Gamer mode Identifying and managing unwanted behaviour in military educational wargaming

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: Games are rule-governed systems at the same time as they are fiction, simulating or representing a real or an abstract world. This defining characteristic may create for different forms of tensions, that is, at different times players may focus on the rules, the fiction or on both during game play. In military education with games, this poses a problem when the learner becomes too focused on the rules, trying to win at any price rather than taking the representation and what it implies in terms of permissible behaviour seriously. In here we attempt to understand how participants in a wargaming situation act out this tension by studying the interaction between the player and the game in military tactical training.The results first of all confirm that there is a tension – there are occasions where players are mainly concerned with winning the wargame, disregarding what the theme is meant to represent. I propose the term gamer mode to refer to this player orientation: players in gamer mode have an extreme rule-focused interaction, meaning they behave rationally with respect to game rules but irrationally with respect to the portrayed real-life situation they are training for. Gamer mode can probably occur for many reasons. This thesis documents two contributing factors. The first concerns whenever the game does not match players’ expectation on mimicking warfare. In these situations players may find that the game breaks the fragile contract of upholding an accurate representation of warfare. The other factor that may lead to gamer mode are game design features such as explicit reward structures or victory conditions.To remedy the situation, the instructor can, in real-time, actively support players’ orientation towards the game and explain in-game events, keeping them on track. When gamer mode occur I argue that the conditions for learning are compromised as the gaming activity becomes its own learning subject, blurring and overshadowing the learning objective. Although the results suggest that gamer mode is mainly detrimental to learning I conclude that gamer mode is a natural way students will approach games and as such, needs to be dealt with by the instructor.

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