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Posted on Sep 9, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Off-the-Shelf Computer Games Aid Military Training

Gerald D. Swick

Once these roles are assigned, the group engages in mission analysis, identifying the mission, its purpose and key components, and determining what has to happen in order to succeed. Major terrain features are identified, along with their impact on both sides.

Intel then determines the enemy’s most likely and most dangerous courses of action (COA). The differences between the two are used to create Priority Intel Requirements that answer a critical question about enemy intent.

The Maneuver players create three significantly different plans, each of which could accomplish their side’s mission, and draw up graphical representations.

The entire group examines the enemy plans from Intel and the friendly plans from Maneuver, comparing them to determines their side’s COA. Tasks are broken into phases to keep them synchronized, and IF/THEN decisions made, e.g., IF the enemy main force goes west, then Task Force Reserve will do X." Artillery maneuver is planned, including what contingencies will trigger a move from one location to another. Intel prepares tracking aids for tracking the enemy during execution of the plan.


Time restrictions at Origins did not permit the full-blown experience but did give a good idea of how this all works. The U.S. Marines provided several computers and Matrix Games provided the games, which included Conquest of the Aegean and Close Combat: Marines. was invited to sit in, so I joined the Marines in Close Combat: Marines to help secure a bridge. Roles were assigned, a plan developed, and the action was on. I was assigned a flanking move and squirmed my troops through light brush to a creek that would bring them out to the right of the bridge.

Other commanders took more direct approaches, and soon players were calling out, "Taking fire." As the game continued, players called out reports about enemy locations, casualties, etc., to keep teammates appraised of what was happening in different locations on the field. Had this been an actual military education experience, representatives of the various elements would have been tracking this information and bumping it up to the XO and commander.

As things turned out in our game, my fellow Marines secured the bridge before my troops were close enough to engage; a good thing, probably, because the enemy had maneuvered to cover the gully I was making my way toward, as we learned in post-game analysis. Primary lesson for me in this game: Using cover is great, but if it takes you too far afield or requires too much time to negotiate, your troops won’t be a factor in the battle.

In a second simulation, the two sides were both trying to capture high ground above road junctions. Again, the shout "Taking Fire" made adrenaline levels shoot up. This enemy was better equipped, including some heli support, and the fighting was intense before the U.S. managed to secure the hill. In this game, our plan to cover approaches on both flanks while our center drove straight for the top of the hill worked pretty much as expected, although the enemy took the least-anticipated route. Lesson learned: Take the main objective quickly, but cover your flanks in a manner that will allow those troops to converge on the center if necessary.

If these games had actually been part of the military’s education program, the players would have analyzed how well the various elements’ efforts worked (or didn’t) within the overall plan. In addition, major decisions would be analyzed, especially as they related to the scenario’s training objectives. Unexpected enemy behavior would be discussed, and lessons learned would be expounded upon.

As noted, time restrictions cut into some of the planning and after-action analysis, but players got a concept of how the military can use these games to develop leadership skills, permit flexibility of action, and provide the education Dr. Sterrett mentioned. Combined with classroom guidance, they provide low-cost, easy-to-use tools for developing the sort of thinking required for effective mission planning and for quick adaptation when the enemy doesn’t cooperate with that plan. The sessions at Origins permitted civilian gamers a chance to see how their hobby is helping to prepare tomorrow’s battlefield leaders.

Gerald D. Swick is senior Web editor for and HistoryNet. His work has appeared in The Encyclopedia of World War II: A Social, Political and Military History; The Games Annual, and numerous other publications.

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1 Comment

  1. You present a delightful reflection on a pastime that I regularly enjoy. I have long had an interest in military figures, and for some time a friend and I devoted our efforts to the representation of the clashes set during our own American Civil War. It was an excellent way to get a more solid grasp of the difficulties involved in moving and conducting an army, and to explore possible alternatives for actions that history has marked as mistakes. Likewise we have gifted our senses with computer battles using such classic computer games as Sid Meier’s “Gettysburg”.
    However, when I stepped onto the field of Gettysburg this year, acting as a reenactor in the 2nd US cavalry, I found myself experiencing something like I have never known amid our miniature soldiers or our warrior shaped computer pixels. A whole now realm of battle was opened to me, and not in the form I had expected. When the blue-clad boys rode out along a rail fence to set up a skirmish line, I could hardly see the battle because of the limits of the hill from which they fought. Terrain had suddenly become a reality to me. Additionally, when I went out as a dismounted member of the 17th PA cavalry, I can hardly reflect on the overall course of the battle since I was all too occupied by the brown and gray clad figures directly in front of me, and by the process of getting more cartridges into my Sharps carbine. I remember a moment in which the Lieutenant announced the advance of cavalry upon our right flank, and ordered the right end of the line to “refuse”, or move back at an angle. We managed it after some difficulty, but I would perhaps have been oblivious of their approach had I not been informed, and I don’t know what eventually became of those Rebels. I immediately went back to placing powder charges and caps in their respective places amid my weapon.
    As much as I tried to foster a belief in the danger of the situation, I always had the comfort of being free from the disconcerting “Zing” of passing lead. I do believe that games of the nature we are speaking can be training tools of real effectiveness, but can also supply a misleading separation from the reality of the events. In playing “Call of Duty 2”, I found that running across open spaces while jumping up and down was an effective way to greatly reduce the chances of being hit. To imagine such a thing being conducted on the training grounds would be cause for laughter. I guess this leads me to two conclusions. Nothing beats direct field training; and, those who revel in their success at cutting down enemies on their computer should be careful not to consider themselves soldiers.
    Cheers to you Mr. Swick for the article. It’s delightful to see that ACG is actively involved in the wargamer’s hobby.


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