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Characteristics of a Seminar War Game

Seminar Characteristics

Seminars following the Socratic method have been used for thousands of years. Socrates would often invite one of his students to make an assertion, perhaps to develop a hypothesis. Socrates would then probe with questions to determine more precisely how and when the assertion or hypothesis should apply.

Amongst the characteristics of seminars that set them apart from other methods of study are:

War Game Characteristics

War games come in diverse formats, some are almost completely embedded in computer hardware and software, others work entirely without computers. The military profession has used war games for centuries, and recently approaches used in studying crises other than combat. In their initial form, studying warfare, war games shared some essential characteristics:

When the original war gaming approaches have been adapted to studies of crises other than combat, some of the above elements may be missing. For example, war gaming methods can be used to study the spread of some contagion without a map (or maps that do not resemble traditional military maps). Both the US National Defense University and the US Army War College conduct "crisis games" on diverse issues using techniques drawn from wargaming.

Similarly a field called "serious games" uses modern computer approaches (many drawn from previous simulations of combat) to engage an audience on topics very distant from traditional battlefields, e.g., running nuclear power plants, managing city governments, responding to threats of civil unrest from epidemics or terrorism.

Activities that use procedures previously associated with seminar war games for non-combat situations or other forms of crises that have little or no military component may be called hypotheticals or crisis games, or crisis simulations.

Elements of War Games

Upon deeper study of war gaming methods, the elements of such games may be considered under the following seven elements:

Source: Perla, MORS Meeting, 15 Oct 2007

The first six elements are essentially as they were in the Perla-Barrett article of 1985 (p. 71), but here Perla has included analysts, although parenthetically. Of course, at the time, he was speaking to an audience of analysts at the MORS meeting. But, from his text, Perla was not merely trying to be polite to his audience by including them.

From his earlier writings on wargaming and analysis, Perla made it clear that when he said that war games were not analysis, this was caveated by adding that war games were not analysis, at least "in the usual sense of rigorous, quantitative, dissection of a problem" (from the Perla and Barrett article of 1985). After provoking operations analysts, Perla has frequently acknowledged (even recommended) war games as analysis tools.

Seminar War Game Characteristics

Simply put, a seminar war game blends the characteristics of seminars and war games. Some war games will have few or none of the characteristics of seminars (say no discourse, no advanced study, no questions to the participants). Many seminars will have none of the features of a war game: no map, no scenario, no clock. These are not seminar wargames. But for those many activities that are a blend of the two, the term seminar war game suits very well.


Preparation for Seminar War Games

An organization wishing to conduct seminar war games can benefit from considerable experience from those who have gone before. There is published material on how professional organizations have done their own, the National Defense University, the Naval War College, the Army War College, NATO, and the Canadian Army and Navy.  In many respects, however, preparing for and conducting seminar war games is still a craft and not quite a science. By good forture, the number of organizations that have experience continues to grow. 

Some areas that should be given due attention in preparing for a seminar war game include:

A step-by-step guide to seminar war gaming is available. It provides considerably more detail.