The game asked a lot of questions in a 1970s school computer lab. Interestingly, they asked for a lot of numbers. Typed-in numbers were the fuel to run the games — usually short programs written in BASIC — that filled the storage space on the minicomputer. There were no screens – only teletype machines, which worked like typewriters except that the computer could also type the words on the page. When you play a turn-based strategy game HammurabiThe computer will print the key information, line by line:
Hammurabi: I beg to inform you,
In year 1, 0 people starved, 5 came to town.
The population is now 100.
The city now has 1000 acres of land.
You harvested 3 bushels per acre.
Rats ate 200 bushels.
You now have 2800 bushels in store.
Then came the questions, one at a time:
The land trades at 26 bushels per acre.
How many acres do you want to buy? _
How many bushels do you want to feed your people? _
How many acres do you want to plant? _
Once answered, the game’s simulator component kicks in, processing your input into a series of complex equations. Then the game jumps forward a year and the whole thing starts over — don’t fail so badly that your people can overthrow you if you did.
Despite the seemingly archaic nature of the technology, as well as the games, this was cutting-edge stuff in a 1970s school computer lab. And as it turned out, the origin of these games, and the invention of the systems used to program and play them, was based on one of the most important organizations of the post-World War II military-industrial complex: the RAND Corporation. Santa Monica, California. Furthermore, question-and-answer games were originally designed to simulate nuclear war.
Sponsored primarily by the newly formed Air Force, RAND’s mandate was almost extraordinarily broad: “to advance and promote scientific, educational, and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare and security of the United States of America.”
The Rand Corporation, originally called Project Rand, was one of the primary think tanks created by the United States government and military during the Cold War. Given the importance of science and engineering to winning World War II, governments everywhere recognized the need to continue such work as they drew up new battle lines. Despite its name, RAND was and still is a nonprofit organization. Its primary output is research reports drawn from all kinds of scientific and social scientific studies. RAND officially reported to the Air Force, but was also encouraged to publish and share its work “in the public interest.”
Despite its almost absurdly broad mandate, RAND is perhaps best known for its war games. Incidentally, wargaming emerged as a popular hobby during the early Cold War, and the similarities between these professional and amateur pursuits probably played a role in their eventual blending in the digital age. However, there was a big difference in the beginning. Instead of rehashing historic battles like Midway or Gettysburg, as buffs like to do, RAND focused entirely on potential future conflicts. Which meant that many, but not all, of his games included the most recent innovation in conventional warfare: the atomic bomb.
RAND received, and still receives, much criticism over the years for its apparently nonchalant attitude toward nuclear war. Its chief strategist, Herman Kahn, was featured in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film of the same name as Dr. will serve as inspiration for Strangelove. It can be argued that RAND was indeed embracing the thinking of many military leaders in the post-World War II era, with popular heroes such as Douglas MacArthur openly advocating dropping nuclear bombs on China to advance American interests on the Korean Peninsula. Regardless, the antiwar movement was to emerge during RAND’s early days in the late 1960s, and Kahn and others saw no obvious reason to imagine how a nuclear conflict would play out.
RAND’s wargames are often quite different from our common understanding of the genre. Instead of asking players to move pieces on a board, RAND’s games often take the form of complex logistics simulations run by a central computer. Take the example of wait, short for strategic operations. Despite its benign name, STROP was a simulation of nuclear war. According to its manual, it was up to players to “make decisions regarding R & D spending, weapons procurement, and targeting of offensive and defensive weapons,” all of which supported the ongoing nuclear exchange.
There were no maps wait, or there are no pieces to move. Rather, there were questions to be answered, and these answers took the form of numbers such as dollar amounts and force commitments. All these were referred to as “decisions”, which would be carried forward in the medium. The manner in which the questions were asked HammurabiSubtract the flavor text:
Stop Exercise: Blue
Multiplication for R and D = _
R and D = _ for AMSA
R and D = _ for ABM
Attainment: Fighter = _
Purchase: Local Protection = _
Attainment: ABMs = _
Attainment: Asylum = _
A computer—usually an IBM type, although RAND once built its own machine—would process these decisions, crunch these numbers through a complex game engine, and output the results. Players will then re-enter most of the information they provided on the first turn and play will continue.
A computer was an essential tool for conducting such games wait, and as the machines began to move into business and academic institutions, RAND’s mathematical gaming model spread with them. RAND, fulfilling its public good mandate, was of course the catalyst. In the late 1950s, he joined a management training organization called the American Management Association and created a game that the group could use in its work—essentially, a professional version of a wargame.
The AMA Manual clearly expresses this intent. Extolling the virtues of military wargaming, it asks, “Why, then, should not professional men have the same opportunity? […] Why not commercial ‘war games’? […] ?” The wargame they had in mind was not the back-and-forth board type. Rather, along with wait model, they created highly tuned logistic simulations.
Each value determined by the players was referred to as a “decision” — hence the name of the game: Top management decision simulation. These decisions are related to budgeting for the production and marketing of the product. Money was allocated for research, production and marketing for the business quarter period. The price of the product was also decided.
To make it all work, of course, was a computer to receive and process the results, in this case an IBM 650 mainframe. The data was sent to the keypunch operator, who generated the required punch cards and fed them into the machine. The simulation ran and the results were printed and sent to the players. Game time will move to the next quarter and the players will adapt and adjust to their input.
TMDS It was the main catalyst of the management game mania that swept across the United States. By 1961, 100 games were in operation, and by the 1980s, thousands of American businesses had incorporated games into their training. A hallmark of good professional sports, especially in the early days, was the amount of decisions a person made. Carnegie Tech Management game, designed in part by field legend William Dill, was one of the most prominent of the genre, with approximately 300 decisions. All of these games took advantage of the increasing power of mainframes and later minicomputers.
From business, the gospel of computerized decision games migrated to education, beginning with an ambitious experiment jointly conducted by IBM and a school board in Westchester County, New York. Citing Dill and others in the field as influences, three “computer-based financial games” were created for sixth graders. Known as one of these Sumerian gameswas the inspiration for Hammurabi. what did Hammurabi The difference is that the reference was purely fictional, as well as historical. It also had a more limited set of decisions, as the game was for children, not officials.
It took years for these interactive games to fully penetrate public schools, mainly because computers were a rarity at first. One of the major players changing this was Digital Equipment Corporation, which sold some of its PDP minicomputers directly to schools. The programming language of choice was originally the obscure in-house FOCAL, which was actually based on a RAND product. BASIC was replaced when that language was introduced.
By the 1970s, when such basic games were commonplace in school computer labs, the fortunes of the RAND Corporation had changed. The Vietnam War and the anti-war movement that followed turned most people against military-funded organizations like RAND. The Mansfield Amendment, passed in 1969, largely ended the military’s role in cutting-edge computer science research. The future of computers was personal, but this PC revolution would advance RAND’s work, inspiring future refinements that would become the turn-based strategy genre. Whether playing or perfecting these games, the kids in the computer lab will inherit a serious military and professional thought effort and add even more fun to the mix.