Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1984 / PAGE 146

War and games. Earl Vickers.

War and Games

War and games are both ancient inventions of undying popularity. They continue to evolve side by side, each influencing the other and together forming a reflection of the societies from which they arise. War is not a game, nor are games wars, strictly speaking, but the analogy is often useful.

Games as War

Many games, ancient and modern, are modeled after the wars of the same era. Chess, for example, is an offshoot of a game called Chaturanga, Sanskrit for "the army game.' The pieces and their movements are symbolic of elements of fifth century Indian armies, and some historians believe the game to have been developed as a "moral equivalent' to war by pacifist Brahmans. Variants of chess were used by seventeenth century military planners.

A game which is older than chess and at least comparable in depth (and much more difficult to program on a computer) is the oriental game, Go. (The name "Atari' comes from a move in this game.)

By the thirteenth century Go was considered a vital part of a Samurai warrior's education. It was taken along on military expeditions, and as soon as the battle was over the game would begin. The Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung used the game to illustrate his strategies of guerrilla warfare, and a book has been written extending the comparison.

War Games

The use of games for military planning probably dates back almost as far as war or games individually. War being a very complex and uncertain affair, it is reasonable to look for some kind of interactive model of the actions and reactions, measures and countermeasures of war. Games are an obvious choice.

The Japanese use of war games in the Russo-Japanese war is considered one of the main reasons for their victory. They also used war games to rehearse Pearl Harbor. The German use of gaming was less successful, leading to the disastrous World War I invasions of Belgium and France. During the past century, the use and sophistication of war games has steadily increased right up to Vietnam, the most gamed and most analyzed war in history.

One fairly simple combat simulator of recent years was an adaptation of Battle Zone, modified by Atari at the request of the U.S. Army to include realistic controls and likenesses of U.S. and Soviet tanks. A more advanced war game, perhaps the world's most powerful, is the Army's Janus. Created at Livermore National Laboratory in California, it is said by its designers to be "light-years ahead of any Atari game.' Upon request, its color graphics will display the topographical features of any 15 square mile area on Earth. The game usually starts with Russian tanks rolling into West Germany and often ends, if the going gets tough, with the tough going nuclear. The military plays such war games frequently, and the U.S. usually "wins.'

Limitations of War Games

History points out some dangers of the careless use of war games, the main one being that players tend subconsciously to bend the outcomes to convince themselves of the validity of their own underlying assumptions. In World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm would show up at war games dressed in helmet and spurs demanding to win the games he played. Humans like to win, and they want to believe what they want to believe. It is easy to use a game to provide a seemingly objective confirmation of one's own beloved theories, especially if there is a computer to add the extra aura of scientific authority.

To be of any value, a war game must somehow represent the enemy's responses, usually with either a computer program or a second player. This is very difficult to do, as it involves getting inside the opponent's head, and understanding the enemy's motivations and his perception of your motivations. A common mistake is to assume that the other side thinks as you do and will react as you would.

In World War II, the Russians and the Germans had fundamentally different views of warfare. The Germans could not understand why the Russians refused to admit they were beaten. Game theorist Anatol Rapoport states "[To the] German military, who still thought mainly in terms of gamelike characteristics of war . . . [this] was gross immorality, an affront, like the affront which a chess player feels when his clearly beaten opponent refuses to concede.'

War as Game

War has long been thought of as a game. In eighteenth century Europe, war was fought by a set of rules which grew out of the code of honor of medieval chivalry. War was a gentleman's game, the sport of kings. The rules were absolutely binding, and armies in untenable positions simply surrendered.

During the American revolution, the British thought the proper way to play the game of war was to wear red uniforms and march toward the enemy in straight rows. The unsporting Americans gunned them down from behind bushes and trees. During the Maori wars, a British battalion fighting the Maori of New Zealand ran out of ammunition and was forced to surrender. The Maori reportedly responded by giving the British half of their bullets so the game could continue.

While modern warfare in some ways seems less and less to resemble a game, there remain similarities. We ante up the MX and Pershing II missiles as "bargaining chips' in the arms limitation game; the opponent responds by threatening a launch-on-warning policy. We wonder if his response is a bluff--it doesn't seem rational to us to destroy western Europe on the basis of a possible computer error. But if our Pershing missiles can reach enemy command and control centers in the same six or eight minutes it may take him to determine whether an alarm is true or false, he may feel he must use his missiles or lose them. And so each new wave of the arms race game is faster, more tense, more dangerous, until the reaction times involved are being shortened to approach those required in a video game, and any of a number of wrong sequences of moves can end the game forever.

The "War Games' movie plot was far-fetched in some respects but terrifyingly realistic in others. The U.S. has actually had an instance of a war game program being mistakenly loaded into a computer and then interpreted as a real attack. We have had computer errors which have caused military officers to insert ICBM launch keys into their slots in the belief that large quantities of Soviet missiles had been launched and would begin to reach their targets within minutes. ICBMs don't come back when you call them (not that you would want them to).

During a 1982 war game code-named Ivy League, U.S. commanders managed to survive for five days in their underground bunkers, demonstrating the ability to fight a prolonged nuclear war. This game marked a shift in U.S. strategy away from the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which guarantees a single massive retaliation, toward the policy of Nuclear Utilization Target Selection (NUTS), which seeks the ability to fight and win a drawn-out nuclear war.

The purpose of arms limitation agreements is to define the rules by which the nuclear confrontation game is played, so that both sides are playing the same game and so that they don't drain their economies only to find themselves less secure than before. There are other rules which are not arrived at by joint consensus, and which may only exist in the minds of those in power on one side or the other.

President Reagan, who is said to be fond of the world conquest boardgame, Risk, has claimed it is possible to win a nuclear war (although lately he has apparently changed his mind), and one of his advisers believes we will survive if we can manage to dig a hole and cover ourselves with three feet of dirt. The U.S. has refused to renounce the right to be the first to use nuclear weapons and has reserved the option of waging a limited nuclear war, despite the improbability that such a war could remain limited. Reagan believes ". . . you could have the exchange of tactical weapons against troops in the field without it bringing either one of the major powers to pushing the button.'

The Soviet position is that any thought of limited nuclear war is absurd and that any initial attack will inevitably trigger a devasting counterstroke. While stated intentions may not coincide with either party's actual plans, it is clearly dangerous if two superpowers are playing by two different sets of rules without realizing it.

Game as Substitute for War

Now that we have seen some of the relationships between war and games, what are some positive ways in which we can transform these relationships? One almost universally popular notion is that national leaders should just go off to a field somewhere and fight it out among themselves. The "almost' is because this idea is usually not very popular with the national leaders involved. In the late Middle Ages, kings would often solemnly announce such duels to end their wars. Elaborate preparations would be made, but the battles would never happen. It was just something of a standing joke between the royal houses.

There are stories of games actually being used as replacements for war. In China during the Tsin dynasty, thousands of soldiers reportedly died in a long war between Prince Sha-an and his nephew Sha-gen. Finally, tired of the fighting and killing, they agreed to decide the winner by playing a game of Go.

H.G. Wells, who coined the phrase "atomic bomb' in 1913, once wrote a book called Little Wars in which he described a war game for children and expressed the idea of game as substitue for war. "Let us put this prancing monarch and that silly scaremonger, and these excitable "patriots' . . . into one vast Temple of War . . . and let them lead their own lives there away from us.' The British army soon contacted him about developing his little war into a war game for their use.

The perpetual popularity of war and war games suggests a psychological need to act out conflict. Males in our society typically progress from toy guns and toy soldiers to football and Missile Command, and then to a brief period of real war in some place like Vietnam or Lebanon, followed by a return to the vicarious participation in war by voting, paying taxes, and monitoring the evening news. Even an otherwise reasonable individual such as myself has been known to pay $25 to the National Survival Game for the privilege of dressing up in camouflage paint and battle fatigues and chasing an enemy team through the woods for four hours, armed with a special airgun that shoots paint pellets. The U.S. Army plays a similar game at Ft. Irwin, CA, replacing the paint guns with infrared lasers which transmit coded pulses and set off strobe lights and sound effects when they hit the enemy's laser detectors.

Can games like these satisfy man's apparent psychological need for war, or do they merely fan the flames of war hysteria? Given a choice between a real war or a convincing simulation, most people would choose the simulation. Maybe world leaders should have this choice.

The goal of diplomacy is often to prevent a war by turning it into a "game' like the Cold War. Games like the space race can provide an outlet for human competitiveness, nationalism, and frontier-seeking. The Olympic Games also serve as a symbolic form of international conflict, and many countries stake a great deal of prestige on the results. We need better ways for the leaders of nations to resolve their conflicts, different games for them to play.

Game Theory

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with the analysis of conflict. It shows that the study of games of strategy can be applied to the study of social events, such as war.

In game theory, a purely competitive game, such as chess or poker, is known as a zero-sum game: my gain is your loss. A game that is at least partially cooperative is called a non-zero-sum game. International relations is such a game.

A classic problem from game theory is known as the prisoner's dilemma. Two people are accused of committing a crime together. They are questioned separately. If both confess, they each get five years in prison. If both are silent, they each get one year for a lesser charge (carrying concealed weapons). If only one of them confesses, that one turns state's evidence and goes free while the other receives a ten-year sentence.

A prisoner might reason as follows: "If my partner confesses, then I am better off confessing also, since I will get only five years instead of ten. And if my partner is silent, I am again better off confessing, since I will go free instead of serving one year.' And yet if both of them think this through "logically,' they will be rewarded by serving five years each when they could have cooperated and gotten off with one-year sentences. Cooperation is likely only if they have some way of making an agreement and enforcing it.

The prisoner's dilemma can be applied to a variety of different conflicts, including the arms race. Two nations are preparing their military budgets. Regardless of what the opponent does, each nation appears to be more secure if it increases its own military spending instead of decreasing it. They both do so, ending up with the same relative strength and weakened economies. This is not a zerosum game--the players have a common interest in preventing war and avoiding unnecessary spending--yet they don't trust each other enough to agree on the cooperative solution, mutual disarmament. This is the dilemma of which we are all prisoners. Just as in the original version of the prisoner's dilemma, communication is the only hope for achieving the optimal solution. It seems odd that a branch of mathematics would end up demonstrating the necessity of learning the meaning of communication and trust in order to avoid losing every game of this type.

Competition/Cooperation and Games

Having seen the tendency of people to refuse to cooperate even in games in which competition is counterproductive, we may wish to explore how such attitudes are formed and how they are affected by the games people play. Our society places great emphasis on competition, and our games and sports reflect and reinforce this emphasis. While competition itself is a good and necessary part of our existence, without the balancing element of cooperation it can lead to a winning-at-all-costs mentality and encourage aggression and violence as a way of life.

Peaceful and cooperative societies, like the Hopi, the Arapesh, and other American Indian tribes play peaceful and cooperative games. Their survival depends on sharing and cooperating, and their games are used to teach these qualities. These same tribes were conquered by a society whose games teach competition, kill-or-be-killed, win-or-lose. And while our own national survival requires a certain amount of competition, we are now in a situation where world survival depends on cooperation, where world war means kill-and-be-killed, both sides lose.

Nature uses play as a way for animals to learn useful and acceptable modes of behavior. In human society, games and sports serve this function (and others). Games are one of society's ways of programming the human nervous system. Serious research has suggested that all aspects of culture grow out of games and play. If this is true, and if we are in an age in which human survival does depend on learning to cooperate, then it may be crucial to begin incorporating the element of cooperation into our games--sports, video games, war games, and political games.

Video Games and Violence

The extreme expression of conflict is violence. Our society has expressed some concern over the violence on television and in video games, wondering whether our TV progams and computer programs are effectively programming our society to become increasingly more violent. Being more interactive than television, video games offer the possibility of active participation in imaginary violence, and the fear is that this encourages disassociation between one's actions and the victims and consequences of those actions.

The dramatic gender gap in the arcades is apparently due in part to the reluctance of women to play video games perceived as being violent and their preference for games with disguised or cartoon-like violence, such as Centipede and Pac-Man. Not all video games involve violence, and not all are zero-sum games. Some offer a choice between violent and non-violent behavior, and others (like Eastern Front) reward aggression on the easier levels while making violence less and less effective as the difficulty increases. Rip-off and Joust are two excellent games which offer the option of playing cooperatively (or competitively) with another person.

World Game

Buckminster Fuller, the late architect, philosopher, and Renaissance Man, created the World Game as a constructive alternative to war games. War games proceed from the Malthusian assumption that there is an inadequate supply of life support on this planet, that the "haves' can have what they have only at the expense of the "have-nots.' The World Game comes to the opposite conclusion, using a database of global resources to demonstrate graphically and interactively the world distribution of population, food, energy, and technology. As the game helps to illustrate, our planet is no a zero-sum world, due largely to our vast daily energy income in the form of solar radiation.

The World Game shows that war is obsolete and that the real problem is ignorance of the options and resources available to us. Fuller claimed that computer simulation would confirm his belief that international cooperation would make us all rich, while international competition would likely make us all dead.

Such a computer simulation, programmed with a more positive set of assumptions than the war games discussed earlier, can function as a sort of peace game. Games and simulations may be used to teach interactively the importance of communication, cooperation, and other concepts from game theory, and they may be able to help us experience and understand some of the psychological factors that underlie war.

Computer models such as Carl Sagan's study of the aftermath of a nuclear war can be used to demonstrate the futility of ever playing that game. Instead of helping to plan the fighting of a war, games could help us to understand the causes and means of prevention of war. Instead of numbing us into a quiet acceptance of the possibility of world destruction, games could increase our awareness and offer new insights and new options. It's time to change the game, before it's GAME OVER.

Photo: The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

Photo: Revolutionary Americans rejected European rules of war, gunning down British Redcoats from protected positions.