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The Gamification of War In a ‘War Room’ Is a Dangerous Trend

Gamification of War
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with the national security team on Iraq in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 11, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Joe Biden ordered the first air strikes of his Presidency against Iran-backed militia positions recently. The decision to attack likely came from a discussion in the White House Situation Room. What drives the decision-making to use military force in the 21st Century?

The Gamification of War, Explained

The current global operating environment includes a phenomenon that I call the “gamification of war.” This means that policy makers in the United States tend to see warfare, and in particular, targeted assassinations, as something out of a video game. This occurs thanks to video technology from drone surveillance streaming in the White House Situation Room and the Pentagon’s National Military Command System. It results in what the DOD calls a “situational picture” of the global status of early warning systems from the entire U.S. military. This influences the American way of war and decision-making on who or what needs to be removed from the battlefield.

Gamification is from a broader aspect of analysis called the sociology of war. Sometimes the sociological operating environment is comprised of megatrends. For example, more people around the globe are moving to cities. This urbanization affects how urban warfare is conducted. Moreover, fragile states where warfare is more prevalent, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and Yemen, have high levels of corruption. Graft is difficult to overcome when conflict in war zones leads to a local economy that is increasingly corrupt. Having a professional army full of officers and non-commissioned officers that are above reproach is necessary when it comes to optimum performance in combat.

In Afghanistan, there are some situations in which enlisted soldiers simply do not report for duty and crooked officers abscond with the missing soldiers’ pay. Corruption-prone states often have more violent crime and internal conflict that creates large numbers of refugees who embark on dangerous journeys to more developed countries. Outward flows of migrants from Central America leaving for the United States is an example. This allows cartels to traffic persons which results in a dangerous incidence of transnational crime.

The sociology of war also delves down into individual soldiers or groups of warriors that are necessary for land warfare, such as the Army rifle platoon that is comprised of fire teams and squads who must perform highly synchronized battle drills to be successful in combat. This warrior solidarity is micro-level sociology. Policy leaders in the U.S. National Command Authority also have their own micro-sociological operating environment and battle rhythms. This brings me to my explication of war gamification. Policy makers in situation rooms do not feel the horrors of combat up close. This state of affairs started during the Vietnam War when President Lyndon Johnson selected bombing targets from the White House.

How Gamification Occurs

Now technology and real-time situational awareness create higher levels of gamification. It is easier today to give the command for a targeted assassination from a drone strike or the orders for a jackpot raid from special operations forces to rescue a hostage. These missions have the look and feel of a video game. The current U.S. president and the previous two presidents have not been military veterans. They have not experienced war in person, and this leads them to make less complicated decisions on the deployment and employment of military personnel overseas based on what they see and feel from the Situation Room.

This gamification of war in a “war room” could potentially be dangerous. It affects foreign policy decision-making on the use of force. Combat video and communication from the White House Situation Room and the DOD’s National Military Command System is intoxicating in its sophistication. Although it does not have the smell of combat, it does have the sights and sounds, and that is enough to gamify each violent operation. This leads to more, not fewer, instances of targeted assassinations and removal of people from the battlefield.

Sometimes this is justified, in the case of Osama bin-Laden, to be sure. But what if it goes too far and policy makers become more reliant on targeted assassinations? War is a human endeavor filled with success, but it also contains errors of judgment, miscalculations, and accidents. Gamification of war can lead to more mistakes and blunders. Human fallibility is what drives the ethics and sociology of warfare. This sociological operating environment leads to the current state of gamification and even a grander future that consists of even more gamification. Policy makers, particularly those who have not served in the military, must be reminded of their fallibility in this technological environment and reminded of what the “game players” can and cannot accomplish on the battlefield.

Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is a Political Scientist and Emerging Threats expert. He was Founder and CEO of a tech firm that predicted world events using machine learning and artificial intelligence. He served in the U.S. Senate as a legislative fellow and advised a senator on defense and foreign policy issues. Brent has taught at George Washington University and George Mason University. He is a former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Slack

    July 14, 2021 at 2:05 am

    GREAT ARTICLE, Mr. Eastwood.

    Too many guys hanker for quick military action or armed conflict just by consulting with ‘wargame analysts’ without thinking of the terrible, terrible consequences.

    War ‘experts’ or ‘gurus’ like Harry Harris and even antony Blinken think unleashing shock and awe warfare is a cakewalk or a piece of cake WITHOUT thinking that was the very same approach used by hitler in June 1941 when he attacked the USSR.

    Hitler thankfully ended his life before Soviets tanks rolled over the top of his bunker and soviet soldiers rushed into its interior BUT this so very unexpected end to the german warmaker has never been contemplated by today’s shock and awe warfare gurus.

    They need to read YOUR ARTICLE !

  2. Slack

    July 24, 2021 at 2:30 am

    War gamification is a growing disease or illness that feeds off the massive military industrial complex and its compliant army of flag waving fans, from hawkish congressmen (and-women) to retired officers employed by the arms industry, wall street speculators, the media, talk show personalities to the average man in the street who has zero recollections of the fierce street clashes between antiwar protesters and violent police officers and national guardsmen and the work of the Weatherman (Weather Underground group).

    It is a dangerous illness that one day could bring about the end of babylon on the potomac and all the warmongers on Earth if it is not erased.

  3. Slack

    August 2, 2021 at 5:52 am

    The U.S. is a war thug or military thug. It sees war as an ordinary extension of normal government business or everyday government function like providing employment or health services, garbage disposal and the like. Crazy. Crazy as in lunacy.

    So, the U.S. is into war gamification AND ALSO war proliferation. One way is by forward basing its offensive weaponry, or sending its latest weapons abroad. Nuclear bombs like B61 bomb are stored abroad and doomsday missiles are stationed on the front doorsteps of rivals.

    Readers should visit the story “The Okinawa Missiles of October” which is (still) available on the internet to realise what a war thug the U.S. is.

  4. Slack

    August 4, 2021 at 1:22 am

    The gamification of war by US administration officials and the associated think tanks employed by the DoD such as the RAND corporation will (if unchecked) lead to a ruinous global conflict where there are no winners, only losers.

    Those who survive the conflict will be confronted with the prospect of eating their own kith and kin for a chance to live through to the next day. This outcome has never been given thought or consideration by the wargamers inside the pentagon.

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