PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Clashing in the classroom

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Yeah I’m working in Harrisburg
Working hard in Petersburg (working for the clampdown, working for the clampdown)
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!
Beggin’ to be melted down

What do early 1980s  The Clash punk lyrics  have to do with serious games? Nothing at all, other than I’m writing this in the airport in Harrisburg, PA. Ever since we flew over Three Mile Island on the incoming flight I have had the song Working for the Clampdown stuck in my head.

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The morning sun bathes scenic Three Mile Island in a faintly radioactive light. It would have been nice to linger, but we had to SCRAM

Rather than working for the clampdown, however, I spent Saturday in nearby Carlisle taking part in a US Army War College panel discussion on wargaming in the classroom. The primary focus, not surprisingly, was on professional military education (PME). I also ran two of the several demonstration games featured at the event. Over two dozen people participated.

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Setting up the event.

The first panelist was Peter Perla (CNA), who made the general case for the value of wargaming. Key to what Peter had to say was the emphasis he placed on process rather than outcome: while the outcome of a game is not irrelevant, it is what goes in the mind of the player that is of key importance. I couldn’t agree more, and it points to why building an engaging game narrative is such an important part of effective wargaming.

I presented next, identifying a number of serious game “worst practices” that was partially inspired by a 2004 US Naval War College and CNA study on (analytic) wargaming pathologies. Specifically, I addressed the dangers of:

  • Gaming for gaming’s sake. Problems soon arise when instructors devote inadequate attention to how and why they are using a game, and how this might support course learning objectives. Gaming enthusiasm is no substitute for effective teaching. One also needs to be clear about the opportunity costs of using scarce contact hours for games that might be used for other activities. It should be noted that learning is not the only reason to game in a classroom: a game can also serve break the ice in a  new group, promote networking, and to help assess student abilities.
  • Assuming that games teach themselves. How will you know that players are learning the appropriate lessons? Properly prebriefing and debriefing games is essential. I also pointed to the danger of gamer mode, whereby players exploit game rules (such as unflankable map edges, zone of control rules, or using disposable units as “speed bumps”) or computer AI to secure victories in ways that would not work in real life or otherwise be inappropriate.
  • Not listening to participants. If instructors want to know what students are taking away from the game, and whether the experience was worthwhile, be sure to ask them. While self-assessment is not always a reliable indicator of actual learning, eliciting feedback will help to identify problems and shortcomings.
  • All game, no gaming. One can take this last point further, and elicit feedback on the game system itself and encourage students to suggest possible game modifications. Indeed, encouraging students to think as game designers, and not just as game players, appears to improve learning outcomes. In the context of professional military eduaction is also serves to enhance critical knowledge of wargaming, thus leaving participants better-equipped to assess the value of future games, derive the greatest value from a game, or even help to design or facilitate one.

James Sterrett ( Deputy Chief, Simulations Division,  Digital Leader Development Center, US Army Command and General Staff College) then offered some thoughts based on his experience of supporting and encouraging classroom wargaming at CGSC. He emphasized the practical considerations that affect what sort of game will be useful and appropriate, and the need to design educational wargames and scenarios so that they are fit for educational purpose. One-size-fits-all solutions, he suggested, rarely work well. He also highlighted that not all instructors are the same, and that classroom wargaming approaches need to take account of a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses too.

Finally, James Lacey (Marine Corps War College) focused most of his comments on the obstacles to the use of wargames to teach strategy in professional military education. He suggested that PME institutions tend to be too rigid and structured, and discourage instructors from experiment. He also mentioned some of the criticism his critique, has received and—in typical fashion–pushed back hard. In subsequent discussion Peter noted that despite the current DoD push for more and better wargaming (inspired by the DEPSECDEF memo of February 2015), this has largely focused on analytical gaming with no clear direction from the top to more fully and effectively integrate gaming into PME.

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Playing AFTERSHOCK. What is the UN so happy about?

After a Q&A period, the rest of the day was devoted to demonstration games. I ran a session of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. The foreign military contengents of the joint HADR-Task Force did an exceptional job of quickly repairing the damaged airport and port. A critical moment in the game came when the NGO team unintentionally delayed implementation of a water infrastructure project in District Five, only to see the area stricken soon after with a dangerous outbreak of cholera. The United Nations—possibly having learnt from its real-life experience in Haiti—already had a cholera response programme readied, and was able to both halt epidemic and provide improved water facilities to prevent future outbreaks.

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The United Nations responds to the cholera emergency.

The players were headed for a well-earned victory when we had to call an end to the game for reasons of time (not to mention my need to eat before the cafe at the US Army Heritage and Education Center closed for the day).

After a quick sandwich, I also ran several turns of the ISIS Crisis matrix game. The Iraqi government sought to build on its successes earlier this year in Fallujah and Ramadi by launching a bold, Patton-esque thrust along the Euphrates Valley towards the border town of al-Qa’im—hoping thereby the sever an important ISIS line of communication and further isolate Mosul. The attack, however, was hastily organized and went disastrously wrong. Local Sunni tribes were angered that the campaign had been supported by Shiite militias rather than coordinated with them, while ISIS benefitted from both a  morale boost and the capture of significant military equipment. ISIS also plotted terrorist attacks in Iraq and abroad—one of which, aimed against NATO facilities in Brussels, was foiled in the nick of time by an alert Belgian police officer.

The failure of the operation also aggravated growing tensions between Baghdad’s Iranian and US allies. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi used the defeat to justify a large-scale purge and reform of the Iraqi armed forces in an attempt to build a more competent and professional military. In doing so, however, he relied heavily on Iranian advice, advisors, and money—causing the US to temporarily withdraw some of its own advisors in protest. Washington also signalled its dissatisfaction with the Iraqi central government by providing the Kurdish Regional Government with heavier weapons. That, of course, only further annoyed Baghdad, which briefly closed its airspace to US aircraft. Meanwhile, Iraqi Sunni leaders were dismayed both by growing Iranian influence and by the government’s failure to deliver on its promise of a new law that would see more petroleum revenues invested in Sunni areas. Scandals and acrimony dominated the political process, and national unity seemed more distant than ever. Amidst all this, ISIS capitalized on the disarray by rebuilding its network of supporters in government-controlled areas of Anbar province.

All in all, I very heard some thoughtful commentary at the event, made new contacts, played some games, and otherwise very much enjoyed myself. I’m very grateful to MAJ Dennis Davis and his colleagues at the US AWC Center for Strategic Leadership for having me down.

UPDATE: You’ll also find a report on the event by John Carter McKnight (Harrisburg University of Science and Technology) at his blog Aporia.

Oh, and as for that song…

 

 

IMPACT: A Foresight Game

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Policy Horizons Canada  (“an organization within the federal public service that conducts strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues that informs public servants today about the possible public policy implications over the next 10-15 years.”) is working with Idea Couture to develop IMPACT: A Foresight Game. According to a piece in the Huffington Post by Robert Bolton of Idea Couture:

The objective of foresight is not to predict the future, but to prepare for many futures. That’s what makes a game such an ideal medium for learning foresight thinking. In more linear formats, such as a films or novels, the narrative is static. But board games are dynamic and can generate a new scenario every time you play.

In Impact, each player takes on the role of a character with a unique job from the future and a set of preferred future conditions that will make their job secure and prosperous. Players compete to achieve their character’s preferred future world by playing Impact cards, which trigger events influencing the various domains of society. The roleplaying aspect of the game also encourages empathy as players embody characters and think from different perspectives about what it means to create a preferable future.

Like the discipline of foresight in general, Impact brings to light the rates and trajectories of change, and the potential second order effects and disruptions that might occur. For organizations, maintaining a competitive intelligence practice that formally tracks rates of social, technological, environmental, economic, and political change is part of ensuring your own resilience.

The content of the game is based on Policy Horizons Canada’s report, MetaScan 3, a foresight study that explores how disruptive technologies may shape the economy and society. So, when you’re playing Impact, you’re engaging with real life technological events that are unfolding today (such as a recent scientific discovery or the formation of a new kind of tech startup) and imagining the possible ways these events could influence society tomorrow.

Players learn about developments in fields like nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, biotechnology, and robotics; and are prompted to consider their industry, environment, and policy implications.

Robert tells me they hope to launch a Kickstarter for the game in the fall. If so we’ll announce it here—and we hope to be offer a PAXsims playtest review of the game too.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 August 2016

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers.

I’ll be off soon to participate in the day-long public event on wargaming in the classroom at the US Army War College on August 27, followed by running a matrix game for the UK Foreign Office and then participating in the always-excellent Connections UK professional wargaming conference at King’s College London on 6-8 September. Because of that, the next “simulations miscellany” update may not be until mid-September.

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A forthcoming issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology will contain an article by Matt Hardy and Sally Totman on “Teaching an old game new tricks: Long-term feedback on a re-designed online role play.”

Despite an extensive history of use in teaching Political Science subjects, long-term scholarly studies of online role plays are uncommon. This paper redresses that balance by presenting five years of data on the Middle East Politics Simulation. This online role play has been run since the 1990s and underwent significant technical upgrade in 2013–14. The data presented here covers student feedback to this upgrade process and the factors that can influence their response. Key indications are that students tend to recognise when something is fit (or not) for its purpose and will forgo attractive and well-appointed online environments if the underlying learning exercise is valued. However, there are limits to this minimalism and whilst designers do not need to replicate every Internet trend, attention needs to be paid to broader changes in technology, such as access platform and changing avenues of political communication. The study demonstrates that long-term monitoring of online role play exercises is important to allow informed changes to be implemented and their impacts properly assessed.

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Public health epidemiologist (Preparedness) Dr Henning Liljeqvist has used AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game to simulate working in humanitarian settings with students enrolled in the University of New South Wales/World Health Organization course on Communicable Diseases in Humanitarian Settings at the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine. The video below shows how he ran the game in the classroom.

A few of the rules were modified to make things run more smoothly (for example, regarding logistics infrastructures upgrades). Of particular note, however, was the skillful way he debriefed the game, linking game processes to real-life humanitarian experiences, highlighting where the game was more or less realistic, and challenging students to think of their own modifications via use of the blank cards provided with AFTERSHOCK.

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At War is Boring, Robert Beckhusen argues that “U.S. Army Has Too Many Video Games.”

There’s just a few problems. Some of the Army’s virtual simulators sit collecting dust, and one of them is more expensive and less effective than live training. At one base, soldiers preferred to play mouse-and-keyboard games over a more “realistic” virtual room.

He is absolutely right in noting that many purpose-designed digital games and simulators get inadequate use in the military or prove unfit for their intended purpose (often for practical reasons of time, accessibility, flexibility, and so forth). There are also many good commercial off-the-shelf games that can be usefully integrated into training.

However, one has to be careful about arguing that “It’s unnecessary to strap soldiers into an immobile vehicle and make them scan a wrap-around screen if they can accomplish the same basic tasks with a mouse and keyboard.” A mouse and keyboard can be very unlike a real combat environment, and there is significant risk that soldiers will learn the skills and develop the muscle-memory to win the game—but not develop skills that translate well into actual combat environments. In many commercial games, for example, cover and visibility to not function much like the real thing, while AI opponents may act in unrealistic ways.

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keep-calm-and-just-keep-ranting.pngThe use of commercial/hobby wargames in professional military education has much to commend it, as James Lacey (among others) has convincingly argued. On the other hand, professional wargaming addresses a broad array of analytical and educational purposes, not all of which are adequately served by off-the-shelf games. Moreover, while the hobby game experience can inform and contribute to professional game design and execution, it can be a bit of a blinder too if you aren’t careful.

I say all that because this current thread at BoardGameGeek on “revitalizing (manual) wargaming in the military” illustrates the tension well. In particular, read Brant Guillory’s truly epic rant on the topic. He’s right, too!

 

Tom Mouat joins PAXsims as associate editor

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I am very pleased to announce that Tom Mouat will be joining PAXsims as one of our associate editors.

Tom Mouat MBE is the Directing Staff Officer for Simulation and Modelling at the Defence Academy of the UK. He holds an MSc in Defence Modelling and Simulation and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. In his 37 years’ service in the British Army he has served worldwide, including operational tours in Bosnia and Iraq, designed and run training events from Battlegroup to Corps level and spent five years in Defence Procurement as a Requirements Manager in the acquisition of Simulation Systems. He holds commendations from the Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Officer and the Head of Defence Procurement, and has been a contributing author to a number of books on wargaming. He is also currently on the management board of the Connections UK professional wargaming conference.

Tom has also been a frequent contributor to PAXsims, on topics including the recent Connection (US) wargaming conference, the development of migrant cards, matrix games, and his creation of Sandhurst Kriegsspiel. He is also well known for his MapSymbs TrueType military map marking fonts, as well as an extensive online repository of matrix game and other materials—all of which can be found at his website

Connections 2016 conference report

The following report on the recent Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference was provided by Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.


 

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In a moment of madness, I agreed with Rex Brynen that I would attempt to put together a report on Connections 2016 for PAXsims – and this is my attempt at such a report. It is important to warn you that Rex normally types on this laptop during the proceedings at a conference and is thus able to provide a contemporaneous report of what occurred. This was simply not possible for me; firstly, because I lack the expertise (I need to think about stuff for a lot longer than he does and I type really slowly) and secondly, because the conference took place in the excellent facilities of the Lemay Centre Wargaming Institute at Maxwell Airforce Base (which is a secure location – so no laptops, phones, etc).

This was unfortunate, as getting clearance to get on base was a significant hurdle to overcome and that, along with the added travel burden of not being on a non-stop flight location, made attendance much more difficult. If it wasn’t for the significant support from the on-site organiser, I wouldn’t have made it (but I believe I was the only “foreigner”). American Airlines didn’t help (missing my flight connections on the way in and making my return journey a 26hr marathon on the way back), but the Delta Airlines computer glitch messed up a lot of other people’s plans as well.

The conference programme is here  and the presentations should also be posted on the Connections website shortly.

Day 1

The initial session was a SECRET NOFORN (No Foreigners) brief, so I headed off with Matt Caffrey for an Introduction to Wargaming brief instead. Since the audience consisted of vastly experienced civilian wargamers and me, it turned into a feedback and support session on Matt’s briefing slides and a very pleasant chat about the best way to get the message about the importance of wargaming to an unfamiliar audience.

A number of useful things came out of this for me, one of which was the concept of tailoring Red force play in a wargame depending on the objectives of the event (What do you want Red to do? What should Red do for best value?)

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Next up was Cdr Phil Pournelle with a presentation on Improving Wargaming in the DOD. I have heard several elements of his presentation before, but his arguments (and slides) are developing in a way that is very useful in helping to explain the subject and issues to an often sceptical audience. I would definitely recommend taking a look at his slide pack when it is posted on-line.

The vexed question of the actual definition of a wargame came up again and Phil had bullied Peter Perla into providing another definition (a variant on his previous one) with phrases like “a dynamic representation of conflict”, “people”, “decisions” and “consequences”. The issue of having an agreed definition of wargaming (or even general agreement on whether it should be spelled “war gaming” or “wargaming”) was mentioned several times. The concern was that the field is so broad that an all-encompassing definition is so bland as to be useless, and a more precise definition always excludes some segment of the discipline. This, in turn, leads the practitioners (who are all protective of their particular sub-discipline) to meddle and nit-pick with the definition to no useful purpose.

My personal view is that this a complete waste of time and effort. It doesn’t matter what the definition is – what matters is what wargaming does and why you would want to do it. We should therefore agree on a bland all-encompassing definition (to satisfy those who say we need one), but add “with the aim of” and then individual departments are free to mess with their personal aims to their heart’s content – and we can then all get on with some productive work.

I really don’t care what the definition is – but it isn’t a Wargame unless Blue can fail. J

This was followed by Dr Shawn Burns presenting on the Game Project Management Process. This was given from the perspective of the US DOD, whose scale and reach is orders of magnitude larger than most other countries wargaming efforts, but nevertheless the basics are applicable to all projects. The project management flow of: Task – Design – Development – Testing – Rehearsal – Execution – Analysis – Archive was clear and sensible, but his insight into the concept of Jidoka (taken from the Toyota production system) and the “5 Whys” was of particular interest.

The overall concept is summarised here, but the “5 Whys” process is simply the iterative process of asking “why” until the root cause of a problem is discovered. Shawn’s view (and I wholeheartedly support it) was that you should do the same with your Wargame Sponsor to work out what the sponsor really wants to achieve (which may be completely different to what you thought it was—or even from what he thought it was!).

The presentation on the OSD Wargaming Initiative was fascinating insight into how the Wargaming Repository project (a result of the DEPSECDEF memo) and US DOD process management was progressing. What was clear is that significant funding has been made available for wargaming initiatives (significant at least for the rest of us – they might seem small as DOD projects go), and the risk that things that weren’t really wargames would be classed as such in order to get money. There was a responsibility for those involved in wargaming to use the repository and to ensure that they get their messaging right to compensate for this.

There then followed Service briefs for the different environments which, while I was able to recognise more words after attending several Connections conferences, the majority of it went straight over my head. I can only presume that it served the vital function of maintaining “situational awareness” among the other Service branches – but from my outsider’s view it appeared to me that many of the challenges faced were very similar and that the USMC had the most coherent plan (and funding) for dealing with them. Time will tell if this is the case.

There seemed to me to be quite a lot on explaining procedural issues within the US DOD, fostering connections (!) and explaining structures and rather less on sharing best practice – but it takes a brave person to say something is “best practice” in front of this audience.

Cdr Chris Baker’s presentation on Stakeholder Management was good and matched my experiences in the UK Defence Procurement organisation. Far too many people in management positions seem to expect stakeholders merely to be asked their opinion (irrespective of whether they have any qualifications or formal training in the subject) (as opposed to just being appointed to their position) as if by aggregating these views together wisdom or innovation will magically appear. Leadership is required, as typified by the quote from Dr James Brown “Stakeholders expect you to lead… manage expectations… even if they are more powerful than you are”; if time is not to be wasted repeating work already done, or money wasted on “shiny toys” that don’t contribute to the outcomes we need.

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As always Dr Stephen Downes-Martin’s talk on Wargaming Pathologies was really excellent – brutal and uncompromising in shining a light on why things go bad, but offering clear advice on what can be done. None of the advice was easy or trivial: You need deep knowledge and competence in your subject, Suitably Qualified and Experienced Personnel (SQEP), objective analysis of what we are trying to achieve and the results we gained, and above all, morale courage to ensure that we do the right thing. Too many wargames are compromised by a lack of professional ethics, competence and courage in the face of your Boss, the Sponsor and Senior Players.

We also had Lt Gen Steven L Kwast, Commander Air University, provide a particularly rousing keynote address. There might have been some criticism that his words might be somewhat lacking in practical results, but the very fact that a 3-Star Officer was taking the time to address the conference and say the right things, shows he is aware of the issues and understands the desired direction of travel. I especially liked his comments on “smart risk” and his use of the language of insurgency in order to get the message through to younger personnel. He mentioned the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie as an example of overcoming the tangled mess of corporate rules, systems, procedures and red tape, which has had very good reviews (including by Sally Jewell the US Secretary of the Interior): .

We then had explanations about various working groups and game labs. I elected to get involved in Matt Caffery’s group on “Growing Tomorrows’ Innovators” and did a demonstration session of a Cyber Matrix Game (a simplified version is available here: https://1drv.ms/f/s!ArdcexVTLJ4Pgdle6885ZelqslZHiw).

This was followed by some extremely useful discussions in the evening at the icebreaker no-host event.

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Day 2

This started with Dr Burns’ presentation on Cyber Wargaming which we missed the preceding day. This was very useful – particularly for me as at the Defence Academy of the UK, the Simulation, Modelling and Wargaming department works to the Cyber and Information Management department and we run a cyber wargame as part of the Cyber Operational Awareness Course.

A number of helpful points were raised, based on Prof Stephanie Helm’s work looking into Cyber Considerations for Wargaming:

  • What is “Cyber”? How do you define “Cyber”? (How do you define Wargaming?)
  • The relationship between Cyber and Electronic Warfare (EW) or Information Operations (IO).
  • Operational factors such as Time, Space and levels of Force.
  • What does a Cyber Common Operational Picture (COP) look like?
  • What is Offensive Cyber?
  • What is Defensive Cyber?

From this fall out important questions that need to be addressed when designing a wargame that incorporates Cyber elements. Where does Cyber fit at the strategic level? How does it fit into the game objectives? Are the issues relevant to the decisions being made? Who is the bad guy?

We then covered the vexed problem of classification. Many aspects of operational Cyber capabilities are very highly classified; not just the ways and means, but the organisations and their relationships. This severely restricts the ability to wargame (or even discuss) the issues to gain the insights so badly needed. Is it possible to separate out the classified “actors, ways and means” from the unclassified and generalised “effects”?

This was a very helpful, and I shall be briefing this presentation specifically back to my department when the slides become available.

We were then privileged to have Brig Gen Brian M. Killough, Director of Strategy, Concepts and Assessments, Dep Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, HQ USAF give us a presentation on the Wargaming Enterprise.

General Killough, like General Kwast, inevitably demonstrated the General officer’s ability to start things off with a politically correct joke, but struck me as having a more grounded and realistic view of wargaming (warts and all) than the relentlessly upbeat talk from General Kwast. He also provided the first easy to understand view of what the 3rd Offset Strategy actually was.

I especially liked his points about including some of the weird stuff (avoiding predictable incrementalism) and the dangers of making wargames too big (because you simply don’t learn anything new). He was challenged on some points (after all he is “only a One-Star”), but I felt he gave frank and honest responses about the difficulties to be faced in the current fiscal environment. “Show me your cheque-book and I’ll show you what is important to you.”

Wargaming is not a science but I believe that several of our senior leadership understand the value of it – but equally they realise that it is an art form, so it can’t be mandated. It also is really hard to quantify, consequently they will have extreme challenges in funding and priorities, so I suspect that the best we can really hope for is encouragement and support. As Cdr Phil Pournelle said “we really ought to be able to game the system to get what we want – if we really call ourselves wargamers…”.

This was followed by an absolutely fascinating presentation by Robert Mosher entitled “Observations from a Role Player”, giving really grounded and sensible advice on the role of role-players, their functions, how to manage and prepare them properly and some top tips, such as:

  • Don’t fight the White (the exercise scenario). (Nit picking the scenario won’t help at this stage).
  • Understand the role/training objectives. (Not all roles are created equal and you have a function to do).
  • Ask questions early. (Don’t make too many assumptions)
  • Draw on your real world experience (in context).
  • Remember you are in Atropia now! (read your brief and don’t assume it’s just like Kansas…).
  • Be there for real-world mentoring. (Experience in these roles is transferable).

He was able to draw on his great depth of experience to illustrate his points with practical examples. His brief exactly matched my experience in that having role-play and experience role-players is incredibly valuable – especially in the situations the military find themselves in today’s operations (and his experience is pretty much second to none!).

During the preparations for the NATO deployment to Bosnia in 1994 some of the most valuable lessons (such as the need for a Political Advisor to the Commander and the need for a “Joint Military Commission” to handle all communication and dealing with the factions) came directly out of role-play sessions in the work-up training exercises and had not been foreseen beforehand.

Following the Working Groups initial discussions and lunch (I have to point out here that the fresh fruit and endless coffee / iced water were are real boon and very much appreciated) we went into speaker panels.

Panel One was Chaired by Dr Downes-Martin and looked at ideas and techniques explicitly intended to test to destruction proposed “innovative wargaming concepts”, which featured Dr. Hank Brightman (Naval War College) “Employing Qualitative Methods in the Destructive Testing of War Game Designs”; Dr. Jonathan Lockwood (Lockwood Research Associates, LLC) “Strategic Free Play Wargaming as the Optimum Approach for Testing New Concepts” and Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) “Did Your Concept or Your Wargame Fail?”.

C2016-4There were a lot of good ideas and concept in these presentations. I was struck by the idea (that matched several speaker’s comments) that before you embark on a quantitative model, you really need to explain and demonstrate a qualitative model to start with – because if you can’t then it is highly likely that your quantitative model has shaky foundations. Dr Wong, as usual was compelling in her presentation – if we pretend to be scientists or engineers, we should try to employ the scientific method, Discover, Demonstrate, Support, Refute, Replicate and examine our validity criteria: Construct validity, internal validity and external validity. Do wargames generate innovation? Or is it that innovative organisations use wargames? Is wargaming an indicator of an innovative organisation rather than a generator of innovation itself?

The second panel, to Explore the effectiveness and feasibility of options to facilitate the development of innovators, was Chaired by Matt Caffrey with Major Eric Frahm, LCWI, Back to the Future: Revisiting Small-Scale Wargames and the Integration of M&S into Wargame Design; Dr. Mel Deaile, Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies, The Risk of Wargaming and Joseph M. Saur, MS/CS, CMSP, Principal Lecturer in Cybersecurity, Regent University, “Teaching Wargaming at Marine Corps University: Lessons Learned”.

This panel was right on the money for me with discussions on the scale of wargames (we don’t need big games to be effective), the dangers of “Gamer Mode” (See Anders Frank’s doctoral thesis on the subject) and the often dreadfully biased assumptions made by many involved.

In the evening I was able to demonstrate the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, used in teaching cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (available here).

Day 3

On Day 3 we were privileged to have a presentation by Colonel John Warden (ret.) (the man responsible for starting the whole Connections conference off in the first place). He spoke without notes and laid out his vision of low cost, small footprint, short war interventions.

This was followed by the third speaker panel, Wargaming and Organizational Change, with the objective to explore ways to implement the appropriate application of wargaming. The Chair was Paul Vebber with Dr. John Tiller, John Tiller Software, Strategies for Organizational Change, A Practical Approach; Michael K. Robel, Principle Senior System Engineer, General Dynamics Information Technology, Innovations in Outcome Based Training for Seminar Wargames; and Dr. Thomas Choinski, Deputy Director for Undersea Warfare, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Macro Perspectives on Wargame Culture and Innovation.

There were some interesting ideas, particularly on Action Theory with regards to wargaming and innovation, taking an artefact, the system of manufacture, the technique and then the system of use; translating to Science and Engineering, Acquisition, and Doctrine, to the Warfighter. When considering computer simulation, Cdr Pournelle made the observation that if we are after innovation in ends, ways, means and methods, then using a simulation, by definition, handicaps your chances as it can only do what has been programmed into it – it is simply impossible to do something new (except in the most trivial of ways). It was interesting, however, to see direct parallels when considering the success factors in computer wargame design with manual wargame designs, in that it is important it looks good, it has a serious purpose, it is easy to get started with, it is engaging to play, it is easy to modify and it needs an advocate to provide “top cover”.

I then outlined the recent advances in Wargaming in the UK which were guardedly promising but still hampered by a lack of doctrine and the Connections UK Conference taking place on 06 to 08 September 2016 (see here for details).

Further sessions of the game labs were then continued. I volunteered to run a session in which we designed and ran a Matrix Game from scratch. I am extremely grateful to my willing bunch of volunteers for jumping in so whole-heartedly and putting up with my adjudication. We managed to do a run through of a scenario set in a Mega-City in Africa to a suitable finishing point within about 2 hours and then spent some time discussing Matrix Games. I have typed up a copy of the game (with a few changes) here.

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This was most useful and, in keeping with Prof Downes-Martin’s exhortation to be intellectually honest, led to the production of a short SWOT analysis of Matrix Games.

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Day 4

Day 4 was really briefing back the results of the Game Labs and the Working Groups. The brief from Matt Caffery’s Working Group on “Growing Tomorrow’s Wargame Innovators” almost exactly matched the conclusion that we had come to in the UK. There is a need for a graduated set of training courses following the Awareness – Practitioner – Expert model of training, with some form of short “Master Class” for senior officers. Our proposal is to have the Awareness Training available on-line (and this is in-hand), with the rest a mix of classroom sessions and distance learning. A Training Needs Analysis is currently underway and a business case will follow early next year.

The brief from Paul Vebber about designing an educational game, for non-military, non-wargamers to do with Naval Warfare in a complex environment, was very interesting. Called “Waves of Destiny” (and winning from the title alone!) it was intended as a very simple game to educate people about capabilities. I hope to be following this up later and look forward to playtesting the results.

Essentially there was a realisation that we need simple, accessible tools in order to train and educate people about understanding capability, learning to think against real opposition and also becoming “intimately or at least casually acquainted with a number of people that they might have occasion to work with or rely on in the future” (as Tom Shelling once noted).

The hot wash-up followed. This year’s attendance was lower than previously, mainly due to the location, but hopefully this will be fixed by returning to Quanitco and the Marine Corps next year. There were suggestions that we should put out a “Call for Papers”, deliberately invite or have a working group specifically for “under 35s”, and also invite the contributing authors to Zones of Control to participate.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few quotes that I wrote in my notebook:

  • “Wargaming is a motivator to action not a quantifier of effect”.
  • “Wargaming should fix stupid”.
  • “We should play “The Game of Games” and work out how to get wargaming used more”.
  • “Games having analytically quantifiable results is necessary, but not sufficient”.
  • “The danger is that Wargaming can be taken too seriously, or not seriously enough”.
  • “Show me your chequebook and I’ll show you what is important to you”.

I was asked by a friend whether it was worth it for him to attend Connections after I returned to the UK. I was a little surprised at how difficult it was to answer the question. The problem is the sense of scale and range of professional wargaming in the USA – it is so large an enterprise and so full of specialisation that it can be difficult to find comparative value with the much smaller scale work carried out in Europe. Some of the presentations are only of interest (or be the least bit understandable) for the US DOD participants (but this is entirely fair). It also has somewhat of a “folksy charm” that might infuriate some people when everyone disperses at the end of the day to participate in game sessions in various rooms without some formal notice. The experienced attendee knows when to interrupt to announce a session and how to ferret out those individuals they want to speak with after the formal work is over. This might leave the first timer adrift and feeling left out. I found it to be full of ideas and moments of inspiration that make such an event essential to my professional development, but I think that much of the value is only gained by regular attendance – so I intend to be back next year!

US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom— panel discussion and demo games

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In an effort to explore the benefits of bringing wargaming into the classroom, the US Army War College’s Strategic Simulations Department is conducting a discussion panel and game play event on 27 August, 2016, at the US Army Heritage and Education Center, in Carlisle, PA.  The panel will open with discussion from academia and military institutions. Game play will follow the panel and drive home the theories covered by the panelists.  The event is open to anyone, educator, gamer, and hobbyist.  The event will run from 10:00 A.M until 4:00 P.M.

Speakers (10:30-11:00) will include: Peter Perla (CNA), Rex Brynen (McGill University/PAXsims), James Lacey (Marine Corps War College) and James Sterrett (US Army Command & General Staff College).

Demonstration games (11:00-16:00) will include: FriedrichHanabi1944 Race to the Rhine, AFTERSHOCK, ISIS Crisis, Triumph and Tragedy, Axis & Allies (modified/blind play), Guerilla Checkers, Kaliningrad 2017, and Artemis.

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Further information on visiting the USAHEC can be found here.

Kaliningrad 2017 matrix game at the US Army War College

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

LTC David Barsness is a game designer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. He can be reached at: david.a.barsness.mil@mail.mil

Michelle Angert is student at the University of Pittsburgh. She spent nine weeks at the US Army War College as an intern in the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership.


 

On 14 July 2016, Kaliningrad 2017 debuted in the U.S. Army War College’s academic curriculum as part of the Department of Distance Education Elective DE5540 Security in Europe: NATO and the EU, by Dr. Joel Hillison. Kaliningrad 2017 is a matrix game, modified for use in seminar instruction. Gameplay is conducted through structured argumentation and facilitator adjudication rather than a rigid set of rules that does not promote strategic thinking.

Kaliningrad 2017 is the first of seven games, undertaken by the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) which furnishes national security professionals a role-playing forum for examining aspects of non-traditional conflict. The game depicts a fictional clash between Russia and the West over rights of access to the Kaliningrad district across the Baltic States and Poland. It was designed in the winter of 2016, and reflects the conditions of that time. The time period simulated is the late winter and spring of 2017.

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Kaliningrad 2017 matrix game map

In Kaliningrad 2017, player teams take on the role of one of five state and composite actors in a potential conflict in North East Europe. Each player team has its own specific objectives and guidelines for action, but the general goal is to preserve sovereignty and deter aggression.

After months of playtesting, in the USA and abroad, this iteration was the first to feature complete player teams and included a resident subject matter expert (SME) assigned to each team. The SME provided the students an expert familiar with their region with whom to coordinate and develop focused policy and positions. Game-specific modifications were incorporated in order to meet learning objectives.[1] Dr. Hillison updated the game assumptions to reflect the British decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), modified the decision-making process on the NATO and EU teams to reflect consensus procedures, added recurring meetings (e.g. NATO Military Committee) to replicate actual structured dialogue within and between organizations and assigned a faculty member to play the Baltic States and Poland.[2]

Organization: The students were divided into four teams (EU, NATO, Russia, USA) and provided team-specific background information and goals. Preparation included analyzing current issues facing the EU and NATO and the strategic approach taken by each organization. Dr. Hillison devoted portions of several in-class seminars for the individual teams to develop strategies to accomplish their team goals. This included crafting concrete objectives, sequencing ways to achieve these objectives using the various instruments of power, and assessing risk. “In-Seminar” preparation ensured the students were prepared to articulate their team strategy and achieve their objectives during the execution of the exercise.

K2017-3Game Play: On ‘game day’, the students gathered in the Root Hall Library and moved into their respective team areas. Awaiting them was a game board, country-specific information and invitation cards for coordinating negotiations. The team venues were spaced out of earshot of the other teams. The game commenced with a ten-minute strategy session, followed by five minutes for negotiations. Afterwards, the teams gathered around the central game board, while the Facilitator reviewed for the last time the sequence of play and any changes to the situation on the ground. The order of play was Russia, the European Union, NATO, USA, BSP (Baltic States and Poland) and Russia (again). During this main phase (15 minutes), the student team leaders made an argument for a given action while the other teams argued sequentially the feasibility or infeasibility of the muted action. The facilitator then assessed the argument and counterarguments, providing a modifier to the outcome die roll (plus or minus), depending on how well each team articulated its position.

K2017-2.jpgWrap-up: The teams made it through five player turns in just over two hours. Having reached the desired time limit, the facilitator and Dr. Hillison then conducted an After-Action Review. Teams talked about their objectives and how actions during the game were meant to effect these. Teams received feedback from the SMEs on quality of preparation, team strategy, team dynamics and the plausibility of actions taken. Students left the exercise with a greater understanding of the relationship between NATO and the EU and the roles of the United States, Russia, Baltic States and Poland and other (non-specified) European nations.

Recommendations: Successful execution of matrix game exercises is dependent on three factors:

  • First, an experienced ‘facilitator’ is critical. This person must be well versed in the mechanics of matrix game play. The facilitator must also have full knowledge of the course material and scenario in order to properly adjudicate arguments. Close coordination with the course faculty instructor is required. The facilitator will guide\demonstrate a full round of play immediately before commencing the actual game. This leads to more effective game play. The demo round might be filmed (e.g. one of the rehearsals), or could be a live demonstration (e.g. move zero).
  • Second, it is imperative to have sufficient faculty expertise on hand in order to facilitate substantive group discussion, provide feedback and ensure learning objectives are met. The simplicity and flexibility of matrix game exercises allow faculty instructors to quickly modify game play in order to meet those objectives. For example, a faculty instructor might translate a teaching point through a particular game move. This is easily done through the facilitator.
  • Finally, and most important, students must come prepared. During gameplay, much like oral exams, students will be called on to properly articulate and employ the instruments of national power in the context of their organization or country and present a reasoned argument in support of a particular action. In this particular exercise, observers remarked that they saw the students demonstrate the use of the ends\ways\means analysis model, using a different “lens” or perspective to look at problems and a marked knowledge of the elements of national power.

From student and faculty feedback, Kaliningrad 2017 was a successful teaching event and validation exercise. All involved were impressed at how the game allowed them to employ lessons learned in the seminar classroom. Kaliningrad 2017 was a ‘proof of principal exercise’ that demonstrated the effectiveness of matrix game-exercises both as a teaching tool and as a measure of effectiveness of course comprehension and learning objectives.

The game materials for Kaliningrad 2017 are complete and are available for reproduction upon request. These materials include the rules, maps, game markers, player aides, and player team goals and descriptions.

 * * *

[1] Apart from numerous playtests at the US Army War College, Kaliningrad 2017 has also undergone testing at the National Defense University and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory of the UK MoD, and has been furnished to the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, the US Naval Postgraduate school in Monterey, CA, the Massachusetts National Guard, and individuals in the United States and Europe. For more on the design and playtesting of Kaliningrad 2017, see the earlier July 2016 article in PAXsims: Kaliningrad 2017 playtest at NDU.

[2] Subject matter experts from across the Army War College assisted in the game and the three rehearsals. Participants included: LTC David Barsness, LTC James DiCrocco, LTC John Mowchan, LTC Jurgen Prandtner (German Army), Dr. Ray Millen and Dr. Christopher Bolan. COL TJ Moffatt and Dr. Jeff Troxell observed the execution. LTC Joseph Chretien and Michelle Angert (intern) of the Center for Strategic Leadership facilitated.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 10 August 2016

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers.

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The Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference is currently underway at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. While we won’t be live-blogging the event, we do hope to past a conference report after it is finished courtesy of ace PAXsims investigative reporter, Tom Mouat.

Meanwhile August 15 is the  registration deadline for Connections UK, which will be held at King’s College London on 6-8 September 2016.

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US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work will be the keynote speaker at the forthcoming MORS special meeting on wargaming (17-20 October, in Alexandria VA). You’ll find more details here.

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The BBC is planning to bring back Time Commanders—the television series where ordinary people team up to wargame historic battles—and they are looking for participants:

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Time Commanders, the popular historical military strategy series, where teams go head-to-head with some of the greatest generals from history, is back for a third series and we’re looking for teams of three to take part.

Are you an armchair general who could lead a team to victory?

Do you have the tactics to outwit the strategic advances of the opposition to command an empire?

In each show, two teams of three friends, family, or colleagues will take control of opposing ancient forces, facing our computer, pre-programmed by our historical experts, before they face off against each other in one of history’s biggest battles.

Time Commanders is produced for the BBC by Lion Television

To apply

Age limit: Applicants must be aged 18 years of age and over.

Please get in touch for more information or to apply for series 3 of Time Commanders.

Please tell us who would be in your team, how you know each other, and what it is about appearing on Time Commanders that appeals to you. Why would you make a successful team? Could you beat history’s greatest generals? What skills do you have that would help you to victory?

Phone number: 0141 331 6427
Email address: timecommanders@liontv.co.uk
Write:

Time Commanders
Lion Television
14 Royal Crescent
Glasgow
G3 7SL

Closing date: Thursday 1st September

The original series ran from 2003 to 2005 (and you’ll find many episodes on YouTube)

PAXsims

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At the US Naval Institute blog, Robert Kozloski discusses “building the naval battle lab.”

The naval services have led at wargaming for decades. Over the past few years, improvementsto analytical methods have resulted in game outcomes informing organizational decision-making processes. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that wargaming, and gameplay in general, serves as an excellent leadership development tool. In essence, traditional wargaming is a competition among participants based on a scenario that is conducted in a turn-based manner. They make people think and solve problems. This same process is easily replicated, repeated and expanded by using a virtual environment.

Virtual wargaming offers many advantages over traditional simulations. Consider popular online games such as World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. These games are played by millions of networked participants around the world every day. Fundamentally, they are designed to pose tactical problems to players who have a set of options from which to select. This interaction presents an incredible opportunity both to learn and collect useful data on military decision making.

In the future, for example, tactical problem X could be posed to a large and diverse group of naval officers in a virtual game format. From their answers, it would be possible to determine that a certain percentage would chose option Y, while others would chose option Z. This data could then influence policy changes or improve training and education programs, using any observed shortfalls. Further, if this virtual environment is shared with other services and coalition partners, it will be possible to determine the effect service and national culture has on tactical decision making.

Another advantage of virtual gaming is its ability to draw upon the expertise of the crowd to solve challenging problems. This is contrary to the norm of giving only a few elite players the opportunity to participate in large-scale events. Virtual environments are also more accommodating to various personality types and better for overcoming the power dynamics and hierarchies associated with the traditional approach to military wargaming.

Not surprisingly,  his unbridled enthusiasm for technological solutions provoked some eye-rolling among advocates of (cheaper, more transparent, more easily modified) manual wargames. However, I think it is important not to see this in either/or terms: provided you don’t break the bank acquiring shiny but unhelpful technological capabilities, there’s no reason why you can’t push the envelope of computer modelling, distributed network play, and user interface AND, at the same time, represent that manual methods have a variety of comparative advantages too.

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Crisis Theory is a free/donate-to-download game that explores the crisis of capitalist accumulation for the standpoint of Marxist theory. You’ll find it here.

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A recent guest post by Kyle Hanes at the Active Learning in Political Science blog explores using a simulation to examine the bargaining model of war.

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At his Tiny Tin Men blog, Phil Dutré offers some thoughts on the recent edited volume Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming. He highlights what he sees as the differences between the hobby and professional wargaming:

…the book blew me off my socks. In some of the chapters, people make the explicit link between hobby wargaming and professional wargaming – although the hobby wargames mentioned in this context usually are the hex-and-counter type, not the toy soldier type. I have argued before in several discussions (e.g. on TMP), that there is not much of a link between both, exactly because the design aims are different. I never understood the wargamers who claim that a (board) wargame designed for entertainment actually is a serious tool to train for war. “Really? You can learn to command an army by playing Tactics 2?” Nevertheless, in various online discussion, this point is always made. I often think this is because the confusion people have about the name “wargame”, and leave out the adjectives  “hobby”, “training”, “miniature, “board” or “professional”. After all, when discussing football, isn’t it important one specifies whether one is talking about European or American football, or mini-football, foosball, or a football computer game? Sure, it’s all football, but why discuss it as if it’s all the same thing?

So, if there is indeed a strong connection between professional and hobby wargaming, and if we have professional wargame designers who clearly know their stuff, then what the hell on earth are hobby miniature wargame designers thinking they’re doing? Shouldn’t we leave the game design to the professionals? Or should we as gaming enthusiasts all start reading the academic articles and use whatever insights the professionals have developed? Are those insights even transferable to hobby games to begin with?

I lay awake for some nights pondering this very question. I do like writing my own rules for miniature wargaming, testing the game out with my friends, or sending in articles about our games to the glossy miniature wargaming journals. I like playing with my toy soldiers. On the other hand, as an academic, I know there’s this world of difference between tackling a problem academically or fixing it at the hobby level. So how is a hobby like miniature wargaming perceived by serious wargame designers? Simple child’s play? Noise in the wargaming universe? Should we – as miniature wargamers – simply stop pretending we are doing anything more than just playing a simple game? (In fact, I do think we are just playing a game inspired by military history – but there’s this neverending discussion that it’s always something more, and people get confused …)

After a couple of days, I started thinking about the unique assets of miniature wargaming, that I couldn’t see being present in professional wargaming, and I became somewhat more relaxed:

  • The visual spectacle! For me, *miniature* wargaming has always been about the toy soldiers. Moving toys around the table is a large part of the attractiveness of the hobby, as is the modeling aspect that is linked to this.
  • Elegant gaming mechanics! Miniature wargaming is a game, and games design is focused around designing elegant and playable mechanics using dice, rulers, cards, … as well as around producing plausible results.
  • History, not training for actual war! Miniature wargaming most often is involved with historic subjects, not something wargames designed for training the military are really considering.
  • Fantasy and Scifi and Imaginations! Many popular miniature wargames explore alternate universes, and care little about training or historic plausibility.
  • Storytelling! In the end, a good wargame is telling a story inspired by military history. One could even make a point this is the most important point of our hobby.

So, I slowly reverted back to my original stance. Yes, there are many genres of wargaming – all called wargaming :-) But in the end, I do not see much similarities between wargaming as used by professionals and recreational wargaming as played by hobbyists. Sure, there might be the occasional game or gaming engine that can serve both audiences, but I think those are the exception rather than the rule.

It’s an interesting discussion, and one that comes up at times in professional wargaming threads at BoardGameGeek.

Regarding Phil’s final points, I wouldn’t underestimate the value of elegant rules in many professional games. Familiarity with hobby gaming also provides a mental library of game mechanics that can be adopted to more serious purposes. Moreover,  I certainly think, as Ed McGrady and Peter Perla have convincingly argued, that narrative engagement—that is to say, effective storytelling—is an essential part of why wargaming works.

At the same time, there are differences. Slavish attachment to the conventions of one type of wargaming can blind one to what may be the requirements of another: analytical games should be about analysis, educational games should be about learning, and successful hobby games are largely about fun (although many hobbyists would prize a degree of historical realism as part of the factors that enjoyment of a game). The point is to design for purpose, and consider various gaming techniques as tools in a toolkit rather than invariable recipes.

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Don’t forget that the first expansion set for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is now available from The Game Crafter. We’ve also lowered the price of the main AFTERSHOCK game too!

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AFTERSHOCK gender expansion now available

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It’s finally here! With the generous support of the National Defense University Foundation, we are pleased to announce the release of AFTERSHOCK game expansion #1 on the gender dimensions of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

We’ve previously discussed the development and playtesting of the expansion set here at PAXsims. For those of you don’t know about AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, you’ll find additional details here. A free copy of the expansion set rules is available from The Game Crafter website, as are the rules for the main game.

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The game expansion is priced at USD$14.99. To make it more accessible we are also permanently reducing the price of AFTERSHOCK to USD$84.99. Now there’s absolutely no excuse not to buy both—and thereby incorporate gender analysis into your efforts to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the desperate, earthquake-afflicted people of Carana!

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All net proceeds from the sale of AFTERSHOCK and its expansions are donated to United Nations humanitarian agencies. Order a copy now!

 

Call for Participants: MORS Wargame Adjudication Working Group 17-20 October 2016

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Working Group 3 (“Adjudication”) at the MORS Wargaming Special Meeting (17-20 October 2016) is seeking participants!

For details of the special meeting and the registration page, see here.

Working Group 3 will address the questions “what are the barriers to doing the best possible job of adjudicating wargames?” and “how can we best overcome those barriers?” using a disciplined group methodology known as “Language Processing”™ in two sessions. Working Group Participants are expected to be competent and experienced wargame adjudicators. The Working Group will produce two linked products corresponding to the two questions in a format similar to a mind-map.

If you are interested and an experienced wargame adjudicator please contact the two Working Group Chairs, Timothy Wilkie and Stephen Downes-Martin, to discuss your participation as soon as possible, but before Friday 30 September at the latest. Thanks!

Stephen Downes-Martin

Dstl wargaming trip report (or, I visited Portsdown West and all I got was this lousy mug)

Last month I visited the UK for a week of discussions on professional wargaming. My trip report has now been cleared for publication (public release identifier DSTL/PUB097079), and I’m pleased to present it below. It was a terrific visit as you’ll see below.


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 Dstl Day 1: Wargaming and its challenges

In late June I spent a week as a guest of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), at their Portsdown West campus near Portsmouth. Dstl is an executive agency, sponsored by the Ministry of Defence. Dstl ensures that “innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK.”

Dstl responsibilities include:

  • supplying sensitive and specialist science and technology services for MOD and wider government
  • providing and facilitating expert advice, analysis and assurance on defence procurement
  • leading on the MOD’s science and technology programme
  • understanding risks and opportunities through horizon-scanning
  • acting as a trusted interface between MOD, wider government, the private sector and academia to provide science and technology support to military operations by the UK and her allies
  • championing and developing science and technology skills across MOD

I was hosted by Dstl’s Wargaming Team, the team having recently been described in a memo to the UK MOD Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff as: “an MOD S&T asset responsible for enabling MOD’s wider wargaming activity”.

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Since WWII, Dstl and its predecessors have had a good track record of delivering wargames, mainly in support of decision support and operations. One of the current challenges for the team is determining how best to reinvigorate, and grow, a wargaming capability (a combination of people, processes, and tools) that can respond to the high levels of customer interest and demand. One of the ways that the team is tackling this problem is by capitalising on external expertise, in particular academic staff who specialise in, and have a passion for, topics such as political science coupled with game design.

They certainly kept me busy, with four and a half full days of lectures, workshops, and discussions on various aspects of wargaming.

I started on Monday with a presentation on The Social Science of Gaming in which I presented ten sets of findings from social science research that I thought had important implications for wargame design and implementation. Since this was a first draft of my September keynote address at the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference, I won’t spoil the surprise by posting the lecture slides here—instead, you’ll have to come to King’s College London in a month’s time.

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Next, I was asked to give a brief on A Personal Journey Through (Sometimes) Serious Gaming, in which I discussed may own background first as a wargaming hobbyist and later as a social scientists using serious games to support teaching and analysis. [slides here]. Among the highlights was a satellite photo of the exact location in a British schoolyard where, in the autumn of 1975, I met my first two fellow teen wargamers, David Knowles and Matthew Hayward. The legendary (to us) Lymington and District Wargames Club would be born soon thereafter.

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In the afternoon attention turned to a presentation entitled Blessed are the Cheesemakers: The Challenges of Gaming Information Operations [slides here]. The title of the talk was a reference to a memorable scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and I was happy to be speaking in a place where most of the audience recognized it. I offered some thoughts on gaming IOs: either as an adjunct to another, generally, kinetic process, or as a primary focus (focusing either on their employment, as part a process, or in an effort to develop content).

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Information and influence, I noted, were part of highly contextual social and political processes that were often poorly understood, so I was a bit dubious about placing a great deal of weight on the specific outputs of IO-focused games.

Instead, I suggested, such games should largely be valued for their heuristic value in generating greater critical awareness of the role, potential, limitations, and difficulties of information and influence operations. Members of the audience also offered a great deal of useful insight into the issue, based on their own experience. As with almost all my sessions at Dstl I may have taken away far more from the conversation than I ever contributed.

The final session was devoted to Managing Player and Client Engagement: Skeptics, Seekers, and Enthusiasts [slides here].

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I had more to say on the player end than with regard to clients, since in many cases I’m my own client or have been given very free reign to design a game as I see fit. Much of the discussion ended up focusing on problems—such as unwillingness of players, especially senior players, to risk losing—and how they might be dealt with. Not for the first time I argued that managing players and game facilitation was a skill more closely related to roleplaying games than conventional hobby wargaming—a point that I really need to develop into a full PAXsims post sometime. I learned a lot from the experiences and approaches that were shared by members of Dstl, and there were certainly several ideas that I’ll add to my game design and facilitation toolkit.

 

Dstl Day 2: Daesh and matrix gaming

The second day of my visit involved a game of the ISIS Crisis matrix game, followed by an extended discussion of the potential use of matrix game methods for educational and analytical gaming. Major Tom Mouat—who developed most of the materials for the game—was there too.

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The game itself was insightful. The Iraqi government tried to launch a systematic campaign to advance north towards Mosul, but found itself stymied by poor coordination with supposed allies, ISIS terrorism, Iranian heavy-handedness, and internal tensions. The Kurds did well and finally manage to secure some extra heavy weapons from the US, but advanced little beyond their start positions. One US air strike in support of the Iraqi government went very wrong, exacerbating Sunni anger and causing a brief hiatus in the tempo of American operations. Iran, concerned that the Iraqi cabinet was insufficiently compliant, sponsored a proliferation of Shiite militias under its direct control. Although ISIS lost some of the territory under its control, it was able to use US and Iranian actions to spur additional recruitment. Finally, the Sunni opposition eventually rose up against ISIS and supported the central government’s military campaign, but at the cost of increasing tension with the Shiite militias. This finally erupted into open sectarian fighting when Iranian-backed militias undertook security operations in the capital against suspected Sunni insurgents.

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After lunch, the post-game session was perhaps the richest and most valuable discussion of matrix gaming methods and applications that I’ve ever participated in. Among the topics we collectively addressed were:

  • Variations in format, including larger games with team dynamics (as I used last month at MIGS), games where a team leader selects from multiple potential courses of action proposed by team members (thus increasing the number of possible COAs (Course Of Actions) generated), distributed games, interlinked games, and matrix games used as an element of other, more traditional wargames.
  • Facilitator skills and requirements for subject matter expertise.
  • Suitability for various audiences.
  • Variations in adjudication methods.
  • Representation of kinetic and non-kinetic activity in matrix games.
  • Suitability for various topics recently wargamed by Dstl.
  • The value of developing a generic “matrix game construction kit” with basic components.

 

Dstl Day 3: AFTERSHOCK , humanitarian assistance, aid, and stabilization

The third day of activities at Dstl revolved around gaming issues of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). We started with a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis. The players secured a modest success in dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in fictional Carana. The NGO team did particularly well in racking up “organization points” (reflecting public profile and political capital), although their single-minded focus on shelter projects caused some friction with other teams. The HADR Task Force had successfully withdrawn almost all their personnel by the time the game ended, and the government—although politically vulnerable to the end—utilized its informal aid distribution networks to good effect, while managing to contain or defuse any social discontent. Needs assessments proved particularly important in identifying emerging needs and challenges.

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Later that same day I made a presentation on the considerations that had informed the design of AFTERSHOCK, as well as the various ways in which in might be used [slides here].

My other presentation this day was on Aid, Stabilization, and COIN (COunter INsurgency) [slides here]. In it I warned that many of the key assumptions of COIN doctrine—namely that victory is about legitimacy; poverty and unemployment generates support for armed opposition; legitimacy is about the delivery of core government services; patronage and corruption is bad; and that we know what we’re doing—were contingent relationships. Because of this, COIN doctrine, while a useful guide to what might work most of the time in most places, does not always provide useful guidance all of the time in all places. This suggests a vital need to promote critical thinking and a willingness to modify views and approaches. I particularly stressed the importance of avoiding hubris, and the powerful (often overriding) effects that politics among local actors has on outcomes.

 

Dstl Day 4: Hybrid Warfare and Measures Short of War

Thursday was hybrid warfare day at Dstl. I offered some thoughts [slides] on the notion of hybrid warfare, arguing that most warfare was hybrid and that conflict activities across a broad spectrum were hardly new. (Later I suggested that the term had come to mean “challenges from opponents that we did not anticipate, plus things we once did that we’ve forgotten how to do.” We also identified some of the things that are commonly identified as part of hybrid warfare.

hybrid warfare

After this, we spent the rest of the day playing a few turns of three different games. Each of these explored the topic from different perspectives using a different gaming system: LTC David Barsness’ Kaliningrad 2017 (a matrix game), Brian Train’s Ukrainian Crisis (a more traditional rules/assets/area-movement wargame), and Volko Ruhnke’s Labyrinth (a card-driven game).

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Kaliningrad 2017

In the matrix game, players were limited only by real-world capabilities in taking potential actions across the diplomatic/information/military/economic (DIME) spectrum. This approach certainly encouraged greater innovation by players, although at the cost of a single action per turn. Kaliningrad 2017 uses a number of marker tracks to measure the game effects of global opinion, nuclear escalation, and a refugee crisis, and this sparked discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach compared to the simpler design of ISIS Crisis. Generally I’m of the view that “less is more” in matrix games, and that marker tracks can risk excessively focusing player activities in a certain area.

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Ukrainian Crisis

Ukrainian Crisis builds on more explicit models and assumptions than does a matrix game. Here the analytical value is not in thinking of new applications of power (since these are predetermined in the rules), but rather discovering how the subsystems and constituent parts of a conflict might interact. Labyrinth also contains an established game model, with the cards being used both to drive these and to insert various capabilities and events. Conventional wargames can certainly do a better job of modeling combat operations than an argument-based matrix games, although they may have difficulty addressing innovation adaptation, or complex political and economic consequences arising from kinetic actions.

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Labyrinth

Because of this, I am of the view that a matrix game often offers the best way of exploring broad issues of hybrid warfare, although more detailed examination of particular domain areas could benefit from a more rigorous rules- and models-based approach. A matrix game could also be combined with another gaming approach, with the former perhaps best suited for the diplomatic/information/economic aspects, while the latter could address kinetic military activities. I also think the nature of the topic lends itself well to multimodal examination, whereby the same scenario is explored using several different gaming methodologies, each offering somewhat different insights.

Ironically, one of the problems of a matrix game approach is that it does not require a great deal of preparation, nor need it involve a great deal of materials and complexity. This makes it an unattractive proposition for defence contractors and consultants since product creation and delivery generates relatively few billable hours. Similarly, a sponsor may feel that it does not seem enough of a tangible product compared with a more complex, traditional wargame.

 

Dstl Day 5: Gaming wicked and messy problems

During my final day at Dstl we looked at gaming “wicked” and “messy” problems, with a particular emphasis on mass migration and refugee crises. The concept of wicked problems (first developed in 1973 by Rittel and Webber) addresses planning issues that are characterized by ten key characteristics:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

“Messy problems,” on the other hand, are rooted in complex adaptive systems wherein the key variables and the relationships between them are unclear or poorly understood, and in which adaptive subsystems seek to survive environmental change.

After a very brief introduction to the topic [slides], I highlighted a number of refugee and migration games I have either (co)designed or played:

Two of these (marked * above) were not really proper games or simulations, but rather had used game mechanisms to help motivate players.

Thereafter, we turned our attentions to identifying a migration-related topic that could be usefully gamed. After identifying the audience and purpose of such a game, we spent the duration of the session brainstorming game ideas. Some very good ideas emerged for a matrix game involving major European actors (Germany, Italy, the Balkan republics), possibly Turkey, the United Nations, an “other actors/subject matter expert” player, and the migrants themselves.

The migrant player would start the game with a “migrant deck “of economic migrants and refugees that they would seek to move into Europe. These would be played face down, with the identity of the migrant revealed only when they reached a final destination , were otherwise prevented from doing so, or died—the purpose being to personalize the otherwise faceless statistic of migrant numbers. (Tom Mouat subsequently made up a set of these, which you can download via PAXsims here.)

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Source: Business Insider, 15 September 2015.

Other players would react to migrant flows in appropriate ways. National politics would be addressed by having each country played by a team representing political parties with differing interests and objectives, so that team members were essentially in competition with each other. Much like MIGS versions of ISIS Crisis, this would allow for a game-within-the-matrix-game approach.

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Left to Right: Ruby Tabner, Stephen Ho, Me, Colin Marston and Mike Bagwell

The final day ended with a visit to Southwick House to visit the D-Day map room, followed by a pub lunch.

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All-in-all it was an absolutely terrific visit that generated some excellent discussions and ideas regarding (war)gaming methodologies. Colin Marston and the others at Dstl were excellent hosts, and I even got a Portsdown West Wargaming Suite coffee mug out of the deal! I’m very grateful to Tom Mouat for helping out too. I’ll certainly look forward to seeing many of my UK counterparts again at the Connections UK conference in September.

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Back home, with my mug.

 

Migrant cards

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Tom Mouat’s “migrant cards.”

Several weeks ago I spent a week in the Portsmouth area with the wargaming team from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). A trip report on that visit is forthcoming, as soon as the necessary clearances and approvals are received.

In the meantime, I did want to make mention of one part of the visit, namely a half day Tom Mouat and I spent with the team discussing gaming “wicked and messy problems.” A particular focus of that discussion was refugees and other migrants.

I’ve (war)gamed such issues before. Refugee issues figure prominently in the Brynania peacebuilding simulation. Displaced persons make an appearance in AFTERSHOCK. I’ve run games on refugees for Exeter University, United Nation agencies, and as part of so-called “track two” informal Israeli-Palestinian discussions. Refugee and migration games also figured in last year’s Connections UK conference.

In the course of the Dstl discussion, several issues came up. One was the need to humanize migrants in a game, and not merely treat them as a faceless number. Second, and related to this, was the value of treating migrants as actors who would respond to policy changes in innovative ways, rather than simply as the unthinking objects of policy action. Finally, the difficulty was raised of sorting out the very few bad apples from the great majority of desperate people seeking safety for themselves and their families, anxious to contribute to their host societies. I mentioned that it would be useful to have a game component—migrant cards, perhaps—that would allow you to do this in the context of a variety of different game designs, whether rules-based or more free-form (such as a matrix game).

At this point, Tom Mouat’s eyes lit up with a particular glint that those who know Tom will know well. A few weeks later and he has now produced a set of such cards, which he has made available for free to anyone who wishes to incorporate them into a game design:

The cards are available as both individual  graphic files (.jpg) and as templates for standard Avery 2×3.4″ business card stock, so that they can be easily printed directly onto cards. One side depicts a nameless, faceless, and perhaps slightly ominous, migrant. The other side reveals the actual human being and their possible future.

migrantcards

There are no rules for using these—rather, they are being provided here as game materials for readers to use. If you do use them in a game design or for another purpose, Tom and I would love to hear about it. If you care to develop a quick educational game using them, send on the rules and we may even post them to PAXsims.

Engle: Proposal for a simplified matrix game

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PAXsims is pleased to present the final of a series of posts by Chris Engle on using the matrix game method. Today he offers some thoughts on how to simplify matrix games still further when exploring a common challenge.


 

Proposal for a simplified matrix game

Matrix games are a simple, low tech, low cost simulation tool that tends to be good at running highly fluid situations. It is gaining some attention now which means more people will take it up and make their own versions. This is a good thing but it also could mean a slow creep towards larger more complicated rules. I suggest that that is not the way to go.

Matrix games are simple now but can be made even simpler. The advantage in doing this is not just that it makes the system even lower cost but more importantly that it is easier to explain to policy makers, who often lack detailed knowledge of simulation techniques. When they can understand what a game is they are more likely to fund it. To this end I suggest the following rules.

  1. Define the nature of the game in the briefest way possible. A one page scenario description, maps, a list of possible goals and maybe a cast of important characters is more than enough to suggest a world matrix. The player’s own imaginations fill in the blanks without any additional effort from the designer.
  2. Start with a problem. Make it a simple statement. This is the question the game tries to answer.
  3. Players do not take on roles. Everyone cooperates to make the game happen. They all work towards answering the problem statement. Naturally players will identify with various characters in the story but they are not locked into only acting through that person.
  4. There is no order of play. Players jump in as they have ideas. This follows participant’s energy. Rigid procedures can stifle creativity.
  5. Players point to a scene or location and say what happens. They should write this down so there is a record of events for post-game analysis. Actions may be done in the form of arguments (an action, a result, and three reasons why) but don’t have to be. Novice gamers tend to just tell stories and that is okay.
  6. Other players may add to or alter the previous statement. This overwrites what the last person said. There need be no dice rolling, the effect is automatic but may lead to a discussion. It is possible for players to go entire sessions without ever using dice.
  7. Any player may call for another player to roll dice to see if their action fails. Each roll is 50/50. As many players as wish may ask for rolls. If multiple players do ask for this then it is appropriate to discuss why. If the action passes the roll then it happens and cannot be changed. If it fails, it does not happen and cannot happen in this game.
  8. Players may shift around from scene to scene inside the game as they wish. This allows the flow to go from critical event to critical event rather than get bogged down in minutia.
  9. Play continues until the initial problem is resolved. My experience is that this generally takes no more than an hour and can be done in less time if that is required.
  10. There is no game moderator but it helps to have a game host to encourage players to stay focused on the problem at hand. They do this by inviting players to say what happens next.
  11. All sessions should end with a debriefing period during which participants and spectators discuss what they learned.

I have used games like this in psychotherapy for over twenty years and found them very easy to administer. They can even be made up on the fly.

I invite people to take these rules and adapt them for their own purpose. All I ask is that you share your methods and results with the simulation community.

Chris Engle

Engle: Rapid turnaround matrix games

PAXsims is pleased to present more ideas from Chris Engle, the original inventor of the matrix game method. Today he offers some thoughts on how simple matrix games can be used to develop rapid insight into a challenge or issue.


 

QuickTurnaround

One of the realities of consulting is the requirement for speed. Problems arise and clients demand they be solved immediately. Highly complex simulations could take weeks or longer to set up and run. This limits their utility. Matrix games offer a simulation technique that is much faster to implement.

A customer may call with a question and be able to get a simulation solution to it within as little as an hour.

All that it takes to create a matrix game is to define a problem and briefly describe the context. The problem can be as little as one sentence and a context statement no longer than a page. A single writer could create this in minutes. The next step is running the game.

Games require players but they do not need to be face to face. If they are (such as in a staff meeting or some other kind of committee) that is fine but a focus group of players can meet online just as easily. Whoever calls the meeting brings the game and asks the participants to play. Even full blown games need last no more than an hour and sometimes less.

Once the session is done the consultant should write up the results in a report or tell the customer verbally. Either way the consultant need only summarize the key ideas and themes that emerged through play.

Rapid turnaround games like this can be used to help train people, to try and reach a consensus amongst a staff, to explain a policy decision, or build a team. The uses are only limited by the imaginations of the participants.

I have experience running games like this in psychotherapy since the late 1980’s. In these games, I bring up the simulation as needed and fit it to my client’s needs. Preplanning is impossible in this context. I use it as it seems appropriate. In substance abuse and anger management groups it is a way for people to examine their cognitions and assumptions. In individual counseling it is a way for a client to explore a possible course of action safely.

I see no reason why this technique could not work for any number of other disciplines. All that is required is the ability to think on your feet.

Chris Engle

Engle: Iterative matrix games

 

Yesterday, matrix game inventor Chris Engle provided an overview of the history of the matrix gaming method for PAXsims. Today he offers some more thoughts, this time on bringing narrative games and quantitative analysis together.


 

Iterative matrix games: Bringing together narrative games and quantitative analysis

reserach-charts.jpgMatrix games are a simple narrative simulation technique that maximizes the creative input of players by allowing them to make up what happens next. They say what they imagine and this allows those watching to get a glimpse of the inner workings of a player’s mind. The game is a conversation between players and is not built on an underlying mathematical algorithm. It is the opposite of a mathematical game theory approach. Consequently it is easy for designers who work in quantitative sciences to dismiss the technique.

There is a potential to bridge the gap between soft narrative approaches and hard quantitative ones. It is in iterative play. This has not yet been done but here is how I think it could work.

The game is played on an electronic platform. Participants register for the site by giving their demographic details, whatever details are appropriate for post-game analysis. Players gather on the site as they would on social media. Each game starts at a preset time. Players are presented with a brief scenario and asked to start.

Players then type in the actions they want to happen. This happens in real time so participants are both audience and actors. They may add to and alter the story as they see fit. Each addition adds to the narrative but also is linked to the writer’s demographics and sits in relationship to the actions that precede and follow it. In addition the platform could allow off side comments to further supplement the data collection. If games are limited to no more than twelve players it should work. More than that and play could spin into chaos as players are unable to keep up with the flood of new actions. Too many participants and information overload results.

If the same scenario is run repeatedly, for the same players or for new sets gamers, the electronic record builds up a data base of outcomes that can be subject to statistical analysis. So while any individual game may be “just made up”, when aggregated they form a picture of a crowd and crowds have wisdom.

As of now I know of no way a computer can breakdown individual stories to categorize them but I can imagine that coming. When it happens matrix games can be a way of melding together the strength of people and machines. The game combines human imagination with machine data crunching. The potential for useful research here is intriguing.

Chris Engle 

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