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.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 4:47 pm, 18 December 2006]
[Edit April 2012: I now regret posting this as it may have given trolls ideas...]
More on cavalry charges later this week, but today I’m taking a break from that to write about virtual reality. This was one of the many interesting things that Wulf Kansteiner talked about at the Institute of Historical Research the other week. He pointed out that we are now very close to the point where virtual worlds become indistinguishable from reality. Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games are increasingly popular, and have both a bigger and more diverse player base than the strategy games and shooters which are the focus of my (stereotypically male) gaming interests. Second Life has moved the genre away from Tolkienesque fantasy worlds towards a simulacrum of a more familiar reality. He also suggested that Artificial Intelligence is reaching a level of sophistication at which it becomes difficult to tell the difference between computer controlled and human controlled characters.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:31 am, 14 November 2006]
Since my previous post about Niall Ferguson’s article on computer games and the Second World War I’ve had some more ideas and found some new information. While I was searching Google for something else, I came across the article Theatres of War: The Military-Entertainment Complex by Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood. This article looks at the development of computer simulations for training the US military, and the relationship between the defence industry and the games industry. It includes a particularly interesting account of an attempt to reconstruct a battle from the 1991 Gulf War.