Is War the Gamification of Politics? Some thoughts on H.G. Wells and “Little Wars”

If you move to the last inside page of the May 5, 2013
New York Times book review, you will find a fascinating tribute by mark Wallace
to H.G. Wells on the 100th birthday of his game invention:  “Little Wars.”  It seems that Wells was not only an early
Science Fiction pioneer (War of the
, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man to name a few) and of
serious non-fictioin (The Outline of
) but also the progenitor of war gaming; both the play and the serious

H-g-wells-playing-little-wars_zps0c6e2784Trace a line back from military video games like “Call of
Duty” or whole genre like Dungeons & Dragons and you will find that they
all trace back to Mr. Wells’ invention.  Wells,
according to Wallace, was “inspired by a child’s discarded toy soldiers and
breech-loading cannon.” Upon spying them, he was inspired to write down a set
of rules for playing a war game with toy soldiers, books, blocks, cardboard
houses, and other contrivances.

Lest you think that the game has vanished into the mists
of history, you can actually download the book for free, complete with
pictures, from  You can
also attend “Little Wars” events like the one that takes place annually in St.
Charles, Mo. 

I was struck by three thoughts as I read the
article and the introduction to the book itself:

  • Wells was certainly charming in his, for that
    time, obvious respect for and love of women.
    Here is a quote from the preface to "Little Wars": 
    “Little Wars can be played by boys of every age from twelve to one
    hundred and fifty, by girls of the better sort, and by a few rare and gifted
  • Wells was ultimately a pacifist and saw his
    game as a warning of the realities of war.  
    One does have to wonder, however, how he could really think that and not
    see the fascination he projected in his love of not only inventing the game but
    playing it endlessly with his friends.
  • Finally, it suddenly struck me that real war
    may just be the gamification of politics.
    After all, Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th century German
    military theorist, is famous for having said: 
    “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  Maybe gamification isn’t such a new idea
    after all.


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