Serious Power Trips

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Serious games and simulations can lead to serious power trips:

Policy and custom expressly forbid the president of the United States from active participation in decision making during national-security war games. The secretary of state plays, the joint chiefs play, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency plays, only the president does not. The U.S. national-security establishment has decreed that no one should know how the president might react to speculative scenarios. Presidential advisers in real national-security emergencies should not be influenced by prior knowledge of how the president responded to a simulated crisis. Nor should potential enemies of the United States. The president should in effect be above simulated frays.

This points to a larger problem:

The Pentagon discovered during 1960s-era war-game exercises that pitting officers of different ranks against one another didn’t work. Well-meaning military innovators had believed that mixed-rank exercises would enhance career development an dencourage nonhierarchical communication, but the actual result was rivalry and recrimination. “The Pentagon found out that you don’t play general against colonels,” recall defense-simulation designer Clark Abt. “You play peer to peer.”

In fact, Princeton mathematical economist Martin Shubik has pointed out that all models have two sets of rules: the rules of the model itself and the rules of the larger world it inhabits. Beating the boss is a pyrrhic victory.

Leave a Reply