They often say "war's no game, son." But what if it was a game?

Consider the resources wasted in war. Resources expended are, of course, part of the nature of war. That's why we have things called "economic wars." However, what if we could work around this? What if we could put those resources to good news AND resolve the conflict?

I'm looking for ways war can be replaced. Instead of having to spend the resources on war, the resources are reallocated. If you lose, you still lose a lot of resources, but less is 'waste heat.' Instead, the victor ends up getting more resources to spend on what they wanted.

Clearly this cannot just be a normal game. The only reason one really goes to war is when all other options are exhausted. War is expensive. War is hell. War is bad for reelection campaigns (at least if you lose). If a game existed to replace war, then people wouldn't go to war so long as the game is sufficient. However, there will likely always be cases where we aren't satisfied by the rulings of the game, driving us back to war (we're a war like group after all).

Thus we come to war as a metagame. When war is about to come to a head (or is underway), I would like one party to be able to suggest a game of skill to play instead. This would be a metagame to craft a unique game worthy of settling this dispute. Think of it like the fabled medieval kings riding to the center of the battlefield to fight so that their armies do not have to.

  • At least one party has given up hope on any solution besides war. No existing games will be sufficient, a "new" game must come, with just enough of a twist to give them hope that it will resolve something better than any existing game. The rules may be different from game to game. It's the metagame I'm looking for.
  • It must be implementable. If you need an escrow to hold onto a large amount of value while the game is afoot, remember that you need an escrow agency that can withstand the armies. (At a minimum, they need to be able to survive long enough to scuttle all of the value they have, reducing the game back to the inefficiencies of warfare)
  • The metagame must be reasonably teachable. We can't rely on a King Solomon to live for thousands of years settling disputes.
  • Warring parties never have complete information, so their estimates of the odds will not always agree. Moreso, a warring party will not reveal a secret unless they are confident they have enough to gain to warrant revealing the secret.
  • The transformation must transform the ability to expend large sums of resources into a game that calls for great skill. The game that gets created is going to have to identify skills each party thinks they have, and weave it into the game.
  • Expect the other side to cheat. The game needs to rig itself to make cheaters not prosper.
  • An ideal solution would be nestable. Maybe the whole war can't be solved in a single game, because the differences are too great. However, if a game can be used to replace a battle, at least those lives and material may be saved.

How do we write the book on how to not need war?

EDIT: I am not looking at just "fair" games, like modern day sports. I'm thinking more from a game theory/drama theory perspective. If, at each move of the game, it is advantageous for both parties to continue playing the game, they will continue playing it. It is not unreasonable for a "superior" force to demand the game be slighted in their favor before they accept the game.

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    $\begingroup$ I have a feeling that this would only work if the two sides are so evenly matched that both will be destroyed. However, I can hardly imagine a superpower like the US or Russia deciding to play in a game to decide a war against a small nation like Armenia or Panama. $\endgroup$
    – Jax
    Sep 24, 2015 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ I hope I'm not the only one thinking about No Game No Life while reading this. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Sep 24, 2015 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ We call this "Economics". $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2015 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ That seems nice on the paper, but war usually arises when you are in disagrement with someone else. And if you kill that someone, it means you were right. Basic, yet effective, especially if you might be wrong. And I doubt any game can get around that. $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2015 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think there is a flaw in your thoughts. War is hell, but only for the people who actually fight it. There is quite a number of people and organizations that benefit a lot from every war, and risk next to nothing. It's their gain, and other people's lives. If it was different, i doubt we would have seen many wars throughout history. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Feb 9, 2017 at 11:45

13 Answers 13


We are currently playing one such game.

Nuclear brinkmanship / Nuclear Standoff with M.A.D.

Rules : Each nation can decimate any other at anytime. Mutually Assured destruction ensures each major player has enough weapons so that even after suffering a complete surprise attack they can still decimate a foe.

To go to war against a country with nukes you need their permission. Otherwise they nuke you and you nuke them and everyone dies. Note all players must be Nuclear countries.

The idea is that even the weakest of nuclear powers can destroy the strongest. Everyone has an incentive not to shoot because they want to protect their people much more than they want to kill the enemy.

General Ideas

In general you need to create incentives for both the stronger and weaker country to participate usually by finding common ground. Things like, if we fight I may get some land but we will both lose huge amounts of money from traders who won't come to an active war zone.

There can be some groups were there is no alternative to war, because you do need some common ground to make peace. If a foe values your death above their life its hard to think of a way to incentivize them to peace.

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    $\begingroup$ [[modem squeal]] WOULD YOU LIKE TO [[modem squeal]] PLAY A GAME? [[modem squeal]] $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jul 30, 2016 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ Cold War nuclear brinkmanship was a game and the war was cold, least not to the some 150 million est who died in it counting the internal deaths in Communist regimes. Containment was basically a form of blockade siege warfare against massive insane asylum. Neither could definitively overrun the other but they could sally and those where bloody indeed. Virtually, every conflict since 1917, including WWII arose from Communist and there inability to escape the logical consequences of their irrational belief in "historical inevitability." $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jul 30, 2016 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @LuísHenrique true You are forgetting about the occupation of Vietnam by Japanese troops during WWII and the invasion of Vietnam by china shortly after the US withdrawal. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2016 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear - We usually don't count WWII or the Chinese invasion of Vietnam as part of the Vietnam war, but yes, Vietnam has been invaded and occupied by other foreign powers at different points of its history. Anyway, the troops that defeated the regime in Saigon weren't Chinese or Soviet, they were the usual combination of NV regular army and Vietcong guerilla. And the Chinese invasion in 1979 wasn't to help NV to crush Southern Vietnam. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2016 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Also, TechZen's claim that the Democrats left SV to rot, backstabbing them, is contrary to fact. Democrats would only win the White House in 1976, at a time when South Vietnam had already been militarily defeated. All in all, it is an exercise in historical revisionism; what happened is declared inexistent, while what did not happen is declared to be historical truth. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2016 at 17:45

Imagine a nation planning to go to war. They might not want to fight, but they consider the situation grave enough that nothing else will do. There are solemn speeches in the legislature, reservists report to their units, citizens dig air raid shelters in the back yard.

Then one of the enemy comes and says "hey, I have an idea, instead of fighting we could solve this with a chess match. Best two out of three. Much less lethal."

The leaders would consult their staff. Who is the enemy chess champion? How good is he or she compared to our best player? And the key question: Are we more likely to win the chess tournament or the war?

If they are more likely to win the war, they'd ask themselves if the margin is great enough to risk fighting a war. Probably only the weaker military power would opt for games, the stronger military power wouldn't squander the advantage by agreeing to this form of asymmetric warfare.

The only way to make games replace war is if there is an overlord who enforces the rules, and makes non-compliance painful. That's different from the escrow agent suggested by the OP in that it is not a voluntary agreement by the two adversaries to submit to a referee.

In a way that's what civilization is all about. When you argue about a contract, you don't resort to force, you go to court instead. Trial by combat has gone out of fashion, so they use a complicated contest of finding precedents and laws.

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    $\begingroup$ If one was much stronger than the other, then they would not agree to a "fair" game. They would agree to a game whose odds appear commensurate with the likelyhood of winning vs. resources expended. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 24, 2015 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon, to agree on such a thing they'd have to explain and compare secrets and strategies. Is a spy in the enemy communications section worth as much as the plan to attack through an "impassable" forest? More? Less? $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Sep 25, 2015 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ War itself is already Asymmetric. Countries have different terrains, the people are genetically slightly different, and the culture raised them differently, and different numbers of soldiers, as well as different economies to support the war. War itself is asymmetric warfare, so its not a reason to decline a competition instead of war. And, as for the overlord enforcer, the UN (or a similar but powerful system) could fit that bill. If disobeying the rules meant war with over half the world, then only the strongest country could possibly consider it without guaranteeing loss. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ the stronger military power wouldn't squander the advantage by agreeing to this form of asymmetric warfare. Honest question here: How is a game of chess asymmetric, apart from the whites go first thing? How is a game of chess more asymmetric than war, anyways? In any case, the stronger military power would prefer war precisely because it is asymmetric in their favor. $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Jan 12, 2017 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ @xDaizu, the original poster did not ask for an ordinary game like chess. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jan 12, 2017 at 19:38

War and our understanding of how it should go is very culturally dependent. Consider, for the sake of this answer, the Zulu, especially before and after the rise of Shaka Zulu. Donald R. Morris claims:

Shaka changed the nature of warfare in Southern Africa from a ritualized exchange of taunts with minimal loss of life into a true method of subjugation by wholesale slaughter.

A ritualized exchange of taunts with minimal loss of life sounds really close to a game to me. Especially if you compare that to a bloody conflict like the American Civil War. So there is a solution- your "game" is now considered to be actual war. Going in and killing must be viewed as both horrific and culturally taboo. (I realize this isn't a permanent solution, but it has happened before!)

Your replacement games could be something as simple as a race or as complicated as fencing or chess. Races are better, because you can make a race such that the rules of the race are physical laws or are minimal.

If I may make a suggestion: "First one to retrieve this flag/retroreflector from a particular crater on the moon and deliver it to this neutral observatory" is a hard race to cheat. If you create a replica, anyone with a good telescope can verify that it's a fake. You must fetch it (or intercept the other side on their way home). It's in nearby space, so anyone can see what's going on.

The other solution, which I can think of, is to create a post-scarcity economy. This is an economy where resources are practically infinite- no one wants for any basic need. Why would you fight in such a world? Your pride is all you can lose in this world, and at the end of the day you can feed your family and live comfortably without pride. Replacing war with games makes perfect sense in such a world.

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    $\begingroup$ re: post-scarcity societies, a lot of people go a very long way to make sure not that they get more, but that someone else gets less. $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Jan 11, 2017 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ The problem I see with "capture the flag" is that first of all, sabotage would be incredibly tempting, and both ships would probably blow each other up. Additionally, then its basically just saying "whoever has more R&D money and capability wins $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 2:21

War is not a game, games are abstracted, simulated wars. The history of most games, especially team sports trace back to military training or hunting. The entirety of traditional track and field is taken directly from the training of classical era Greek Hoplites.

War comes in two flavors: ritualized and to the knife.

Ritualized warfare is usually fought between the elites of the same culture although sometimes different polities. It has rules. Just read a reference yesterday that noted that between IIRC 1200-1500 in Europe, the number of actual casualties in wars, among nobles at least, the only "people" actually recorded, dropped dramatically. The goal became to capture and ransom the nobles, not kill them. A similar pattern arises whenever a dominant culture is not threatened by either class rebellion or an external alien enemy. That's where you get the whole, "single combat between kings ends the war myth." I say myth because beyond the scale of a couple of Irish clans sometime, it never happened.

There's a "why so serious" class funny story about the first contact between the Japanese Heian nobles(pre-samurai) nobility and the first Mongol reconnaissance in force to land in Japan. The Heian hadn't fought anyone else in centuries if ever so they had elaborate rituals. It started when the highest statist noble advanced ahead of the lines, shouted a challenge to single combat the Mongols didn't understand and then fired a special whistling challenge arrow over the Mongol intentionally not trying to hit anyone.

The Mongols, having a more workmanlike approach to warfare, returned fire with their recurve bows, charged on foot, feigned a retreat which the Japanese fell for, then the Mongols went to work with sword and spear until they couldn't stand up from laughing so hard.

Moral: Know what kind of war you're in. At the height of the age of Chivalry, European elites would simply lie, break truces and butcher peasants that got uppity.

Also, war is only a waste in the corporate/industrial era when economic creativity, utilization of surplus to create more production, is possible. Prior to the corporate/industrial era, productivity was largely fixed and improved only imperceptibly over generations. Wealth meant control of agricultural lands (really not so much the land as the farmers on the land), if you wanted to increase your wealth, you need to steal land and peasants from someone nearby.

This is called the Malthusian-trap. If you want people to fight constantly you stick them in a Malthusian-trap.

In a static, "sustainable" world, war is, except for a tiny minority of individuals, traders, merchants and artisans, the only means of gaining wealth, which means food, and power, which means more food to feed soldiers. Even a pacifist content with their lot cannot escape because they have maintained a defensive force which gets expensive, creating an incentive for war, and an army needs to fight now and then to stay effective so sometimes wars are just bloody training exercises.

Wars were staggering common, everywhere prior to the corporate/industrial revolution. Every polity in every culture that wasn't nearly completely isolated was a garrison state, ruled by a warrior elite we did nothing since toddlerhood but train to kill.

So, if want a kind of ritualized war that's real but not to real you need

  1. Pretty much a monoculture across the whole field of conflict e.g. a planet.
  2. A Malthusian zero productivity economy were war is the only means of advancement or improved security.
  3. A powerful institution, like the medieval Catholic church, that has the moral authority to keep things from getting too out of hand.
  4. A system like captures and ransoms which lets individuals profit from fighting without having to actually slaughter everyone. Ransoms were often paid in land exchanges if movable wealth was not available.

You could create such a world out of the more extreme versions of environmentalism emerging today, especially the theological version (Gaia worship.)

  1. Firstly, a world regulatory state task with "protecting the environment" is established. At first, it looks all very scientific and humane.
  2. But since "the environment" is literally everything in the biosphere and everything every human being does affects "the environment" the regulatory state soon acquires the moral and legal authority to micro-control every choice of every human on the planet. (NOTE: The more real and significant the actual "environmental" problems are, the quicker the regulators gain power and more draconian they have let to act. Could even be an utterly legitimate planet-wide state of emergency requiring de facto martial law for decades.)
  3. To assist control, they foster a mystic view of nature with superstitions like, "the balance of nature" or "human's rightful place in nature." This lets them establish the moral foundations for a static, "sustainable" Malthusian-trap.
  4. The regulatory authority evolves into Church governing a worldwide religion. Perhaps an incorruptible AI is actually the "Pope" programmed to maintain some sort of static world order indefinitely.
  5. High technology especially WMDs are first suppressed and then edited from history. Science, discovery, exploration, art or any other activity that might break the stasis is likewise suppressed and then forgotten.
  6. But the Church needs enforcers and needs to keep the population distracted and controlled, plus people being people, soon Malthusian wars break out and "Oceania is always at war with Pacifica."
  7. While allowing the wars, the Church overtly condemns them and maintains a hippy-nature-loving pacifist ideal to the face of the world. This allows wars to become more ritualized and less destructive.

Granted, this is probably more "Game of Thrones" than you wanted but it’s a plausible way to people fight constantly for a long period but not to destructively.

I would point out that the actual scale and destructiveness of wars has been on a long downward slide for the last 500yrs. The ways we have today are frankly pissant compared to the size of the populations involved vs casualties. In the Netherlands war of Independence, for example, the siege of Omstead(sp?) cost 300,000 live in three years. That was just one mid-sized city.

Also, terrorism is HIGHLY ritualized and exist only because we choose to let it. Terrorism relies entirely on mass media to magnify an attack which in a real war e.g. WWII wouldn't even be noticed into a world-shaking event. Everyone has known since the 1960s that you can stop terrorism cold by simply ignoring attacks and censoring any mention of them. Without media and now the internet whipping everyone into a frenzy, no nutjobs would have any incentive to die in an attack knowing they would be ignored and forgotten.

But here we are. We let the Soviet introduce the mythology of Terrorism so we're kind of stuck with it, at least until the terrorists screw up and break the narrative which I think they are close to doing. They don't understand who their friends in the West are.

So, it might be hard to justify spending many resources trying to stop "wars" when they seem to spiral down on their own.

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    $\begingroup$ "I say myth because beyond the scale of a couple of Irish clans sometime, it never happened." That claim caught my attention, so I asked in History SE -- and, lo and behold, there are some cases! Few, but some! history.stackexchange.com/questions/34918/… $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jan 13, 2017 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ Some corrections are needed: The Netherlands War of Independence is properly called the "80 Year War " or the "Dutch Revolt". Omstead doesn't exist (unless you mean the small town in upstate New York). I think you meant Ostende which had a very bad siege indeed. But the causality count was a bit over 100.000, not 3 times that much. Ostende was, at the time a fairly large city with approx 5000 inhabitants and (during the siege) an additional 3000 man garrison, which the Dutch kept refreshing and resupplying by sea. $\endgroup$
    – Tonny
    Dec 15, 2023 at 14:38

You have to have real stakes and a no-options win

Say we did take a standard game, like chess, and two sides (lets say America and Russia) that are evenly matched (lets assume, even if you don't think they are). If one side won the game what are the chances that the other side would go "Ah, you got me, here have a couple of American states/Russian provinces."?

Most likely the side to lose would still put up a fight and, with anything physical, this would most likely always be the case. So we need a 'no-options' win.

Cyber warfare

In cyber warfare no lives are lost (on the whole, though you might still consider assassinating a particularly good hacker). It isn't as resource heavy as building and losing tanks but it is still aggressive. Also once you have got through the enemy can't say "Nope, we aren't playing anymore" and get their tanks out (well, they could but they would have to do so with their communications compromised and it would be unlikely that they would win). So once someone has lost they have no viable options but to concede whatever they were trying to hold onto.

But what is the 'prize'

Assuming we have current technology. You can't own a state or anything physical so you're most likely after information. My ideas so far:

  • Technology: Perhaps new encryption secrets, designs for a quantum computer or some other technology that would give you the ability to counter the opposition.

  • Plans: Perhaps you plan a mission to mars, colonizing some prime space territory could become (or already be) the next race and you want to know where your opposition is and how they plan to do it.

  • Economy: If you could cause a crash in the opposition stock market it would hamper their ability to improve and perhaps other countries would see you as a more stable investment.

  • Science: This is difficult because a lot of research is multi-national anyway but say one country did discover how to make a viable fusion reactor and was keeping it secret, something like that would be worth the war.

Futuristic ideas We're already some of the way to these but not yet dependent:

  • Automated systems: If a city ran on fully automated water, waste-disposal, transport, power etc then you could shut these off or hold the city hostage - giving you leverage to perhaps gain physical prizes. (Say you shut down Moscow and say you'll only turn it back on if they release control of Ukraine or something).

  • AI: Bit of a leap but perhaps, if both countries were running AI as advisors you could hack their AI and tweak its ideas a little, make it more fond of your country, make it think buying stock from your suppliers was much more beneficial than not. (This could go unnoticed since humans may blindly follow the AI at this point). This one could get to the point where one country owns the other in all but name.

  • Space colonies: These would most likely be automated to a higher degree than earth cities. A colony could be switching hands every week and, on the whole, not really care. The colony could give rights to land to one country or another and so make space-travel much cheaper.

(I noticed futuristic ideas pretty much all came under automated systems)

For a story you could make it such that these cyber-wars are fought in some sort of VR world just to make it more dramatic - I'm not sure a story about lines of code and Denial of service attacks would make for a particularly gripping read.

You might be thinking "But cyber warfare isn't a game!" and no, it isn't....but once the stakes get high enough nothing would be seen as a game. Cyber warfare has certain restrictions, rules, tactics and a significantly lower loss of life though...so I believe it would be the next reasonable step to fulfill your aims.

  • $\begingroup$ "Cyber warfare has certain restrictions, rules," - since when?! $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Feb 9, 2017 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot Since computers had rules. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot Also, not that I saw this before, but NATO has actually made a set of rules. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ It's like saying that physical war has rules, since physical world has rules (physics). But I wouldn't call it rules. Rather, it's an environment. And show me one country that ever followed "agreed on" rules of war in face of obliteration. It doesn't happen, not really. These rules are only respected when you are reasonably sure you'll win, or you don't really need to win. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of starting with something that's already in that grey zone and expanding on it. Cyber warfare is already "warfare," but its a totally different landscape without the traditional resource demands. And certainly each "game" will be unique because each hack would certainly be different! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:11

You Only Need Two Things...

In real human history a number of regional invasions and such were actually avoided by individual or team competition, to save the wasted lives and valuables on both sides. The reasons involved do not often scale reliably, but it is worth reviewing them briefly before going on to a more stable solution.

Some classical reasons an skirmish may have been avoided:

  • Another threat was out there that would attack / destroy both if their armies were not maintained
  • The individuals involved in the decision process were honorable people and followed through with the results, regardless of whether they won or lost (I'm not sure this ever really happened outside of legend)
  • The army itself was well aware of the wager and agreed to it, whether the leader did or not

But again, most of those reasons are very individual- and situation-dependent, so let's look at how the situation could be stabilized with two easy steps.

1. Arm Neo-Switzerland

Before real-world conflicts can be resolved by game as a challenge you need someone who can enforce the rules and outcome. Enter Neo-Switzerland and the War-game Accord.

Neo-Switzerland is a neutral country with alliances to all. According to the War-game Accord, if anyone attacks Neo-Switzerland, all allies are bound to aid in defense. However, if Neo-Switzerland attempts to expand its borders or raid its neighbors a "punishment" article is activated whereby all signatories are to immediately declare war on Neo-Switzerland. Once Neo-Switzerland is subdued the parties determine appropriate punishments/reparation payments and then re-instate the previous status quo.

More on-point to the question at hand, whenever countries (or territories, cities, etc) come to the point of armed conflict they are bound by the War-game Accord to instead send representatives to Neo-Switzerland to play a War-Game. The exact game(s) and rules are decided in Neo-Switzerland and the outcomes are considered binding.

As part of the establishment of a War-Game the aggressor nation that initiated the War-Game must provide to Neo-Switzerland an amount of treasure/resources/land deeds that Neo-Switzerland feels constitutes a significant portion of their possible loss up front. The stakes for the losers will also be decided in Neo-Switzerland. If the aggressors lose, the resources will be transferred from them to the defenders. If the defenders lose they have a time limit to provide the aggressors with the land/treasure/resources/assistance outlined in the War-Game compact.

What happens when the losers don't like the outcome?

Neo-Switzerland takes a 10% share of all War-Game proceeds, which it is bound to put entirely towards their army. Over time, Neo-Switzerland develops a first-rate army. This army is used to enforce the outcome of all War-Games.

Note that as a condition of the War-Game Accord, Neo-Switzerland's estimated army strength is never to exceed that of the most powerful nation in the accord. Any funds received that would improve their army beyond that point are sent to Neo-Switzerland's general treasury.

2. A Game to Play

There is no reason to materially limit the types of games that could be played. Different nations and backgrounds will have different preferences. For example, in Europe the preferred option may have classically been Chess, where in Asia people may have preferred Go. Other disputes could even be settled by a battle of champions or a coin-toss.

To use Chess as an example, it would have been a sufficient tool for a War-Game until recent history. For example, white typically has a slight advantage over black, but pieces can also be removed from the board before the game to handicap one play or another. The amount of the handicap is fairly well known. Since the 1990's however, Chess's fatal flaw is that it is not sufficiently complex to stand up to the capabilities of modern computers, which opens the doors for cheating to an unacceptable degree.

Go is a better option because players could be similarly handicapped, though computers are closing in there too.

If you do have to use a "standard" game, I would strongly suggest inventing your own game or making it a contest of physical skill. When you invent your own game you can simply state that it is a very complicated, highly strategic game which computers could not hope to beat a person at for 100 years and solve the problem.

Physical skill competitions also reduce some opportunity for cheating through knowledge sharing, though as the Olympics clearly show, even there things are not perfect. Though given Neo-Switzerland's neutral nature and significant incentive to provide a fair platform, cheating may be much less likely than we see today.


The only way to prevent war is to get humans beyond the need to to start one. One of the biggest causes for war is one person/group has something that another person/group has. Sometimes it has to do with 'principals' and a disagreement on how things are being done.

One of the best ways to reduce the 'need' for war would be to bring everyone 'up'. Eliminate poverty around the world. The larger the middle class the better. No one wants to send their children to die at the hands of others, and the 'richer' each individual is in a group the more power they to try and find alternate solutions to outright war (such as economic wars/sanctions).

We already have a couple methods for avoiding outright war. The first is economic chess. Sanctions, taxes, tariffs, trade agreements, foreign aid. We usually prefer to influence others with non-violent means first. This IS the alternate 'game' to war.

We also have the Olympics, and it was a serious competition between the US and Russia for decades.

But when you get fanatics (such as ISIS) who believe they are right no matter what, no 'game' in the world will sway them. They might follow it, only as long as they win or think they will win. When things don't go in their favor, then they can resort to killing people. But in most rational countries no one really wants to go to war if they can come to some other kind of understanding.

If large powerful countries would also reserve their war mongering (especially against smaller states) for serious issues, such as human rights violations and such it would reduce war violence as well.

When the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, either there will be social unrest in the country or the rich will start a war to both keep the poor busy and find a new group of people to exploit to gain even more wealth. (partly by blaming the new target for why their own poor are poor!)

For any artificial game to hold sway, there would need to be an agreement across the globe with severe repercussions for those who don't abide by the outcome of the game. These repercussions would likely be a pact to act against the violator and support the violated.

  • $\begingroup$ The fanatics are an issue. In particular, if you believe you have nothing to lose, you have no reason for anything but all out warfare. However, most individuals do believe they have something to lose. Perhaps there is there a way to make it so that any group that violates a game or withdraws from it has already given up what they were fighting for by moving the objects of contention (physical or social) during the game. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 24, 2015 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon If you turn this into an answer... Oh. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Jan 6, 2016 at 19:18

This sounds similar to that of the book series/Movie Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. They used "game simulation" to train kids in war simulation knowledge with the twist at the end that it turns out that all these simulated games were actual battles deciding the fate of humanity.

Unfortunately though, there is always going to be war so long as everyone has their own special interests and beliefs to fight for. We can go to the opening line of the Sith Creed in Star Wars which pretty much nails my view point on war and conflict in general : "Peace is a lie, there is only passion." There will never be peace as long as someone is passionate about something that is opposite of your views which there almost always will be.

There was however, a few Animes I watched (forgive me though as I do not recall their names if maybe someone knows them after reading my description can post the name that would be great!)where in one series, everything was decided by a game. Wars, King, ruling class, bets, literally everything in their culture was on the hinge of winning or losing a game. Now, I can't remember if it was the challenger or the challenged who got to pick the game, but the person who picked the game also got to set game rules and pick any game that naturally would go into their favor. It could have been any game from a simple board game, to something more dangerous. Once the game rules were announced the other side had to agree to the rules and the stakes.

There was another anime that also had everything decided via "games" that helped determine territorial rights and kingdom influence by having simulated wars. Though this was an anime geared towards a younger audience, it still had a really interesting concept and story. Wars were still fought in a simulation but instead of people dying, they would just be turned into a giant ball with their face that would bounce off. This would be fixed once the war was done being fought as there was time limits in place. The winners got their spoils of war just as if they won it with normal means.


Answering my own question, several years later, reality once again is stranger than fiction. I came across a documentary on the Dani of New Guinea. Their ritualized combat was as strange as anything I thought of when I asked the question. From the video's description, when any one warrior (or woman or child caught in the crossfire) was killed, the victors celebrated and the loses mourned the dead. The kind of combat we think of in the West simply never occurred.


Why not do it "Ender's Game" style? For those of you who haven't read Ender's Game, it is a book about a brilliant child who eventually goes through a military school in which he plays "wargames." At first, the wargames are really just that: games, put in place to teach him commanding skills and tactics. But eventually, it in fact becomes him relaying orders to real armies invading an alien world.

Thus, you would have each side get such a simulator, assemble a team of x geniuses (the number x would be predetermined) and have each side assigned a certain amount of forces of each kind. The battle thus begins in the simulators, with a digital arena created to avoid giving any side an advantage, or perhaps an asymmetric arena, but still with equal chances of winning. For example, you could have one side be the defending fleet of a planet, and the other the attacking fleet, with the ultimate goal of the attacking fleet to either capture the planet, which would mean deployment of ground troops on the planet and capturing of key capital cities, or the complete destruction of enemy forces. Each side would get 1 round attacking, 1 defending, and one planet vs planet, with each side having to simultaneously defend their planet and attack the opposing planet.

Really, it would come down to this: which country has sufficient money to educate their geniuses. This would mean that certain poor countries wouldn't stand a chance; but this is the way it is already, anyway. Most countries would probably agree to this, as they would have no choice: refusing would both make them look like they are willing to throw away human life as well as effectively admitting that they are dumber as a country than their adversaries.


There was an episode of Star Trek (TOS, I think my memory is rusty), where two warring planets having decided hot war was too destructive in terms of endangering the two planets ability to sustain life, that they instead held war-games in a simulation, and the simulation would then produce casualty numbers, after which the required number of citizens would then happily go off to be executed (in real life), reasoning that it was a fair sacrifice to avoid "real" war. Naturally Kirk objects. Or was it Picard. I forget.

Of course the whole thing raises more questions than it answers, such as "Why not go one step further and just play chess and drop the casualties altogether", or even "Hey why not handball this nonsense over to the diplomats. But this of course applies to real war too, the awful folly that it is.

  • $\begingroup$ A Taste of Armqgeddon, S01E23 of TOS. But that's a comment on the original post, not an answer to the question. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jun 16, 2017 at 18:26

Short Answer: No, this is not possible.

I am sorry, but there is a major breakpoint in using a game to determine the issue of a wars: a lot of situations will not fit to your will.

To explain why, let's take two examples: war is supposed to be determined by two games:

  • First examle: Soccer is used to determine who is the winner
  • Second example: MMA is used to determine who is the winner

Example 1: Using a team, in a sport combining physical excellence and group intelligence (like you need in war), you can decide who is the winner. But suddendly, one player is starting to use new shoes that make him run a 10 mph faster. He helps winning the game. Is it fair?

  • First answer: No. But why? If is is ok to train physically, why could you not use technology?
  • Second answer: Yes. Then the other team sends a player with a knife: this is technology. The player with a knife gets a red card: he contests and attack the referee with the knife -> YOU NEED A META-PLAYER TO ENFORCE THE RULES. THIS META PLAYER COULD BE UNO, BUT IT NEEDS FORCE TO ENFORCE THE RULES

Example 2: This one is easy. In Ukrainia in 2014, a lot of contest have occured, leading to a civil war and a rebellion. USA and Russia openly said they were supporting, respectively, the regular and the rebel sides, and they were supporting those sides (with ammos, men...).

Let's suppose USA and Russia really to solve that conflict, and they use the "WAR IS A GAME" system. A MMA champion from the USA fights a Russian one, and the result leads (for example) to the victory of America. The Ukrainian government now wants to retake control of the East and Crimea. But the contests do not end. The government sends police, hundreds of people are wounded and rioters start using Molotov cocktails. The governments sends the army: THIS IS WAR.


There is a fundamental problem with replacing war with a game: games have rules. Parties go to war when one party is losing under the current societal rules and won’t lose gracefully.

Any system that allocates resources based on the game’s outcome will reduce war, but it won’t end it because someone will realize they cannot win under the rules. But by bombing the game site and killing a bunch of people, that someone comes out ahead. Designing a system where no one has a reason to kick the system seems essentially impossible to me.

Even if war becomes such a threat that it could end life entirely, someone will decide that’s acceptable trade off ... if they can’t get their way, no one gets anything.


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