Book Review: Zones of Control edited by Pat Harrigan & Matthew Kirschenbaum

Topic & Content

A collection of essays by various voices in the field of wargaming. This is essentially the “big book” on wargaming and covers virtually all aspects of the field from professional to hobby and board games to video games. The book is organized as follows:

Part I: Paper Wars
Ch. 1 A Game Out of All Proportions: How a Hobby Minaturized War by Jon Peterson

Ch. 2 The History of Wargaming Project by John Curry

Ch. 3 The Fundamental Gap between Tabletop Simulation Games and the “Truth” by Tetsuya Nakamura

Ch. 4 Fleet Admiral: Tracing One Element in the Evolution of a Game Design by Jack Greene

Ch. 5 The Wild Blue Yonder: Representing Air Warfare in Games by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

Ch. 6 Historical Aesthetics in Mapmaking by Mark Mahaffey

Ch. 7 The “I” in Team: War and Combat in Tabletop Role-Playing Games by A. Scott Glancy
Part II: War Engines
Ch. 8 War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer by Henry Lowood

Ch. 9 The Engine of Wargaming by Matthew B. Caffrey Jr.

Ch. 10 Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader by J.R. Tracy

Ch. 11 Combat Commander: Time to Throw Your Plan Away by John A. Foley

Ch. 12 Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine by Mark Herman

Ch. 13 The Paths of Glory Lead but to the Gaming Table by Ted S. Raicer

Ch. 14 A New Kind of History: The Culture of Wargame Scenario Design Communities by Troy Goodfellow
Part III: Operations
Ch. 15 Operations Research, Systems Analysis, and Wargaming: Riding the Cycle of Research by Peter P. Perla

Ch. 16 The Application of Statistical and Forensics Validation to Simulation Modeling in Wargames by Brien J. Miller

Ch. 17 Goal-Driven Design and Napoleon’s Triumph by Rachel Simmons

Ch. 18 Harpoon: An Original Serious Game by Don R. Gilman

Ch. 19 The Development and Application of the Real-Time Air Power Wargame Simulation Modern Air Power by John Tiller and Catherine Cavagnaro

Ch. 20 Red vs. Blue by Thomas C. Schelling

Ch. 21 Hypergaming by Russell Vane
Part IV: The Bleeding Edge
Ch. 22 Wargaming Futures: Naturalizing the New American Way of War by Luke Caldwell and Tim Lenoir

Ch. 23 Creating Persian Incursion by Larry Bond

Ch. 24 Modeling the Second Battle of Fallujah by Laurent Closier

Ch. 25 Playing with Toy Soldiers: Authenticity and Metagaming in World War I Video Games by Andrew Wackerfuss

Ch. 26 America’s Army by Marcus Schulzke

Ch. 27 We the Soldiers: Player Complicity and Ethical Gameplay in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare by Miguel Sicart

Ch. 28 Upending Militarized Masculinity in Spec Ops: The Line by Soraya Murray
Part V: Systems and Situations
Ch. 29 Wargames as Writing Systems by Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi

Ch. 30 Playing Defense: Gender, Just War, and Game Design by Elizabeth Losh

Ch. 31 Debord’s Nostalgic Algorithm by Alexander R. Galloway

Ch. 32 The Ludic Science Club Crosses the Berezina by Richard Barbrook

Ch. 33 War Games by David Levinthal

Ch. 34 Troubling the Magic Circle: Miniature War in Iraq by Brian Conley
Part VI: The War Room
Ch. 35 Wargames as an Academic Instrument by Philip Sabin

Ch. 36 Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian by Robert M. Citino

Ch. 37 Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom by Rob MacDougall and Lisa Faden

Ch. 38 The Amateur Designer: For Fun and Profit by Charles Vasey

Ch. 39 Struggling with Deep Play: Utilizing Twilight Struggle for Historical Inquiry by Jeremy Antley

Ch. 40 Model-Driven Military Wargame Design and Evaluation by Alexander H. Levis and Robert J. Elder
Part VII: Irregularities
Ch. 41 Gaming the Nonkinetic by Rex Brynen

Ch. 42 Inhabited Models and Irregular Warfare Games: An Approach to Educational and Analytical Gaming at the US Department of Defense by Elizabeth M. Bartels

Ch. 43 Chess, Go, and Vietnam: Gaming Modern Insurgency by Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke

Ch. 44 Irregular Warfare: The Kobayashi Maru of the Wargaming World by Yuna Huh Wong

Ch. 45 A Mighty Fortress is Our God: When Military Action Meets Religious Strife by Ed Beach

Ch. 46 Cultural Wargaming: Understanding Cross-Cultural Communications Using Wargames by Jim Wallman
Part VIII: Other Theaters
Ch. 47 Wargaming (as) Literature by Esther MacCallum-Stewart

Ch. 48 Tristram Shandy: Toby and Trim’s Wargames and the Bowling Green by Bill McDonald

Ch. 49 Third Reich and The Third Reich by John Prados

Ch. 50 How Star Fleet Battles Happened by Stephen V. Cole

Ch. 51 Total Global Domination: Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000 by Ian Sturrock and James Wallis

Ch. 52 When the Drums Begin to Roll by Larry Brom

Ch. 53 War Re-created: Twentieth-Century War Reenactors and the Private Event by Jenny Thompson
Part IX: Fight the Future
Ch. 54 War, Mathematics, and Simulation: Drones and (Losing) Control of Battlespace by Patrick Crogan

Ch. 55 How to Sell Wargames to the Non-Wargamer by Michael Peck

Ch. 56 Wargaming the Cyber Frontier by Joseph Miranda

Ch. 57 The Unfulfilled Promise of Digital Wargames by Greg Costikyan

Ch. 58 Civilian Casualties: Shifting Perspective in This War of Mine by Kacper Kwiatkowski

Ch. 59 Practicing a New Wargame by Mary Flanagan

The book is divided up into nine parts and each part contains a series of essays from a variety of contributors from both the professional and hobby side of the wargaming. Part one discusses the history of tabletop wargames. Part two looks at the history of universal combat simulators that can be adapted to any number of scenarios. Part three specifically looks at how operations research and systems analysis, with their mathematical models, have built upon the utility of wargames. Part four contains essays analyzing wargaming topics concerning contemporary conflicts and digital games. Part five offers critical examinations of wargames in less conventional and countercultural contexts such as their writing, artistic, and political dimensions. Part six examines wargaming applications to the classroom, historical research, and general scholarship. Part seven focuses on wargames as applied to unconventional warfare/counterinsurgency, non-kinetic scenarios, and nonmilitary organizations. Part eight addresses various miscellaneous wargaming-related fields such as historical reenactment, films, literature, and science fiction. Finally, part nine ponders the future of wargaming as a profession and a hobby.

Thesis

This book seeks to largely provide the reader with multiple perspectives on the field of wargaming from professionals to hobbyists. While certainly not the final say on any single wargaming topic, it examines the past, present, and future uses of wargames, largely in a Western context.

Author’s Background

Going into the background of every single contributing author in this compilation would be far too time-consuming. However, it’s safe to say that all of the contributors in this book have ample experience in the field of wargaming, either as professionals working in a national defense capacity or as hobbyists and prominent game designers. Examining the short blurbs at the end of each essay, I noticed that the vast majority of the authors had Master’s and/or Doctorate levels of education. Only one or two authors had anything lower and they were Bachelor’s degrees at the very minimum. In short, as James Dunnigan pointed out, wargaming is the hobby of the over-educated. (I mean that in a good way.)

Critical Observations

Pros:

There’s so much to discuss about this book because it covers such a broad range of topics. Even the essays I didn’t particularly enjoy, I still found something interesting in them. By far, my favorite essays in the book were:

  • Ch. 1: A Game Out of Proportions (A fairly good primer on the history of wargaming.)
  • Ch. 7: The “I” in Team: War and Combat in Tabletop Role-Playing Games (A good examination of how RPGs can be analyzed from a threefold model of game design, narrative, and simulation. Also a good look at how RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, descended from wargames.)
  • Ch. 8: War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer (A good essay on the evolution of wargame systems, prominent designers/companies, and how wargames made an early transition to PCs. Also, some of the benefits and drawbacks of PC wargames.)
  • Ch. 14: A New Kind of History: The Culture of Wargame Scenario Design Communities (Why PC wargames with scenario/mission editors have advantages in sharing content and ideas.)
  • Ch. 15: Operations Research, Systems Analysis, and Wargaming (A look at how OR, SA, and wargaming have developed and been used as analytical tools in the professional defense community.)
  • Ch. 16: Application of Statistical and Forensic Validation to Simulation Modeling in Wargames (How historical statistics can be used in designing historical wargames. For example, designing wargames on U-boat operations in the Atlantic.)
  • Ch. 18: Harpoon: An Original Serious Game (A short history on the development of Larry Bond’s Harpoon naval wargame.)
  • Ch. 22: Wargaming Futures: Naturalizing the New American Way of War (A critique of how modern and future warfare is (mis)represented in popular first-person shooters like the Call of Duty franchise.)
  • Ch. 25: Playing with Toy Soldiers: Authenticity and Metagaming in World War I Video Games (An interesting commentary on authenticity in video games and how metagaming and reality contrast with each other.)
  • Ch. 26: America’s Army (A critical look at the U.S. Army recruiting video game, its propaganda elements, and a response to criticisms.)
  • Ch. 27: We the Soldiers: Player Complicity and Ethical Gameplay in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (A critical examination of the narratives of COD: MW series and how they present ethical issues and engage (or fail to engage) players in reflection.)
  • Ch. 28: Upending Militarized Masculinity in Spec Ops: The Line (A critical examination of Spec Ops: The Line‘s narrative, how it runs contrary to most modern military-themed video game narratives, and how it provides the player with a self-reflective experience.)
  • Ch. 29: Wargames as Writing Systems (What makes simulations seem real, how technology is compelling in simulations, how games are useful as educational tools, and how games are engaging as multimodal and multisensory systems.)
  • Ch. 35: Wargames as an Academic Instrument (A further expansion on Philip Sabin’s ideas in his book Simulating War on how wargames can be used in a classroom setting. Also, the educational benefits and challenges to teaching wargames.)
  • Ch. 36: Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom (How wargames are beneficial for teaching history, the popularity of military history, and how we can overcome the stigma of using games and simulations.)
  • Ch. 41: Gaming the Nonkinetic (How wargames can be adapted to political-military situations, humanitarian responses, and insurgency/counter-insurgency operations. Also, the further benefits and drawbacks of computer simulations in these scenarios.)
  • Ch. 43: Chess, Go, and Vietnam: Gaming Modern Insurgency (The challenges of modeling asymmetric warfare and some examples of successful games that cover such topics.)
  • Ch. 44: Irregular Warfare: The Kobayashi Maru of the Wargaming World (Highlights the author’s personal experiences in conducting analytical irregular warfare games in the DoD and how these games have presented challenges to conservative thinking and institutions.)
  • Ch. 46: Cultural Wargaming: Understanding Cross-Cultural Communications Using Wargames (A very interesting examination of how wargames have been adapted to simulate cultural differences and interpersonal conflict. How personal perspectives, biases, and assumptions play a role.)
  • Ch. 57: The Unfulfilled Promise of Digital Wargames (How PC wargames have done well at simulating certain aspects and how they haven’t fully leveraged their strengths. Furthermore, why popular video games (like FPS and RTS games) still fail at achieving the depth and complexity of true wargames.)
  • Ch. 58: Civilian Casualties: Shifting Perspective in This War of Mine (A game developer’s commentary on the game’s design influences and decisions of This War of Mine. Also, why the game models the player as civilians rather than as soldiers in a war.)

It’s fair to say that my personal background as a PC & console gamer and as an educator means that I gained the most from essays that were applicable to those areas. People with different experiences and backgrounds may have a different opinion. I found all of the essays intelligently written and worth reading regardless.

Cons:

The least useful essays to me were in Part V, chapters 30 – 34. These generally focused on how wargames have been used in unconventional or abstract ways. The chapters focused less on how the games were used/played and more on the artistic/aesthetic qualities of them. I also found some of the essays in Part VIII strange because they focused on literary depictions of games or historical reenactments and not on the games themselves.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the book is also its greatest weakness. It casts such a wide net that it’s difficult for the reader to really ponder much before the next essay provides an equally insightful viewpoint. There’s an argument to be made that the book is too broad in its topics. However, I opine that each essay in this book isn’t meant to be the final say on its topic, but rather it’s meant to give the reader a small taste of the intellectual breadth of the field of wargaming. This is to say that wargames can be examined from virtually any viewpoint, from the arts to the sciences.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

Zones of Control really stands as a great compilation of essays on the field of wargaming. It’s also a great way for newcomers to dip their toes into the various perspectives and ways to approach wargames. It’s clear that there is already a body of scholarly research that’s been written on the field of game studies (ludology) and there’s more to add to it. At the very least, this book is proof that we can go beyond the simplistic evaluation of games as mere childish toys where you mindlessly blow things up or mash buttons on a controller for mere points.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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