I remember playing Sim City as a kid I would leave the game on for hours, even when I wasn’t playing, and return to find my metropolis in flames. Then I would have to scramble to get everything back in working order, at which point the game would become boring, and I would abandon it again. For me, a city in crisis was more appealing than a stable one.
Still the game taught me to think about cities in ways I never had before. I was still in middle school at the time, and my conception of transportation and urban planning was next to nothing. Seeing the impact a well designed network of roads had on my digital domain did awaken a larger awareness of what makes a great city.
The military seems to have latched on to the idea that video games are good teaching tools. A new piece in the Atlantic details the development of a sort of Sim Iraq, where battalion commanders have to pacify an insurgent city by learning the social, cultural, economic and geographic needs of a diverse population.
I doubt any digital city can accurately predict the complex web of interactions that make up a real war zone. But as a thought exercise I believe the game could have real value. Apparently the game works off of real world data, and can be programmed to run “stories” tailored to fit different conflicts.
Over at Danger Room this topic has been bouncing around since 2007. The general consensus there seems to be while the concept is interesting, there’s not much value to these games, and anyone who thinks this will prepare our troops to understand an insurgency is just a couch commander with a hard on for control.
“John Nagl, who helped write the Army’s manual on defusing insurgencies, told Danger Room in 2007. “They are smoking something they shouldn’t be,” retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper quipped to Science magazine. ‘Only those who don’t know how the real world works will be suckers for this stuff.’”
I don’t think these games are anything more than a mental primer for the real experience. But as a means of getting commanders to think intelligently about the multiple factors that influence an urban insurgency, I would wager these games have real value.