Monday 14 November 2016

The Advantages of Playing Wargames

A much younger Steve Curtis and Colin Webster marshalling the forces of Rameses II
Few people realize it, but as is illustrated elsewhere and throughout history the wargame has proven its effectiveness as a training aid many times.
We find that ancient Egyptian Pharaohs used scaled models of their own troops to teach their sons and generals the principles of war, we find the Prussians using it as an officer's training aid, it was immensely popular in Victorian England and during the Second World War it was initially used by both the Germans and the Japanese and later by the Americans.
Today wargames, in many different forms, are used to simulate wartime conditions and decisions where individuals such as the American President can see the results of getting involved in a war at any given time - the computers and the satellite confirmed information available today make it possible to consider the advantages and disadvantages of using more air-strikes or ground troops against any opponent world wide. Answers to questions such as these can easily be derived from the kind of highly sophisticated wargames currently being developed and used by the United States Navy at its Maryland training facilities.
Despite the military and historical arguments in favour of using wargames on a full military scale, there are also certain distinct advantages to playing wargames on a hobby level. As far as younger players are concerned, the advantages include, but are not limited to teaching a sense of self respect and duty, while instilling a sense of the deepest respect and honour for other people, while increasing the sense of responsibility with each battle fought and each campaign completed. Due to the fact that opponents may be few players also quickly develop a sense of the greatest honesty and sportsmanship - cheating can not be allowed as a single unethically achieved success might mean the permanent loss of an opponent and potential friend.  
On a more academic level the wargame also provides a sophisticated historical paradigm, giving not only a list of meaningless names and events to be chewed over, but providing very realistic and often graphic lessons of how and why historical people, armies and economies functioned as they did. It develops a proper understanding of the effect of terrain on people and economies - it is true that geographical features never halted any army, Alexander crossing the Hellespont, Hannibal the Alps, Caesar pursuing a Civil War from Spain and Gallia up to the Black Sea and down to Africa, but barriers such as seas and mountains tend to naturally restrict trade and the activities of peace loving individuals. The Silk & Spice trade routes which existed between the Ancient East and West only developed due to the ever increasing size of the markets for those products and the resultant profits which could leave a merchant rich for life.
It also becomes possible to form a chronological and accurate understanding of historical events such as those listed here: 
Romans on parade
  • Xenophon and the March of the Ten Thousand;
  • the decline of Sparta and the rise of Athens;the conquests of Alexander the Great;
  • the existence of Greek cities in Central Asia;
  • Bactrian Greek armies operated in India;
  • the New Testament is written in Greek and refers often to Greek-speakers;
  • all of the Mediterranean was dominated by Rome
One of the biggest advantages of wargaming in this regard is that the process of learning becomes highly individualized in the sense that each wargames general learns more about his specific interests, as there are no boring study guides to follow.
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, wargaming develops two profoundly important intellectual abilities, the first being the ability to concentrate. In this age where television and passive entertainment dominate it is critical that the ability to concentrate be fully developed - again, since the real-time wargame depends on the general to be completed, successfully or otherwise, it becomes a spontaneous process of self-improvement, whether it is formally structured or not.
The second aspect is that of lateral thought. The wargame differs most profoundly from Chess in that there are no great masters to study and no standard openings to memorize, rather the table- top general is presented with a certain set of circumstances and conditions which more often than not tend to be unique. With experience comes the ability to recognize certain situations as being similar to scenario's formerly encountered and the intelligent general will bring his past experiences to bear at the critical moment. This skill, namely lateral thinking, is becoming increasingly popular with authors on intellectual advancement and today it is possible to enroll for courses where lateral thinking skills are formally taught and developed. Again, it is possible to study such abilities formally or to develop these automatically and systematically while playing wargames.
In conclusion, the advantages of playing wargames may be described as being the ability to concentrate better, developing skill such as lateral thinking, viewing history in perspective and generally improving insight and knowledge into human nature. 
Join MSSA for the 2016 South African National Championships on the 3rd and 4th of December in Witbank to see wargames in action.

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