Megagames

NEWICONS-02Megagames, as the name implies, are games that involve a large number of players, simulating often very sweeping events at a country or global scale. Megagames have depicted everything from a German invasion of Britain during World War II to an alien invasion of Earth in present times. While megagames have their roots in Kriegspiel, the classic “sandbox” wargame, they also have significant differences from Kriegspiel.

Both types of games divide players into teams, including one team of umpires. Unlike Kriegspiel, megagames are not necessarily military simulations. They often have military components, but there are completely non-military megagames, too. Also distinct from simulations of battles, there are not only two “sides” in the game. Megagames often include many teams, representing different countries, political factions, or other groupings.

Like the “free” form of Kriegspiel, megagames often do not have strict rules governing what actions players can take, or what the consequences of these actions will be. Given their larger scope, beyond just military scenarios, megagames require more improvisation.

The purpose of megagames might simply be entertainment, but they also have many “serious” applications. National security professionals, for example, have used a megagame to prepare for crises. Emergency responders have used megagames to train for natural disasters. Across these varied scenarios, megagames have two primary purposes:

  • Teach players how to handle these situations. For example, during the Cold War, the US government learned how ineffective a form of communication “saber-rattling,” such as moving US troops into a conflict zone, could be.
  • Inspire and test strategies. The megagames are a forum in which people can safely try out strategies that would be risky and expensive in real life. During the course of the game, participants may take unexpected actions, contributing new options that people might not otherwise have considered.

An important feature of megagames is limited information. Players have only the information that the umpires provide. Human nature being what it is, this feature leads players often to jump to incorrect conclusions about what is really happening in the game.

For more information…
An example of a megagame played for fun, in which aliens visit the Earth.
Another account of the same game.
A professional megagame designers’ book on the subject.
A presentation by Thomas Schelling on the uses of crisis games during the Cold War.

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