Simulating War with the MIT Wargaming Working Group | 2020 | News

Simulating War with the MIT Wargaming Working Group
by SSP Staff
Wargame photo

Simulating War with the MIT Wargaming Working Group.


War is not a game, except when it’s a wargame.


photo credit: James Lacey



On November 12th and 13th, members of the MIT Wargaming Working Group (“WGWG”) hosted a wargame to simulate a possible conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Participating teams included the United States, Republic of China, People’s Republic of China, and Japan.

In contrast to a typical game played for entertainment, wargames are designed specifically for policymakers or military personnel to prepare for all manner of outcomes. These games aim to be as accurate as possible, and are rigorously detailed with real-world data. Teams compete in a hypothetical military battle or campaign, with the goals of learning about a particular military scenario and honing the players’ tactical and strategic analytical skills. The MIT WGWG’s scenario was no different, and after three rounds of intense, arbitrated gameplay, the participants had a fruitful discussion of how their experience strengthened their understanding of escalation dynamics, civil-military relations, and strategic uncertainty.

The designing and refereeing of the game were done by MIT Security Studies Program (“SSP”) faculty Eric Heginbotham, Richard Samuels and Erik Lin-Greenberg; SSP PhD students: Suzanne Freeman and Ben Harris; and SSP 2005 alum and current Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, Christopher Twomey. Participants included MIT graduate students and Naval Postgraduate School students, all of whom were active duty military officers.

For SSP and the Wargaming Working Group, the use of wargames proved to be not only an exciting, novel method for instructing students on military science and the unique dynamics of real-world military flashpoints, but also a tremendous opportunity to gain familiarity with a common exercise in defense policy and warfighter communities.