Jack Thorpe, a retired Air Force colonel who has long advised the military on simulations, speculates that the United States could use massively multiplayer online games to handle future geopolitical problems. (It's too late to help Iraq.) The U.S. government could hire gaming companies to develop virtual-world games based on geopolitical hot spots. (A game would cost $5-$15 million to develop, a pittance in Pentagonia.) A North Korea game, for example, would allow players to play the roles of North Koreans, South Koreans, Japanese, and Americans. The North Korean characters would be weak and poor, but they would excel at collective action, be fiercely loyal, and have powerful arms to deter attacks. The programmers would need to make the worlds so sophisticated and cool that people would actually want to play them.
The game-maker would open play to anyone, and policy-makers could watch the world unfold. They would create certain conditions—North Korea faces a drought—and see what happens. They could change the rules and learn how that modified the result: What if you assume North Koreans were more willing to experiment with capitalism? The game would be played repeatedly, modified repeatedly till policy-makers got a sense of what policies seemed most promising. The collective play of thousands of entertainment-seekers might produce more creative policies than a few desk jockeys could dream up. Who knows—the results might even cause North Korea to change its behavior, if it saw that alternative policies improved its standing. Dear Leader Kim Jong-il is certainly eccentric enough to go for this kind of thing.