Virtual Shaping Operations

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Jim Gourley describes an intriguing war game concept, the idea behind Stavka-Okh:

The player takes on the role of either Hitler’s or Stalin’s chief of staff and influences the overall strategy of either side for the duration of WWII. The concept was to inject a sense of self-interest in the player beyond simply winning the war for their “team” and creating an environment of internal political tension between their dictator and subordinate staff. The player could only choose from war plans developed by the staff, but was also made aware of the likelihood of the dictator either actually endorsing the plan or overruling the decision. Based on these factors, and the choice to “support the party” in its respective campaigns of genocide, the player accumulated “glory points” that would influence their army’s success and their own reputation. Between the two sets of conflicting values, one could either end the game as a victorious but unpopular tactician or escape the war crimes tribunal in defeat.

The game fails, because it tries to do too much, Gourley argues — but other, massively multiplayer games achieve the original goal by being massively multiplayer. He particularly recommends EVE Online, a game of interstellar armadas:

The twist to the game is that these fleets serve no emperor nor press for geographic control. Everyone works for an interstellar conglomerate and the name of the game is economics. Negotiating a favorable deal on the sale of a mineral-rich moon or the acquisition of a new merchant vessel is just as important a skill as your aim with photon torpedoes. It’s become no trifling matter. The game’s universe has a government — the Council of Stellar Management — and each year since 2008 they’ve beamed down to Reykjavik to discuss everything from exchange rates to crash issues with Windows Vista.

The game’s economy, and how it foments armed conflict, shouldn’t be taken for granted as a subject of study. The developers themselves recently admitted they were in over their heads and actually hired a professor of economics to help them understand what was going on in their own game. In one of his first interviews since taking the job, Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson explained the EVE universe as filled with resources and fraught with conflict, with multiple large powers vying to collect them. It’s possibly an analogy for Africa with the economics of an arms race thrown in.

The key point for researchers and military simulations specialists, though, is that all of the aforementioned complexity came not as a result of ingenious programming or oversight, but evolved in a truly organic way. Given that such primacy has been placed on the “shaping operations” of counter-insurgency in modern conflicts, we should reconsider how we approach the digital simulation frontier.

This promotional video explains EVE Online’s “sandbox”:

Another commenter strongly recommends Arma 2, which is now free:


  1. Buckethead says:

    One of the most fascinating things I ever read about gaming was this interview with the CEO of goonfleet.

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