National security practitioners held several high-profile pandemic wargames and exercises in the years prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Often, these games eerily predicted events in the current pandemic, along with the policy hurdles the government has faced. Instead of serving as a clarion call for preparedness or guiding the response, however, these games have become an ironic historical footnote.
What lessons should the wargaming and policy communities take from this experience? Games have a proven record of helping people think through “wicked problems” such as counterinsurgencies, major wars, great–power competition, or pandemics. But this beneficial effect only occurs if policymakers and organizations can access, absorb, and act on the insights and lessons they provide.
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