greenberg is an assistant professor of political science at MIT.

The revival of war gaming

Political scientists are increasingly thinking about how war gaming can be improved and used in research and pedagogy. For practitioners of interstate warfare and nuclear weapons, war gaming is a particularly promising research tool.

Over the past decade, Samuels says, researchers have recognized that “war games and crisis simulations may have had a greater impact on Cold War strategists.” “A closer, archival, analysis of Cold War games strategy could provide insights into how the elite thought about nuclear war.”

At the same time, according to Samuels, the rise of experimental methods for political analysis coincides with the revival of war gaming as a research tool. “Experimental war games allow researchers to generalize about stress-led leadership choices,” says Samuels. However, scholars still face challenges related to external validity, or the effects of war games apply to real-world situations.

In addition to advances in experimental war gaming and nuclear simulation, Haginbotham adds that scholars are increasing the use of war gaming for emerging and unconventional security challenges. Hagenbotham says, “War gaming allows scholars to model complex conflicts, change individual variables, and run multiple iterations. For researchers trying to understand the dynamics of political events, gaming has many advantages.

In January 2022, Steven Simon, a former diplomat and director of the National Security Council now serving as a Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at CIS, wrote an opinion piece. The New York Times With Jonathan Stevenson on the need for war gaming focused on US democratic backsliding. For Simon and Stevenson, war gaming is a tool that scholars can rely on when studying low-probability but high-risk events, such as the January 6 U.S. Capitol storm.

He says “war games, tabletop exercises, operations research, campaign analysis, conferences and discussions on the possibility of American political conflict – including insurgency, non-alignment, insurgency and civil war – should proceed at high speed and intensity.”

Bright future for war gaming

Lynn-Greenberg joined the Department of Political Science and Security Studies in 2020 after completing the dissertation pioneering the use of experimental war games in international security research, ’09, MS ’09. As part of his doctoral research at Columbia University, he played a war game with military spectators to understand how drones affect dynamics of enhancing impact. In he wrote War on the rocks“Experimental war games have shown that the deployment of drones can contribute to a lower level of growth than the deployment of manned assets and the stability of a major crisis.”

At MIT, Lynn-Greenberg, Samuels, and Hagenbotham co-invite the Wargaming Working Group, guide PhD students working on war-gaming research, and continue to make progress in the field of war-gaming practice.

Along with co-authors Polly and Jacqueline Schneider, Lynn-Greenberg published “Wargaming for International Relations Research.” European Journal of International Relations In December 2021. The article sets out a research agenda for war gaming and highlights some of the systematic challenges of using war games.

The authors explain “how researchers can navigate the issues of recruitment, bias, validity and generalization when using war games for research and identify ways to evaluate the potential advantages and disadvantages of war games as a tool.” One of the benefits, according to the authors, is the ability of war gaming to provide new data and help answer challenges and questions about human behavior and decision-making.

For Haginbotham, there is something unique about designing and participating in war games where learning to make decisions under pressure leads to learning. He says, “The data you open up in the game design process and the lessons you learn while playing the game are very difficult to create in any other setting.

Similarly, Samuels is optimistic about the role of war gaming going forward. He explains that the future of war gaming is bright as long as organizations – political, educational, industrial, military and civilian – recognize the need to train future leaders to make decisions. Samuels likes to quote Nobel Laureate Thomas Shelling, the founder of civil-military war gaming while in the rand in the late 1950’s, and a partner at Lincoln Bloomfield in the CIS, who once wrote: Improve children’s French, as they do not predict Pearl Harbor. But until then [critics] Sports can show that Pearl Harbor has a tendency to ignore [they] Maybe he taught us something more useful. ”