Tom Vielott is a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the creator of the Itooran Peace Game. He can be found at tvielott.wordpress.com. Divergent Opinions’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Options to Increase Diversity by Forging Pathways into the Wargaming Profession
Date Originally Written: June 16, 2021.
Date Originally Published: June 28, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is a longtime member of the hobby wargaming and tabletop roleplaying community and the designer of a serious game for training use in a university classroom. He is writing from his experiences in those communities and in attempting to find his place in the professional wargaming community. The author is not a member of a minority group and has not personally experienced discrimination on the basis of his gender, sexuality, or race.
Background: It is not novel to notice that the demographic makeup of the ‘wargaming community’ – the military professionals, academics, policy researchers, and others who play, design, and facilitate serious games – is almost entirely white, male, heterosexual, able bodied, well educated, and often with a military background. One need only look around at the attendees at the average Connections Conference to observe the fact of the matter: there is not much diversity in the wargaming community.
Significance: A lack of diversity in the wargaming community leads it along a path of stagnation and, in the long term, irrelevance. As Sally Davis eloquently expresses in her Wavell Room piece, well made games are art, an intimate way of experiencing other perspectives and new ideas through direct experience. A wargaming community without significant participation by women; Black, Indigenous and People of Color; and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender designers loses many great opportunities to expand ideas about war and international politics. The ultimate goal of diversity in the wargaming community is not only to produce a general improvement in the thoughtfulness, quality, and emotional range of games produced for serious purposes, but to also improve the lives of the marginalized within it. If this lack of diversity within the wargaming community continues, it risks relegating many wargames to exercises in bias-confirmation and self-aggrandizement rather than exploration and analysis.
Action can be taken with an eye towards the recruitment of new gamers and designers, but the roots of this diversity problem are deeper than that. Every member of the community, from the oldest designers to the newest players, will have to adjust their attitudes and assumptions for any of these options to be successful.
Option #1: Diversify Skillsets in Wargaming Roles.
A brief look at the job market in wargames reveals two significant trends: First, most of the jobs require the applicant to already have military experience. Second, most require advanced degrees, often in specific modeling disciplines like physics or engineering or in policy analysis. These trends greatly restrict the kinds of people who are able to find paid work in serious gaming outside of academia to the dominant wargaming milieu described earlier. One might suspect that professional wargamers are seeking more people who look and think like them. It is a natural inclination, but one that the profession can fight against by revalidating and possibly relaxing those requirements and actively seeking out and training those with experience in other disciplines, particularly ones in the humanities, to be wargamers.
Risk: Option #1 will be costly in time and resources to bring in those without intimate familiarity with the military or with analytical techniques up to speed on wargaming techniques.
Gain: Opening positions to skillsets outside of those traditionally held within the wargaming field will enable an increase in diversity by searching out people with different backgrounds and experiences and inviting them to join the wargaming community explicitly.
Option #2: Make More Games Unclassified.
Security classification is a major barrier to participation in the wargaming community. It means that a security clearance, often an existing one, is a requirement to become a part of many wargaming projects. It also means that once created, games often languish and disappear from the consciousness of the community because they are not shared around because of the difficulty of getting approval for any kind of release. RAND’s Hedgemony is an excellent example of a successful unclassified game with a public release which garnered interest both in the U.S. and abroad. More games following in Hedgemony’s footsteps could seek to be widely seen outside of the professional community.
Risk: Not utilizing classified information can make designing wargames harder and reduce the fidelity of highly analytical games. Ensuring games can be unclassified requires extra effort in some contexts since the content will have to undergo security review.
Gain: Unclassified games can more easily involve people without clearances, especially if they are in a freelance or contractor position. These games can also be used in a far wider variety of contexts, especially in outreach and in the recruitment of more gamers and designers. As a further effect, the unclassified games will increase the pool of existing games from which designers can learn and expand their repertoire.
Option #3: Expand Outreach Beyond the Traditional Wargaming Community.
Many of the same problems in the professional community are mirrored in the hobby community. There is a far greater diversity of designers and players in hobby communities outside of traditional wargaming, particularly in the independent (or ‘indie’) roleplaying community. More effort could be directed towards drawing members of these communities to wargames. Many members have experience with game jams and other game design events. Hosting similar events with a serious gaming focus with advertising in hobby spaces could draw new designers to the fold.
The Zenobia Award, which seeks out both underrepresented game concepts and underrepresented game designers, is an excellent example of what this could look like: challenges and collaborations that encourage people who otherwise would not be involved in serious gaming to try their hand at game design, and which offer them connections within the community, mentorship, and professional opportunities.
Risk: Some groups will react poorly to outreach, and serious efforts will have to be made to make them feel comfortable enough to participate and to prevent the intended audience from being crowded out.
Gain: The option, if well executed, will provide a greater pool of diverse wargame designers, and a flowering of unusual game designs.
Other Comments: The complexity and difficulty involved in this issue cannot be overemphasized. Even successful execution of all of the options given above would not alone be sufficient to ‘solve’ the diversity problem. Only serious concerted effort to enact change along multiple axes, among them: hiring, institutional culture, outreach, personal behavior, and fundamental attitudes about the purpose of gaming, will address this situation.
The author would also like to thank Dr. Yuna Wong for being open to a frank conversation that deeply informed his writing on the topic.
 Connections Wargaming Conference. (n.d.). Retrieved June 16, 2021, from https://connections-wargaming.com. Connections is a family of conferences around the world which focus on the professional practice of the design and facilitation of ‘serious games’ including wargames and other tabletop exercises. Its attendees are generally representative of the most active members in the field.
 Davis, S. (2021, January 15). Wargaming has a Diversity Problem. Wavell Room. https://wavellroom.com/2021/01/15/wargaming-has-a-diversity-problem
 My year of doing terrifying things for diversity and inclusion. (2020, December 31). PAXsims. https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/my-year-of-doing-terrifying-things-for-diversity-and-inclusion
 Linick, M. E., Yurchak, J., Spirtas, M., Dalzell, S., Wong, Y. H., & Crane, Y. K. (2020). Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices. Www.rand.org. https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL301.html#download
 See for example: Why Don’t More Women Play Wargames? (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6atdeEMrLCE
 Game jams. (n.d.). Itch.io. https://itch.io/jams. Itch.io, a hub of independent game activity, hosts a dizzying array of jams, most of which are for video games, but a sizable minority are for roleplaying games.
 Zenobia Award. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://zenobiaaward.org