Now that I’ve got a lot of other things out of the way I can get back to posting more regularly, and there’s a lot to catch up on (although I’m still slightly confused – this post was going to be about something completely different but wandered off in a slightly bizarre direction and isn’t very coherent!). Via Break Of Day In The Trenches there’s an update on Niall Ferguson and Muzzy Lane at Wired. Ferguson’s misplaced enthusiasm for the game Making History: The Calm and the Storm got a lot of attention in the history blogosphere last year (for example see Airminded, and my posts here, here, and here). There was some suspicion at the time that Ferguson was probably being paid by Muzzy Lane to big-up what is a pretty mediocre game, and now Wired reveals that he’s teaming up with them to design an ultra-modern counter-factual game.
It’s good that the Wired article focuses on chaos and complexity, but I think it’s a bit too optimistic. As far as I could see from the demo, Making History didn’t capture the chaos and complexity of war – it was simplistic and predictable. It’s true that strategy games can get people used to dealing with chaos, but Making History isn’t a very good example. If this is the main educational value of a strategy game, then that game doesn’t need to be historically accurate, and doesn’t even need a historical setting. There are plenty of commercial Real Time Strategy games available which are not based on historical research and which don’t claim to be counter-factual tools for historians. In my experience, this kind of game can be so complex and chaotic that even its designers don’t fully understand it.