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  • Let's say by 21st century every country/faction on Earth have come to agreement that wars or conflict will be settled with some kind of online competitive video game match.
  • The competitive game can be anything and can belong to any genre. Basically, the video game should have a competitive aspect to it.
  • There could just be one match between the nations/entities that are in conflict or there could be like a best of type matches. Like best of 7.
  • The competitive video game to be played between two entities or any number of entities will be randomly chosen from a list of competitive video games.
  • Every year they could have votes from all countries as to what would the list of competitive video game this year and stuff like that.
  • And let's just assume all countries just have some kind of very powerful barrier that prevents any other countries to invade or attack physically.

My questions are,

  • Is this possible?
  • If it is possible what are the benefits and drawbacks of this scenario?
  • How will this concept impact, if any, the military, society, people's perception and the world in general?

marked as duplicate by Giter, Mołot, Renan, user535733, elemtilas Oct 10 '18 at 21:52

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    $\begingroup$ You need to watch the ST:TOS episode "A Taste of Armageddon". Most of your questions will be answered. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 10 '18 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ Why would any country agree to concede defeat? If there are powerful barriers, they have nothing to fear. The whole point of war is to exhaust the enemy's resources enough that they agree to a deal in order to stop the war. Video games are hardly exhausting ;) $\endgroup$ – Krateng Oct 10 '18 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ Hello, and welcome to the site! This question seems pretty similar to what you're asking, and might be a good source of info. $\endgroup$ – Giter Oct 10 '18 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. Please note that questions like "how will this impact ... the world in general?" are almost always closed as "too broad" (the world's a really big place). The reason I answered rather than voting to close as to broad is that IMO the answer doesn't get to that point, so it wasn't relevant. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 10 '18 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ This is in the VTC queue as a duplicate to Cort Ammon's question. I agree that they're very similar - but I disagree that they're duplicates. Cort was asking "if we could do this, what would the game look like?" This is asking, "We have the game, can we make it work?" Two sides of the same coin, but not duplicates. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 10 '18 at 20:01

This is not possible

The problem with this premise is that it presupposes that everyone agreed to the treaty will not choose at a later date to use violence to trump a loss in the games. Winning a video game is very irrelevant and temporary. Standing atop a pile of your enemy's dead bodies is very relevant and permanent. In real life, there is no starting over.

The fictional concept (of the top of my head) that comes closest to what you're trying to do is the Star Trek original series episode "A Taste of Armageddon". In that episode, war had been reduced to mathematics — a game — but real people died. When identified as a victim of an attack, a person was required by law (and culture... interesting episode) to step into a disintegration booth.

In other words, war had been reduced to a game, but the consequences of war had not. The victor would still (metaphorically speaking) stand atop a pile of their enemy's dead bodies.

There is no kind way to avoid the consequences of greed, jealousy, and insult

This question is similar to a number of questions I've seen recently where the attempt is to create a society that has rid itself of violence. It's a nice thought, but those aspects of human personality that allow an individual to pick up a club and beat their neighbor to death are the same aspects that allow us to take risks and solve problems. In other words, violence is solved through improved self-control, not by ridding the human psyche of violent tendencies.

On the surface, you seem to have come up with an idea that reflects the ideal of ultimate self-control. We'll solve our problems with a friendly game of Pong rather than beating each other with clubs. But that's not true. The willingness to go to war still exists. There's no actual self-control (which is why the idea won't work). In short, the fact that someone's willing to go to war means you haven't solved the problem.

  • $\begingroup$ I partially agree. Isn't there an ancient game played (don't remember by who) to settle disputes but the losing team (and not the nation) gets killed? I could've made this up, if so I think it is a good answer still. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Oct 10 '18 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Jordan.J.D, I have no idea about that reference, but I hope you can remember it. It would be very relevant to this question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 10 '18 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ Check out my answer below - I did not dig into it much but it did indeed exist. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Oct 10 '18 at 22:33

Agreed with JBH, this will not work.

Besides the death JBH mentions, the consequences of losing a war are often devastating to the loser. They may lose their land, their source of food and water, and suffer starvation, diseases, enslavement, rape and lawlessness.

You have also created a "champion" effect, there is no reason a tiny nation of a few hundred thousand people that just so happens to have the best player in the world would not, out of greed, challenge other countries to contests just to take their resources and make everybody in their country rich. They could never do that with a regular army.

We do see that in the Olympics rather often, that the best in the world is from a country that is not even in the top twenty strongest countries in the world. They just so happen to have a fantastic swimmer, or runner, or speed skater, or gymnast, or cross country skier, or pole dancer (oh wait, that's not a sport yet...).

No large country in their right mind would ever agree to this, it surrenders all the advantages of size, resources, and the ability to control their own destiny by devoting those to defensive and offensive forces.

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    $\begingroup$ Ooooh. +1 for pointing out that nations operate on advantage - and the advantage to size is not having to put up with equalizing solutions. Which is why the United Nations isn't yet a consistently effective solution to world problems. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 10 '18 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ P.S. Is it legal to poach the best player in the world? Can we get in a bidding war escalating to multi-million dollar per year salaries, along with massive perks in terms of housing and other "amenities" so Germany can steal away Cuba's fantastic player? And make him a full citizen of Germany of course. Hey, and his family too! Couldn't this be just like the NFL or Major League Baseball? $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Oct 10 '18 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ May I introduce you to Operation Paperclip, which was simply 40 years ahead of its time? $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 10 '18 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Rather similar. If that is allowed, the richest nations win again, right? As my (military) father used to say, every problem gets solved with dollars, hammers or both. We buy the best players, and surreptitiously assassinate the ones that work for other countries and refuse to be bought. The "gaming wars" escalate in subterfuge, cheating, poaching, and various forms of spycraft, drugging, kidnapping and assassination. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Oct 10 '18 at 21:03

Unlikely, but possible - given the right conditions

War exists because it is a real threat. It destroys resources and kills people, and does not rely on an honor system to function. If a country no longer has the ability to fight back, it no longer has a say in arguments. Countries with military forces will not capitulate because they lost a game, if they have the ability to win a real war afterwards.

But war is terrible for everyone involved. Even the winners lose out on a lot - if they could get what they want without fighting, they would. The interest in resolving conflicts before they start has driven both society and evolution to create alternate means of competition; countless forms of posturing and non-lethal combat are found across the animal kingdom and human societies.

The higher the cost of injury, the more likely non-physical forms of competition are to occur. Birds love non-physical confrontations because it is very, very easy for a bird to suffer an injury that will leave it unable to fly and vulnerable to predators - even if it wins the fight. There are island tribes that do not engage in physical warfare because their populations and territories are so small that a full confrontation could easily wipe them out entirely. And with the threat of mutually assured destruction, modern civilizations may be in a similar situation as well.

However, what all of them have in common is that the ability to win the competition must indicate the ability to win a real fight. Animals posture by showing off their large horns, wrestling or throwing things around to show off their strength, singing or stotting to demonstrate their abundant energy. The loser of the confrontation backs down because it realizes it will lose if the conflict actually escalates to physical fighting.

If war is to be replaced by games, those games must accurately represent the players' ability to win a real war. A sufficiently accurate VR sim may work, but the competition will not be "fair" - countries will receive in-game resources reflecting their real-life resources. The game must be designed in a way that, if a country loses, that loss will be definitive enough that the country's leaders will not try to turn the in-game war into a real-life one.

The more costly the threat of war becomes (especially if the war is likely to be costly to the winner), the more likely such a system is to work. Right now, nuclear-armed countries generally do not attack each other directly, instead opting to fund armies by proxy in poorer countries - which is pretty much like playing a game, in a way, although it is a game where other people die. A game-based means of conflict resolution may indeed be in our future, but only time will tell.


Something similar has been done before. Consider the mesoamerican ballgame. Emphasis mine.

Ōllamaliztli was a ritual deeply ingrained in Mesoamerican cultures and served purposes beyond that of a mere sporting event. Fray Juan de Torquemada, a 16th-century Spanish missionary and historian, tells that the Aztec emperor Axayacatl played Xihuitlemoc, the leader of Xochimilco, wagering his annual income against several Xochimilco chinampas.[47] Ixtlilxochitl, a contemporary of Torquemada, relates that Topiltzin, the Toltec king, played against three rivals, with the winner ruling over the losers.[48]


TL;DR: Might be possible with modern politics and economics if the game is showing off military or economic capabilities. E.g. "arena" combat between robots, or AI's that power them.

Assuming no nukes and no UN or WTO, JBH and Amadeus are correct, and make great arguments (JBH's 1st paragraph in answer). I could also add that if they trust each other enough to respect the outcome of the game, they will be able to resolve their differences via diplomacy. And that plenty of politicians and military/industrial types do gain from wars (even if their country loses). Essentially the profit from using military exceeds any punishment that your rival(s) can unleash on you (b/c you have protection of said military).

But I would argue that modern world already plays OP's game: major powers have both nuclear arsenal and substantial militaries, but do not use them on each other, and instead compete in economics, technology, hacking, etc. Of course, that competition has real consequences, unlike the purely virtual videogame.

There are a few reasons for it:

  • Nukes make retaliation for military action too expensive. Look up "Mutually Assured Destruction"

  • UN and WTO make diplomatic resolution realistic. You have a protocol to meet and talk, and everybody expects you to honor the agreement that you reach. If you break one agreement, the rest of the countries will punish you by breaking their agreements with you. And trade deals are very very valuable.

  • Collective economic punishment might be effective against military action as well: Libya and Iraq gave in, North Korea's program is slowed down, even Russia stopped invading its neighbors (and happily joined the hacking game).

So to make OP's setup possible, we need:

  • Nukes, or equally destructive weapons

  • Large economic trade between countries, or other reason why countries depend on each other, and can punish violators by excluding them. E.g. lock them out of interstellar gate network (just like we locked Iraq out of global payment system).

  • "Game" that does give nontrivial economic or strategic benefit to the countries. RL Space Race could be a good example: space exploration was showcase for ICBM technology. In OP's world, it could be other ways to show off technological capabilities:

    • a race between Warp Space navigators
    • puzzle-solving contest between AI's
    • fights or races between bio-engineered animals
    • combat between AI-powered or remotely controlled robots, which is much like a videogame. Robotic hardware is an important area of competition. If you want to make it a pure videogame, you have to assume can assume that everybody has same hardware, and technological progress has reached a plateau, i.e. everybody has same hardware, and no hope of improving it. Actually, if you have a major corporation or aliens provide same standard hardware to everybody, then competition can be entirely simulated.

Still, the game will determine relative standing ad bargaining power. Nobody would bet specific territory or trade tariffs on specific goods on the outcome of a random events.


Who cares about killing people - if they can BUY all your people

If you win enough money from that game, all the other points about violence and consequence will be moot.

The same way a real pro gamer can become a millionaire, countries might through some contract earn a million billion dollars.

  • $\begingroup$ How is this answering the question? $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 10 '18 at 22:01

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