War Games

// MECS // Lecture // February 21 – 22, 2014 // 
»War Games. Computer Simulation, Sovereignty, and the Military«

Lightman: [typing] What is the primary goal?
Joshua: You should know, Professor. You programmed me.
Lightman: Oh, come on. [typing] What is the primary goal?
Joshua: To win the game.
(War Games, USA 1983, R: John Badham)



The media history of computer simulations is closely related to the history of military technology. Analog computers were essential hardware for scenario simulations in WWII War Rooms; digital computers became central for the think tanks of the Cold War, with their computer facilitated scenarios, creativity games and Synthetic Histories (Claus Pias). Today’s command and control centers employ simulation techniques for planning and conducting networked operations involving drones, special forces and ordinary troops. Simulations are also used in re-enactments of historical battles, as artificial battlegrounds for urban warfare, and in game-like virtual training software like American Army. Computer simulation plays a key role not only in the immersive environments of tank and flight simulators, but also in stress simulations in artificial social environments. Last but not least, testing the viability of counterinsurgency strategies for specific populations sometimes entails computer simulations employing paradigms derived from social networks.

Thus, military simulations have had an essential role in shaping the development of digital media. At the same time, certain developments signal the increasingly close relationship between computer simulation and sovereignty: for instance, the USA’s push for a worldwide atomic test ban during the mid-1990s indicated its confidence in the superiority of simulations. A state’s independence and authority depend, on the one hand, on its mastery of simulation hard- and software, and, on the other, on its promotion of a diverse culture of simulations.

Our workshop investigates the media history of computer simulations along three axes of inquiry. Firstly, we aim to investigate the genealogies of military simulations, producing a historicized and systematic mapping of a heterogeneous field that distinguishes between pure computer simulation in the development of weaponry and mixed uses in tactical and strategic planning. These must in turn be differentiated from analysis of big data and graphs with the goal of obtaining knowledge about (potential) enemies and from training software. Secondly, we are interested in the history and nature of the relationship between computer simulation and military-dependent sovereignty, especially with respect to historical continuities and ruptures. Finally, we seek to learn about the way in which computer simulations from outside the military realm relate to those within it.

13.00Welcome Address

Jutta Weber (Paderborn)
»Drone Visualities«

14.00Patrick Crogan (Bristol)
»Permanent and Everywhere. Military Robotics and the Virtualization of Space-time«
14.45Lunch Break
15.15Robertson Allen (Seattle)
»Ethnographic Access and Research in Military Simulation Organizations«
16.00Dierk Spreen (Lüneburg)
»Digitalisation and the Concept of 'Innere Führung'«
16.45Coffee Break
17.00Sebastian Vehlken (MECS)
»From War Games to Strategic Dynamics (and beyond) – Rand Strategic Assessment Center (RSAC) and SIMNET«
17.45Claus Pias (MECS)
»What Problems do Problem Solvers Solve? Decision and Cognitive Simulation in Early Warning Systems«
10.00Nikita Braguinski (Berlin)
»The game of Go as a mathematical battleground«

Niklas Schrape (MECS)
»The discoursive construction of the computer wargame«

11.30Coffee Break
12.00Christoph Engemann (MECS)
»The Virtuality of Sovereignty: Non-Proliferation and Computer-Simulation«
12.45Wolfgang Hagen (Lüneburg)
»"Kriegsspiele" or: The Disunity of Sciences and the Epistemology of Simulation«
13.30Warmup and Responses


Concept & Organization
Christoph Engemann
Sebastian Vehlken



Conference Venue
Stadtarchiv Lüneburg
Wallstraße 4
21335 Lüneburg