PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 July 2019

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

Know of items we might want to include in future editions? Please email us!

PAXsims

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Daisy Abbott, an interdisciplinary researcher and research developer based in the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art, has developed a useful guide for modifying (commercial, hobby) tabletop games for educational use.

This paper describes a learning-objective-centric workflow for modifying (‘modding’) existing tabletop games for educational purposes. The work- flow combines existing research for serious games design with novel systematic analysis techniques for learning and game mechanics and gameplay loops to improve the understanding and rigour of the process. A detailed worked example applies the workflow to the development of a serious tabletop game with the educational goal of increasing knowledge and confidence of performing postgraduate literature reviews. Systematic application of the workflow to a real example supports the value of this approach and provides a useful template for educators to follow for increasing the quality and feasibility of self-designed serious games.

You’ll find the full paper here. You might also want to check out her recent article on “Game-based learning for postgraduates: an empirical study of an educational game to teach research skills,” at Higher Education Pedagogies 4, 1 (2019).

PAXsims

At the Megagame Assembly website, Ben Moores discusses the challenges (and shortcomings) of megagames addressing military operations.

For anyone who has listened to our megagame podcast, Last Turn Madness, you will know that I have an issue with the manner in which we represent war in megagames. War is an incredibly intense condition yet many of our military games fail to create an experience that is relatively engaging. Many players actually find elements of the theme and the mechanics incredibly dull. This is a poor state of affairs that we need to think more about.

The bad news is that writing a game is hard, really hard. Many of us start out with a vision of throwing out the rule book and creating something unique and seminal. Breaking the chains of what we know about military gaming looks easy in practice as there are so many wargame concepts out there dying to be put out of their misery. The reality is that development is largely incremental and beset with adversity that involves some fairly humbling experiences….

See his concerns and suggestions at the link above. For a detailed discussion of Ben’s game design for Undeniable Victory (a megagame of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War), see his November 2017 piece here at PAXsims.

PAXsims

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In a recent article in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 19, 3 (March 2019), Galateia Terti, Isabelle Ruin, Milan Kalas, Ilona Láng, Arnau Cangròs i Alonso, Tommaso Sabbatini,and Valerio Lorini discuss ANYCare, a role-playing game to investigate crisis decision-making and communication challenges in weather-related hazards.

This study proposes a role-playing experiment to explore the value of modern impact-based weather forecasts on the decision-making process to (i) issue warnings and manage the official emergency response under uncertainty and (ii) communicate and trigger protective action at different levels of the warning system across Europe. Here, flood or strong-wind game simulations seek to represent the players’ realistic uncertainties and dilemmas embedded in the real-time forecasting-warning processes. The game was first tested in two scientific workshops in Finland and France, where European researchers, developers, forecasters and civil protection representatives played the simulations. Two other game sessions were organized afterwards (i) with undergraduate university students in France and (ii) with Finnish stakeholders involved in the management of hazardous weather emergencies. First results indicate that multi-model developments and crowdsourcing tools increase the level of confidence in the decision-making under pressure. We found that the role-playing approach facilitates interdisciplinary cooperation and argumentation on emergency response in a fun and interactive manner. The ANYCaRE experiment was proposed, therefore, as a valuable learning tool to enhance participants’ understanding of the complexities and challenges met by various actors in weather-related emergency management.

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PAXsims

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At Military Review (July-August 2019), Richard A. McConnel and Mark T. Gerges discuss “Seeing the Elephant: Improving Leader Visualization Skills through Simple War Games.”

While Command and General Staff College (CGSC) faculty members have wrestled with the challenge of how to best educate students to improve their visualization and description skills, they have hit upon a return to simple role-playing board games as a low-cost and highly effective means to repetitively improve students’ abilities. Examining the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) publications from the past twenty years has revealed that implementing war-gaming as a training technique has been a systemic challenge during combat training center (CTC) rotations.2 This challenge manifested itself in three ways: players skipped the war-game step altogether; if planners skipped the war game, then the combined arms rehearsal turned into a war game; or staffs conducted war games that resembled a rehearsal in that they did not contain an action, reaction, counteraction methodology. As the faculty scanned the CALL publications for insights, an unrelated event in a single staff group caught their attention. In the fall of 2013, CGSC students who played a simple role-playing board game for a history class, in this case Kriegsspiel (War Game), did a much better job at the war-gaming step of the military decision-making process (MDMP) in the tactics class, in particular in their ability to see (describe) the friendly situation….

(h/t Aaron Danis)

PAXsims

At The National Interest, David Banks suggests that we “Check Out the Very Best Wargames Ever (And What We Can Learn From Them).”

Want to try your hand at negotiating during a crisis? Think you have a plan that could get the U.S. out of Afghanistan? Confident you could keep a nation secure when multi-party international diplomacy is more important than warfare? Strategy-based board games let you test your political and military acumen right at your kitchen table – while also helping you appreciate how decision-makers are limited by the choices of others.

For centuries, military trainers have used board games as tools to help recruits and leaders alike understand fundamental principles of warfare. In the early 19th century, for instance, the Prussian military required its officers to play a board game called “Kriegsspiel.” The high command realized that while individual officers might understand the principles of combat, they might not know how to apply them when facing an actual opponent. And in stepping back and analyzing what happened after a game was over, they might see what factors really mattered, and how the players’ choices influenced each other.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the U.S. Navy used war games to design military plans against potential adversaries. By the time World War II arrived, U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz observed, the conflict “had been reenacted in the game rooms at the Naval War College by so many people and in so many different ways, that nothing happened during the war that was a surprise … absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war.”

War gaming continues to offer opportunities for scholars to better understand security dynamics. A growing cadre of experts have turned to war games to show how a Russian invasion of the Baltics might play out or how a shift to robotic warfare might lead to fewer military crises. In my own research, I have used war games to better understand and prepare for what are sometimes called “low-frequency, multi-factor” events – security scenarios that have lots of variables but have rarely, or never, happened, such as a full-scale cyber-conflict between the U.S. and China.

War games are useful intellectual aids because they force players to make decisions under pressure. While people may intellectually understand a problem, gaming forces them to think even harder. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling put it, “one thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” By facing off against opponents over a well-designed war game, people can come to see how political and military structures interact and appreciate the trade-offs and complications that come with making decisions in a competitive environment.

With this in mind, I present some of my favorite war games. They not only are gripping to play but also offer players a window into some core elements of modern security politics. They are rated for players, time and complexity (where “Monopoly” would score a 1 out of 5). I have no financial or professional relationships with any of the game publishers listed; these games are just personal favorites.

(This article also originally appeared at The Conversation.)

PAXsims

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The Poll is an Indian board game that simulates how political parties fight and win elections.

In the game, each player takes control of the affairs of a political party: manages their finances, their policy stand and decides which seats to focus on in the run-up to the General Elections. Each player must draft an inclusive manifesto to fight constituencies all over the country, make promises through arguments and choose which campaign strategies to employ to maximise their own vote share. With the ultimate aim to win the majority of seats in the Lok Sabha.

It is currently available for pre-order.

PAXsims

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The King’s Wargaming Newtwork is pleased to announce the first King’s Wargaming Alumni Weekend, which will take place during 21-24 November 2019 at King’s College London. 

It will include a public lecture on 22 November by Professor Philip Sabin on the future of wargaming to mark his 35-year service to the university and the first year anniversary of the King’s Wargaming Network.

All are welcome to register for the lecture here.
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PAXsims

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Rosenstrasse is a historical role-playing game developed by Moyra Turkington and Jessica Hammer.

Rosenstrasse is an elegaic, immersive historical role-playing game for four players and one facilitator. It explores marriages between Jewish and “Aryan” Germans in Berlin between 1933 and 1943, and culminates in the eponymous women-led protests. Each player takes the role of two characters, at least one of whom is Jewish and at least one of whom is female. As a result, players experience this story of persecution and resistance from multiple perspectives.

No prior knowledge of history is needed to play Rosenstrasse, nor does prior knowledge prevent enjoyment of the game. The game has been successfully play-tested with everyone from historians and Holocaust educators to people who knew almost nothing about the history. Similarly, you do not have to be an experienced role-player to enjoy the game. It is accessible both to long-time role-players, and to people who have never role-played before.

Instead of historical expertise, we ask players to bring human expertise to bear. Each character is paired with another as spouse or sibling. For example, Max and Annaliese are young, romantic, economically vulnerable lovers; Ruth and Izak are siblings who embody close-knit family bonds, but who are treated very differently by the Reich. These relationships are at the heart of the game. If you have cared about another person as a friend, family member, or romantic partner, then you have the expertise you need to play.

You will find further details of the Unruly Studios project at Kickstarter.

You might also want to have a look at this short Carnegie Mellon University Alumni Association webinar by Jessica Hammer, Thomas and Lydia Moran on “transformational games:” Game On! How Leveraging Gameplay Can Change Your Life

PAXsims

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At Studies in Contemporary History, Florian Grenier and Maren Röger discuss “Den Kalten Krieg Spielen: Brett- und Computerspiele in der Systemkonfrontation” (in German).

Playing the Cold War. Board and Computer Games in the System Confrontation

During the Cold War, millions of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain played board and digital games – in living rooms, barracks and schools. They played classics such as Memory or Merk-Fix, but also games with names such as Fulda Gap or Class Struggle. The latter group addressed different aspects of the confrontation between the West and the so-called ›Eastern bloc‹ and offered players a simulation of the Cold War as a battle between good and evil. Cold War Studies have so far neglected games as sources of historical research. In this article, we argue that as a relevant part of popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s, board and digital games contributed significantly to conveying to a popular audience the fundamental characteristics of the East-West conflict. We show how games on both sides of the Iron Curtain adopted a logic of competition; we analyse how they made sense of the system confrontation, which specific national characteristics they had, how they could become critical tools and where the respective authorities saw the limits of what was ›playable‹. Testing one’s own demise as a possibility for action or dystopia often seemed morally and politically questionable, because the scenarios developed in games could perhaps change people’s views of reality and intensify criticism. On the other hand, the games could also support the routinisation of the Cold War: They presented knowledge about military facts and contributed to habituation to the potential nuclear threat.

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Dstl: Software, training & simulation and wargaming opportunities

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The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is looking for up to 15 new staff specializing in simulation and wargaming:

We are recruiting up to 15 talented individuals across the Simulation and Numerical Methods group to use their specialist knowledge innovatively and to work in multidisciplinary teams in the following areas:

• Training, Simulation and Synthetic Environments
• Software Engineering
• Wargaming and Simulation
• Manual Wargaming

Depending on your skills and experience you’ll be working in one of the following areas;

The Training and Transformative Technologies Team focuses on innovative methods and tools to deliver Military Training and Education. This includes representing future Operating Environments in simulation and exploiting novel training approaches such as Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality Technologies.

The Wargaming capability you would be joining uses wargaming as a structured analytical technique to understand conflict in order to provide advice to the Ministry of Defence and wider UK Government. It is a multidisciplinary capability, drawing on quantitative and qualitative operational analysis techniques, facilitation, adjudication, and player interaction in order to model warfare, conflict or adversarial scenarios to identify and assess factors that can lead to different results (e.g. failure, success or something in between) within a given setting.

The Software Modelling & Simulation team provides the software engineering expertise to our division and is leading on the development of innovative software and software models for the future. As well as building this next generation software we have the responsibility, working with industry, to maintain and improve our existing computer-based wargames & simulations.

You’ll find full details at the UK Civil Service jobs site.

Applicants must be UK (non-dual) citizens. The deadline for application is August 24.

Connections US 2019 reminder

This is a reminder that the Connections US 2019 professional wargaming conference will be held at the US Army Heritage and Education Center (Carlisle, PA) on 13-16 August.

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To see what to expect, see our PAXsims report on last year’s conference.

A “horrible, one-sided deal”: A US-Iran matrix game

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While I’m not at liberty to divulge anything about him, I recently connected up with the ever-elusive Banksy of matrix game design, “Tim Price,” to put together a quick matrix game scenario addressing current US-Iranian tensions in the Gulf. You will find the scenario description, briefing sheets, and simple map here. Also included is a quick guide on how to play a matrix game, as well as counters you can use.

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The game includes the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the European Union/E3, and Russia. It also includes an innovative mechanism for making some actions through allies and proxies (such as the Houthis, Hizbullah, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Syria, Israel, the UAE, and Oman).

As this example shows, matrix games can be developed very quickly, and can be useful tools for exploring complex, multi-sided political-military (POL-MIL) issues. If you want to learn more, check out the many other matrix game postings here at PAXsims, as well as Tom Mouat’s matrix game download page.

If you’re interested in developing your own matrix games, you might find the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) useful—after all, that’s why we developed it, with the support of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories  (UK Ministry of Defence).

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Invicta: How did war become a game?

A recent video posted to YouTube by Invicta provides an excellent 15 minute overview of the birth of modern wargaming. It’s well worth watching—I’ll certainly be using it in class.

Setting the (wargame) stage

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I delivered a (virtual) presentation today to the Military Operations Society wargaming community of practice on the importance of “chrome, fluff” and other finer touches in promoting better game outcomes through enhanced narrative engagement. Having forgotten to set a calendar reminder I was a fifteen minutes late for my own talk, which only served to reinforce the stereotype of absent-minded professors. Apologies to everyone who had to wait!

The full set of Powerpoint slides is available here (pdf). Since the content may not be entirely self-evident from the slides, I’ll also offer a quick summary.

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First, I argued—in keeping with Perla and McGrady’s discussion of “Why wargaming works“—that narrative engagement is a key element of good (war)game design and implementation.

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In addition to their experience-based, qualitative argument, I adduced some quantitative, experimental data that shows that role-playing produces superior forecasting outcomes…

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..and that the way we frame and present games has profound effects on the way players actually play them.

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I also noted a substantial literature on the psychology of conflict and conflict resolution that points to the importance of normative and other non-material factors in shaping conflict and negotiating behaviour.

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In other words, if your games don’t have players feeling angry, or aggrieved, or alienated, or attached to normative and symbolic elements, they’re acting unrealistically. Since the selling point of wargaming is that it places humans in the loop, you need those players playing like real humans, not technocratic, minimaxing robots.

Doing that, I suggested, requires nudging participants into the right mindset. One has to be careful one doesn’t overdo it—some participants may recoil at role play fluff that makes it all look like a LARP or game of D&D.

What then followed was a discussion of some considerations and ways that I had done it, but which was also intended to spark a broader conversation. Specifically we looked at:

  • How player backgrounds and player assignment will influence how readily participants internalize appropriate perspectives.
  • Briefing materials should designed to subtly promote desired perspectives and biases (without being too obvious about this). Things like flags, maps, placards, and so forth can all be used to make players more closely identify with their role.
  • In repeated games—for example, some wargames in an educational setting that might be conducted every year)—oral traditions and tales from prior games can make the game setting richer and more authentic (although at the risk of players learning privileged information from previous players). Participants might also contribute background materials, chrome, or fluff that you can use in future games—such as the collection of songs from Brynania that my McGill University students have recorded over the past twenty years.

  • Very explicit objectives and “victory conditions” should often be used sparingly, lest they promote both an unrealistic sense of the rigidity of policy goals and promote excessively “tick-off-the-objective-boxes” game play.
  • Physical space should be used to subtly shape player interaction, whether to foster interaction, limit it, or even create a sense of isolation and alienation.
  • Coffee breaks and lunch breaks should be designed NOT to pull players out of their scenario headspace. The last thing you want is Blue and Red having a friendly hour over lunch talking about non-game matters in a scenario where they are supposed to distrust or even hate each other.
  • Fog and friction should be promoted not only to model imperfect information and imperfect institutions/capabilities, but also to subtly promote atmospheres of uncertainty, fear, crisis, panic, frustration, and similar emotional states, as appropriate to the actors and scenario.
  • The graphic presentation of game materials should encourage narrative engagement and immersion. Avoid inappropriate fonts and formats, make things look “real,” and be aware that game graphics can very much affect how players (and analysts) perceive the game and it’s outcomes.

A variety of other issues came up in the Q&A and discussion. Many thanks to everyone who participated—I hope they found it as useful as I did.

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AFTERSHOCK updates and expansions

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Over the next year or so, Tom Fisher and I will be rolling out a few updates and two new expansion modules for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. As we develop these we are looking for your help!

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We are very happy with how AFTERSHOCK plays (and users seem to be too), so we don’t anticipate any significant rule changes. However, we will be redesigning or changing some of the components, as well as clarifying a few things in the rules.

If you are an AFTERSHOCK user and you have encountered anything you feel is awkward, unclear, or could otherwise be tweaked, please drop us a line. Your input would be very helpful!

Humanitarian Assistance in Divided and Conflict-Affected Societies Expansion

Following the success of our first expansion (Gender Dimensions of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief), we will be launching a second that examines the humanitarian operations in divided and conflict-affected societies. This will divide the Carana team into three subactors: a technocratic presidency, and two rival political groupings: the People’s Front of Carana (supporters of which concentrated in Districts 2 and 3) versus the Patriotic Union of Carana (whose constituency is found found in Districts 4 and 5). While the President will be focused on overall national goals, each of the parties will be focussed on their own constituencies and will be rivals for resources and political prestige. Otherwise, we will be using the same system of Challenge Cards we introduced in Expansion #1, allowing you to use some of both expansions in the same game, as well as new Event Cards. Local Politics cards playable by the Carana actors will add a few twists too.

Megashock Expansion

This expansion will allow you to put on 2-4 simultaneous, linked games of AFTERSHOCK, each representing a different earthquake-affected city in Carana. An additional, one additional “national” game will represent high-level decision-makers who must allocate teams and supplies across the local games. Using this expansion is should be possible to comfortably run AFTERSHOCK games with up to forty players (four games with four teams of two, plus one national game with four teams of two).

Again, we invite ideas for the expansion sets too. Our gender expansion was cosponsored by National Defense University, which contributed some funds for its development. If your organization would like to help out with one of these, let us know!

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Connections UK 2019 registration open

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The Connections UK 2019 conference for wargaming professionals will be held at King’s College London on 3 – 5 September.

Registration is open. Go to the KCL estore web site at and register now!

Purpose and approach. The purpose of Connections UK is to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. We do this by bringing together the wargaming community to share best practices formally and network informally.

This year’s conference is based entirely on your feedback and suggestions from the 2018 event. Key changes are: there will be more hands-on gaming opportunities, showing more diverse gaming approaches; we will run parallel ‘deep dives’, examining subjects you have suggested in greater depth; ‘automation’ will feature as a main-stream element of the conference; and, to keep costs down, we will not provide food other than drinks and snacks on arrival each day and during breaks. This last change has reduced the conference fees to £90, which covers the entire conference.

The Conference will last three days. Tuesday 3 September will be a concurrent series of large-scale games (which will still include a megagame) and an Introduction to Wargaming Course. As well as plenaries and deep dives, Wednesday 4 September will feature the usual Games Fair, which remains very popular.

Activities sign-up. Due to the number of concurrent activities this year, we will ask you to sign up for the Introduction to Wargaming Course, all games and deep dives in advance of the conference. We will ask you to do this later in the summer. Failing to book does not preclude you from taking part in something, but those who have signed up will get preference as some activities are limited in number. The KCL Wargaming Network are organising two evening events during the conference. Details of these, and how to sign up for them, will be promulgated separately.

Outline programme. Updates to the programme will be made available on the Connections UK web site at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/ Key events and topics include:

  • Two keynote addresses, from Dr Lynette Nusbacher and a senior British Army officer.
  • Large-scale games on Day 1, featuring (but not limited to!) a megagame, matrix games, a workshop on ‘full-spectrum adjudication’, cyber games, various computerised simulations, an anti-corruption game, a Ukraine crisis game, a hybrid campaign game and much more.
  • Introduction to Wargaming Course.
  • Plenaries on:
    • The psychology of wargaming.
    • Wargaming hybrid operations (including cyber).
    • The selection and use of Commercial off the Shelf and Modified off the Shelf games.
    • Gaming Peace and Stabilisation Operations.
  • Deep Dives on:
    • Quantitative vs qualitative gaming.
    • Answering ‘So what?’ questions.
    • Technology to support wargaming.
    • Successful playtesting.
    • On Wargaming: Matt Caffrey’s recent tour de force on how wargames have shaped history and how they may shape the future.
    • Wargaming the future (in conjunction with a US Connections working group).
    • Data capture & analysis.
    • Space games.
  • Games Fair: two sessions on Wednesday 4 September, as usual. Games will cover anti-submarine warfare, cyber games, hybrid warfare, computerised games (including the same games in parallel manual and computerised formats), role-play, an analytical matrix game, a Commercial off the Shelf space game and many others.
  • KCL Wargaming Network events: two sessions are planned, in the evenings of Day 1 and Day 2. Details to follow.

Cost. The cost is £90 for a single ticket that covers all three days. This includes refreshments and snacks on arrival each day, but no main meals.

Location. The Connections UK 2019 location will be Kings College London Strand Campus.

Accommodation. Finding accommodation is an individual’s responsibility. One cheap approach is to use a Travelodge in the suburbs and commute on the excellent bus and tube system.

Points of Contact and further information. Consult the Connections UK website at the address block for updates, further instructions and the contents of former conferences. Please send general questions to graham@lbsconsultancy.co.uk and detailed queries concerning administration to James Halstead at james.halstead@kcl.ac.uk

Privacy. As a non-profit, the General Data Protection Regulation does not affect us that much. There is a privacy statement on the home page of the Connections UK web site.

Diversity and inclusion. Advice to all presenters can be found on the Connections UK web site.

We hope to see you in September!

Wargaming and representation

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At Vice, Rob Zacny published a thoughtful piece yesterday on representation within wargames (both digital games and serious manual hobby games), specifically regarding the sometimes sympathetic portrayal of the German army during WWII.

The issues with responsibly depicting German combat forces in World War 2, and their connections to Nazi crimes against humanity, are well-known at this point and have been a point of increasing discussion and debate among historical hobby gamers for years. EA’s flagship shooter might be on the cutting edge of mainstream video gaming, but its naive politics are years behind the state of historical research. The argument that a character fought bravely and heroically for Germany, but not the Nazis, isn’t just naive, but it’s one that was aggressively promulgated by German war criminals themselves.

There are two major tenets to the whitewashing of the Wehrmacht, one more reprehensible than the other. The first and worst is that the Wehrmacht was by and large the German army but was never a Nazi army, and did not participate in the crimes against humanity that was the bedrock of Nazi governance and expansion. This was false: Particularly on the Eastern Front, the Wehrmacht worked fist-in-glove with the SS to round up and exterminate Soviet Jews, Romani, and other groups the Nazis systematically persecuted and murdered. Whatever the different experiences and actions of the millions of soldiers (volunteer and conscript) who served in the Wehrmacht, the institution of the Wehrmacht was both complicit and participant in Nazi atrocities on a wide scale.

The second tenet is that the Wehrmacht was, in a word, awesome.

We’re not going to stop making and playing World War 2 games. For whatever reason, there are countless people (myself included) who are endlessly drawn to revisiting and refighting its battles. But that narrow framing of the history, that exclusion of all the crimes and murders that surrounded the actual fighting on the front lines, serves things beyond the purity of game design. It burnishes and reinforces myths, it divorces warfare from politics, it elevates the soldier—no matter what they serve or advance—as a kind of secular hero. And it gives cover for the idea that there was something admirable and heroic about waging war for Nazi Germany.

For the full depth and nuance of his argument, you should read the full article.

One can disagree with parts or even all of Zacny’s argument, of course. It is pretty clear, however, that he is very much writing about games, game design, game play, and the possible role of games in shaping popular culture. You would think that this would be and issue that serious wargame hobbyists would want to engage, right? After all, as Clausewitz argued, politics is central to warfighting. Moreover, many hobbyists pride themselves on their love of military history and argue that wargames offer insight into real conflict.

Except that’s not exactly what happened when well-known wargame scholar Matthew Kirschenbaum shared the piece to the large ( 11,000+ member) “Wargamers” group on Facebook.

The posting immediately sparked a heated discussion on how culpable the average German soldier was for Nazi war crimes, and some discussion of how to portray atrocity and evil in games. Sadly, however, it also quickly provoked comments that showed how unwelcoming the hobby community can be:

  • The first “snowflake/social justice warrior/political correctness” insults appeared around 15 minutes after posting (ironically, by those arguing that the topic shouldn’t be raised for discussion).
  • A racist and homophobic “Pepe” meme was posted after 24 minutes.
  • After about half an hour there were calls to lock or delete the thread because it was too controversial or divisive (that is, to discuss game design in a gaming group).
  • Less than an hour in, it was suggested that the article was part of a broader socialist/globalist/Soros conspiracy. A little later on, a couple of posters implied that this was all part of blaming white people.
  • A transphobic comment was added at 57 minutes, as well as one linking the discussion to feminism and/or insufficient testosterone.

Within two hours, the thread had been shut down by the group admins. A follow-up thread lasted about an hour. Threads were also shut down in several other gaming groups.

Now, it is important to point out that the most offensive posts were from a very small handful of people, out of the several dozen who contributed. It is also important to remember that internet discussion tends to bring out both extremists and uncivil behaviour.

Nonetheless, anyone who happened to be female, LGBTQ, liberal, a visible minority, or Jewish might well see in the thread a rather unwelcoming hobby. They would have been even more dismayed by how few people spoke out against the bigotry and insults. “Discussions” like this one inhibit growing the community, inhibit greater diversity and inclusion, and discourage thoughtful discussion of serious topics.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this at PAXsims, of course.

Professional wargamers—those in the national security community whose gaming is intended to enhance security or save actual lives—tend to be far more supportive of addressing these sorts of issues. I’ve discussed issues of wargame ethics, sensitive topics, and representation in lectures I’ve delivered to defence audiences around the world, and without exception have found them receptive and reflective. These issues are also frequently raised and discussed at Connections conferences, in the US, UK, and elsewhere.

There’s a lot that serious gaming can learn from the hobby. However, there are also some bad habits and prejudices that remain far too persistent there—and which clearly need to be resisted.

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Gaming the dirty side of politics

On Friday, PAXsims associate editor Tom Fisher and I got together with regular gaming buddy Vince Carpini to try out a few new-ish games that had been sitting on our shelves. Two of these—Planet (2018) and Maximum Apocalypse (2018)—were both excellent, but don’t really have any direct serious game applicability. The other two, however— Construction and Corruption (2017) and Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game (2019)—address an array of issues that we have sometimes explored at PAXsims, namely politics, elections, and public sector corruption.

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Construction and Corruption

In Construction and Corruption, three to seven players assume the role of rival contractors undertaking various road repairs in the city of Montréal. Each player seeks to maximize revenue by doing repairs as slowly as possible, but thereby also faces a growing risk of being indicted for corruption. Each turn one player is also elected Mayor, with special powers—or an outsider is elected, triggering investigations. The simple game mechanics don’t really mirror how corruption actually works in public sector tendering, and so I wouldn’t use it to teach about the real thing. However as a trio of Montrealers we had a lot of fun playing it. The ideal group size is probably five.

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Pointing is a key part of any game.

Mapmaker is a very simple but very clever game whereby players take turn placing election district boundaries until the electoral map is drawn. The trick is, of course, to build the distracts in a way that will assure your party of victory. The usual gerrymandering techniques—”cracking” districts by spreading out opposition votes to deny rivals a victory and “packing” them by creating a rival-held district with a large number of surplus, wasted votes—both work well in the game, and are indeed the key to victory. Mapmaker works brilliantly as an educational game, which is perhaps why the designers sent free copies to all nine Supreme Court judges in the United States.

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Mapmaker underway (those familiar with the game will see we’ve made a slight mistake with the set-up, but it didn’t affect game play).

For a quick and simple introduction to gerrymandering, see this Washington Post video.

World Bank: Gaming for peace

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The World Bank blog features a new article by Laura Bailey on how games can be used to explore the challenges of peacebuilding, stabilization, and reconstruction. Part of the piece discusses the Carana simulation used by the Bank to teach staff about fragile and conflicted countries.

The Carana simulation was a central element in the World Bank Group’s original Core Course on Fragility and Conflict for its staff around the world.  It did not only embed experiential – more engaging and interactive – learning as the core pillar of the Bank’s deepening focus on staff learning on fragile and conflict situations (FCS); it also took the accumulated wisdom of then-cutting-edge analytics on FCS and built those principles into the rules of the Carana game.

We’ve discussed Carana here at PAXsims too.

The second part of the article looks at the iOS game Rebel, Inc.

Enter mobile technology, with a deceptively simple proposition by a gaming studio called Ndemic Creations: make commercially successful games about wicked world problems – such as contagious disease and war – that can be played on your smartphone or tablet.  If the game is good enough, players around the world – as many as millions of them – can learn how to solve pressing development challenges while they’re busy having fun. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control were so interested in Ndemic’s first game Plague Inc. that they invited Ndemic founder and lead designer James Vaughn to chat with their scientists.

In May 2019, at the annual Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, I moderated a deluge of questions from a packed room in a conversation with James about Rebel Inc., a simulation game launched in December 2018 that is engaging over four million players worldwide on the issue of post-conflict stabilization.

It’s an excellent game too, as you can read in our PAXsims review.

 

CNA: After the wargame

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In the third part of their wargaming trilogy, the CNA Talks podcast explores data collection and analysis in professional wargames:

In part three of our occasional series on wargaming, CNA’s chief wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky returns, accompanied by Robin Mays, research analyst for CNA’s Gaming and Integration program, to discuss how they analyze the results of a CNA Wargame. Jeremy starts by describing the “hotwash” discussion that occurs immediately after a wargame concludes, and what insights participants often take away. Throughout this episode, Jeremy and Robin describe the type of information note takers record during a wargame, and how that data gets used in the final analysis. Using examples from actual wargames about logistics, medical evacuation and disaster relief, they explain how analysis reveals insights not readily apparent to those who played the game.

The link above also contains links to Parts 1 and 2.

Also, for those interested in game analysis, be sure to read the results of our DIRE STRAITS experiment on how analysts can influence (or bias) analysis.

The SIGNAL-to-noise ratio

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At the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Heather Wuest offers some thoughts on the SIGNAL wargame-based research project on deterrence. We have previously mentioned some concerns about playability, and she expresses a similar view:

In an era where I can play complex dungeon crawlers on my iPhone, I was expecting more from the online version of SIGNAL (Strategic Interaction Game between Nuclear Armed Lands), the Project on Nuclear Gaming’s experimental wargame. In terms of playability, SIGNAL’s first big problem is the tutorial; it’s long and confusing. Second, you need to be matched with two other people on the server to play, but when I tried, no one else was playing. Admins are working around this problem by offering “Open Play Windows,” where they hope to have people online and waiting for you to play. But these windows all take place within in the 9-to-5 workday during the week, and SIGNAL just isn’t fun enough to risk getting fired over.

Don’t get me wrong; I was and am still excited about this game. SIGNAL was designed to collect data from as many people as possible, to study strategic interaction in wargaming scenarios. As a nuclear nerd, I found the implications for deterrence theory to be fascinating. Nuclear deterrence is hard to study because when it works, nothing happens, and it is difficult to identify exactly why nothing happened. When talking about nuclear weapons, the act of successfully deterring someone means that in the end, they didn’t nuke you. Not getting nuked is good, but hard to study because you can never be certain that the enemy intended to nuke you in the first place or what specific action or inaction or combination of both led the enemy to come to the decision that allowed your continued existence.

Anyway, I was excited for SIGNAL because it promised a game where people could practice nuclear deterrence, an experience practiced before only by armchair philosophers (like me) and policymakers. The game offers an environment in which data on decisions can be recorded and studied to grow academic understanding of how deterrence works and, hopefully, to be used later to help humans get better at not making nuclear war.

But the game does have playability problems. After making it through the tutorial (which I rage quit once, when my browser froze because I tried to nuke someone, apparently an unanticipated player action at that juncture), I quickly realized that I needed two other players if I were to play the game. Browsing the Open Play Windows, I found none scheduled for times when I was free to play, so I whipped out my short list of reliable and pliable friends to recruit some fellow wargamers. I will be honest; SIGNAL was a harder sell than I was expecting. After bribery (pizza and beer) and much whining as I helped speed them through the tutorial, we were ready to play.

I don’t know what this observation has to say about my friends or me, but gameplay went something like this: After we realized that one of the players did not have nuclear capabilities, that player got nuked, repeatedly, because it was an easy way to deny him/her resources. In the game, a nuke costs the same amount of money as a conventional missile, but predictably does a lot more damage. Once the poor, non-nuclear soul was shoved to the resource sidelines, the two remaining players duked it out over resources on the map. Game scoring is complicated, but having more resources makes more options available to you. The game lasts five rounds, so we just operated under the rule that he who has the most resources at the end of the fifth round wins. I am not sure that back end data collection got much of academic use out of our first couple rounds.

As the night wore on, and we better understood the advantages and disadvantages designated to each player at the start of the game, SIGNAL switched from an exercise in nuking to an exercise in avoiding being nuked. But it took quite some time to reach that deterrence focus….

h/t Stephen Downes-Martin

Trade War matrix game

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From the ever-productive and ever-mysterious mind of Tim Price, PAXsims is pleased to present another matrix game plucked from the media headlines: Trade War.

Since January 22, 2018, China and the United States have been engaged in a trade war involving the mutual placement of tariffs. However, the roots of this dispute go much further back. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to fix China’s “long-time abuse of the broken international system and unfair practices”. In April 2018, the United States filed a request for consultation to the World Trade Organization to investigate whether China was violating any intellectual property rights.

Among other things, the US accuses China of currency manipulation, espionage and unfair trade practices which disadvantage US firms. Trump has sought to link the trade dispute to other issues of concern including Taiwan and the One China policy.

China is known for taking a long view. Back in 1986, Deng Xiao Peng established “Program 863,” a sort of academy of sciences and technologies charged with closing the scientific gap between China and the world’s advanced economies in a short period of time. The 863 program and its institutional derivatives not only sponsored actual research, they also promoted the acquisition of advanced technologies from other countries with little distinction asto whether it was obtained legally or illegally. Some have argued that the more recent “Made in China 2025” issimply an updated version of this, encouraging and rewarding corporations and private individuals to obtain technology on its behalf.

The New York Times is quoted as saying: Big American companies fiercely protect their intellectual property and trade secrets, fearful of giving an edge to rivals. But they have little choice in China—and Washington is looking on with alarm. To gain access to the Chinese market, American companies are being forced to transfer technology, create joint ventures, lower prices and aid homegrown players. Those efforts form the backbone of President XiJinping’s ambitious plan to ensure that China’s companies, military and government dominate core areas oftechnology like artificial intelligence and semiconductors.

China is increasingly challenging norms and existing power structures; seeking to shape the facts on the ground to benefit China and allow it freedom of manoeuvre. This is occurring on multiple fronts, including:

    • Technology Dominance
    • International Law
    • Military Superiority
    • Spheres of Influence
    • Information control
    • International norms

The growing tension between the US and China, as they increasingly compete across multiple fronts, has stressed the UK policy position, which has maintained twin goals of being open to China and Chinese investment whilemaintaining the ‘Special Relationship’ with the US.

The Huawei issue has brought this to a head. Although successful internationally, Huawei has faced difficulties in some markets, due to cybersecurity allegations — primarily from the United States government — that Huawei’s infrastructure equipment may enable surveillance by the Chinese government. Especially with the development of 5G wireless networks (which China has aggressively promoted), there have been calls from the U.S. to prevent use of products by Huawei or fellow Chinese telecom ZTE by the U.S. or its allies.

In the game players assume the roles of:

  • US government
  • Chinese government
  • UK government
  • Russia
  • Western firms
  • Chinese technology industry

You’ll find everything you need to play here.

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You will also find a great many other matrix game resources at PAXsims. If you wish to design and play your own matrix games, you might find the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MGCK) of use—it was designed by PAXsims with the support the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

“The Day My Life Froze”: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System (Ottawa, July 6-7)

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‘The Day My Life Froze’: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System is a two-day professional development course by Lessons Learned Simulations and Training, structured around an intensive in-class educational simulation. It is being offered in Ottawa for free on 6-7 July 2019.

Participants learn to map the goals and motivations of a wide range of stakeholders in humanitarian crises. You will explore the social, political, and economic dynamics which arise from the interplay between these stakeholders. The course acts as a bridge between cutting-edge academic theory, critical “red teaming” approaches, and humanitarian practice.

In completing this course, participants will be able to…

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the social and political dynamics of urban refugee response scenarios and the systems which underlie those dynamics.
  • Map motivations and goals of multiple stakeholders in urban refugee response, including those of refugees.
  • Describe and predict possible breakdowns in humanitarian responseby discussing past examples.
  • Critically but constructively engage with humanitarian work in general and their own work in particular, in order to improve the quality of humanitarian intervention.
  • Communicate possible motivations and goals of people experiencing displacement, and contrast them with humanitarian assumptions.

For further details, see the Lessons Learned website.

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