To outsiders, it was intriguing and secretive. Monday's headlines read: 'World-leaders simulate crisis situation'. The game in question was Nukes on the Loose, a video-based scenario in which an unidentified global terrorist network manages to steal nuclear material from an unidentified country. World-leaders were required to make tricky decisions on a tablet computer. Luckily for us, they won and we were saved from a nuclear explosion in one of the world's major cities.
Prime Minister Rutte refused to discuss the details with Reuters. “We would never have this type of program again if people felt that what they said or did would be revealed to the press." And of course he's right. But the secrecy that shrouded this war game (better known as the title of a film) meant that the press had a field day. Obama, or ‘President Strangelove’ as the New York Daily News referred to him, was accused of intimidation as photos of mushroom clouds above Manhattan appeared on the front page. The image of world-leaders single-handedly trying to prevent the detonation of a dirty bomb was perhaps just too frightening.
So what was behind all the secrecy and the strange reactions? Playing games to prepare for a crisis (practising in a virtual simulation) is common practice for the military, the police and emergency services at operational, tactical and strategic levels. The NFI researches and uses ‘game technology’ for virtualising crime scenes and examining evidence. Soldiers in almost every NATO country prepare for missions in Virtual Battle Space (VBS). Emergency services practise multidisciplinary coordination (CoPI) in virtual environments. Generals and CEOs devise their strategies in a digital ‘sand box’. Disaster drills are the ultimate test of written plans. But does this also happen outside the Netherlands?
Do our world-leaders actually know enough about the way that games are changing our world? ‘Trying things out’ and ‘practising’ in a game might just make the world a safer place. Wouldn't it be great if this was an unexpected added bonus of the NSS? Obama's support for the line taken at the NSS shows that he at least understands and believes in the power of games. “I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up”, said Obama in March 2011. It was intended as a call for the video game industry to create educational games, such as the ‘apps for healthy kids’, which Michelle Obama supports, but he could easily have spoken the very same words to some of the world-leaders at the NSS.
Check the facts on:
Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2578170/World-leaders-nuclear-terrorism-war-games-G7-summit-good-news-won.html
New York Daily news: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/obama-warns-russia-ukraine-advance-article-1.1734113
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/12/13/games-can-change-world
Igor Mayer is associate professor at TU Delft and founding director of Signature Games.
Theo van Ruijven is public security consultant at Capgemini Consulting and guest researcher at TU Delft. He is currently preparing a thesis looking into multidisciplinary coordination in crisis teams that take part in virtual simulation drills.