Perhaps one of the most important steps in the planning and designing of a war game is to conduct a literature review. That is the step in which the war gamer learns as much as possible about the issues surrounding the war game that will be conducted. Peter Perla confirms this when he discusses the three steps of learning from a war game. Besides the players learning during the game and the analysts and sponsors learning from the post-game analysis, the war gamer learns a significant amount while researching during the design phase.
Certainly, a risk of conducting any war game is to not know all the facts surrounding the game. While one can never know everything, it is imperative for the war gamer to know as much as possible about the game topic. As gamers, we know that entering into any new project can be fraught with danger. Why? As professional gamers, we are process oriented people and not subject matter experts. In fact, we cannot be subject matter experts because we conduct so many games on such a wide variety of topics. However, this means we must be as thorough as possible in conducting the literature review to ensure that we have a solid understanding of the issues. Yet, what we do as professional gamers should be described as applied research and not limited to just the realm of academic research.
So, how do we or why should we go beyond the lit review? The insights gained from studying the literature sets the foundation and lays the groundwork for coding for the war game. As any researcher knows this should open even more doors on what is important about the game topic. It is at this point that the war gamer needs to make a determination based on time and capacity. Does he have enough material to properly design the game or should the research go further? A way to take the research to the next level is to engage with subject matter experts face to face, by telecom, or over a VTC. These interviews can give the war gamer additional insights that doctrine, regulations, books, and articles may not be able to provide. This is very important especially since we deal in real world problems of operational commanders. The information that we might need may not be in the literature but inside the mind of the people actually working the issue.
For example, I have studied command and control extensively over the past 25 years. I have read books, articles, and doctrine. I have taught the subject on many levels. I feel I know the area as well as anyone. Yet, in my research of our current project on C2 of IAMD at the Theater JFMCC level, I was only able to gain an understanding of the structure and systems available to the commander when I spoke at length with the Pacific Fleet Headquarters Joint Interface Control Officer (JICO). He was able to explain how he has established to data links from the sensors to the Maritime Operations Center at PACFLT. He explained in depth how they have developed an architecture that is resilient and responsive to the needs of the commander. In the 90 minutes I spent with him I was able to ascertain the details and the status of what they could display on the COP, where the feeds came from, and how they were used. I would not have been able to understand any of this if I had not done a significant amount of research ahead of time, but on the other hand, all of my research did not address the reality of the C2 systems that are being used. That only came from my face to face discussions.
There is nothing worse than finding out part way into a war game that our assumptions are wrong about a system, a process, or a capability. This risk can be lessened or mitigated by an enhanced “lit review” which goes into interviewing the SMEs that actually work with the information that we are researching. Of course, this has to be tempered by available time and resources. However, when possible, it can greatly enrich the war gamer’s understanding which could lead to a better game design. In closing, one final piece needs to be addressed as to why I think it is so important to go beyond just a review of the literature. War gaming is about human decision making. So, when possible, it is valuable to speak with the right humans to find out how they interpret and use the literature.