States of Play: Evaluating the Renaissance in US Military Wargaming

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This paper introduces the topic of military wargaming into current critical debates in International Relations (IR) on games and gaming, which to date have focused on civilian, recreational forms. Identifying a renaissance which began in the US in 2014, the core argument developed is that wargaming utilizes key elements of critical/postpositivist theory in its interventions into the ‘human training dimension’ with the aim of impacting upon the inner domain of players in promotion of military ends. Drawing on Eyal Weizman’s work, the paper makes two key claims: 1) Wargaming poses a profound methodological and epistemological challenge to the quantitatively-oriented Operations Research (OR) community which has dominated DoD analysis for nearly a century. 2) By decoupling critical/postpositivist traditions from their intended ends, using them instead to impact upon players, wargaming militarizes them. The paper begins by locating the origins of the wargaming renaissance in the Defence Innovation Initiative and associated Third Offset Strategy. It then shows how US military gaming intervenes at the level of the human training dimension by cultivating specific forms of critical thinking, multiple futures planning, and reflexive decision-making using distinctively critical/postpositivist insights. From there it sets out three key challenges posed by wargaming to OR which trouble the latter’s claims to prediction, objectivity, and rationalism, before concluding that a new form of ‘post-quantitative defence analysis’ is emergent which militarizes the tools of critical/postpositivist approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages21
JournalCritical Military Studies
Early online date9 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jan 2020


  • critical theory/methods
  • decision-making
  • games
  • human training dimension
  • US military
  • Wargames


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