PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: Schrier, We Are the Gamers

Review: Karen Schrier, We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics (Oxford University Press, 2021). 229pp, appendices to p. 252, notes to p. 384, index. $99.00 hc, $39.95 pb, $14.57 Kindle.

In We Are the Gamers, Karen Schrier examines how games can be used to teach about ethics and civics. Games, she notes, “have always mattered and do not need to be legitimized, but the pandemic further showed us that games can serve as publics: as places and communities for learning, for connecting, for problem-solving, and for ethical and civic engagement.”

What follows is a far-reaching exploration of how games can and have been used to address civic and ethical issues. Broadly, the book is divided into five major sections. In Part I, two chapters address the value of teaching ethics and civics, and what it is that should be taught. In Part II, the author addresses games for knowledge and action, asking what knowledge is needed to empower citizens and how games can support real-world change. Part III turns attention to using games for connection and community, and better understanding both ourselves and others. Part IV devotes four full chapters to the development of critical thinking skills. Finally, Part V offers some overall reflections on how to select the right game, how to design supporting and complimentary activities around a game, and how to assess learning. Schrier also considers the possible future of serious games for ethics and civics.

As regular readers of PAXsims will know, I tend to be rather dubious of unbridled and uncritical evangelism for the magic of educational games—serious games can deliver excellent results, but only if they are designed well, used appropriately, and supported in other ways. In each chapter of We the Gamers, Schrier certainly provides enthusiastic discussion, well illustrated with examples, of the good that games can do. However she is also careful to identify potential pitfalls: entire sections of the book are devoted to how fostering communication can have negative effects, and how games may be insufficiently diverse or inclusive, trigger or emotionally overwhelm a player, misrepresent cultures, do a poor job of encouraging critical reflection, or confirm biases—to cite but a few. She also notes how the “fun” of games can itself be problematic. Having identified these risks, she then goes on to suggest how these problems can best be addressed.

The value of her analysis here goes well beyond games designed to teach ethical and civic engagement and would be of value to almost anyone who designs or uses games for learning or analytical purposes.

The book includes several length appendices, which offer sample lesson outlines, a design checklist and toolkit, a summary of key game design principles, and a series of recommendations for designers, educators, and researchers. Some of this is likely to find its way into my own game design syllabus. The endnotes and references are very extensive indeed.

Overall, this is a very readable, yet deeply thoughtful, book on the design and use of serious games. I recommend it highly.

Conducting a multi-week, remote crisis simulation

This article was written for PAXsims by Felipe Cruvinel, a PhD candidate at St Andrews. He is currently writing a thesis on applying data analysis to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. He designs and produces wargames and simulations for the school and undertakes tabletop design and hobby gaming in his own time. Find Felipe on Twitter at @FCruvi 


Building on the work already carried out on a simulation in early 2020 (previously described at PAXsims by John Hart), a further simulation, to build on the lessons learned from the first was carried out in February of this year. While seeking to provide students with a practical, engaging, and immersive experience, the reality of the substantial changes that have taken place in the year since due to the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated additional redesign work to carry out the simulation in an entirely online environment. 

Map 1: The Disputed Islands in the Scenario

While remaining within the geographic Eastern Hemisphere, the new scenario was centred on China-Taiwan-US dynamics rather than on the multipolar tensions of the South China Sea. The reduced number of groups and players was leveraged by a new design structure, whereby each Country Team is divided into three distinct “Departments”: Executive, Defence, and Economic (thereby applying a finding of the previous multiweek simulation and the previous one day event). These three distinct inter-team groups provided not only a distinction between responsibilities and capabilities, but further provided a real source of inter-team friction through the use of public and secret objectives. 

Figure 1: Country and Department Structure for a 12 Player Simulation 

Each department is thus provided with a public and open objective which they may share openly, whether with other members of their team or with other participants within the game. These are meant to reflect real-world stances and policies which states publicly acknowledge and advocate for. Defence and economic departments, however, were also provided with secret objectives. These consistent of considerations and concerns which when addressed, are likely to come in conflict with their own public objective, or with that of the Executive department. The Executive department was not provided with such a secret objective in order to serve as the centre of gravity and pivot point for the team to focus on. Their objective is the state’s objective, and they must rally their teammates in order to effectively accomplish their objective and prevent them from letting their secret objectives endanger more important goals. 

Design Aims and Structure

The primary objective for this simulation was to gather insight on intra and inter-team friction in an international crisis setting. Fundamentally, this iteration on our previous simulation was meant to assess whether the added inter-team friction made conflict and resolution more or less likely. Understanding the processes and challenges of negotiations between disparate group of actors while subjecting them to internal pressures covers the majority of the secondary aims guiding our design choices. Given such constraints and objectives, three country teams were settled on rather than the previous four, in order to avoid stalemates through static alliances or overwhelming advantages.  

Figure 2: Likely Balance Outcomes in a Three Country Scenario

The task of maintaining a dynamic environment is rendered much simpler in a three country scenario given that only likely outcome #1 has to be avoided. Secret objectives conflicting with one’s own public and state level ones were meant to induce internal drift and tension which would make any stable alliance and bloc harder to maintain. Beyond this, the design of the objectives themselves, both public and secret, also made sure to highlight and stress the differences in strategic and political outlook between Taiwan and the United States. 

For the purposes of running and conducting the Simulation itself, MS Teams was used as both a meeting point for general weekly meetings and intra-country meetings, and as a repository and delivery channel for intelligence reports, breaking news, and any additional information or noise to be conveyed by the control team. While we initially began with 12 participants, external factors reduced the total participant count to 10 over the course of the four weeks during which the simulation was carried out. A two-hour bloc from 4pm to 6pm on Wednesday afternoons was settled on as the general meeting time for every week, during which teams were provided with new information and opportunities to communicate in official or unofficial settings within the scenario. Participants were still allowed to carry out actions and communications outside of the general meeting time, and information was received and provided on a 24/7 basis for the first week of the simulation. This information took the form of reports from civilian and state agencies, communications from other states, fabricated news articles and fabricated breaking news videos. A curfew on information provision and new developments was implemented from week 2 onwards to reduce workload on participants. 

Challenges Faced

The central challenge that emerged was that the ongoing process of engaging with and between participants throughout a timeframe of several weeks increases the commitment requirements of both those participating and members of the control team. There is certainly greater realism in such a 24/7 approach, but its demands in terms of time commitment can quickly grow to become unsustainable for both participants and the control cell. As a solution to this particular issue, proper expectation setting is of the utmost importance. Participants must be made fully aware of the time and involvement demands to be expected, and when or how such commitments might change. 

Additional observations were made throughout the course of this simulation will certainly inform future iterations. Behind the scenes negotiations for instance, took place far more frequently than in our previous simulation. It is unclear if this was a consequence of the ease of secret and informal communication in an online environment versus in-person, or because the division of responsibilities, means, and objectives in our structure also incentivizes individual team members to explore options away from their country team. 

The added friction from team divisions and separate objectives was also seen to have an effect on the control team’s role, necessitating far more engagement in order to keep track of various lines of argument and both public and underhanded agendas. It further increases the “black box” of inter-participant discussion which sits outside the control team’s vision, as it is virtually impossible to control every exchange between participants in an informal setting, and it may in any case be undesirable. Establishing that such behind the scenes conversations are indeed acceptable within the simulation boundaries may be a useful preparatory step in the future. 

The final conclusion to be carried forward was that competitive interaction between and within teams improved engagement and participant experience while providing learning motivation. Participants appeared highly receptive to new information and often made their own independent plans for action in both cooperative and competitive methods, while taking the opportunity during debriefing to express their interest in future simulations.  

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 31 July 2020

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. Robert Crandall, Aaron Danis and Colin Marston suggested items for this latest edition.

The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) recently held their inaugural influence wargame conference, in which participants “tested their influencing and decision-making skills against a series of real-life international scenarios.”

The event provided an opportunity for civil servants and military officers to experience wargames based on influencing behaviours using physical and non-physical force, share specialist knowledge and identify potential user requirements for further investigation.

Held on Monday 19 July at QinetiQ’s Training Innovation Facility, and attended by UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and government representatives seeking to integrate influence activities into their areas of work, the event was organised by a multi-disciplinary team comprising members from across academia, industry and defence.

The conference showcased wargames developed as part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Representation of Behavioural Effects (RBE) project. The RBE project conducts science and technology (S&T) activities to improve the representation, integration and synchronisation of non-kinetic / behavioural effects in decision-support tools such as wargaming, modelling and simulation.

Wargames provide structured and safe-to-fail environments to help explore what works (winning / succeeding) and what doesn’t (losing / failing). At the core of wargames are: the players; the decisions they take; the narrative they create; their shared experiences; and the lessons they take away.

The work from this conference will help determine how better to wargame influence and how to include influence within wargames that have not considered it before. Incorporating influence within wargames will better represent the current and future character of warfare, as set out in the Integrated Review and thus better informing decision-making within UKgovernment.

Wargaming Influence Conference

The Defense Futures Simulator, created by the American Enterprise Institute, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and War on the Rocks, “allows users to see how various defense strategies and budget choices would alter the Defense Department budget.”

According to Defense One, “A brutal loss in a wargaming exercise last October convinced the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten to scrap joint warfighting concepts that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.”

The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks. 

“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive. But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable,” Hyten said.  

Even more critically, the blue team lost access to its networks almost immediately. 

“We basically attempted an information-dominance structure, where information was ubiquitous to our forces. Just like it was in the first Gulf War, just like it has been for the last 20 years, just like everybody in the world, including China and Russia, have watched us do for the last 30 years,” Hyten said. “Well, what happens if right from the beginning that information is not available? And that’s the big problem that we faced.” 

The October exercise was a test for a new Joint Warfighting Concept. But the new joint concept had been largely based on the same joint operations concepts that had guided forces for decades, Hyten said, and the red team easily defeated them.

In keeping with that same theme, the Mad Scientist Laboratory blog features a piece by Ian Sullivan discussing “Using Wargaming to Envision a Chinese Assault on Taiwan.”

The Taiwan Strait is about 80 miles wide.  Although a formidable obstacle to cross, time and distance factors clearly favor China, as the distance between California and Taiwan is over 6,000 miles.  Furthermore, although the United States maintains a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific Theater, they clearly would be at a numerical disadvantage if the PLA decided to initiate an invasion.  Finally, the PLA’s significant Area Denial/Anti-Access (A2/AD)capabilities mean that any effort to move a US force across the Pacific will be contested, possibly from CONUS itself all the way across the Pacific.  To understand the challenge we face, it is imperative that we imagine what such a fight would entail.

In November 2020, I wrote a previous post arguing that wargaming can help us visualize what the threat can be.  It can help us imagine it and provide context to our thinking about it.  It can help us check our assumptions, and perhaps even offer thoughts and ideas that we would never have considered.  It will not tell us the future, or lay out with certainty what will happen.  But it can offer us an opportunity to prevent a failure of imagination of the kind warned against in the 9/11 Commission Report.  By imagining the threat, we may be in a position to make better decisions during moments of crisis.  This time, I’m using a copy of GMT Games “Next War: Taiwan” to help visualize what such a fight could entail.

In the end, China largely achieves its objectives

The campaign lasted less than a month.  The Joint Force and its Allies performed well in all their engagements with the PLA.  The PLA was a capable adversary, whose modernization created a peer competitor whose capabilities were in general, on par with US capabilities.  In cases where US and PLA forces entered into direct combat with each other, US forces generally prevailed tactically.  However, the PLA was able to achieve three key effects which tipped the operational and strategic fight their way:

They relied on a time and distance equation that was in China’s favor, and then further expanded it through the a surprise ballistic missile strike which mitigated forward deployed Allied airpower and then a sophisticated cyber/information attack against the US Homeland, which caused mass confusion among the civilian population and interdicted the Joint Force’s ability to flow reinforcements to the theater.

The PLA’s sophisticated and capable A2/AD capabilities were an obstacle that could not quickly be overcome. These capabilities also were extended by the coup de main operations to seize the outlying island territories in the Spratlys, Paracels, Penghu, and the Ryukyus.  The Allies were forced to fight to clear the outlying islands, while the A2/AD capability allowed China to retain all-domain superiority at critical moments in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits areas.

The PLA’s modernization efforts created a flexible force capable of carrying out its preferred way of war. This force was superior in terms of personnel and capabilities over its ROC adversary, and was on almost-even terms with the US Joint Force.  With time and distance in its favor, and while holding all-domain advantages (or at least parity) at critical moments and areas of the battlespace, the PLA was able to wage a successful campaign.

Continuing our pivot to the Pacific, Security Nexus (the online journal of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies) features an article by Deon Canyon, Jonathan Cham, and Jim Potenza on insights into US-North Korea nuclear tensions arising from a senior leader wargame.

In dealing with complex security issues and imperfect information, decision-makers frequently rely on mental models that limit their capacity to make fully rational decisions. Wargames can provide an innovative option for challenging assumptions based on past experience, exposing unassessed risk, and gaining insight into future events. This paper reports on five high-level wargames on the United States – North Korea nuclear standoff. Player actions, reflections, feedback, and anonymous surveys indicate that the games provided ample opportunity to understand different viewpoints, explore non-worst-case options, think about the unexpected, and expose the implications of subtle interactions.

The game used was based on the DPRK matrix game previously featured here at PAXsims.

Back in June, The War Room offered a “student’s view” of educational wargaming.

Last year our WARGAMING ROOM editor, Ken Gilliam, sat down with a soon-to-graduate War College student to get her impression of the use of wargames in the classroom. A BETTER PEACE welcomes War College graduate Tina Cancel to the studio to share her thoughts and experiences with LEGO® Serious Play® and the War College created game, Joint Overmatch. Ken has recently retired and moved on to a new career and this was fitting as his final episode because Tina confirms the benefits of all of his hard work during his time as the Director of Strategic Wargaming at the Center for Strategic Leadership and gives him some great feedback to pass on to his successor.

In The Atlantic, Luke Winkie discusses “The Board Games That Ask You to Reenact Colonialism.”

Boutique board games have been around for years, but in the mid-2000s, as “Catan”which was formerly called “Settlers of Catan,” and which also employs a colonist mechanism, this time in a fictional place—permeated the culture, people started latching on to a hobby most commonly associated with the fringes of nerdom. These games are far more involved than the Parker Brothers catalog, and their designers ask players to embrace complicated rule sets and deep critical thinking; players will rarely do something as simple as just rolling a die and moving a pawn. For a seemingly narrow market, it keeps growing: In 2020, the research firm Euromonitor International noted that the “games and puzzles” market had eclipsed $11 billion.

But recently, players have started asking more incisive questions about their hobby—questions that reach beyond design elegance or component quality, that get at the nature of games as political objects and whether they should be held to the same standards that we demand from our other entertainment. One of the longest active threads on the BoardGameGeek forums for “Puerto Rico” discusses the game’s sanguine perspective on colonialism. (“Puerto Rico is the only game I ever turned down even a single trial play of, because of a literal curl of my lip in distaste as I was being taught the game,” one user writes.) Earlier this year, the board-game YouTube channel No Rolls Barred uploaded something of a mea culpa for having recommended “Puerto Rico” as one of its favorite strategy games. In 2019, the war-gaming giant GMT canceled a game called “Scramble for Africa” after mounting objections from its customers.

But why did anyone look at that concept and think it was a good idea? Why did game designers ever fall in love with colonial fantasy anyway?

You can read more at the link above.

Controversy and Clarity, the podcast of the Warfighting Society, has recently interviewed a number of prominent professional wargamers, including Sebastian Bae, Tim Barrick, and Eric Walters. See the full lineup here.

The Register features a report on the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool, focusing on the role of the WRENS there and especially the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.

The upper floor of Derby House was home to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit under the command of Captain Gilbert Roberts, who had designed wargames while serving at the Royal Navy’s Tactical School in Portsmouth before the war, and his predominantly female staff from the Women’s Royal Naval Service or WRENs.

The task given to Roberts and his team when it was established on 1 January 1942 was simple – develop tactics for the Royal Navy that would defeat the U-boats and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Wargaming was Robert’s chosen medium, re-enacting Atlantic engagements and trying out new tactics in what looked like a vast and complex version of the popular board game Battleship.

By the time WATU closed in 1945 more than 5,000 naval officers had played the wargames run by Roberts and his WRENs (66 in all) and attended more than 130 different courses covering all aspects of anti-submarine warfare. And it wasn’t just the Royal Navy that benefited. Crews from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Denmark, and Belgium to name but a few were trained in WATU’s tactics.

The final room of the museum gives a taste of what the WATU game floor would have looked like with its canvas booths and the plots of convoys, U-boats and escorts chalked out on the floor in different colours. The booths were designed to restrict the view of naval crews who came to train at WATU in such a way as to mimic the limited view they would have from the command decks of their warships.

On the floor, the chalk tracks of the U-boats were drawn in green, to make them invisible to the escort commanders in their booths.

The white chalk lines that denoted the position and course of the escorting warships and their merchantmen wards could be seen from the booths. In this way, WATU hoped to match the situation on the high seas as closely as possible.

DEV The Solution “s a nonprofit organization that encourages game development to help solve significant global problems. A major part of that will be hosting regular game jams centered around the theme of helping educate about real life challenges facing humankind as well as providing potential solutions.”

Finally, there is this unique example of investigative journalism in The Conservative Woman, which highlights how serious games designed to prepare public health institutions to deal with the threat of global pandemics have actually been part of an immense global conspiracy to rob us of our freedoms.

Dammit, who told them?

International relations crisis simulation at the University of St Andrews

The following piece has been contributed to PAXsims by John Hart.

John is part-time PhD candidate at the University whose research is titled ‘What Band of Brothers? An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis into the Meaning of Individual Motivation and Group Cohesion in Non-flying Royal Air Force Personnel.’ He previously served had a 25 year career in the British Army and Royal Air Force during which his role required his participation in both the management of, or participation in, many military exercises and simulation events. 


Introduction

Crisis simulations have been run in recent years in the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, one form was based on an exercise model that has been run previously in the United States.[1] This took a scenario based on a contemporary international issue – the proliferation of WMD – and allowed the teams, representing 3 major countries, to seek resolution to this crisis through internal decision making as well as interactions with other teams. This simulation was a one-day event with each of the 3 country teams themselves subdivided into leadership, diplomatic and military sub-teams. Supervision of teams was undertaken by staff mentors and outside subject matter experts, whilst the exercise play, including intelligence feeds and scenario development, was managed by a PhD candidate-led simulation Control Cell.

Since this one-day event, the team developed a different format in running a game. Instead of an intensive one day the event was split over four weeks and combined in-person and online (remote) engagement. It is the design, outcomes and challenges that I reflect on here. 

Background: Design Aims

The South China Sea Crisis simulation was held in early 2019 with the scenario being a fishing vessel disappearing in mysterious circumstances in the region. This crisis simulation was an evolution from the previous simulation, but differed from the one-day events in 4 key respects:

  • it was held largely remotely;
  • played over a longer period (4 weeks);
  • more state teams (4 countries: Vietnam, Philippines, China, the US) and,
  • no division into internal sub-teams  (diplomatic, military or executive).

The design aim of the simulation was largely identical to that previously, with the overarching objective being to expose the teams to the complex environment of international crises. This included their use of intelligence and media sources of information, managing risk, negotiation and decision making. In addition to the simulated interactions of competition and/or cooperation with other states, the simulation also replicated the internal challenges of managing internal decision making within states. However, the four key differences in structure of the game meant slightly different objectives/skill could be sought. The remote/in-person structure, meant that managing information, arranging meetings and overall team management was largely down to the teams’ own control. The absence of rigid internal divisions in the cells (between diplomatic, military and the executive) meant that the teams didn’t generated the same in-group frictions.

A key feature of the simulated crisis was the use of uncertainty. The use of multiple teams, and other 3rd party states, provided each other with opportunities or limitations to achieve their aims via negotiation. Also, multiple information/intelligence sources were used to inject a degree of complexity into the simulation.

Structure and Game Mechanics

The simulation was largely run remotely, with a single in-person session per week. The Control Cell consisted of 2 staff and 2 PhD-candidates overseeing 15 players. Gmail accounts were set up for each team and Control to facilitate group communications. This ensured that there were clearly understood mechanisms of communication to facilitate intelligence/information feed to teams. The design also included specified forms and processes for teams to request information or communicate actions to the Control Cell. 

With an outline of the crisis scenario was agreed within the Control Cell, this permitted generation of supporting simulated intelligence, diplomatic reporting or media stories on the crisis to teams. This feed included added ‘public’ noise – e.g., information provided that may have been, true and relevant; relevant possibly not true; not relevant. This was to allow participants to distil the relevant and true information from the stream of incoming material. Notably, the Control Cell capitalised on contemporary social media feeds – with Trump then in power – using his Tweets.

It was entirely left up to the players to self-organised internal or bilateral meetings. Once a week, however, a Control Cell-organised session was conducted to wrap-up the week’s round of play. This was held under the auspices of a meeting of an international organisation e.g., UN or ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). This weekly session was often enhanced by simulated 3rd party nations, using pre-briefed additional participants.

Simulation Challenges

The teams’ internal dynamics were inherently more difficult to monitor during this simulation than the previous one-day, on-site exercise. The remoteness of the simulation gave more autonomy for organisation and internal decision making to team members, but this also gave the Control Cell fewer insights into the internal dynamics.[1] Anecdotally, there were fewer intra-team interactions, but the Control Cell did facilitate an opportunity during the weekly meeting. The Control Cell did possess, however, a good sense of inter-team dynamics and discussions due to access to teams’ email accounts.

A key difference (that may be considered a challenge) was that in the remote setting teams preferred to seek to defuse tension through accommodation and negotiation. One possible explanation is the time pressures of the single simulation induced greater tension and uncertainty into play. Another explanation is that the  participants in the multi-week simulations were composed of teams that were naturally more risk adverse. 

Future Design Considerations

A future consideration is to re-establish the internal elements within each country team. In the remote simulation, each team acted as a unitary actor, setting collective objectives and a common strategy negotiated between the players. However, this does not make it possible to understand the friction between various groups internal to states.[2] This reduced the agency of individual players replicating the internal ‘friction’ of domestic policy formulation and decision making. Separate sub-teams should induce greater internal ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations.

The use of pre-briefed contributors/participants/third parties to multilateral meetings – e.g., UN meetings, was a good enhancement. It injected another dynamic into the 3-country game and permitted the Control Cell another lever to obtain responses from teams, or to test their policy decisions. The weekly UN/ARF meeting was also a good forum to resolve a week’s play, create a realistic ‘arena’ for disputes and permitted insight for the Control Cell to prepare the following week’s development.


 

[1] Hunzeker, Michael A., and Kristen A. Harkness. “The Strategy Project: Teaching Strategic Thinking through Crisis Simulation.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47, no. 2 (2014): 513-517.

[2]  Such was the internal friction during a previous, in-person exercise that the on military team conducted a ‘coup d’état’ against its own executive.

Ottocon 2021 Gaming Convention

Tracy Johnson will be running a small gaming convention in Carlisle PA called “Ottocon” from 29 July through 1 Aug 2021.  The convention name is to honor Otto Schmidt, who ran the con (then blessed with the unimpressive name “The Weekend”) for many years before passing away a couple of years ago.

For full details click here.

All inquiries to Tracy Johnson <tracy@librem.one>

PAXsims research associates, 2021-22

We are pleased to announce the latest group of PAXsims research associates for 2021-22. Many thanks to everyone who applied—we had more applications than usual this time, and weren’t able to take everyone on board.

Alexandria ‘Lexee’ Brill is a second-year M.A. candidate at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program and works as a full-time wargaming analyst, specializing in scenario development and facilitation. Lexee came to wargaming through red teaming and threat analysis. She has games and gaming research in development covering topics from historical influence in Mao-era China to the role of internal biases in-game participation. In between work and studies, Lexee enjoys playing video games and hiking with her dog.

Benjamin Gaches is a PhD Candidate at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen attempting to answer the question ‘How can serious games and simulations be used to better understand the perpetration of grave international crimes?’, and a freelance instructional designer. He holds an LLM in International Humanitarian Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, and a B.A. in Political Science and International Development Studies from McGill University. He participated in the development of several serious games for training while working for the UN Institute for Training and Research, and has recently begun running wargames and simulations as part of undergraduate courses on war in Groningen. His interests include role play for research and educational gaming, simulation and world building, international criminology and the psychology of mass violence.

Anne M. Johnson has worked in maritime security and defense for over 20 years.  She has served as systems software management lead and principal investigator for concept generation and development, assessments, futuring, and analytics across many areas of undersea warfare and maritime security.  Anne serves as the Group Mentoring Chair for the Conflict, Security, and Defense Special Interest Group of the International System Dynamics Society.  She is currently pursuing an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degree in Systems and Simulation Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Her research focus is at the intersection of system dynamics modeling and serious games to develop evaluation criteria for wargame design.

Drew Marriott is a gap year student and graduate of The Brearley School who hails from New York City. This year she is located in Washington, DC where she is exploring national security as a career. Outside of school or work, you can find her reading, playing the board game Diplomacy, or watching The West Wing.

Wargaming accuracy and the Official Secrets Act

A recent online debate over modelling of the Challenger 2 tank in the popular digital wargame War Thunder led one player—apparently, a British Army tank commander with the Royal Tank Regiment—to post the classified Challenger 2 Army Equipment Support Publication in an online forum to prove their point. According to UK Defence Journal:

…excerpts from the document had their ‘UK RESTRICTED’ label crossed out and a stamp of ‘UNCLASSIFIED’ added, as well as having various parts fully blanked. One forum user remarked that “the cover for instance had basically everything except CHALLENGER 2 blacked out”.

The forum user posted the following alongside the now removed AESP in an effort to have an issue with the in-game design of the vehicle rectified.

“Linking those screenshots with the following edited image from the AESP’s which is meant to show the relationship of the various components. The image isn’t exactly to scale as its only meant to show the position of components relative to each other but it works for the point I’m trying to make here. The trunnion’s sit centrally of the rotor. The trunnions support the rotor in the turret structure and the GCE sub components as previously stated are all mounted to the rotor.”

The (Russian) gaming company removed the images from their community forum, and a (non-Russian) discussion moderator noted:

“We have written confirmation from MoD that this document remains classified. By continuing to disseminate it you are in violation of the Official Secrets Act as stated by the warning on the cover of the document, an offence which can carry up to a 14 year prison sentence if prosecuted. Of this you are already aware, as a service person you have signed a declaration that you understand the act and what actions it compels you to take. Every time you post this you place us (International representatives of Gaijin), especially any UK citizens, in hot water as the warning so helpfully states that unauthorised retention of a protected document is an offence.”

The entire episode suggests a new form of intelligence collection: TROLLINT, whereby you goad wargamers with access to sensitive material into sharing classified specifications online by trash-talking their favourite weapons systems.

Christensen and Dobias: Wargaming the use of intermediate force capabilities in the gray zone

In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation, Kyle Christensen and Peter Dobias of Defence Research and Development Canada discuss wargaming the use of intermediate (nonlethal) force capabilities in the “gray zone.”

Military operations in the gray zone (defined here as the space between peace and war where states are currently involved in a competition continuum) present a unique challenge for military planners. Often tactical actions can have significant operational, and even strategic implications. This makes traditional modeling approaches, such as wargames, of somewhat limited applicability. This limitation can be further exacerbated if the modeled systems are intended to address specific adversarial actions within the gray zone continuum across tactical and operational levels. A specific example of such a problem is modeling military capabilities at the force continuum between inaction and employment of lethal force. Whereas the tactical effectiveness of such systems may be lower than the effectiveness of lethal systems (e.g., if there is a requirement to stop an incoming threat, the use of lethal force is often more effi- cient than the use of acoustic or optical warning devices), the operational and strategic effectiveness of their use would likely be better.

In the summer of 2020, the NATO’s Science & Technology Organization, System Analysis and Studies- 151 (SAS-151) research group conducted a series of test wargames to evaluate whether intermediate force capabil- ities (IFCs) can make a difference to mission success in the gray zone. As described in the following, IFCs offer a class of response between doing nothing and using lethal force in a situation that would be politically unpalatable. This article reviews NATO SAS-151’s development and tests of an IFC concept development wargame aimed at examining a maritime task force’s ability to counter hybrid threats in the gray zone. It covers the strategic context and background of hybrid threats in the gray zone; the conceptual background and development of non-lethal weapons (NLW) through to IFCs; the design and development of the hybrid wargame methodology; and the implementation and execution of the test IFC wargame(s), with initial observations where applicable.

This wargame series was particularly important for two reasons. First, it explored an operational challenge facing many Western militaries in the current strategic environment where opponents and adversaries are using hybrid threats (i.e., tactics and techniques) to deny traditional Western military freedom of action. However, rather than challenge Western militaries in head-to-head confrontations, these tactics aim to remain below the threshold of open conflict, and create strategic, operational, and/or tactical dilemmas for decision-makers. They blur the line between strategic, operational, and tactical, and exploit situations where tactical decisions/actions have strategic impacts.

Second, it used traditional game mechanics in a unique and innovative way to evaluate and assess IFCs. While the concept of using kriegsspiel and/or matrix wargames by themselves to develop and test concepts, inform decision-making, and validate capability requirements are not new, combining both into a single hybrid wargame is new. The approach described in this article was to execute a modified strategic matrix wargame to assess the outcome of an initial tactical level free kriegsspiel engagement game. Although the key components of a kriegsspiel and matrix game are retained, how they are set up, and how they are used together to approach the problem of assessing IFCs in the gray zone is a unique adaptation of these traditional games.

Phil Sabin’s wargame designs website!

Phil Sabin has just published a website containing descriptions, pictures and convenient download links for his growing range of games and conversions.

MORS certificate in gaming homeland security

The Military Operations Research Society will be offering an online certificate course in gaming homeland security on 30 August to 3 September 2021.

MORS’ newest Certificate in Gaming Homeland Security will cover basic game design principles, but through the lens of homeland security. Specific topics include emergency response games, how to support the DHS Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP), local, state, and national level games, the National Exercise Program games, and games to explore the dynamics of response operations. Topics to be covered include natural and man-made disasters, transportation events, terrorism and public health response, mass casualties, active shooters and active policing.
The course will consist of lectures and exercises, with the exercises designed to help build confidence in the topic of homeland security game design.

Course Sections:

Game Design for Federal, State, and Local Response, including the HSEEP program

Games for Homeland Security and the National Exercise Program

Terrorism, Bio-security, and Public Health

Student Game Design Final Project

The course will be taught by Mary “Kate” Fisher, Roger Mason, and Ed McGrady. Full details are available at the link above.

GlobState 2021: The security environment in the (post) pandemic world

The Doctrine and Training Centre of the Polish Armed Forces will be holding its annual GlobState conference on 30 November – 2 December 2021. The theme for the conference is “Security Environment in the (Post) Pandemic World and Its Implications for the Conduct of Military Operations.”

The aim of the 4th Annual International Research Conference GlobState is to enhance discussion on new developments in the security environment in the (post) pandemic, both from the global and the regional (Central and East European) perspective, and their implications for the conduct of military operations. The conference will be held under the umbrella of the NUP 2X35 campaign of future security environment analysis, led by the Doctrine and Training Centre of the Polish Armed Forces of behalf of the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces.

In 2021, due to the still existing challenges of the pandemic, the conference will be run in a virtual or hybrid (i.e. virtual and in-person) form. The final decision will be announced by the Organizing Committee in mid-2021.

We hope that the conference will be a source of valuable knowledge and inspiring discussions for all the participants. We encourage all who are interested in to familiarize with the 2020 edition conference report and/or the GlobState III pre-conference proceedings.

CONFERENCE THEMES

future security and operational environments;

forecasting and simulation of changes in the security and operational environments;

space and cyber as new domains of military operations;

new concepts and approaches to the conduct of military operations;

multi-domain operation/battle vs. joint operation;

lessons from contemporary military operations;

strategic analysis and military operations research methodology;

future military leadership.

The conference welcomes paper proposals that use serious games as a research method to examine these issues.

Further details are available at the link above.

MORS evening certificate in wargaming course

The Military Operations Research Society is offering an evening, online certificate course in wargaming on 19-20 August 2021:

MORS’ Certificate in Wargaming is designed to increase Analyst capability and knowledge in research, design, development, execution, analysis, and reporting of professional games for analytical and training purposes. Analytical games entail the development/execution of a research design through problem discovery, data gathering, scenario development, experiment design and execution, and results interpretation and documentation. Training games emphasize the development of learning plans and objectives to provide experiential learning for student retention.

The course will be taught by Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Phil Pournelle, and Paul Vebber.

Connections UK 2021 registration now open

Registration for the Connections UK 2021 professional wargaming conference (14-15 September 2021) is now open.

Some key points to note about this year, courtesy of Graham Longley-Brown:

Learning by doing remains the focus, with maximum participatory content.

The overarching theme is building the community. There will be central plenaries and associated workshops on ‘Bringing on the next generation’ and ‘Diversity & Inclusion’. Day 1 will feature significant educational content: awareness ‘101’ sessions (as is traditional at Connections UK), but also practitioner and expert seminars, enlivened and illustrated by educational gaming.

The conference is experimental in all respects. The environment is 100% safe to fail, with contributors encouraged to bring innovative and developmental activities to the – virtual – table. Indeed, the conference itself is an experiment: we are trying to generate a genuine conference feel where, albeit in a virtual environment, everyone can get involved, interact and network. And the best way to do that, as we all know, is by playing games! Dedicated chat and voice channels will be available for every session, and there will be ‘hangout’ areas and small-group activities that give everyone the chance to contribute. Outcomes will be captured and back-briefed in plenary and/or via informal reporting.

While the central platform will be Discord (as with Connections US), gaming platforms or applications will be at the discretion of the presenter. Links to these will appear on the Discord server and a Google Sheets Master Programme.

An outline programme is attached and pasted below the signature block. Details of games, speakers etc will follow in mid-August.

Purchase a ticket via EventbriteTickets are live; book yours now! Note that the email you provide at signup will be used to provide you details of how to join the conference and register for various sessions and games in mid-August.

Connections UK will primarily be hosted on Discord. This will be our community hub. Before purchasing a ticket, please ensure you have a Discord account (free to set up) and the software installed on a personal device. The software can be used on both a free-to-download desktop application and via a browser, but the device will need a microphone and camera. A beginners guide to Discord can be found here, and we will send a Connections UK-specific guide in August.

Other applications such as Zoom, Teams, VASSAL or Spatial might also be required to take part in certain games. We will disseminate a list of games with their required programmes in August.

The conference will run over two days, 14th – 15th September.

The daily start time will be 1000 BST (GMT+1 in September), running through to evening sessions to enable international content.

There is a small charge of £25. As a not-for-profit, Connections UK receives no financial sponsorship and is run by volunteers. Although the organisers will be co-located in a control hub kindly hosted by NSC/QinetiQ, we must buy-in technical and other support functions. The small charge is to cover costs and ensure we remain financially viable going forward.

Please share widely.

Simulation & Gaming (August 2021)

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 52, 4 (August 2021) is now available.

Research Articles

  • An Examination and Extension of the Theory of Gamified Learning: The Moderating Role of Goal Orientation 
    • Caribay Garcia- Marquez and Kristina N. Bauer
  • A Longitudinal Study of the Skills and Attitudes Conveyed by Two Business Simulation Games in Pécs, Hungary
    • Tibor Kiss and Roland Schmuck

Short Research Article

  • A Pilot Study to Explore Novice Debriefers’ Post-Simulation Debriefing Experiences 
    • Grace Ng and Daniel M. Lugassy

Original Article

  • Do Gaming Simulations Substantiate That We Know More Than We Can Tell? 
    • M. A. van Haaften, I. Lefter, H. Lukosch, O. van Kooten, and F. Brazier

Simulations Read to Use

  • INFLUENZA: A Board Game Design Experiment on Vaccination 
    • Pedro Pinto Neves, Filipe Luz, Eva Vital, and Jorge Oliveira
  • Wargaming as a Methodology: The International Crisis Wargame and Experimental Wargaming 
    • Benjamin Schechter, Jacquelyn Schneider, and Rachael Shaffer

WHO GOARN RFP: infectious disease outbreak response online game

The WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) has issued a request for proposals “to develop a serious online gaming prototype, targeting multidisciplinary public health emergency responders from around the world and utilising an outbreak response scenario, to build the large-scale multidisciplinary human response capacity with the cross-cutting knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to respond to COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks.”

You will find the full details of the RFP here. The closing date for applications is 2 August 2021.

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