Could a video game help avert nuclear war?

Could a video game help avert nuclear war?

By Luke Vargas   
Published
The world before nuclear war in the video game SIGNAL, developed by scientists at two U.S. national laboratories and UC Berkeley. Courtesy: Project on Nuclear Gaming
The world before nuclear war in the video game SIGNAL, developed by scientists at two U.S. national laboratories and UC Berkeley. (Courtesy: Project on Nuclear Gaming)

Nuclear war simulations aren't new. Using video games to help decision-makers test their instincts in a range of scenarios is.

UNITED NATIONS – Could a video game train a new generation of scientists, generals and politicians to avert nuclear war? That’s the goal of the game SIGNAL being developed by two U.S. national laboratories.

Yours truly took the game for a spin:

“I’m in a three-player game and I’m playing as an island nation with no one else on my continent. I’ve got a large population, lots of resources, a big military, missiles and nuclear weapons big and small. So we’re good.”

Across an ocean, two of SIGNAL’s game designers control their own enemy nations.

Fast-forward a half-hour and the game is over. I came in second, but things are a mess: Nuclear radiation destroyed most of the world’s farms and I’m disappointed because I wanted to use diplomacy to avoid nuclear war and it seems my comfort with traditional warfare heated up tensions so much that diplomacy felt futile.

But I want to play again.

Sheryl Hingorani of Sandia National Laboratories is one of the lead investigators at UC Berkeley’s Project on Nuclear Gaming and says replayability is part of what sets video games apart.

“The once-a-year play through of one specific scenario is not enough.”

Numerous firms run complex, sometimes multi-day war games for small groups, but Hingorani says those have limitations.

“The problem is that when get to the end of the game and you can’t say, ‘I wish I had done something else in move two. I wonder how the game would have unfolded if I had.’ ”

SIGNAL has already been played more than 300 times in the last month and those numbers are expected to grow. I just hope future policymakers do better than I did when it comes to averting nuclear war.

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