DARPA Needs Gamers

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is famous for putting money into all kinds of projects with defense applications. Arpanet, the precursor of the Internet being the most famous but hardly their only effort. Other DARPA-funded projects include powered exoskeletons, driverless car competitions, molten munitions, onion network routing and stealth boats.  Given their track record of unusual and extreme  projects and the willingness to explore “fringe” ideas, I have a new suggestion for the agency. Hire gamers.

Think about it. We (role-playing gamers as a collective body) sit around all day and think of ways to do all kinds of carnage and mischief.  I set off several WMDs, blew up a few power plants, assassinated several evil overlords, spied on the villains, kidnapped more than a few enemy agents for information and saved countless peasants from destruction in dozens of different role-playing game campaigns.

It is time to leverage that experience in the battle against our nations enemies!

Imagine a group of gamers, given a set of parameters like; “You have $50,000, four days and a party of players, plan an attack.” Wrap some rules around it, offer a fig leaf of story and run it 50 times at a major game convention. I promise there will be dozens of crazy and guaranteed-to-fail plans implemented in under 20 minutes. Then there is that one plan that is absolutely brilliant and just might work….

Yes, I am certain highly intelligent, extremely well-trained soldiers and academics sit around every day and discuss this very thing. My issue is that they are highly trained and well-educated. These professionals know the limitations of every weapon, technique and strategy available to your average terrorist. Knowing all that, they choose the “best” option given their years of experience that is most likely to succeed.  Stupid or foolish ideas do not make it past the first round of analysis.  I think this is a terrible oversight, ignoring the incredibly stupid ideas that “just might work.”

Professionals are predictable. It is the amateurs that are truly dangerous.

This is our gift as gamers. Gamers create  stupid and foolish and completely original plans better than anyone. Out of the box thinking is for the non-gamers of the world. Gamers live out of the box in every game.  Doing battle with a giant spider in a zero-g environment?  I have a plan for that.  Need to sneak into a building filled with evil aliens, steal the secret plans and get out while blaming an innocent third-party? I have a plan for that. Need me to figure out the best way a terrorist might attack a target? Give me a map and 20 minutes and I will have a plan for that. Lots of caffeine gets you an answer in 10 minutes.

I cannot claim credit for this idea. Novels (Ender’s Game), movies and other media have variations on “the gamers are playing a real event/simulation” trope. That said, it just seems like such a good fit for the tabletop role-playing game hobby that the next time I play a convention game, I will check out the plot and game parameters very carefully. You just never know….

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.