13 Mar 2012

Lessons of War

Our last session of Axis and Allies got me wondering about whether gaming can be used as an educational tool and if so, to what extent can this be achieved? Some might say that this essay will be biased in its approach but it is harder to learn with only half of our senses focused on the content.    
  "Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history." - Abraham Lincoln

Firstly and most obviously, Axis and Allies is a game focused on WWII. The 2004 revised edition of the game begins in the spring of 1942 and, therefore, does not allow players to contemplate and undertake strategies that could have altered this outcome. Options such as Germany not invading the Soviet Union until the Western Allies had been exhausted or the Japanese not attacking Pearl Harbor.
Historical hypotheticals aside, a game like A&A can get people interested in the context of the scenario/faction with which they are participating. What stood out for me was a comment made by one player about the geography and scope of the war to which another responded "well, yeah, it was a world war". Although this exchange may seem simple in its approach it can lead to questions such as how did the Germans conquer France? Why are there American troops in China? When did this event happen?
More importantly a game can raise moral issues such as who am I fighting and why?
This approach can seek to inform players of various age groups about the greatest conflict the world has yet witnessed whilst bringing a sense of reality to the game.

This can also apply to other game systems. A lot of players will research information about a game ranging from lore to weapons. Children especially can benefit from this process as it can teach them to analyse content and make an informed decision as to what they are going to play and why. Even the reason of "because that model looks cool" can provide a learning curve. Just because it looks good doesn't necessarily mean it is good.        

  "In my experience there's no such thing as luck" - Obi Wan Kenobi

War games, as a whole, require large elements of luck; an example from our game being a British bomber being shot down by one German infantry unit from Leningrad. This may prove infuriating for the loosing party and result in comments such as "you got lucky" but we must remember that luck plays a part in combat too. American aircraft carriers were out on exercise when the Japanese struck at Pearl and D-Day was hugely dependent on the weather.

Tabletop war gaming also removes the 'fog of war' from combat. Whether it be Axis and Allies, 40k or Dystopian Wars a commander is able to see the deployment of enemy troops and act accordingly. This offers great strategic insight as normally, only an intelligence breakthrough would offer this kind of advantage.       
Some, however, may argue that luck is irrelevant and that in a war of attrition whoever has the greater number of forces at their disposal will ultimately win. This may be true when addressing one particular combat; for example, three tanks against one infantry means that the infantry has a 2 in 6 chance of destroying one tank whilst the tanks, which attack on a 3, have a greater chance of winning. 
Whilst battle is the primary demand of war we must also take into consideration the elements of logistics and economics.

Each nation in Axis and Allies has different economic quotas and strategic decisions to overcome. Russia starts the game as the poorest nation economically and faces an immediate threat from the Germans advancing towards Moscow. It must, therefore, simply stay alive and trade men and territory with the Nazis whilst its allies build up forces to ease the pressure. Although this strategy seems simple in theory, the practicalities prove otherwise. This is where luck exits the theatre of war and logic takes centre stage.

The decisions made by a player have far reaching consequences.  Games can provide lessons in planning ahead and co-operation:

1. What should I build and where should I deploy it?
2. How do I  best use my resources?
3. What can my opponent do next turn?
4. What can my allies do next turn?
5. If something goes wrong, what are my options?

These questions can also apply to other game systems whether it be on the battlefield of a distance planet in the 40k universe or the confines of a chess board. Gaming not only gets us planning ahead, it teaches how to adapt to changing circumstances; a vital pit stop on the road of life.

  "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war" - Donald Trump

The most important benefit to war gaming and games in general are the lessons it teaches us about winning and losing.
It is a fact of life that people want to succeed and there is no harm in wanting to win. Aspiring to win gives us a goal to aim for and if all goes well this can leave an elevated sense of pride, confidence and self-esteem.
This is all well and good but it's not the events in our lives but how we react to them that shapes our character.

Constantly winning can be just as negative to our development as losing. Victory can stifle our senses thus making us immune to the learning process. If you constantly win then you'll be less likely to adapt and be willing to try new things. It can also create an aura of invincibility which, if broken, can have the same if not worse impact on your self-esteem than losing.  

Similarly, no-one likes to lose, however, this experience can be just as important, if not more so, than winning. Whether we lose through making the wrong move or producing 'unlucky' dice rolls a gamer can analyse what went wrong and, hopefully, be educated by the experience.
If we lose we want to know why. Experienced gamers may seek to instruct and advise those that fortune has shunned and can also lead to further knowledge and greater bonds of friendship. 

It's a well known cliché but 'it's the taking part that counts'. Most importantly its not what you do its the way that you do it.   

John,  Team Gambit


  1. Who would have thought we would be quoting Lincoln and Donald Trump on our blog!!!!

    An interesting piece John, especially the experiences of winning and losing!

  2. aaron4:36 pm

    I agree... I hope Gary, you will keep the losing in mind when our armies meet on the battlefield.
    The dark elf shall be crushed! trodden underfoot by legions of rotten corpse's

  3. Anonymous10:14 am

    I'm not sure I've thought about our hobby in quite this way before. It's interesting that the same experiences across multiple games can attribute towards similar feelings. I also think that my experiences with winning and losing in other fields amass with those in the hobby world. Not entirely sure were I'm going with this, I think it has just made me think :D