Chapter9.gif (961 bytes) Wargames at War

Differences Between Hobbyists and Professionals

Although hobby and professional gamers share many of the same techniques (and often the same games), there are some major differences between the two groups, differences that explain a lot of the differences in attitudes and accomplishments of the two groups. In short, these differences are;

  • Professional gamers are, well, professional. They get paid for it. To many professional gamers, it's just a job. For hobby gamers, it's an avocation and an unpaid one at that. While there are many enthusiastic professional wargamers, all hobby wargamers are very much into what they are doing.
  • Professional gamers cannot freely talk about what they are doing. Most of the classified wargaming work is severely restricted in terms of who can talk about it and where. Hobby gamers speak freely about their games and this torrent of comment and criticism makes the hobby oriented games much better for it.
  • Professional gamers do not worship validation (being sure their games represent reality as much as possible). Most hobby games are historical games which, in order to work, must be capable of recreating the historical event they are based on. This ability to recreate the historical event is also called validation. Hobby gamers take it as a given that if a game cannot be validated it's not worth bothering with. Nearly all professional games are on wars not yet fought, so validation in the classic sense becomes moot. However, there is a tendency for professional gamers (or at least their masters) to make up their "future history" as they go along.
  • Professional gamers serve many masters, while hobby gamers serve only one (themselves). Because professional gamers are getting paid for it, they have to be responsive to whoever is paying them. Often this involves not just one boss but an array of officials. All of these bosses want something from the professional games and often these demands are contradictory.
  • Professional and hobby wargamers have somewhat different backgrounds. Until the 1980s most of the professional wargamers had a computer and/or Operations Research background. Hobby gamers have a strong interest in history and technical subjects (science, engineering, medicine, law, etc., including OR and computers).
  • Professional and hobby gamers have different experience with games and simulations. Hobby gamers nearly all have experience with general boardgames (especially chess, plus classics like Monopoly, Risk, etc.) Naturally, the hobby gamers are familiar with commercial manual wargames and, increasingly, commercial computer wargames. Hobby gamers are rarely familiar with non-commercial ("professional") wargames and professional wargamers are usually familiar with little else (except some of the general boardgames).
  • Programming experience is much more common among professional gamers, as most of their games are still run on computers.
  • Military experience is quite common among hobby gamers. The commercial games are more accessible than the professional ones, there are no security issues to worry about and this allows military people to openly address issues that concern them. Civilians with military experience are also more prone to use commercial games. In a tradition that is now over thirty years old, military people and civilians use the commercial games to obtain a greater depth of knowledge on military affairs.
  • Use of wargames. The major difference between hobby and professional wargamers is the way they use the games. Hobbyists are interested in experiencing history, professionals are more intent on doing heavy duty analysis (thus the predominance of computers) and, increasingly, training.

Professional Connections

Gamers tend to be exceptionally well represented in a handful professions. This says a lot about the nature of wargames, wargamers and how the wargames work.

Programmers, or people comfortable with this uniquely 20th century exercise in logic and computer technology are well represented in wargaming circles. Many wargames now run on computers, but the ones that still attract programmers are the manual games. In these paper wargames the programmer can still tinker with the logic and procedure of the wargame. Most computer wargames do not allow such access.

Since the introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s, an increasing number of wargamers have gotten into programming in one form or another. All of these are relevant to wargames. The most common form of programming a lot of people are exposed to is personal computer spreadsheet programs (123, Excel, Quattro, etc). All of these programs feature a "macro language" which is, in effect, a form of computer programming language. Since most personal computers come equipped with the easy to use BASIC programming language, millions of computer users learned to use it. These millions of recreational and occasional programmers are added over a million professional programmers to create a ready market for game "simulations" of all kinds.

Military experience has had an influence on how hobbyists and professional wargamers approach their work. Increasingly, people without combat (or even military) experience work on wargames of all types. While much of the research needed to create a game required more scholarly training than time in the trenches, there was a certain insight required that could only be obtained from being in the ranks.

Designers of commercial games have the historical record, and if they lacked personal insight on how the military operates because they'd never been there, they could just work a little harder until they figured it all out. Professional wargamers have a different problem. Their games are on future wars and, as such, they have not got a historical gamers hindsight to keep them straight. The military tries to overcome these potential problems by getting the troops involved. Decades of officers playing commercial wargames has provided a pool of wargames savvy troops to put to work on the professional games.

Another problem unique to the professional gamer is whether the person involved is a buyer or seller of wargame material. Many professional wargames are still produced by civilian firms who in turn sell them to other civilian managers running military wargaming agencies. Often this is a case of the blind selling to the blind with neither end of the transaction having a firm grasp of the subject.

  Creating Wargames for the Troops

  Types of Wargames

  Table of Contents

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