PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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 

Engle: A short history of matrix games

There has been growing interest in matrix gaming in recent years, and it is a topic that we have covered extensively here at PAXsims. A few days ago Bob Cordery also posted a fascinating account of the early development of matrix gaming in the UK at his Wargaming Miscellany blog.

Today we are very pleased to present a piece by the inventor of the matrix gaming approach, himself Chris Engle.


 

A Short History of Matrix Gaming

Interest is rising in matrix games, and along with it some questions and confusion about the history of the idea. Here is an account of my part in the project. I draw it from my published games and articles, personal journals, and my recollections of anecdotes.

I invented the idea of matrix gaming in January 1988, just after finishing my Masters degree in Social Work. I was visiting a philosophy graduate student friend in Bloomington Indiana. We were discussing the idea of how to roleplay entire countries. He wanted to do it with a set of numbered statistics. I proposed using words. This grew out of my work as a psychotherapist. My practice has always included a strong use of narrative and teaching allegories (especially Sufi teaching stories which eventually lead to my conversion to Islam). My friend thought the idea unworkable so we agreed to work on the problem from our different approaches. Matrix games then grew out of an interesting question. How can you run a game with words rather than numbers?

The answer is two fold. First how to describe the world using words and second how to put that verbal picture into motion. The picture of the world is the matrix of matrix games. I started off using literal matrixes of short phrases that described various institutions and ideas. Together with scenario information (maps, character descriptions, and opening events) each player forms their own mental matrix of the world, a gestalt. The matrix of the world changes by additions to the narrative. Each turn players make arguments about what they want to have happen next.

This was a brand new idea in 1988 but I had the idea that it was good and that if I was willing to do the footwork it could spread. All it required was dedication and a willingness to stick with the message. I set a goal of talking about it and to keep on talking till someone asked me why I was saying the obvious. It took years before that happened.

I wrote the first article on matrix games in 1988. “Verbal analysis wargaming” appeared in Nugget 44 (the newsletter of Wargame Developments). It earned the Editor’s Award for most original game idea of 1988. I set a goal of telling one hundred people about the idea over the next year. I did this by writing more articles and running games at conventions in the Midwest USA. Over the next couple of years I got encouragement from some game community luminaries such as Frank Chadwick, then of Game Designers Workshop. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, told me you would need a Masters degree in philosophy to play the game. Which I knew this was wrong because I had already had mentally handicapped people play it.

From 1989 to 1994 I published the Experimental Game Group newsletter. It was mentioned in Simulation and Gaming. I used it to work out rules and test them in yearly play by mail games. Early games included a replay of the events of the fall of Communism in 1989, which predicted the refusal of the Russian army to back the communist party and the secession of Russia from the Soviet Union before they happened. The Peninsular Campaign in 1809, the French Revolution and an Agatha Christie murder mystery followed.

My second goal was to have one hundred people play a matrix game and to tell one thousand people about it over three years. I wrote around sixty articles in gaming magazines like The Midwest Wargamer’s Association Newsletter, Lone Warrior (the journal of the Solo Wargamer’s Association,) PW Review and various Historical Miniature Game Society newsletters on top of publishing EGG. I ran matrix games at Midwestern and Near South gaming conventions including Gen Con and talked about them to anyone who would listen. I viewed gaming as a market of ideas so at some point I needed to produce an actual product. I did this in 1992. “Campaign in a Day” presented game rules, military campaign scenarios, and a miniatures game and was the basis of the game later adopted by the British army in the mid 90’s.

I corresponded widely and Peter Suber of Earlham College recognized matrix games as Nomic games in 1994. Paddy Griffin recognized them as Mugger games.

In England other writers including Bob Cordery and Tim Price started developing their own matrix games in 1990. These are important games but I am not the one to best describe them. After 1994 our two trains of development diverged when I stopped writing articles and began work on developing commercial games.

Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, mentored and encouraged me to learn the business starting in 1995. He later introduced me to someone as “This is Chris Engle. He makes weird games.” I continued to build up my contacts in the game industry and learned about business and the mechanical process of game production. I published Dark Portals my first professional game in 1998. I followed this with a series of role play game like books from 1999 to 2005. After that I put out board game versions between 2006 to 2011 and eventually card games 2012 to 2014. Historically about half of all my players have been women. Unfortunately none of my products were commercial successes. I closed Hamster Press in 2015 and began work on an archive of all my game writings. I’ve got several interesting books from that and am looking for a publisher. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Right now I’m working on a professional matrix game book that spells out an intellectual argument for the game approach and includes chapters on many ways to apply it. One new idea is to do iterative matrix games. I see them as a cheap way to collect a body of mineable data from a potentially large body of players. It can tap the wisdom of crowds in a completely new way. I would like to have a lot of co-authors in this project, pulling on many people’s experiences. Over the years, matrix game have been used by the British and Australian armies for military planning and reorganization, in education to teach history and creative writing, by myself in psychotherapy and by the French army to teach English. I’m aware of academics using it to explore literary criticism and the nature of being European. Some people are beginning to use them in business consulting.

Matrix games started as an idea. With work they grew into articles and published games. Now they are wide spread and looks like they will be useful to a growing body of users. My nearly thirty years of experience boils down to a few simple rules. Start with a problem. Pick a scene and say what happens. Others can add to that or change it. This overwrites what was said before. Anyone can ask you to roll to see if the action doesn’t happen. When the problem is solved the game ends.

Chris Engle 

Simulations miscellany, National vanilla ice cream day edition

wordle230716In the United States at least, July 23 is allegedly National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. In commemoration of the important sacrifices made by vanilla beans everywhere, PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulations and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Jerry Elsmore contributed to this latest edition.

PAXsims

Gender Expansion graphic.jpgThe first AFTERSHOCK expansion set will be available soon!

For some time Tom Fisher and I have been working on an expansion set for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game that will allow players to delve more deeply into the role and impact of gender in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Now everything is done, the graphics files have been uploaded, and we’re just waiting for the final printings samples back from The Game Crafter before we make it available.

We hope that this will be the first of several AFTERSHOCK expansions sets. These will been designed so that they can be mixed so as to customize play for particular instructional needs and themes. Our next expansion is likely to focus on humanitarian operations in fragile and conflict-affected societies.

A list of forthcoming AFTERSHOCK demonstration games can be found here.

PAXsims

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On a similar topic, a new video game developed for the US Army helps to prepare military personnel for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. According to National Defense:

A new Army video game is taking soldiers into the heart of foreign disaster zones and delivering real-world training from their laptop or tablet.

A joint task force — including U.S. Army South, the Army Research Laboratory, the office of foreign disaster assistance and the Army games for training program — has put Disaster Sim into the hands of soldiers after two years of research and development.

Disaster Sim was created by the Army Research Laboratory and programmers from the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California as a cost-effective training tool for company grade officers and mid to junior non-commissioned officers engaged in foreign disaster relief, said Maj. Timothy Migliore, chief of the Army’s games for training program.

“The more ways you can involve actually doing the task or the job at hand, the faster you learn,” he said.

Hour-long vignettes based on real-world events familiarize users with operational environments they could encounter on the ground, and teach them how to work with the office of foreign disaster assistance, non-governmental agencies and the host country. The initial scenario challenges a soldier to respond to needs in Guatemala after an earthquake….

The US Army offers additional details:

Disaster Sim’s initial scenario challenges a Soldier to respond to the needs of Guatemalans during an earthquake, said Lt. Col. Greg Pavlichko. Until taking a new assignment, he was the chief of the Games for Training program, which is part of the National Simulation Center and CAC-T.

“In the game, the Soldier has many more requests for help than resources,” said Pavlichko. “That forces the Soldier to prioritize resources to meet the most critical needs. If the Soldier doesn’t correctly address the most serious problems, there are adverse second-and-third order effects.”

The hour-long scenario also teaches Soldiers the proper procedures to work with OFDA, non-governmental agencies and the host nation. Eventually, Disaster Sim will offer leaders the opportunity to create new foreign disaster scenarios.

PAXsims

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The CIMSEC blog features an interview with Philip Sabin (King’s College London) on wargaming—including its application, his teaching, design, how he got started, and his favourite games. You’ll find it here.

PAXsims

MORS

The Military Operations Research Society will be holding its Wargaming II special meeting on 18-20 October 2016 at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Alexandria, VA.

Logo.pngThis workshop will provide a forum for presentations, demonstrations and discussions on wargaming within the National Security Community. The workshop will address two important issues:

1. How wargaming fits into the larger analytic process.
2. How to generate wargaming capacity and improve quality.

MORS will provide an environment to promote discussions among friends and allies on the former topic and educational environments to address the latter topic in facilities capable of hosting up to SECRET/NOFORN level. Most of the discussions will be held at the UNCLASSIFIED level, and as many of the classified discussions as possible will be held at the FVEY level to enable allied participation. It is expected the UK will send representatives.

MORS will also be offering a short certificate course in wargaming:

MORS will be offering a Wargaming Certificate Program (MCP) starting this October. The first course will be offered 17 October 2016 titled Wargame Theory. The goal of this course is for participants to understand the theoretical basis for the method of wargaming. This 7 course certificate program is designed to provide next level professional development not covered by academia or commercial sources

PAXsims

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The 2017 American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference will be held on 10-12 February 2017 in Long Beach, California. The call for papers is now open, and extends until September 15.

PAXsims

PAXsims reader (and hobby gamer) Jerry Elsmore recently playtested CRISIS, a “dieselpunk and worker placement for serious gamers.” He liked what he saw, and passed on this mini-reveiew:

Stripping out the hyperbole from the Kickstarter strap-line leaves “an economic game set in a nation on the brink of ruin.” CRISIS is a worker placement, resource management game with a degree of engine building and a significant semi cooperative twist.
It was demoed at ManorCon by Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules!

I’m the world’s worst completer finisher so being given a blank page and asked to write a review is my worst nightmare. Luckily there are plenty of reviews available: just start at their Kickstarter page. Suffice it to say I didn’t need any persuasion to play a second game and I’ve put my money where my mouth is and pledged myself an early Christmas present.

PAXsims

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The latest edition of Battles magazine came out recently, and—in addition to its usual hobby game contents—also includes much of interest on the serious application of wargames. This includes articles by Karl Mueller (on RAND’s Baltic wargames), Sebastien de Peyret (on wargaming in the French army), and Philip Sabin.

PAXsims

We can’t possible end this edition of simulations miscellany without at least some mention of Pokéman Go—the innovative and hugely successful augmented reality game that has everyone trying to enslave sentient beings so that they can be forced to fight each other so as to satisfy their owners’ lust for glory find cute loveable creatures. Specifically, we bring you this piece by BBC News on the dangers in playing the game in a minefield:

Bosnians playing the hit mobile game Pokemon Go are being warned to avoid straying into areas still sown with landmines from the war in the 1990s.

A Bosnian demining charity, Posavina bez mina, issued its warning after hearing reports of Pokemon Go users venturing into risky areas.

Players use their smartphones to hunt for cartoon monsters in the real world.

At least 600 people have been killed in landmine accidents in Bosnia since the end of the war in 1995….

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Frost: Wargames are for players

Proceedings.jpegThe July 2016 issue of the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains a piece by Adam Frost entitled “Wargames are for Players,” in which he reminds everyone that professional wargame design needs to be driven by purpose and its usefulness to clients. It’s a short—but very timely—piece.

Wargames Are for Players 

Adam Frost

The Department of Defense is breathing new life into wargaming. Since Deputy Secretary of Defense (DepSecDef) Bob Work signed his February 2016 memo challenging the department to rejuvenate a venerable tool of military professionals, there have been more general officers and assistant secretaries discussing wargaming than at any other time in recent memory. Legions of staff members are following suit.

For those of us in the gaming community, there is a sense of vindication. For entire careers, wargamers have tinkered away in relative anonymity, tolerated as harmless but generally dismissed by “real” DOD analysts. Now we have a champion and have been called upon by the DepSecDef himself to help dispel the darkness of a reduced topline.

Or so we tell ourselves.

Since February, all manner of experts have found receptive audiences eager to discuss the power and limitations of wargames. But as the initial wave of enthusiasm ebbs, it reveals the true quandary.

Wargamers will not be the heroes of this story. They are not the innovators who will develop the Third Offset Strategy, avoid operational or technical surprise, and help make the best of the department’s shrinking resources. Actionable insights–the ideas that spur innovation, address emerging challenges, exploit new technologies, and shape the security environment–are the purview of the sponsors of and participants in wargames, not of the game staffs. Certainly, gamers distill the question into a “gameable” model, craft an environment that prompts insight, and are invaluable in interpreting findings. But wargames will only meet the DepSecDef’s intent if someone does something with those findings. The arbiters of that decision–those who do–are the ones who will change the future. Not us.

Why? Wargames exist to provide insights into questions. Wargamers, however, generally do not own those questions. Within the broader DOD, the majority of offices, contractors, universities, and research labs that actually wargame are service providers that design, execute, and report on wargames on behalf of someone else. In my office, we call them sponsors.

In our excitement to discuss how to game, gamers have allowed a chasm to open between how we game and why we game–and we game for the benefit of our sponsors and our players.

Beginning to fill that chasm are words like “standards” and “validation”–the seeds of our demise–and gamers seeking to preserve this moment are taking the bait. First codify what makes a “good game,” they say, and with standards in hand we can resist critique.

That is a losing proposition focused on the wrong audience.

All wargames are wrong to some degree; some are useful. Wargamers certainly have a professional responsibility to improve the craft. But all wargames require a simplification of reality just to play, and each simplification is tailored to the question at hand. So if all wargames are “wrong” to some extent, there is an insidious danger in the notion that if we just make games “more right,” we can assuage the critics and produce innovation. Yet the chasm will remain: What is the question? How does the game explore it? Who is playing?

Proscribing any methodology absent the context of the research question is a cardinal error in study development. Deciding how we game before discovering why we game presumes that the game staffs know the problem better than the sponsor asking the question. Moreover, method-before-quest ion perversely excludes from study any question outside the scope of the method–akin to wargamers polishing the old Harpoon rules while looking askance at a question about deterrence. Such cart-before-horse judgments only tempt gamers into self-absorbed arguments over who is the “real wargamer”–a debate of little use to those who will grade our value.

While the DepSecDef is right that games can help build a culture that embraces experimentation and tolerates dissent, gamers must remember that the experimenters and the dissenters are not the game staffs; they are the students, planners, policy directors, and program managers who provide for our defense. They are the generals and assistant secretaries responsible for making decisions in the face of uncertainty and risk. They will determine whether the findings were useful and whether the reinvigoration of wargaming helped the department in these troubled times.

We must redirect the focus from whether a game is “right” to whether a game use “useful” to our sponsors and players. Because as to the question of whether we are re invigorating wargaming itself, it is our players and sponsors who are ultimately judging us.

* * *

Adam Frost is a wargame analyst and Acting Deputy Division Chief for the Joint Staff J-8 Studies, Analysis and Gaming Division, an office that has had the privilege to execute wargames for all ranks of sponsors and players from the Department of Defense, National Security Council, foreign allies, and interagency partners since 1947.

Lacey on wargames in strategic education (MORS wargaming CoP)

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Today James Lacey of the Marine Corps War College offered his thoughts on wargames in strategic education to members of the Military Operations Society’s wargaming community of practice. Dr. Lacey had previously written a pithy article on wargaming in the classroom for War on the Rocks (which in turn provoked an equally pithy rejoinder in National Interest from some colleagues at the Naval War College).

The slides from his presentation can be found here. I’ll summarize some of the highlights from his verbal comments that I found especially useful:

  • Students do not retain large amounts of reading. Wargaming is experiential learning par excellence. Student response to using wargames in the classroom is very positive (see student comments on his slides), and they talk about it for weeks and months afterwards.
  • The use of wargames in the classroom is shaped by how much time is available for courses, and how much autonomy instructors have to experiment.
  • The adversarial nature of wargaming gives participants “an entirely different appreciation of how difficult it is to execute a strategic plan.” Students begin to see that sometimes the “best strategic options are terrible.”
  • You need to think about who your students are. Colonels are competitive, and don’t like to lose. Military officers tend to regress towards their comfort zone of kinetic operations, and need to be pushed to examine strategic issues and non-military elements of national power. Students should be left with “no place to hide.”
  • The wargame is the capstone event of a series of interrelated activities: audio tapes, readings, lectures and discussions, and staff rides.
  • Wargame maps can be more useful than conventional maps for highlighting the strategic importance of terrain, lines of communication, and resources (since they tend to depict those elements that are most influential on the conduct of strategy and military operations).
  • Initially he did not allocate sufficient time for post-game debriefing, which was a mistake. Also, it would have been more useful to examine why and how students had made their decisions, and let students develop criticism, rather than to have the instructor critique them directly.
  • In terms of where future help is needed, he identified:
    • video tutorials to teach game mechanics
    • experienced gamers in-class to assist with games
    • more strategic-level games than integrate across the DIME spectrum
    • simple/elegant game designs which involve complex decisions
    • games on the “ungameable” that are suitable for a PME audience
    • funding to make these things happen
  • Next steps will include: refining game selection; adapting games to highlight strategic dimensions; building a repository of appropriate games; developing a megagame that focuses on the conduct of operational-level battle; experimenting with fast-playing matrix games; using more SMEs during gameplay; running several games simultaneously; and encouraging out-of-class gaming.

A number of interesting issues were also raised during the subsequent discussion.

  • How can imperfect information and fog-of-war be incorporated into tabletop classroom wargames? Does it always matter?
  • Allowing students to replay a game, and therefore refine and tests their plans and approach, can have substantial educational benefits.
  • What is the role of digital games in the classroom, and what is the potential value of emerging VR, AR and other technologies?
  • How useful are matrix games? Barney Rubel (NWC) suggested that a well-designed matrix game can work well. I argued that if one wants to experiment with matrix games it is probably best to do so for conflicts that involve multiple stakeholders and coordination challenges, examine a broad range of capabilities across the DIME spectrum, and in contexts where you want to encourage innovative approaches that aren’t limited by a predetermined ruleset and game model. There was also discussion of Kaliningrad 2017 and other matrix games in development at the US Army War College.

All-in-all it was a very useful and informative session. It also seemed to be very well attended, thereby underscoring the resurgent interest in wargaming as well as the role of MORS in supporting this.

 

CKNW on ISIS Crisis

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This morning I did an interview with Vancouver radio station CKNW about the ISIS CRISIS matrix game . We also briefly discussed AFTERSHOCK.

You can listen to the discussion here.

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2016 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference: simulation and gaming track summary

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The latest issue of PS: Political Science & Politics 49, 3 (July 2016) contains a summary of the February 2016 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, including the simulation and gaming track:

SIMULATIONS AND GAMES: APPLICATIONS

George A. Waller, University of Wisconsin Colleges, Fox Valley

Adam Wunische, Boston College

One of the particular problems that was highlighted at this year’s conference was the difficulty of measuring the effectiveness of simulations for enhancing student learning. For several of the papers presented, success was measured by either student self-assessment or student satisfaction. If students reported that they felt the simulation enhanced their understanding of course material, the simulation was judged to be effective. It was noted that, while this data is important and helps make the case for the use of simulations in political science classrooms, administrators and detractors often need more convincing objective evidence that simulations do, in fact, generate greater student understanding of course content. Discussion on this topic during the paper presentations centered around three things: 1) that the major advantages of simulations include the development of soft skills such as empathy and active learning, which are difficult to measure in the first place; 2) that subjective student assessments of simulation effectiveness may not equate to objective measures of student learning; and 3) that the measurable impacts may be more long term and can only be observed in subsequent classes, beyond the normal timeframe for a posttest. Although presenters and attendees agree that simulations are fun and appear to enhance student engagement and satisfaction, more work needs to be done to explore ways to measure the actual impact of simulations on student learning.

A pivotal question, which was taken up by several of this year’s papers, was when and how simulations might best be utilized. Some types of simulations are perhaps best employed early in a semester or term, while others may be most effective or useful at midterm or near the end of a course. Simulation placement is an important consideration for instructors and should be tied directly to learning objectives for the course and for particular units/modules of the course. One paper proposed the idea that simulations might be more effective for entry-level students, or for students in introductory courses, rather than advanced students who have presumably already developed the soft skills and abilities that simulations are thought to foster. Another paper solved for this by adjusting the rules, roles, and sophistication for higher-level students to ensure the simulation remains challenging. Explaining the purpose of the simulation or game also helps to convince older or more nontraditional students that the games have academic value, increasing willingness to participate and the likelihood of successful outcomes.

It was also noted that increases in length and sophistication can serve as deterrents to both students and instructors. More complex simulations involve a good deal more care in design, planning, and setup by instructors who use them and often require a significant element of “troubleshooting” if things don’t go according to plan. Simulations that take place over multiple class sessions (sometimes even multiple weeks) must be carefully monitored and adjusted when problems arise or when expectations or objectives are not being realized. Some instructors solve for this by dividing simulation work into iterations to give students, and the instructor, time to reset and reflect. Others solve for this by using social networking software to streamline the process of interactions to reduce the instructor’s workload. While longer term, more complex simulations can be very well designed and implemented in some courses resulting in significant student and instructor satisfaction, shorter, simpler simulations can be quite effective for augmenting important course concepts and require less time and fewer opportunities for unexpected developments. In any case, whether to use longer, more complex, simulations or shorter, simpler ones is an important consideration that needs to align with course (or course unit) learning objectives.

Iterations and variety were employed by a number of track presenters. For the longer term extended simulations, the tasks and events in the simulation were spread out over time. For a particular paper presented on a campaign budget activity, events in the activity are spread out through the term and are supplemented by traditional lecture techniques. Other strategies include icebreaker type simulations that are short and simple. These get students, who otherwise might only be accustomed to nonactive teaching methods, to become familiar with the process before being overwhelmed by a resource-intensive, longer, or more complex simulation. These shorter simulations can also serve multiple functions. Students can learn about how multiple iterations of the prisoner’s dilemma change the outcome, while also meeting and working closely with their fellow students thus building the foundations for future group work.

Debriefing is an essential component of simulation pedagogy. Debriefs were mentioned as a way to mitigate some of the possible negative effects of simulations, and also to consolidate student learning. Possible negative effects of simulations include students losing “the game” and being upset or angry about that, or that the simulation fails to achieve the desired learning outcome. Debriefs can highlight the learning opportunities that come from both negative and positive outcomes and what lessons should have been learned. Debriefs can also help shift a student’s focus on personal shortcomings to the actual learning objectives of the simulation. Debriefs should clarify how the simulations are connected to course learning objectives, and what that means for the broader course curriculum.

 

SIMULATIONS AND GAMES: EVALUATIONS

Joseph W. Roberts, Roger Williams University

Nancy E. Wright, Long Island University, Brooklyn

Simulations and games have long been a key element of the university classroom. These active learning tools are designed to engage and motivate students. Complex topics that may not be as clear in assigned readings are presented in ways that encourage students to think critically, solve problems, and ask deeper questions. The key question is how do we, as educators, know that simulations are doing what we expect them to do? In 2016, as in previous years, the track was a lively mix of discussion and practice. Four critical themes emerged from the discussions: 1) What does success mean?; 2) Context matters for simulations; 3) Tradeoffs of using real versus imaginary simulations; and 4) Rigorous assessment is needed but that does not mean only quantitative assessment.

What Is a Successful Simulation or Game?

If we ask the question “Do simulations work?” we may or may not get a useful answer. In fact, this may not be the best question to ask, because different learning objectives, classroom configurations, and time or other resources, as well as instructor skill and other factors may impact the success of the simulation or game. For Simon Usherwood, the better questions to ask are “How do you design effective simulations?” and “What are effective implementations of simulations?” The key is building pedagogical tools and teaching simulation design to improve learning. Moreover, there is a need to bring the body of literature on teaching and learning to plan and implement high impact learning tools. Both of these questions relate to the real versus imaginary question below. Michelle Allendoerfer discussed the outsourcing of the design process to two upper-level undergraduate students, Tianshan Fullop and Jacob Warwick, in an independent study. The simulation was then used in Allendoerfer’s comparative politics class. This is an incredibly rich opportunity to develop deeper student knowledge of the issues (for both groups of students but particularly the two designers) and to show students collaborative work between professor and students. The success of the simulation must be thought of in terms of learning outcomes. Erin Baumann and John FitzGibbon discussed the use of crisis simulations to teach and approach the issues of effectiveness and motivation from both a perspective on the scholarship of teaching and learning and a perspective of cognitive psychology. For Baumann and FitzGibbon, the design of simulations must work within the broader context of learning outcomes. Including a different and important body of literature enhances the discussion of fidelity (closeness to reality) and systematization (increasing regularity of interactions even in a crisis environment)

Amanda Rosen and Nina Kollars explored ways to implement active learning and simulations in a methods classroom. The traditional laments by students in methods courses include that it is abstract, boring, and difficult. Rosen and Kollars address this by taking a local restaurant’s simple claim to have the best breakfast in town and ask the students to determine where the best breakfast is using the methods of political science. Students operationalize definitions, collect data, analyze the data, and complete a final paper. Rosen and Kollars do not have clear data on the effectiveness of the project save for course evaluations and expressed student interest (see below). There is no one best way to judge effectiveness.

Context Matters

When using simulations in class there are many issues that a professor needs to consider. Who are the students? What do they bring to the table? What type of simulation or game (i.e., low skill versus high skill; long simulations versus short simulations versus games; or in-class vs. online versus hybrid) meets the learning outcome needs of the professor and the students? The participants used different kinds of simulations or games to reach students in different ways. Victor Asal, Josh Caldon, Andrew Vitek, and Susan Bitter demonstrated and discussed a game taking no more than 10 minutes to play, the Running Game. Depending on the classroom or even university, students will have wildly different starting points in their understanding of inequality. This short game is extremely effective at getting students to understand the concepts of inequality and structure particularly in places where some forms of diversity might be more limited. In contrast, Joseph W. Roberts employed a multi-day simulation of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Given the breadth and depth of the issues in the conflict, the simulation is, by necessity, larger and more complex. However, this simulation was extremely effective in the small course (20 students) in which it was used because the number of roles for students was limited. A significantly larger classroom environment would be much more difficult. A third model of simulation size is shown in the paper by Andrew Schlewitz on the Washington Model Organization of American States (WMOAS). Any large-scale simulation of international relations (WMOAS, MUN, Model Arab League, Model EU, etc.) will have a real impact on learners from multiple institutions. With extensive survey data from student participants, Schlewitz showed real learning but in a largely extra-curricular role that supplements rather than supplants coursework.

Gretchen Knudsen Gee showed the unique challenges for professors in larger classes to get and keep students engaged. Simulations allow for greater involvement of students in and across large multi-section courses. Simulations may also provide for some continuity between sections, because though active learning techniques require more confident instructors, there may be a real fear of trying new things. Moreover, Gee’s paper shows that the resources for creating simulations are important to providing more realistic experiences.

Chad Raymond and Sally Gomaa provided a cautionary tale about context. The authors showed the pitfalls of using online tools for simulations in classrooms. In this case, the use of Flash video caused problems because of security settings, removal of Flash from computers, or other issues. Moreover, the original plan for the simulation experiment failed because the planned site was removed from the Internet. When planning a simulation, it is important to have backup plans and to test the systems well in advance.

Tradeoffs of Real vs. Imaginary Scenarios

Most participants agreed that both approaches are valuable in different ways. On the one hand, developing simulations around actual events imparts to students the opportunity and motivation to conduct research outside the classroom in an effort to learn more about the simulation’s assigned countries and events (see Gee, Roberts, Rosen and Kollars, or Schlewitz, for example). On the other hand, those students not as familiar as others with a region of the world where the simulation is taking place may be intimidated, especially if others are familiar. Moreover, focusing on actual events, especially current happenings, can draw students so much into the day-to-day progression of what is taking place that they may overlook the broader significance (e.g., acquisition of negotiating skills or empathy) that is the purpose of the simulation itself.

Nancy Wright combined certain elements of both the real and the imagined, with the former as the case of a project to harness electricity from methane gas in Lake Kivu, Rwanda, and indigenous displacement in the Central African Republic, and the latter as scenarios of the pre-colonial era in each of those countries, which especially in the case of the Central African Republic has very little data available. One of Wright’s key findings is that students can harness facts to place specific issues and events in a larger context, and where data are scarce, students can harness their imaginations to re-create historical situations and then reflect on why they imagine them the way that they do. Wright also points out that understanding students’ preconceived ideas can influence simulation design and operation particularly to counter the tendency to link a country solely to a particular crisis or atrocity.

Rigorous Assessment Does Not Have to Be Quantitative

The increasingly established trend of equating rigor with quantitative assessment is likely to obfuscate the evaluation of rigor in other equally meaningful ways. This is true for two reasons: quantitative analysis cannot explain everything, and it depends on data that may not always be available. There are other ways to assess the value of simulations and games beyond mere quantification. For example, Rosen and Kollars noted that while reliable data actually measuring the effectiveness of games on learning were not available, they did report that course evaluations, often cited as low for methods courses compared to other courses, were consistently high in the methods course that employed several illustrative games, and in fact a significant number of students wished for a second methods course, an outcome attributed to the use of games. Similarly, Roberts used the knowledge domains assessment model (Pettenger, West, and Young 2014) that is based on learning outcomes. By focusing on learning outcomes, the assessment better reflects the goals of the course, though such means of evaluation would not necessarily be counted in the context of traditional empirical assessment.

Nicholas Vaccaro is critical of the experimental and overtly empirical assessment models that are proposed by Baranowski and Weir (2015). Vaccaro notes that their use of “show and tell” infantilizes the process of disseminating useful and helpful pedagogical tools. Description has value and this should not be overlooked. Discussion about potential flaws in experimental design methodologies is critical. Is a pre/post or control/test group model necessary to show learning? Is it fair for one group to engage in high-impact practices and another not? Does the model proposed limit the assessment to environments that can establish two or more test groups? For example, in a small liberal arts university, a course might be taught biennially. This does not lend itself to testing effectiveness of a technique years apart. Ultimately, the issue comes down to the question “Is the medical clinical trial model an appropriate model for social science research?” The general consensus is that it is not always a useful model for research in teaching and learning.

References

Baranowski, Michael K., and Kimberley A. Weir. 2015. “Political Simulations: What We Know, What We Think We Know, and What We Still Need to Know.” Journal of Political Science Education 11(4): 391–403.

Pettenger, Mary, Douglas West, and Niki Young. 2014. “Assessing the Impact of Role Play Simulations on Learning in Canadian and US Classrooms.” International Studies Perspectives 15 (4): 491–508. doi: 10.1111/insp.12063

Wong on “Wargaming in Professional Military Education”

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Today at the Strategy Bridge, Jeff Wong offers some thoughts on the value of wargaming in professional military education—from a student’s perspective:

Students beginning the new academic year at U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College will examine the works of military theorists such as Carl von Clausewitz, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Mao Tse-Tung to uncover their approaches to strategy and war; study the writings of Graham Allison and Daniel Kahneman to appreciate their perspectives on organizational behavior and cognition; and familiarize themselves with the volumes of joint doctrine to better understand joint-force employment. Books and articles on other topics—encompassing international affairs, ethics, morality, law of war, and critical thinking—will also crowd their shelves. But whither the art of decision-making?

Students will devote a fair amount of time reading, writing, and talking about decisions, but not much time actually practicing how to make them. To address this education gap, American professional military education institutions should re-emphasize the relevance of wargaming to prepare officers for addressing tomorrow’s complex problems. Wargames provide leaders with decision-making practice, support innovation as part of a greater “cycle of research,” and foster greater cultural acceptance of subordinate initiative, flexibility, and adaptability.[1] Gaming has flaws like any other analytic method, but it is a powerful learning tool that warrants wider consideration in the schoolhouse and beyond.

He identifies several key reasons for doing so (emphasis added):

  • “Wargames offer students in professional military education greater opportunities to make tough choices, study their decision-making calculus, and appreciate the consequences.”
  • “Wargaming can also encourage subordinate initiative and adaptability, which aligns with contemporary American approaches to command…”
  • “Wargaming helps solve many problems when used with other tools, but it should not be applied to every analytic effort. Gaming is a people-driven tool that is effective at examining decision-making, exploring issues, explaining implications, and identifying questions for future study.[18] However, it is not an effective tool for calculating outcomes, proving theories, predicting “winners,” producing numbers, and generating conclusions.”

He also correctly notes that “winning isn’t the only thing. Rather, the most important output is the shared understanding that represents potential outcomes, guides a commander’s actions, and fosters an environment for learning.”

There are, Wong suggests, several ways in which wargaming could be more effectively integrated into professional military education:

First, service schoolhouses can integrate games into curricula starting at career-level courses to provide young leaders with tactical decision-making experiences applicable for their next jobs as company commanders, flight commanders, or department heads.

Second, at intermediate-level schools, a wargaming curriculum could teach students how to develop, plan, and execute wargames on their own. This additional knowledge may assist in fostering decision-making skills at the field-grade level, help officers become effective participants in service-level games, and encourage them to continue using games to train operating forces. Several such informal efforts occurred at Marine Corps University in February 2016, when faculty developed a wargame called “Sea Dragon” pitting students from Marine Corps Command and Staff College against students from the Marine Corps War College.

Third, top-level schools could instruct students how to apply wargames at the institutional level for developing future strategies, concepts, capabilities, and resourcing decisions inside the labyrinthine American defense establishment. The Naval War College has taken major steps in this direction, truncating old coursework to make room for more wargames and operational-level planning into its joint military operations curriculum.[20] The newly designed course features three “active-learning” wargames in which students receive immediate feedback based on their plans and actions against adversaries.

His comments here align with similar arguments that were recently made, from an instructor’s perspective, by James Lacey. I was particularly pleased to see Wong highlight the value of teaching wargaming in order to make officers more effective wargame participants, clients, and designers—a point that was strongly made at last year’s Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference.

There are several sources of resistance to a greater use of wargaming in PME schoolhouses. Part of that resistance, of course, might be a failure by some to recognize its value. As evidenced by the very existence of this blog as well as my own university courses, I certainly think gaming methods can be extremely useful pedagogical tools, representing a sort of “intellectual cross-training” that encourages students to think about problems in different ways and address the challenge of agile adversaries and complex-adaptive social and political systems. However, it is also important that games be done well. If poorly designed, poorly executed, or poorly linked to other learning material the impact of (war)games can be muted—or in some cases, even negative. One issue that so far has not received adequate attention in the current “post-Work memo era” discussion of wargaming is how wide and deep current design and facilitation skills are within the national security community. More than one professional has expressed a concern that a faddish rush-to -wargame could produce some very bad games.

It should also be recognized that there is a lot of material that needs to be covered in PME, and only so much schoolhouse time in which to do it. Given that, it is an entirely fair question to ask how the cost-benefit of wargaming therefore compares with other, more traditional teaching methodologies.

Because of this, I’m often a fan of relatively simple wargame designs that take limited time and effort to run. The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel is an example: it can be conducted in a single short session, and acts as a compliment to an earlier TEWT (tactical exercise without troops) in the field. Matrix games can also be designed and conducted quickly, and lend themselves well to exploring multi-stakeholder issues across the diplomatic/military/information/economic spectrum. Indeed, it is for such reasons that both the US Army War College and National Defense University have started using them in a significant way in the last year or so.

I am sure that this is an issue that will be more fully discussed at next month’s Connections (US) wargaming conference at Maxwell Air Force Base, as well as at Connections (UK) at King’s College London in September, Connections Netherlands, and Connections Oz. In the meantime, if you have your own thoughts on the topic that you would like to develop into a possible PAXsims contribution, feel free to contact us.

Connections (US) conference registration deadline fast approaching!

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Stephen Downes-Martin has asked us to post the following reminder about the registration deadline for the forthcoming Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference:
This year we have an exceptionally strong program.
The registration deadline—July 22—for the annual Connections US Wargaming Conference (9-12 August, Maxwell AFB AL) is fast approaching. Make sure you register soon in order to obtain automatic billeting on Maxwell Air Force Base! Go to https://connections-wargaming.com/registration/ and fill out the form!  We cannot guarantee getting your name to the base entry control points, so you could experience long delays the first day if you do not register by the deadline.
If you are a non-US participant see the GATE ENTRY INFORMATION section of the Registration Form.
If you have difficulty accessing the Connections US Website or if your work IT policy forbids you to connect to Google and Google docs (used by the Connections website) then please register from your home computer and account.
Our host facility, the LeMay Center Wargaming Institute, is within easy walking distance of our billets.  If you are flying into Montgomery (as opposed to flying into Atlanta or Birmingham and renting a car), you may wish to rent a cab to reach the base rather than pay for a rental car for several days.
Finally please distribute this message to any of your colleagues who might be interested but are not members of this site. Thanks!

Simulation & gaming miscellany, post-PDW edition

PDW

I recently returned from an extremely productive week spent discussing wargaming and analytical methodologies with colleagues from the Defence and Security Analysis Division of the UK Ministry Defence Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at their Portsdown West site. I’ll post a trip report as soon as my comments and the photos are cleared for public release.

In the meantime, PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

jdn1_16In May, the Pentagon released Joint Doctrine Note 1-16 on the topic of Command Red Team:

Command red teams help commanders and staffs think critically and creatively; challenge assumptions; mitigate groupthink; reduce risks by serving as a check against complacency and surprise; and increase opportunities by helping the staff see situations, problems, and potential solutions from alternative perspectives.

The distinguishing feature of a command red team from alternative analysis produced by subject matter experts within the intelligence directorate of a joint staff is its relative independence, which isolates it from the organizational influences that can unintentionally shape intelligence analysis, such as the human tendency for analysts to maintain amicable relations with colleagues and supervisors, and the potential for regular coordination processes to normalize divergent assessments. Commanders can seek the perspectives of trusted advisors regarding any issue of concern. A command red team may also address similar issues, but unlike most commander’s advisory/action groups, it supports the commander’s staff throughout the design, planning, execution, and assessment of operations, and during routine problem-solving initiatives throughout the headquarters. Red teams and tiger teams may be ad hoc and address specific issues. In many cases, the only difference between the two may be the participation of a red team member who can advise the group in the use of structured techniques. Alternate modes employ red teaming as a temporary or additional duty or as an ad hoc operation, with teams assembled as needed to address specific issues.

JDN 1-16 goes on to address Red Team organization, challenges, and activities, as well as their contribution to joint planning and joint intelligence. The appendices include a list of common logical fallacies and tips for effective devil’s advocacy.

 

PAXsims

Wikistrat-A-Chinese-Spring-cover-464x600Shay Hershkovitz, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of the Analytical Community at Wikistrat, has passed on a recent report on how China might deal with future unrest.

Wikistrat generally uses online expert crowd-sourcing to explore scenarios and identify drivers and pathways. In this case, the simulation methodology was as follows:

50 analysts were handpicked from Wikistrat’s global community of more than 2,000 to participate in this simulation, including renowned China experts Andrew K.P. Leung, Hong Kong’s former chief representative to the United Kingdom; Professor Yawei Liu, Director of the Carter Center’s China Program; and Hugh Stephens, Executive-in-Residence at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The participants were divided into four mirror-image teams (all playing as the Politburo) to test whether they would manage the crisis differently. The game progressed across four rounds, each representing a week of real time. The teams were given the same scenario at the start, but conditions were adjusted in subsequent rounds to re ect the actions of each team.

Every participant could propose an action by submitting a “move” containing a policy decision (e.g., suppress online discussion of the protests), a desired end-state and a rationale. The rest of the team expressed their approval by “liking” the proposal (or disapproval by taking no action). Whichever proposal received the most likes in a given round was interpreted by Wikistrat as the team’s consensus and informed the next round’s update.

119 moves were proposed by the teams in total. There was often a clear preference for one or two moves per round in each team. In only a few cases did Wikistrat need to consolidate various moves that received an equal number of likes.

A fifth group of experts was engaged as a U.S. observer team to offer insights into how the United States might interpret and respond to China’s actions.

In the end, the four China teams proceeded more or less along the same pathways, seeking to quell the protests by cracking down on ringleaders while offering concessions and conjuring up foreign plots in order to demotivate the masses.

You’ll find a description of each round of the simulation and key take-aways in the full report (link above).

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PAXsims

A modified version of the digital game Civilization V is being developed for use in high school classrooms. According to The Verge:

 Publisher Take-Two Interactive announced that a modified version of the historical strategy game Civilization V is in the works, and is expected to be available for high school classes in North America starting next fall. Called CivilizationEDU, the company says that the education-focused version of the game will “provide students with the opportunity to think critically and create historical events, consider and evaluate the geographical ramifications of their economic and technological decisions, and to engage in systems thinking and experiment with the causal / correlative relationships between military, technology, political, and socioeconomic development.”

While I enjoy Civ V and other 4X (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”) games, I’m a little doubtful that they are the best way of teaching about world history since they tend to be designed to reflect player preferences, expectations, and preconceptions rather than portray accurate historical dynamics.

PAXsims

…and on that subject, it’s about time we offered a shout-out to Play the Past, a website “dedicated to thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined).”

PAXsims

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At the Active Learning in Political Science blog they discuss simulating Brexit:

In the spirit of not wasting a good crisis, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union offers a great way into understanding a number of political dynamics.

Of course, we need to tread a bit carefully here, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a highly fluid situation, so whatever one might plan for the autumn might be completely overtaken by events. Secondly, some of the things that have happened over the past week are so extreme and atypical that while you might reproduce them in a simulation setting, you are almost certainly never going to see them happen again. Thirdly, there’s an awful lot going on, so you need to pick your targets clearly.

With all those caveats in mind, some options still present themselves….

PAXsims

460003main_merraflood93.jpgOn 20-21 October 2016, the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London will be hosting a conference on Simulation and Environments: A Critical Dialogue Between Systems Of Perception And Ecocritical Aesthetics.

Theme #1: Aesthetics and Environmental Simulations

When addressing issues of climate and climate crisis, simulation models and techniques become potent tools for understanding, prediction, and prevention. Yet the epistemological merit of these tools is rarely accompanied with a critical assessment of their aesthetic properties.

Put another way, the history of nature and the environment is, particularly at its interstices with the human and the natural sciences, heavily laden with cultural and even theological ideas about how a nature should look, should make one feel, should be. What guarantee do we have that these ideological preconceptions are not making their way into our simulations and models? If they are being included, how are they influencing our data? Or conversely, should we be including the cultural and affective effects of nature so often associated with the experience of landscape into our computational models precisely because of the way they fold the human into the physical environment?

The aim of this conference stream will be to parse the aesthetic conditions of simulation technologies, assumptions, and ideologies when dealing with the ecosystem. What role can visual or other aesthetics play in the computing of climates and natural phenomena? How does the changing role of the human as geological agent reframe the digital image as an epistemological form?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Geospatial technologies, imaging, & observational data
  • Earth imaging & observation
  • Computational climate models
  • Military vision and targeting technologies
  • GIS technologies
  • Remote sensing
  • New media art

 

Theme #2: Simulation and Systems of Perception

Conceptions of simulation attempt to recreate the environment through computational logics of representation that only ever remain asymptotic to the physical world. Rather than asking whether or not simulation can ever provide homeomorphic images of the physical how can simulation instead be used performatively to rethink ways of perceiving, knowing and doing?

This might entail a theorisation of vision – or visioning – in the broader sense of not just perceiving with sight, but also insight, as well as the projection of images of elsewheres and otherwises, futures and fantasies. How would such a repositioning affect the potential instrumentalisation of simulation for political imaginaries and art practices?

The aim of this conference stream will be to invite discussion on the ontological and epistemological implications of simulated modes of perception. How can perception be understood in relation to computational aesthetics and logics?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Computational modelling systems
  • Mathematics and culture
  • Planning technologies and the imaginary
  • Artificial visioning systems
  • Geopositioning and robotics
  • Cognitive simulations

Those interested in participating should  submit paper abstracts of 500 words to environmentalsims@gmail.com by 1 August 2016. (Please designate theme of interest).

Simulation & Gaming (August 2016)

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 47, 4 (August 2016) is now available.

Editorial
Articles
Gaming Material Ready to Use

Hanson on “Improving Operational Wargaming: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a War”

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Lt Col Matthew E. Hanson (USAF) recently submitted a monograph entitled “Improving Operational Wargaming: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a War” for the School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College. I am grateful for his permission to post a copy here (pdf).

In the monograph he explores how the theory and practice of wargaming often diverge, with negative consequences. He further argues that current US military wargaming doctrine does not sufficiently address this problem.

In 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work committed the Department of Defense (DOD) to overhaul its approach to wargaming in order to reinvigorate innovation across the DOD, including a five-year target to use wargames to improve operational planning. This monograph explores the causes of wargaming failures and proposes recommendations for successful wargames. Does doctrine provide sufficient guidance, striking the appropriate balance between prescriptive and descriptive guidance? This monograph postulates that wargaming theory—including game element analysis and wargame pathologies—provides an excellent rubric for creating and evaluating wargames and wargaming doctrine, that doctrine and practice diverge from wargame theory, and that current doctrine does not provide sufficient guidance. The theory—history—doctrine approach of this monograph is intended for military planners, doctrine authors, and wargaming professionals.

Wargames are a useful tool to assess plans as directed in operational planning processes; however, commanders and staffs should neither equate wargame victory with wargame success, nor consider either as “validation” of a given plan. There are ten elements of wargame design: objectives, scenario, database, models, rules and procedures, infrastructure, participants, analysis, culture and environment, and audiences. These elements provide a framework for creating wargames, and analyzing wargames and their failure modes (known as pathologies).

By evaluating Japan’s Midway campaign plan through the theories of game element analysis and wargame pathologies, this monograph creates greater understanding of those theories and provides recommendations for doctrine. Pathologies exhibited by Japanese planners include those related to wargame objectives, scenario, database, model, participants, and culture; genuine testing of the Operation MI plan appears to have been impossible. Wargame officials twice rejected inconvenient outcomes, undermining the credibility of the game, creating lasting controversy, and preventing meaningful analysis.

Current operational planning doctrine lacks sufficient detail on how to design and conduct wargames, neglecting the diverse needs of planning staffs. At present, doctrine diverges from wargame theory in its contents and by its omissions. Improving doctrine would capitalize on these insights and potentially avert an otherwise foreseeable military catastrophe.

In the absence of updated joint and service doctrine, operational planners will lack the descriptive—yet detailed—instruction necessary to ensure useful and valid operational planning wargames. Doctrine authors should include the lessons of game element analysis, wargame pathologies, and other sources into joint and service doctrine to assist operational planners in creating wargames that are theoretically sound and operationally insightful.

Lt Col Hanson is interested in constructive feedback from PAXsims readers, and especially comments that address the following points:

  • New sources (particularly primary sources) on Midway that would enable stronger correlation to the battle outcome and/or the pathologies framework
  • Similar sources for a secondary case study such as Tannenberg or Barbarossa.
  • Additional evidence/proof for the efficacy of wargames in testing and strengthening operational plans.  How does a commander and his planning staff know that wargaming will improve their planning outcomes?  Can I improve from my general recommendations to improve wargame doctrine to more specific practices and techniques relevant to the operational planner?

Comments can be left in the comments section.

MORS wargaming news

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The latest issue of the Military Operations Research Society magazine Phalanx (June 2016) contains an article by Michael Garrambone (InfoScitex Corporation), Lee Ann Rutledge (Air Force Resesearch Lab), and Trena Covington Lilly (Johns Hopkins University/APL) on “Wargaming at MORS for Another 50.”

MORS has been involved in military wargaming for most of its existence. There were wargaming working groups in the symposia of the early 1970s, and various members of the operations research community have made many presentations on gaming through the years.

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The same issue also contains an announcement of the MORS special workshop on wargaming to be held in the fall:

MORS will hold a special workshop on wargaming in support of the Department of Defense on October 24–27 at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. The Fall 2016 Wargaming meeting will be the second recent MORS meeting on wargaming and is in response to the continued interest in wargaming from senior levels in the Department of Defense (DoD). It will serve as a venue for the services and others to share wargaming best practices and wargaming insights that have impacted service programs. It will also focus on how wargaming and other forms of analysis should best complement each other. This meeting will have portions at the SECRET/NOFORN level, as well as some unclassified sessions. Unclassified tutorials will be held October 24.

This workshop will focus on wargame execution and will provide senior officials leading the wargaming efforts within DoD a forum to provide guidance and answer questions. The workshop will showcase how wargames have been, are being, and will be employed in analytic processes within the department. During the workshop, working groups will discuss wargaming design, methods, and best practices, and provide hands on training for participants.

For details of last year’s MORS special meeting on wargaming, see my report for PAXsims. Information on the MORS Wargaming Community of Practice can be found here.

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