Even gamers have a better grasp of reality
Posted by aogWednesday, 29 March 2006 at 21:35 TrackBack Ping URL

Fred Kaplan’s whining about the mistakes in Iraq brings to mind two thoughts.

The first is that of course mistakes were made. In fact, preventable and forseeable ones were made. Complaints about mistakes per se, though, are indicative of people who have never undertaken a complex and time dependent task. Having done more than of those myself, I can say that generally the issue isn’t how to avoid mistakes, but about which mistakes to accept because preventing those is too expensive either in time or because it would cause even bigger errors.

Now, obviously, it can’t be beyond the pale to critique such undertakings. But to be valid, such critiques must acknowledge the trade offs inherent in such enterprises and (most important) provide specific details on how it could have been better handled, not vague “should have been aware” platitudes.

The other main thought is how, once again, playing games would have been very helpful to Kaplan in avoiding writing such a silly article. In particular, pundits shouldn’t be allowed to write on the subject if they are not at least passable players of real time strategy games. That is the kind of activity that will teach you about the tradeoffs of handling complex tasks in real time, as opposed to endless time post facto (as Kaplan does). One would learn precisely this lesson, that one must frequently simply let a bad situation go on because one is preventing some even worse event from occurring. It rapidly becomes clear that the limiting factor for victory is not resources but “wetware cycles”, i.e. the amount of attention one has to distribute among an unlimited set of tasks. In real life, one has a lot more time than one does in a 2 hour RTS game, but on the other hand the set of tasks and their complexities are much larger. The end result is the same, that there is never enough attention to go around.

Post a comment