PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Gaming articles in International Studies Perspectives

isp.gifThe latest issue of International Studies Perspectives 18, 2 (May 2017) has a several articles on game-related topics that might be of interest to PAXsims readers.

The first, by Nicolas de Zamaróczy, is entitled “Are We What We Play? Global Politics in Historical Strategy Computer Games.”

Building upon current interest in studies of how popular culture relates to global politics, this article examines one hitherto overlooked aspect of popular culture: computer games. Although not prominent in the field of International Relations (IR), historical strategy computer games should be of particular interest to the discipline since they are explicitly designed to allow players to simulate global politics. This article highlights five major IR-related assumptions built into most single-player historical strategy games (the assumption of perfect information, the assumption of perfect control, the assumption of radical otherness, the assumption of perpetual conflict, and the assumption of environmental stasis) and contrasts them with IR scholarship about how these assumptions manifest themselves in the “real world.” This article concludes by making two arguments: first, we can use computer games as a mirror to critically reflect on the nature of contemporary global politics, and second, these games have important constitutive effects on understandings of global politics, effects that deserve to be examined empirically in a deeper manner.

The second, by Craig Hayden, looks at “The Procedural Rhetorics of Mass Effect: Video Games as Argumentation in International Relations.”

Popular culture is a significant interest for scholars of International Relations and world politics. This article explores the capacity of video games to articulate, represent, and simulate the practice of international politics in both narrative and procedural capacities through a study of the highly popular Mass Effect science fiction series of video games. The introduction of procedural rhetoric as a means of textual criticism is argued to address existing concerns within the study of International Relations to articulate the significance of representation with cultural texts and to extend the implications of claims about science fiction as a compelling set of contingent arguments about the broader sphere of social life that constitutes International Relations.

The third, by Tina Zappile, Daniel J. Beers, and Chad Raymond, addresses “Promoting Global Empathy and Engagement through Real-Time Problem-Based Simulations.”

We introduce a real-time problem-based simulation in which students are tasked with drafting policy to address the challenge of internally displaced persons in post-earthquake Haiti from a variety of stakeholder perspectives. Students who participated in the simulation completed a quantitative survey as a pre-/post-test on global empathy, political awareness, and civic engagement and provided qualitative data through post-simulation focus groups. The simulation was run in four courses across three campuses in a variety of instructional settings from 2013 to 2015. An analysis of the data reveals that scores on several survey items measuring global empathy and political/civic engagement increased significantly after the simulation, while qualitative student comments corroborated the results. This format of a real-time problem-based policy-making simulation is readily adaptable to other ongoing and future global crises using the framework provided in this paper.

Matrix game construction kit update #3

We have just had some of the components for the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype back from the printers, and we are very happy with the result.

MaGCK will contain one set of map tiles, used for A Reckoning of Vultures—a game of coup plotting, political skullduggery, and presidential succession.

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Part of the map for A Reckoning of Vultures. The system of tokens and stickers used in MaGCK allows for a deal of customization—here we see political leader, police, a SWAT team, riot police, helicopter, firefighters, an ambulance, and a doctor. MaGCK will contain several hundred stickers and designs,

On the flip side of these there are generic urban tiles. These have isomorphic road connections, allowing them to be assembled in many different ways.

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Generic urban terrain. By “many different ways” we mean to say that the map tiles can be assembled in more than 2.6 nonillion (10^30) different ways.

The kit also contains ten two-sided game tracks, which you can use for anything you want: tracking time, moves, die roll modifiers, and so forth.

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All of this is due to the graphics wizardry of PAXsim’s very own Tom Fisher, of course.

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Tom examines the latest components at my dining room table.

Many thanks to Dstl for supporting the project. Tom Mouat and I be reviewing the contents with them next month, and hope to do a public launch of MaGCK in September at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference.

You’ll find previous updates here:

MaGCK will also contain two scenarios for the ISIS Crisis matrix game, which we’ve written about extensively at PAXsims.

UPDATE:

Even more goodies arrived today! Here you can see the box, tokens, and some of the stickers.

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Prototype box, plus blank tokens (to which stickers are attached to indicate units, assets, effects, etc.), disks (used to track supply, turns, political influence—or whatever else you want), and dice.

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No gaming system would be complete without its supply of thugs (or armed civilians, survivalists, militia, or criminals). These stickers would be fixed to the coloured tokens above.

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Some of the box contents (minus rules, scenario briefings, tracking mats).

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Pssst, need some stickers for your next matrix game?

 

ATHA webcast: Serious games in the humanitarian sector

Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action will be hosting a webcast on the use of serious games in the humanitarian sector tomorrow (June 21).

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You can register to participate here.

h/t Melanie Tomsons

The Austin Archaria Experiment

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Allan Shearer (School of Architecture and Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Texas at Austin) has kindly shares his report on the “Austin Archaria Experiment,” which explored the action and interaction of key local stakeholders in the context of NATO peace and stabilization mission.

PURPOSE

This discovery experiment explored potential dynamics among key host nation and international community actors who could contribute to social order in the Archaria 2035 scenario. It follows from several conversations held during the 2016 NATO Urbanisation Wargame on ways civilian stakeholders might expand or limit options for military courses of action during high intensity conflict.

The experiment was predicated on the following propositions:

• That governance significantly contributes to, if not establishes the basis for, the stability of a populated area (region, nation state, city).

• That governance is achieved through combinations of governmental offices, public institutions, and markets.

• That successful compositions of governance (that is, combinations of government, institutions, and markets) vary due to local social and cultural factors.

• That the relative importance of government offices, public institutions, and markets will change over time.

• That a stable social order can include illegitimate actors who wield power beyond the rule of law.

• That in times of acute stress related to unprecedented or little imagined situations, power within and among sectors of governance will be contested and may change abruptly.

• That fluid conditions of governance may reduce the bases for stability and will, therefore, be a critical factor in a dynamic military operating environment.

METHOD

The method of the experiment followed from the RAND Corporation Research Memorandum ‘Factional Debates and National Commitments: The Multidimensional Scenario’ (1967), which sought to game how governments within a region would respond to a crisis situation for which postures or positions had not been previously stated. It assumed that a given state’s official stance would emerge through interactions among various stakeholders in or near the national government.

Thirteen roles were developed for Archaria. This relatively large number reflected assumptions with regard to the fragility of the Archarian government, uncertainties about state and city government interactions in the provision of basic services, and the ability of non-governmental actors to exert influence. Each role has an assigned primary interest, a limited ability to act, and a set of connections to other roles. However, as a layer of complexity, the underlying personal values that motivate (or partially motivate) a given interest are made intentionally ambiguous through each actor’s biographical profile.

As such, while it is possible to read the profiles and have an initial understanding of what each character will pursue in the near term, participants must contribute their own interpretations of the background material to round-out or complete the portrayal of a role. Subsequent interactive gameplay requires that these added assumptions be declared and allows for a more nuanced assessment of negotiated decisions.

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The scenario (based on the Archaria 2035 scenario being used by NATO ACT to explore the effects of urbanization on military operations) involved growing militarized tensions between Positania and Catan:

The region spanning Yorbia to Central Landia is characterized by ongoing political upheaval and economic disruptions related to globalization, migration, climate change, cyber-attacks, and transnational crime. Centrium and North Yorbia pose global problems due to the rise of extremist groups that strike around the world. In the center of the region, relationships between Positania and Catan have significantly deteriorated over the last year due to: (1) Positania’s strengthening political ties with the Confederation of Northlandia Nations (CNN) and its efforts to join NATO, and (2) The increasing economic importance of the Port of Archaria, which is critical not only for Positania, but for global trade. These two issues are combined in escalating tensions over the control of the primary routes across the Sidonian Sea. Within Positania, people are divided over the short- and long-term bene ts of better relationships with CNN or Catan. The majority of middle- and upper-class Neapolitans see a more prosperous and independent future through partnerships with the North. Those living in crowded slums are distrustful of Catan and opposed to its aggressive posturing, but they also believe policies of the Northlandia Nations have worsened their standard of living. Ethnic Catans living in Archaria—some families for generations— feel they are not fully enfranchised citizens in Positania. Alongside state-level geopolitical maneuvers, factions and stakeholders operate at Archaria to influence the way the city functions and shape its relationships with other municipalities.

May 1, 2035: United Nations’ Security Resolution 12991 condemns the Government of Catan for its failure to abide by international law and authorizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to deploy a response force (known as the NATO Positania Force or NPF) for an initial period of twelve months. NPF is to support the efforts of the government of Positania to ensure sovereignty and integrity of its national borders and to safeguard the freedom of navigation in the Sidonian Sea. Further, NATO is to support the creation of a safe and secure environment for the civilian led delivery of humanitarian assistance and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees. The President of Positania has offered host nation facilities to a multinational NATO force that would deploy in support of peace and stability.

The NATO military instrument of power will be complemented by the political and economic instruments of power of the International Community and the significant role played by the Positania’s armed forces.

The response involves achieving three objectives: (1) Military threat to Positania posed by Catan is degraded and the territorial integrity of Positania is restored. (2) Freedom of movement in South Landia, and, in particular, the Sidonian Sea is maintained. (3) Safe and Secure Environment (SASE) for humanitarian assistance is supported.

TODAY—June 20, 2035: Catan forces are arrayed in defensive positions in a band along the north-south autostrada A1 from autostrada A3 in the south to highway 57 in the north. Catan forces have been unable to secure either the port or airport of Archaria; however, both are within indirect re range of Catan forces’ artillery, mortars, and air defense weapons. Catan forces have been actively patrolling and probing along their frontage and are in position to launch local attacks against lightly defended targets. Additionally, Catan is focusing its psychological warfare campaign and perception-shaping efforts against the citizens of Positania. It is maintaining that conflict in the region would not exist if it were not for the bullying and intimidation of the Confederation of Northlandia Nations and NATO allies. The message has been generally well received by governments across the region and it has inflamed the emotions of Archarian citizens of Catan descent.

You’ll find the full report here (pdf).

Wargaming exhibit at the Armémuseum

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This falls into the “better late than never” category, since this opened a few months ago…

The Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum) in Stockholm currently features an exhibit on wargaming.

Följ med på en resa i krigsspelens värld – från forntidens schackbräden till miniatyrspelens rymdålder.

Datorspelen har fått maka på sig – i den här utställningen kan du frossa i krigsspel i brädform av alla tänkbara slag. Se medeltida schackpjäser av ben och valrosstand, gamla svenska kampspel som samiskt tablut-spel – en strid mellan samer och bönder – och en reproduktion av vikingatidens tafl-spel.

Krig i spel och verklighet

Vandra genom utställningen och se hur spel har påverkat avgörande händelser i historien. Som spelet Gulf Strike som användes av militärledningen i Pentagon, USA, i planeringen av Gulfkriget år 1990 – ett vanligt brädspel för några hundralappar kom att ligga bakom en av 1900-talets mest effektiva militäroperationer.

Här finns också spel som har använts för att lära ut krig. Se specialtillverkade spel som har använts på officersskolor, från 1800-talet fram till idag.

Kliv in i ett dramatiskt mikrokosmos

I det färgstarka utställningsrummet blandas hotfullt och lekfullt, stort och smått, lek och allvar. Här hittar du moderna figurspel som Bolt Action och Black Powder. Kortlekar, tennsoldater, familjefavoriter som Risk och Christer Fuglesangs egenbyggda ”rymdschack” – försett med kardborreband för att hålla pjäserna på plats i tyngdlösheten.

The exhibit is open until 7 January 2018.

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h/t Colin Marston 

Review: Mission Zhobia

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Mission Zhobia is a free, online game developed to develop professional skills for those working on development projects in conflict-prone areas:

Practitioners who are being deployed to conflict-affected settings require strong peacebuilding competencies to navigate through complex socio-political environments, adapt to unforeseen peacebuilding challenges and adjust their strategies accordingly.

This game intends to strengthen these peacebuilding competencies:

1. Conducting context and conflict analysis on an on-going basis
2. Identify and analyse stakeholder perspectives, views and interests
3. Engage effectively in dialogue and build trust with stakeholders
4. Actively engage local stakeholders in finding solutions that fit the context
5. Use the analysis and insight gained to reflect on the implicit theory of change and adjust programming accordingly

It was developed by a consortium of international peacebuilding institutions that “came to together in August 2013 to think about an innovative approach to train essential peacebuilding competencies.” Participating groups include United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), and the PeaceNexus Foundation, in partnership with the game development company &RANJ and the Creative Industries Fund.

Zhobia-image-1.pngIn the game you are a newly-hired project manager being sent by a development contractor to develop and submit an implementation plan for a rule-of-law project in the fictitious, conflict-affected country of Zhobia. In developing your recommendations you will be expected to research the country, consult local stakeholders and earn their trust, and keep abreast of local developments.

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Ultimately you will need to make recommendations about the location of the project, the kind of legal mechanisms your project will support, and the training you will provide. Many of your Zhobian interlocutors favour different things, however—and all the time you are under pressure from your boss to get things moving.

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Once you’ve submitted your recommendations the game will score your proposed solution, as well as how well you understood the local context, engaged with key stakeholders, identified perspectives, built trust, and adjusted your proposals to fit local circumstances.

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The game mechanics are fairly straightforward, and it is playable in 30 minutes or so. More information becomes available to you as you play, whether in the form of background readings, phone messages, local media reports, or meetings. As you enter into dialogue with stakeholders you are periodically given a menu of possible statements or responses. Choose badly and you may damage trust and alienate your counterpart. Choose well and you will build trust and gain better understanding of the situation. You will also “unlock” new options or interlocutors.

Be warned, however: if you mess up, you can’t retrace your steps or set up a second meeting. If you fail to “unlock” certain stakeholders or initiatives, your options will remain limited.

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Overall, I thought Mission Zhobia was very well done. I wasn’t convinced in absolutely every case that the game’s preferred response was actually the best response, but they have done a good job of introducing some degree of challenge and not making every choice blindingly obvious. It can seeming a little “gamey” when you want to do something but need to find the stakeholder dialogue to unlock the possibility, but this only a minor quibble, and perhaps unavoidable given the designers’ emphasis on an intuitive interface and gameplay.

One major shortcoming is the absence of guidance on integrating gameplay into a broader pedagogy. The website could be enhanced by some suggestions on debriefing/discussion, which is often the single most important part of games-based learning. It would also have been useful if they had suggested resources for additional reading.

I will certainly be using Mission Zhobia in future in my own peacebuilding course at McGill University. I also look forward to seeing what other learning materials the consortium might produce.

FBI: wargamers are intelligent, overweight, messy, loyal, frugal, and spend a lot on games

C.J. Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter at Reason, has been doing some Freedom of Information Act digging—and came up a some mid-1990s gems from the FBI on the topic of Dungeons & Dragons inventor Gary Gygax.

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Elsewhere, the FBI offers a broader assessment on wargamers:DCXm8J6XUAA8nyi.jpg

Phalanx: More MORS wargaming

Volume 50 N 2

The most recent (June 2017) issue of Phalanx, the magazine of the Military Operations Research Society, contains a couple of wargaming items.

Phil Pournelle contributes an article on “designing wargames for the analytic purpose,” drawing upon the insights of last year’s MORS special meeting on wargaming as well as his own extensive experience. Specifically, he discusses what a wargame is, what it can be used for, and the characteristics of different wargaming approaches.

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He also highlights several key elements of a good wargame:

Wargaming is most effective when people are making decisions under uncertainty, in a fair competitive environment, with adjudication to generate consequences of actions taken. Such games should be repeated in an iterative process complementary to other techniques. These iterative efforts can enable organizations and individuals to gain insights into competitions. Wargames identify potentially successful strategies and diagnose the key competitive elements.

Game designers should borrow techniques and methods from existing games, particularly the vast body of knowledge in the commercial gaming community. They should also be aware of limitations and pitfalls of using methods without understanding the purpose of the game from which the methods are being taken.

There are different categories and styles of games each with their own purpose. While this essay was focused primarily on analytic and exploratory style games, it acknowledges there are similarities between such games, commercial games, and training games. Each has their own purpose and it is important to recognize that using one category for a purpose different than their proper design has certain pitfalls. Different styles of games exist within a continuum of games addressing generalities to specific, from creative to rigorous. To be the most effective in the cycle of research, games should move from the general to the more rigorous design during each iteration of the cycle. Movement may not, and does not have to be, uniform through the continuum, particularly as new aspects are discovered.

The core attributes of a good wargame is an adversarial environment where the game focuses on the players and the decisions they make. It is important to record the decisions of the players and why they made them. Good wargames are small and have an aggressive and dynamic red team. They avoid adjudication processes that conceal why decision or results occurred.

They are best when they are iterative in nature. Wargames do not validate or prove anything, they provide insights into competitions, and allow players and observers to think through the complexities of operations within those competitions.

Wargaming can be extremely valuable, but gaining full value will require a long view of the practice. Wargames can provide the means for generating potential strategies and solutions to challenges facing the department and leaders ready to meet them. Their best bene t does not occur with one-off games, but in series as part of the cycle of research. To harness the best benefits from games and analysis within the department will require identifying the questions and challenges and a committing to iterative efforts to identify and re ne the solutions.

The same issue also contains a brief report on the 29 individuals who received the a MORS professional Certificate in Wargaming, following the programme launched last autumn. Four of the group were women (13.8%), which is far from where we want to be, and well behind Phil Sabin’s MA course in wargaming at King’s College London, but still far better than the wargaming hobby (or the PAXsims readership) has managed. The next certificate programme will begin in September.

Rielage: An Open Letter to the US Navy from Red

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In the latest issue of the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings (June 2017), Captain Dale Rielage offers some hard-hitting observations about the way in which the US Navy prepares to fight future wars, written from the perspective of the Red (opposing) team.

Dear U.S. Navy,

It is time we talked.

We have regarded each other from a distance for years, but we need to get to know one another better. You see us in every major exercise and wargame. In the outbriefs, we usually are on the back wall, mixed in with the staff. The White Cell and Control talk about us a lot, but usually in the third person. Rarely do we have an honest conversation.

But lately the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) is talking about high-velocity learning, and there is discussion of a renaissance in wargaming. Maybe this is the excuse we need to start talking.

Across dozens of exercises, live and synthetic, tactical to operational, on both coasts, we have had the opportunity to watch your ways. We sit in every wargame, each one unique. The Blue teams across from us are diverse, representing every type of Navy authority, from students to operational-level commanders, and every warfare community and variety of staff life. We respect the variety and depth of professional excellence they bring to the fight. Nonetheless, regardless of which actual adversary we are representing as “Red,” there are patterns to our interactions that are worth your consideration, both in how you fight and how you train.

Much of what he  has to say is a searing critique of the way the Navy—and, I would argue, many others—approach wargaming. I’ll quote him at length, because it is an absolutely outstanding piece:

Your exercises have become Christmas trees. Time is precious, and the Fleet has fewer days under way and fewer flight hours than ever before. As a result, pressure to “maximize” training opportunities has grown. Doing a field-training exercise? Great, combine it with a staff exercise. Add some outside experimentation. Make sure several echelons are being evaluated and certified at the same time. The result is efficient but requires a high degree of scripting. Anything that throws off the timetable of the exercise results in a cascading series of events that don’t happen.

Enter Red, the adversary who defines success by creating friction and failure in Blue’s world. The only way the Christmas tree keeps all its ornaments is if Red is prevented from imposing too much friction. Have limited range time and need to conduct a strike mission? “White card” the high-end naval surface-to-air missile threat out of existence, because shifting to conduct a maritime strike mission to clear the ingress would throw off the exercise schedule.

Clearly, accommodations are necessary in training, but making them has become your opening assumption. Blue would do well to review why events are being conducted and identify the minimum essential events that must be completed. It may be that less is more.

Your opposing forces often are very good, but you have trained them to know their place. Most fleet training centers have a team capable of presenting a good-to-excellent Red threat. However, our experience is that they have learned to self-regulate their aggressiveness, knowing what senior Blue and White cell members will accept. As one opposing force member recently told us during a “high-end” training event, their implied tasking included not annoying the senior flag officer participating in the event. They knew from experience that aggressive Red action and candid debriefs were historically a source of annoyance. They played accordingly.

Excellence may be where you least expect it. We have consistently seen that the real centers of innovation and excellence are the commands and teams that have only recently started to look at a particular operational problem. As the new folks, they are learning the current baseline, are less likely to make assumptions based on how they “know” the scenario is supposed to go, and are open to what constitutes true “high-end” warfighting.

There are no points for internal excellence. As U.S. Navy professionals, we understand it is essential for the warfare commanders to be aligned and communicating well. The quality of the staff’s standing orders and the clarity of the commander’s intent are important. The experience your planners gain in the training is praiseworthy. As Red, we really don’t care. The bottom line is simple: Did you beat us? There is a time and place for sorting out staff processes. If that is the focus of this training event, great. If not, don’t commend yourself for it.

You must make time to stop, listen, and think. In too many events, the training loop is never completed. Debriefs tend to be cursory, typically at the end of the day when the entire team is tired and wants to move on. Events often are not equipped to capture ground-truth data and feed it back to the training audience quickly. Often months later, a long report is generated. The more honest it is, the narrower its circulation—in many cases never outside the training audience, who by then has moved on to the next challenge.

Be clear what we are doing. There are a number of ways to present Red. Red can be unconstrained, using the adversary toolbox in ways that seem most effective from a U.S. view. Red can be doctrinal, using the adversary toolbox in the way we think the adversary likely would. Most often, however, Red is constrained, asked to perform a specific function to facilitate an event.

Wargamers and exercise planners often recall Millennium Challenge 2002, an experimentation wargame run by Joint Forces Command. Marine Major General Paul Van Riper, playing an unconstrained Red, used innovative asymmetric tactics to shut down Blue in the first move. Blue had asserted that its new concepts would be tested and validated against an unconstrained Red, but when its objectives were threatened, it reset the game and created rules that, according to the final report, boxed in Red “to the point where the end state was scripted.” The entire event generally is remembered as an example of what not to do, perhaps because the game became a public controversy after General Van Riper quit as Red force commander. The reality is that we repeat this experience on a smaller scale multiple times each year.

In one recent event, Red was helping assess a new naval concept. In support of this assessment, Red presented a consistent, accurate, and limited threat to Blue, allowing Blue to work through a series of actions and understand the variables involved. It was the military equivalent of batting practice, with Red serving as the ball machine to put consistent fastballs in the strike zone. It made sense, and doing it well was important and worthy work. The problem developed later. As the results of the event were presented to more and more senior audiences, the briefs grew shorter and more “executive.” The description of the Red role eventually became a list of the organizations that had contributed Red players. By the time the briefing reached the four-star level, the implication was that Blue had validated its concepts in a full game against an unconstrained adversary—which was not the case. Red left the event convinced that, given realistic latitude, it could have stressed Blue’s concept to failure, perhaps even turned it into a costly defeat.

Failure should be an invitation to learn. Generally, when Blue units are killed in training events, they are quickly regenerated. Why? Typically, there are two answers:

• If Blue does not have X, it cannot do Y, and Y is a training objective. This makes sense in some cases, but in more complex exercises there is value in fighting hurt. Yes, if Blue falls below a certain level of forces, it cannot complete its tasking. How about the implied task of preserving surviving forces? Breaking contact, regrouping, and reengaging? These do not appear on the training order and are not normally exercised, but maybe they should be.

• If unit X is killed, it will miss the opportunity for further training. We create negative learning when taking fatal damage is consequence-free. If training demands a unit be regenerated, at the very least, the killed unit needs to conduct an immediate critique to answer the basic question “why did we get hit?” The answer in many cases is that they were balancing risk across a number of mission areas and the die roll came up badly for them. Sometimes, however, there was an avoidable loss of situational awareness or a failure to account for one threat while focusing on another. The cost of coming back into the fight should at least be a back brief to the White Cell. Further, if regenerating units is required for training, senior officers need to stop citing the resulting exchange ratios as evidence of operational proficiency. A 10-to-1 victory isn’t if Blue was effectively missile-proof.

You talk about accepting failure as a way to learn, but refuse to fail. It is instructive to ask a room of senior officers the last time they played in—or even heard of—a game or exercise where Red won. If our collective assessment is that Blue really can best its adversaries every time, we are in a good place. If not, it is time to rethink the process we have created.

For us, the point of playing Red is not to beat Blue. It is to train Blue. At the end of the day, nothing would make us happier than to bring our best game to the fight and get our clock cleaned. At this point, getting there will require a number of uncomfortable conversations and a level of personal and institutional self-honesty that, bluntly, we have not cultivated. But we must, and soon. As the CNO has said, our “margins of victory are razor thin,” and the real adversaries keep improving.

Meanwhile, we are always available to talk. Just look across the table.

(Competitively) Yours,

Red

Hopefully his observations will spark considerable discussion in the relevant sessions at next week’s Military Operations Research Society annual symposium, as well as the Connections US (August 1-4) and Connections UK (September 5-7) professional wargaming conferences. I’ll be at the latter, while other members of the PAXsims crew will be at the first two.

h/t Tom Mouat

DIA: We need rich, interactive wargames

In response to a question at the GEONT 2017 conference, Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), highlighted the potential value of wargaming to the intelligence community (34:40 onwards in the video above).

There’s one other thing I desperately need. We have gotten away from the business of wargaming, effective wargaming, and I’ve got to find a way of bringing wargaming back into the Department, wargaming with our national security partners, in an interactive way. Not your bland table-top environment. Rich Blue data, friendly data; rich enemy data; rich interactive, live, geospatial data—where we can actually compete in a realistic way. Gamifying all that data, so that now we can make some decisions on where we allocate ISR, depending on the crisis, and what the impact might be if we move something to the Pacific, what the impact might be in Europe.

We don’t do that very well. I’m told that Admiral Nimitz said they did so much wargaming prior to World War Two that there was only one thing that surprised them, the kamikazes. We don’t do that kind of intensive wargaming where we’re continually learning from the environment, and learning from each other and the the decisions we have to make.

If anyone has some great simulation, wargaming approaches—I am really interested.

Learning Spanish in San Splendido

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Jose Anibal Ortiz Manrique (Defence Centre for Languages and Culture, Defence Academy of the United Kingdom) recently presented a paper on “the educational benefits of a matrix game in Spanish language training” to the annual ITEC military training, education and simulation conference.

This work is the result of a collaborative process between the Modelling and Simulation department, and the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture (DCLC) of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. At the Modelling and Simulation department Tom Mouat has adapted Matrix Game, invented by Chris Engle in 1982, for military training purposes. After attending one of his workshops on the mechanics of the game, I found Matrix Game could be an educational tool for language training. In particular, it enables students to incorporate into language learning a range of skills they have gained during their military experience, such as leadership, team-working, problem solving, and creativity. For this reason, I started working with Tom to integrate the game into Spanish language learning at DCLC. The goal of this paper is to present an analysis of the educational benefits of the integration. The paper starts by explaining the learning approach adopted to carry out this integration. This explanation is followed by a pedagogical proposal to use Matrix Game in the classroom. Finally, the paper discusses the positive impacts of the game for Spanish language learning.

He concludes:

The matrix game is an innovative educational tool resulting from collaborative work that has improved Spanish language teaching and learning at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. We often tend to believe games are solely a means to have a break from classroom routine. However, as has been explained in this paper, the use of an appropriate learning model can transform a game, such as a matrix game, into a rich learning practise. As other interactive activities this game can also contribute to learning by enhancing inclusive and collaborative learning, autonomy, motivation, and communicative competences. It is another alternative for teachers to carry out assessments in the classroom, and to effectively manage group diversity. The evidence we have collected for this analysis has not been the result of a rigorous research, but of informal observations and students’ feedback. Thus it must be seen only as a guide, and not the only one, to continue enhancing the design and implementation of a matrix game, and other games, in language training.

You’ll find the full paper here (pdf).

Using matrix games for language instruction has also been discussed by Neal Durando at the Defense Linguistics blog.

h/t Tom Mouat

Teaching wargame design at CGSC

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Today, James Sterrett made a presentation to the Military Operations Research Society’s wargame community of practice on teaching wargame design at the US Army Command and General Staff College. James is Chief of Simulations and Education in the Directorate of Simulation Education at CGSC, and a periodic PAXsims contributor.

This lecture will feature a discussion of game design within the context of professional military education.  DEPSECDEF Work talked to the need to incorporate wargaming into the formal military education system.  One approach to executing this issue is to offer a course in wargame design to students at multiple levels of professional development.  However, questions on how to implement this approach remain:  At what point(s) within an officer’s career should they be exposed to wargaming?  What aspect of wargaming should be emphasized?  What level of proficiency is desired?  What portions, if any, of the remaining curriculum should be dropped or modified to accommodate this requirement?

While the lecture wasn’t recorded, you’ll find his slides here. For previous discussion on this same topic, see his earlier (January 2017) blogpost.

Analytical gaming in uncertain times: the Middle East, covfefe, and beyond

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The last few weeks have seen terrorist attacks in the UK, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere, inspired or organized by ISIS (the so-called “Islamic State,” or “Daesh” as often called by its opponents). The US appears to be bolstering intelligence collection and covert action in Iran. A diplomatic dispute in the Gulf has escalated into political and economic warfare, pitting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt (and their friends) against Qatar—a crisis complete with deportations, the suspension of air or maritime access, financial countermeasures, and threats to imprison all who disagree. The Turkish parliament has approved the deployment of troops to Qatar, where the Emir likely has some worried that Saudi actions could escalate further to supporting a coup attempt, or even direct military intervention. President Trump has tweeted support for the Saudi moves even as the US State and Defence Departments have praised Qatari cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts. The slaughterhouse that is the Syrian civil war continues, as does the bloody effort by the Iraqi government to liberate Mosul from ISIS. Amidst all that, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq has announced a date (September 25) for their long-promised (advisory) referendum on Kurdish independence.

And that’s just the abbreviated version.

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As a Middle East specialist, it is no wonder I’ve been glued to the news (and Twitter), and can’t get much academic writing done.

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First, regarding ISIS:

  • The vast majority of ISIS Crisis matrix games that we have played since 2015 showed the jihadist group suffering reversals of its territorial gains in 2016, and ultimately being pushed back into an increasingly desperate defence of Mosul (Iraq) and Raqqa (Syria) by 2017—exactly what has happened.
  • Those games almost invariably saw the organization compensating for this by encouraging terror attacks in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere in an effort to maintain its global jihadist image and rally its supporters.
  • In the majority of games the Iraqi government made greater military progress towards Mosul than it did political progress towards reconciling with its own Sunni Arab minority. Certainly that also seems to be the case in Iraq too. Moreover, military operations often generated new sources of Sunni grievance as civilians were caught in the crossfire or suffered sectarian abuse.
  • Towards the end of the Mosul campaign the Kurds often withdrew from active fighting, built up their resources, and made other cautious moves towards independence.

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Regarding mounting tensions in the Gulf, last year’s Atlantic Council crisis game provided substantial insight to the problems that could lie ahead:

  • That game was designed to explore how differing levels of US engagement affected crisis stability in the region. Our finding was that what Washington does is more important than how much it does. This point is highlighted by the current Saudi-Qatari crisis highlights, where a more active US role seems to have made things worse rather than better. The Riyadh Summit last month clearly signalled that the Trump Administration wished to more closely engage with key Gulf allies. Those Gulf allies then took this as a green light to turn on Qatar, with potentially highly disruptive consequences (regardless of what one might think about Qatari foreign policy).
  • The game highlighted how regional actors, locked into geopolitical rivalries and threatening views of the other, easily interpret events as part of a broader hostile conspiracy. Some Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials have already interpreted the ISIS terror attack on the Iranian parliament as having occurred at the behest of Washington and Riyadh, as can be seen in the IRNA report posted above. That’s certainly nonsense, but it is nonsense that I am certain many Iranian officials genuinely believe.
  • The ease of misperception, coupled with sectarian and geopolitical tensions, creates fertile ground for “accidental” escalation. Indeed, I was so struck by how easily that happened at the Atlantic Council game that I made it a centerpiece of a subsequent presentation to US defence officials, analysts, and academic on “Noise in the Grey Zone.
  • The game also highlighted how easily Washington could be influenced by the Saudi view of things—something that certainly seems to have occurred in the Qatar crisis.
  • Designing and running the game also revealed some of the inside-the-Beltway DC sensitivities about discussing the Gulf. I won’t go into details, but—frankly—we could have done a better job of representing internal divisions within the GCC.

Finally, the extent to which the often erratic behaviour of the US Administration has become a growing source of concern for key US allies has certainly been underscored by events of the last few weeks, both regarding the Middle East but even more so concerning the recent NATO Summit, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the terror attack in London. That’s an issue I explored a few weeks back in a piece at The Strategy Bridge on “Wargaming Unpredictable Adversaries (and Unreliable Allies).” It is sadly indicative of its relevance that the topic has garnered increasing interest from key US allies.

Finally, let me offer a tangential comment on the relationship between wargames and strategic forecasting (a topic on which I’ve written more here, although not from a gaming angle).

It is often said by wargame designers that “wargames aren’t predictions.” I have always been a little uncomfortable with that formulation, for fear that it can also become an excuse for bad game design. I understand, of course, why designers are anxious not to be saddled with excessive expectations. Because analytical games massively simplify complex realities they certainly shouldn’t be seen as some sort of crystal ball.  However, even if wargames are not specific, confidence predictions, most should operate in the universe of the possible. In that sense they are a plausibility probe of sorts, identifying what might happen, how it might happen, and what the consequences might be. Repeated plays of a game help to map out those possible futures more fully, and may even flag those that seem most likely. Certainly I would argue that the games discussed above have contributed to a better understanding of how various conflicts and crises might develop in the weeks and months ahead.

Sabin: Wargames as an academic instrument

Professor Philip Sabin (King’s College London) recently delivered a lecture at the University of Edinburgh on “Wargames as an academic instrument.” You’ll find the video at this link.

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Matrix game leader tokens

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These will NOT be part of MaGCK, the forthcoming Matrix Game Construction Kit that Tim Fisher, Tom Mouat, and I are working on—for we are all very serious gamers, and would never do anything like that.

Nonetheless, Tom Fisher obviously has too much graphic design time on his hands, and we thought these might be of use for those of you involved in political-military gaming of current or future crises. The image is formatted to Avery 5410 1″ removable stickers, and you should print from the pdf file here.

We may update them, of course, if the forthcoming UK election goes the other way.

 

UPDATE: Now with Vladimir Putin!

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