Ongoing discussions in academic circles about the value and purpose of 3-D immersive technologies have lately been sharpened by the emergence of consumer-ready VR and inexpensive game engines, especially Unity. One side of that discussion asserts that, in an academic context, these technologies are primarily valuable to the extent that they advance serious scientific and data visualization research. Others maintain that game design and “play” more broadly are equally important, and can transform how we teach many subjects. One approach does not exclude the other, of course, but my own experience has convinced me of the exciting potential of the latter, play-based, mode. For classicists, interdisciplinary as we are, the 3-D interactive future of research and teaching beyond textbooks holds important opportunities, especially if we take an active, collaborative role in shaping that future.
War and games have much in common: multiple contestants compete to win within a physically determined set of realities, each using strategies that are frequently buffeted by interventions of chance and chaos. It is no surprise, then, that war games have been used as predictive tools by military leaders since at least the early 19th century (see the recent collection Zones of Control ). Less familiar is the idea of using games as reconstructive tools in academic military history, although the ancient historian Philip Sabin (Lost Battles ; Simulating War ) has done excellent work on this topic.