Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulations miscellany, Easter weekend edition

As you keep a wary eye out for Easter bunnies and killer rabbits this weekend, here are some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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At the Wargaming Connection blog, Paul Vebber has been discussing the development of the Fleet Power Project, a  prototype operational naval game currently in beta testing. The project is sponsored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, the Navy Warfare Development Command and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center:

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the development of FBS as we move from the Beta phase to a final product. That product is not a “game” in the shrink wrap sense, but a “toolbox” of related game systems that can be used at various scales (e.g. 24nm, 32nm or 48nm per hex and “Game Days” divided into 8, 6, or 4 operations phases.)

There are provisions for “open” face-to-face play or “closed” umpired play, and 2 main levels of complexity: a “basic” level for scenarios 3-4 days in length, that leaves out many of the complications of logistics and “friction”, and keeps the “chrome” of column shifts and player decisions to a minimum; and an “advanced” level that can theoretical be used for games of a month or more, but is best for about 2 weeks (where higher operational-strategic decision-making issues become significant).

This adaptability is meant to demonstrate the advantages of a manual game over “black box” computer simulations and allow an analyst or educator to tailor the “playability vs detail” to best achieve the objectives desired. The underlying tables for generating “situational awareness” in an area of interest (a radius around an “OpArea” marker), determining if an encounter occurs when units are in proximity to each other, and then resolving engagements that result are set up as a set of linked excel spreadsheets. The hex scale, certain assumptions about how effective units are at the subtasks underlying the “SA, Encounter, Engagement” model, and what the “steps” are between the various “CL’s”[capability levels]  are can be entered as inputs, and the various tables will update themselves.

He also notes:

Fleet Battle School is an operational level game depicting naval operations in the maritime domain. The purpose of the game is to provide a “sandbox” for the exploration of the relationships between naval capabilities, information, and decision-making.

Central to these relationships is an understanding of how the components that make up a Fleet’s combat power can be orchestrated to seize and hold initiative, then exploit it to achieve operational objectives that enable accomplishment of strategic goals.

The game is played at the “high tactical/low operational” meaning you are worried about “major muscle movements” of your forces – where to establish operating areas to patrol or strike from, and when and how you move between them. Unlike “low tactical level” games like Harpoon, where you “drive individual ships around” so as to unmask particular weapons systems, and make specific “Tactical Action Officer” weapons system employment decisions’ in the Fleet Power game system your role is the “Task Force Commander” with a variety of air, surface, subsurface and other assets under your control. You can get out your “1,000 mile screwdriver” and try to get in the cockpit, but the more you do that, the more you compromise your understanding of the “big picture” and making it harder to maintain situational awareness (SA) in your current OpAreas – and contribute to increasing the degree of “friction” within and between your units.

See his posts on the topic so far:

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At GrogHeads, CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory offer some insight into “Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games,” based on a survey of game players.


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The TIDES (Transformative Innovation for Development & Emergency Support) website contains a lengthy account by Amy Gorman of last month’s  American Red Cross Global Refugee Simulation and Conference:

This six hour simulation did not completely immerse you into the life of a refugee; the traveling would be longer, the rebels scarier, the threats more tangible, the loss more real, and the future less known. However, it created moments where the participants felt glimpses of the same emotions and concerns that I would imagine a refugee would. It also took us through the steps of a refugee from fleeing to crossing the border to the immersion into refugee camp life. It gave us all an opportunity to gain understanding, respect and empathize more with the people who go through similar situations. It’s one thing to look at refugees from the comfort of a developed nation. It’s something else to be one.

You’ll also find a summary of the event by the American Red Cross here.


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1_123125_2097085_2097294_2100086_040505_hardgames.gif.CROP.original-originalBBC News reports on a recent study that finds that aggression among video game players may be shaped not just by game content, but even more so by the game interface:

Feelings of aggression after playing video games are more likely to be linked to gameplay mechanics rather than violent content, a study suggests.

Researchers carried out a range of tests, including making a non-violent version of popular game Half-Life 2.

Games modified to have counter-intuitive, frustrating controls – leading to feelings of incompetence – produced more aggressive reactions.

The study from the University of Oxford, however, believed it was the first to look at the impact gameplay mechanics had on aggression.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The research sought to establish whether it was violence in games which made players feel more aggressive, or a combination of other factors.

Six separate studies were carried out.

One of them involved modifying Half-Life 2 – a critically-acclaimed, but graphic, shooting title.

The researchers created a modified version in which rather than violently removing enemies, the player would instead “tag” foes who would then evaporate.

This version was tested alongside the normal, violent version.

However, only some of the gamers were given a tutorial before playing the game so they could familiarise themselves with the controls and game mechanics.

The researchers found that it was the players who had not had the tutorial who felt less competent and more aggressive, rather than people who had played the more violent version of the game.

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BBC News also reported back in January that China has introduced a new video game aimed at corruption:

A computer game launched in China encourages players to zap corrupt officials with an electric prod, it appears.

The game appears on the Chinese People’s Daily website - the official news outlet of China’s Communist Party, and is based on the same idea as Whac-A-Mole, the popular 1970s arcade game.

“Everyone has a responsibility to fight corruption and embezzlement!” the game declares. When the action begins, a range of authority figures poke their heads out of one of eight prison cells, and the player has to give them a jolt from their mouse-controlled taser.

Their sins range from greed (an official with a bag of cash) to lust (a drooling bureaucrat in a pink suit). Gamers lose points if they hit virtuous police officers by mistake, however.

It isn’t the first game of its kind. Another, entitled “Incorruptible Fighter”was launched by the Chinese government some seven years ago.


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The University of Roehampton has introduced an online game to help promote its Masters in Public Health programme:

This interactive simulation depicts the aftermath of a major natural disaster and its potentially catastrophic impact on public health. With buildings and infrastructure destroyed in the earthquake, the 30,000 residents of the capital, Lake City, are living in a temporary tent camp by the river. The disease has already claimed its first victims, but nobody can pinpoint the cause of the outbreak.

Although fictitious, Save Manresa depicts a potential scenario you could face when working in the field of public health and shows how people from a diverse range of backgrounds can work together to combat public health issues.

Save Manresa: Public Health Simulation

Are you ready for the challenge?

Put yourself in the drivers seat and help us stop the outbreak in Manresa. Use your skills and understanding to help improve the lives of others. You’ll gain a glimpse into a career in public health – and how you could make a difference in resolving health problems in your community, regardless of your background or experience.

You don’t need any previous knowledge of health issues — your success will be based on your knowledge, reasoning, and sense of judgment. Just choose your team. Decide what actions to take and when. And make the right choices to identify the disease and stop it from spreading. But be quick. The lives of thousands of Manresans are in your hands!

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Michael Peck interviews Sid Meier, designer of the highly successful Civilization series of computer games, at Foreign Policy magazine.

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guns_dice_butter_small_logoUPDATE: Oops, I almost forgot to mention the latest edition (#20) of the Guns, Dice, and Butter podcast.

0:00 Episode Intro and Preview

0:13 Conversation with Phil Eklund, designer of High Frontier, Pax Porfiriana  and 28 other games covering the human (and pre-human) experience.

1:22 War by Other Means: Panel discussion with Jim Doughan, Mark Herman and Brian Train regarding the other “7 M’s”  of warcraft—besides the 3 traditional “M’s” of combat – machetes (irregular), machine guns (conventional) and missles(strategic)—that support the BIG “M” (morale) in making and waging war: message (casus belli – manufacturing it and maintaining it) , media, money, mercenaries (mercs/brownshirts/proxies/little green men), mayhem (attacks on opponents fabric of society), Mi5/Mi6 (spycraft) and Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (Clausewitz’s “have a good pen” – diplomacy – internal/external).

2:12 Conversation with Brian Train, regarding his recent DTP design on the Ukrainian Crisis and other bits and bobs

2:36 Wrap up: What’s on my wargaming plate (using wargames in school), Eklund’s “Nature bats last”, B.H.Liddell Hart’s “Lenin had a vision of fundamental truth when he said the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the mortal blow both possible and easy.”, shout-outs and what not.

Brian’s comments include the story of how he and I first met  three decades ago, and then how we re-met via Small Wars Journal. While he recounts our epic micro-armour battles at the UVic Wargaming Club in the early 1980s, he somehow fails to mention our nostalgia game in Montréal last year, the infamous Battle of Namgang (aka “The Battle of the Cauldron of Death”)…

Connections 2014 preparations


An update from Matt Caffrey on preparations for the Connections 2014 interdisciplinary wargaming conference:


Connections 2014 is shaping up to the best Connections to date. Our theme of Understanding Wargame Cultures will focus on national wargame cultures the first day and cultures within wargaming the second day.  Some of the most influential folks in their nation’s wargaming efforts and within a type of wargaming will be speaking, including Peter Perla, Larry Bond (tentative) and Anders Frank.  Logistics are shaping up well with rooms open for reservation. Still, much needs to be done and we will appreciate all help.

We start strong on Monday 4 August. In addition for my annual Wargame 101 seminar in the afternoon the Dr. Peter Perla, author of the Art of Wargaming and former head of wargaming for the Center for Naval Analysis will teach a seminar on analytically wargaming. That’s a little like Wilbur teaching a class on designing aircraft. The day will conclude with our extremely popular ice breaker, where participants can talk one on one with wargamers from other services, other sectors of wargaming, other nations.

Tuesday, we kick off the heart of Connections with two keynotes.  The first we are not in a position to announce, the second is Milan Vego , a historian at the Naval War College will speak on how the wargaming methods of other nations (especially Germany) has influenced US practice.   We will then have two speaker panels on national wargame cultures. So far we have speakers on how wargaming is done in; the United Kingdom, Sweden, the former East Germany, Germany, NATO, and (tentatively) China.  We will have demos and a talk on wargame design over lunch, then the kickoff of our game lab, and open playing of wargames in the evening.

Wednesday our focus will shift from national wargame cultures to the different cultures within wargaming. Our Wednesday keynote speaker, Larry Bond (tentative) is uniquely qualified as he has worked in so many of those cultures; from active duty , to Think tank, to print, to computerized wargames.  (Somehow he found the time to co-author Red Storm Rising with Tom Clancy.)  We will then have a speaker panel with representatives from diverse sectors of our field. We are very fortunate to have Adam Frost from the Joint Staff who will talk to us over lunch on the little known (for a reason) field of Pol/Mil wargaming. The afternoon will include work on our Game Lab, talks on the contribution of the social sciences to wargaming, and the contribution of wargaming to peace.  We will wrap up the day with our working groups.

Thursday morning will include the out briefs of our Game Lab and working groups, concluding with the Connections hot wash.

Logistical preparations are progressing well.  We have great facilities at Quantico MCB.  As we did last year we will be able to send out much, though not all, of the conference via VTC for those who cannot participate in person.  For those who can attend in person, rooms have been reserved on base.  Just, call Crossroads Inn (the on-base billeting for Quantico, phone: 703-630-4444) and let them know you are booking a room for the Connections wargaming conference.  Prices are not nearly as low as in the old days, but still a bargain by National Capital Region standards.

Still, much needs to be done.  If you would like to help in any way (demo, co-lead a working group, speak, etc.) please email with how you would like to help.  Better yet you could join the group that isplanning/ prepping to Connections by calling into our next meeting.  It will be on Tuesday 15 April at 1500 eastern daylight time.  Just all (605) 475-4700 and enter the pin 682165#.

Hoping to hear from you Tuesday, but even more so – hoping to see you at Connections.


Matt Caffrey
C0-Chair Connections 2014

I’ll be there!

Building a (simulated) refugee camp


This year, as in previous years, some of the students in my POLI 450 (peacebuilding) course at McGill chose to write an interactive “choose your own adventure” story using Inklewriter, rather than a conventional group research paper. One of these concerned establishing and operating a refugee camp.

You can play through it here.

w506_9293656Much of this was built upon the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Camp Management Toolkit, as well as manuals from international agencies and initiatives such as the UNHCR, the SPHERE project and the World Health Organization. From these they extracted issues, procedures, and best practices and embedded them into a fictional story.

In their accompanying “developers’ diary” they noted:

The objective of this report is to provide an overview of the development of our interactive story, “From Settlements to Shelters: An Exercise in Refugee Camp Establishment.” This story is intended to demonstrate different aspects of the decision-making process throughout the construction of a refugee camp. This includes situations such as the reorganization of self-settled refugee groups, the selection of a site, setting up basic camp facilities, registering refugees and camp-facilitated food distribution.

The protagonist is a newly-hired member of the Norwegian Refugee Council. His first assignment is to monitor the developing refugee situation along the border of the fictional Republic of Khourafiyya and the Western Sahara. The Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory annexed by Morocco in 1957, has erupted in violent confrontations. Long-standing tensions between armed Western-Saharan liberation groups and those willing to accept Moroccan sovereignty have come to a head. As a result, hundreds of refugees have fled over the territory’s eastern border to the Republic of Khourafiyya (Jamhouriyya Khourafiyya) and have begun setting up clusters of makeshift camps along the border.

The Khourafi government is displeased by the growing numbers of unmonitored refugees gathering at the border and fear possible overflow of the conflict into the country. The government has adopted a neutral stance to the conflict, advocating a diplomatic solution between the two warring groups. As such, they fear the overflow of refugees, many of whom are sympathetic to the liberation movement, may jeopardize its relationship with the Moroccan government. The Khourafi government signed onto the 1951 Refugee Convention, which means the refugees are protected from refoulement, or forced return to their country of origin. Therefore, a new refugee camp must be built in Jamhourriya Khourafiyya to accommodate the growing numbers of refugees. The player, as a member of the NRC and the Camp Management Agency, has to participate in the decision-making process and coordinate with the UNHCR and other camp agencies to successfully build the camp and ready it for the refugees.

They found Inklewriter fairly easy to work with, but warned of its habit of occasionally losing saved work:

On the whole, we found Inklewriter to be fairly intuitive and easy to use after working through the provided tutorials. There were some more powerful features, such as the use of counters that can gauge the quality of progress, which we decided were not necessary for the type of story we wished to tell. In general, we felt that direct value judgements can often be difficult to quantify in the murky situations that often arise during humanitarian crises, so we felt it more apt to use direct consequences for certain choices that would only be felt in later stages of the game as well as in the ending reached by the player. This felt more “true-to-life” than supplying an overall score, as on an actual humanitarian tour it is rare to actually know how much of an impact you had after you have left. Realizing this, we also chose to have the consequences of some decisions not reachable within the scope of the game. While the software itself did not pose many problems, the site on which the Inklewriter software is hosted still seems to be quite buggy and would sometimes fail when it attempted to auto-save our work. Since there is no way to save manually, there were two occasions when a significant amount of work was lost and had to be redone. We would also warn future groups doing this project that Inklewriter can behave unpredictably if the story editor is open on multiple computers or browser windows simultaneously, so to prevent problems no more than one person should have it open at any given time.

Overall, they found the assignment more time-consuming than a regular research paper, but worthwhile:

We would suggest that students considering the narrative option should be encouraged to start far in advance. In our case, we started working on the project in late January, focusing on planning and discussion. By mid-February we had completed our research and begun storyboarding, which continued until early March. After nailing down our narrative, it took a further two weeks to get everything set up in Inklewriter, followed by a week of polishing. As can be seen, completing this project required consistent work over the entirety of the semester, in comparison to an essay which could potentially be churned out over an uncomfortable week or two. Perhaps there could be a deadline to have a narrative topic and rough outline approved in order for the option to be allowed, which would require that groups start working earlier than those doing the essay. However, despite the additional work the project requires, we would still encourage other students to attempt the narrative over the essay. We were able to cover a wide range of material, while at the same time exercising our creativity. Further, where traditional essays can often feel somewhat abstract, we were instead forced to ground our thinking in reality as much as possible.

inklewriterpicsthanks: Ella Nalepka, Doron Lurie, Zoha Azhar, Anas Shakra 

Viking 14 peacekeeping exercise

At the Local First blog, Carol Hayman discusses efforts to insert more local peace and conflict dynamics into a multinational peacekeeping exercise:

‘Think of the exercise as stepping into a river – a river that was flowing before you arrived and will continue to flow after you leave. That river is the work of local people building peace.’

This was the message that Nathaniel Walker, Peace Direct’s Liberia Local Correspondent, and I were trying to get across, as we developed a ‘local ownership’ strand in the Viking peacekeeping simulation that begins this week. Viking is an international exercise that happens every three years in Europe, with this year being the largest and most complicated. Staff from NATO, BFOR (the EU force) and the UN join with army personnel from Sweden, Serbia, Georgia, Ireland and Bulgaria to plan the event, which will have participants from many more countries, including civilians as well as military.

Viking has its surreal aspects. The imaginary country in conflict, Bogaland, is overlaid over central Sweden, leading one participant in the planning team to exclaim – ‘This is the town I grew up in, and now it’s under siege by the militia. I can’t get my mind round this!’ Names are also all Swedish, in order to preserve the neutrality of the scenario, so a militia leader originally titled Magic Leroy had to be renamed, rather improbably, as Major Svensson.

The job of the four-person local ownership team, in the last planning session in February, was to introduce story elements that would prompt the participants to consider how local people could be involved in the peacekeeping activities. Story elements could be newspaper articles or ‘injects’ – phone calls or incidents that require a response from the participants.

We worked on a number of dimensions:

  • The involvement of local authorities: for example, a message from the town mayor, asking why she had not been involved in the decision to retake a key bridge from rebel forces.
  • The use of local leaders to prevent incidents from escalating: for example, when a militia leader arrives on the UN’s doorstep with 400 men demanding to be integrated into the army as a bloc, should force be used? Should a trusted local leader mediate? Should the Bogaland Head of the DDR Commission be involved? What strategies are most likely to escalate as opposed to de-escalate violence?
  • The involvement of local NGOs in assisting the return to normality: for example, through trust-building exercises between members of a polarised community, persuading militia leaders to disarm, taking responsibility for the reintegration of former combatants, using the media to reduce tensions and keep the population informed.

I was able to draw on ten years’ experience within Peace Direct about the kind of activities that our partners have undertaken in similar circumstances, as well as researching accounts of how peacekeeping missions have interacted with local populations and institutions….

The exercise itself is Viking 14, a command post exercise, coo chaired by the Swedish Armed Forces and the Folke Bernadotte Academy.  The objectives of Viking 14 include:

  • Understand and apply a comprehensive approach to international peace operations, including the role of the host nation.
  • Promote mutual understanding, confidence, co-operation and interoperability among all contributing and affected forces, organisations, offices and personnel.
  • Understand and apply mission command/management, staff roles and functions, procedures and structures and coordinated planning processes.
  • Understand and apply current operational concepts reflecting present and future challenges in international peace operations.


You’ll find the exercise portal here, together with some of the preparation, background, and briefing materials.

VIKING 14 Fact Sheet

 h/t Ellie Bartels 

Simulations miscellany, 12 April 2014


After having read or written some 16,529 emails during our week-long “Brynania” civil war simulation at McGill University that ended on April 7, I’m only now digging out from the backlog of other work that accumulated during that period. As part of clearing up my virtual desktop, here’s the latest PAXsims simulations miscellany!

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MokhtarThe Iranian video games industry provides interesting insight into both domestic and domestic politics. A case in point is a recent game release by conservative game designers (by which I mean “folks who create really crude mods of the 1990s first-person shooter Doom“), clearly aimed at Iranian reformists. According to IranWire:

The release of online video game “The Return of Mokhtar” has hit the headlines, dominating social network debates and commanding the attention of a number of news websites. Its aim, according to the game’s creators, is to pit the player against “symbols of sedition and imperialism”. And the game, which is available via the Nofuzi website, has received enthusiastic endorsement from the Pure Islamic Art Institute.

The symbols of “arrogance” are none other than the leaders of the Green Movement, who emerged during the disputed presidential elections of 2009 – namely, former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, his wife, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami and prominent supporters.

Players move through corridors, advancing to the next stage after successfully shooting and killing an enemy. Instead of being rewarded with points, a player earns “insights”. If he or she fails to hit a target, they lose an “insight”; when they run out of them, the game is over and the player must start again.

The game’s title references the early days of Islam, when, in the 7th-century AD, Mokhtar bin Abu Ubaid Saqafi led a revolt against the governing Umayyad Caliphs. Mokhtar exacted revenge for the murder of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. Though Mokhtar successfully executed many who had played a role in Imam Hossein’s death, he was eventually crushed by the Caliph’s army and lost his life. He became a martyr for Shi’a Muslims.

On its website, the Pure Islamic Art Institute promotes and celebrates “The Return of Mokhtar”. Initially launched as a design company in 2008, the institute registered as a non-profit organization in March 2010. Soon after, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted permission for it to operate a website, an indication that the institute had widespread approval among some of Iran’s most influential political and religious leaders. According to the site, the institute is made up of “a group of committed and expert young people who want to promote Islamic culture and art”. It lists “The Household of The Prophet Mohammad’ and ‘Islamic Revolution and The Holy Defense” among the most important topics it champions.

Despite this endorsement, the game met with some consternation from Hassan Moazemi, Vice-President for Communications at the National Foundation for Computer Games. “The makers of the game never submitted a request for a permit,” he said, “but now that it has been released, we are duty-bound to refer the matter to the responsible authorities, including the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, security forces and the judiciary, so they can take appropriate legal actions.”

“We will gather necessary information and pass it on to competent authorities,” he added, “so they can perform their legal responsibilities.”

Although the game isn’t directly aimed at current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it seems likely to me that his administration is an indirect target too.


Update: Sam Razavi notes that the game designers have removed the turban from the late reformist figure Mehdi Karroubi (see lef), most likely because they are reluctant to associate “sedition” with a senior cleric.

h/t Sam Razavi 

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While on the subject of Iran and video games, former US Marine (and former employee of Kumar Games) Amir Hekmati has apparently been retried in secret in Iran, and sentenced to 10 years for “practical collaboration with the American government.” According to the New York Times:

Inside Iran, Mr. Hekmati’s case is viewed as highly political. He is considered a pawn in domestic infighting between hard-liners, who want him in prison, and moderates who want him freed as a good-will gesture to the United States.

“Basically the judiciary, which is under the control of hard-liners, is opposed to Hekmati’s release, but the Foreign Ministry, deeply involved in nuclear talks in which the U.S. plays a crucial role, wants him freed,” a person with knowledge of Mr. Hekmati’s case said, asking to remain anonymous in order to avoid complicating the prospects of his release.

In the past, Hekmati’s association with Kumar Games has provided part of the basis for the charges against him. You’ll find background on the case here (via al-Jazeera English), and on the Kumar games angle here (PAXsims).

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0046_05 0046_04

The BBC recalls the the great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic:

Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.

“Since fantasy typically features activities like magic and witchcraft, D&D was perceived to be in direct opposition to biblical precepts and established thinking about witchcraft and magic,” says Dr David Waldron, lecturer in history and anthropology at Federation University Australia and author of Roleplaying Games and the Christian Right: Community Formation in Response to a Moral Panic. “There was also a view that youth had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.”

While the wilder claims about the nature of D&D tended to emanate from evangelical groups, they prompted wider suspicion.

“The memes from this campaign proliferated and, being published largely uncritically in the initial stages, led to a wide-ranging list of bizarre claims,” says Waldron. “For example, that when a character died you were also likely to commit suicide.”

h/t D&D paranoia from Chick Publications 

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In response to recent events, One Small Step is producing a 2014 update kit for owners of their Millennium Wars Ukraine wargame.

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Recently we mentioned This War of Mine, the forthcoming video game that places the player in the role of civilians trying to survive the conflict. You’ll find more on the project at Gamasutra.

h/t James Sterrett 

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The February-March newsletter of the US Department of Defence Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) is now available online:

This issue presents articles ranging from maximizing the educational value of virtual training to the design process of the velodrome used in the London 2012 Olympic games. Additional articles feature a new simulation and game institute at George Mason University, simulation based training, combat convoy simulator training, and the U.S. Air Force demonstrating energy resiliency in a mission critical environment. This edition also includes a list of upcoming events within the M&S Community.

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The April 2014 edition of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is now available.

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The latest news from the folks at Reacting to the Past:

We are pleased to announce that Jose Bowen and Judith Shapiro, both champions of active learning in higher education, will be our keynote speakers at the Fourteenth Annual Faculty Institute at Barnard College (New York, NY | June 5-8). Jose Bowen becomes President of Goucher College on July 1, 2014, and is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, winner of the Ness Award for Best Book on Higher Education (2013) from the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Bowen has won teaching awards at Stanford, Georgetown, Miami, and Southern Methodist University, where he was Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. Judith Shapiro is President of the Teagle Foundation, where she promotes curricular reform and broader dissemination of successful pedagogical initiatives. She supported “Reacting to the Past” from its inception, and is President and Professor of Anthropology Emerita of Barnard College. In 2002, Shapiro received the National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal Award for her contribution as a leader in higher education for women.

Interested participants are encouraged to register early in order to ensure their space and game preferences at the institute. Faculty and administrators with experience teaching “Reacting to the Past” are also invited to submit a concurrent session proposal.  Proposals will be considered on a rolling basis, space permitting.

We also invite faculty and administrators to participate in our Regional Conference at Schreiner University (Kerrville, TX | April 25-27).  This regional event will feature two game workshops: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England andVictory or Death! The Consultation of 1835 and the Texas War for Independence (game under review).  Priority registration ends April 11, 2014. Visit the conference page to learn more.

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Existential Comics has had a couple of recent strips involving famous German philosophers playing boardgames. You’ll find examples here and below.



Syrian refugee crisis simulation

The following guest post is contributed by Prof. Mick Dumper, Department of Political Science, University of Exeter.

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This was a simulation I ran in February 2014 for my 3rd year module – Refugee Crisis and the Modern World- in which students study the international refugee regime, international refugee law, the durable solutions framework, refugees in post-conflict agreements and with plenty of case studies. For this simulation on the Syrian Refugee crisis, the class of 25 students was divided into 8 teams of approximately 3 students in each. Five teams were country actors including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Free Syria Army. The other three teams were UNHCR strategy planning teams who competed against each other.  As module convenor, I acted as the US, Russia, and the EU.

There were two sets of complimentary objectives.  Country and opposition actors were asked to compile a paper entitled Interests and Strategy Position on Syrian Refugees, taking into account the need to cooperate with other countries and international agencies. The paper would need to identify the main concerns of their state and plan a strategy that will involve cooperation with UNHCR and other actors to implement it. They would engage in bilateral meetings with the UNHCR teams and with other actors and offer some preliminary ideas at a press conference before formulating a set of proposals which will be presented at the final plenary.

The UNHCR strategy planning teams were asked to draw up the fundamentals of an Article that would be included in any future peace plan which addressed the issue of refugees and other displaced people. Working separately and in competition, they interviewed decision-makers through a combination of bilateral meetings with country actors and press conferences.  They presented their proposals at a final plenary session.

All the teams were provided with the same set of scenarios, a reading list and list of useful websites, a 4 week timeline and a simulation diary (see below) in which they would make appointments and prepare for meetings and press conferences.



At the final plenary, the teams not presenting were given a score sheet which accorded marks to aspects of their proposals.  These included possible views of the donor community, time line for implementation, degree of cooperation required with other actors etc.

The winning Country Actor team was the Syrian government! They came up with a credible and quite feasible, given the circumstances, set of proposals for limited repatriation of Shi’ite refugees and extensive resettlement and local integration.  The Syrian team actors wereElisabetta D’Addario, Christina Gannon and Amy Pryce.  The winning UNHCR team comprised: Ursula Heywood, Emma Rosen and Cordelia Wyche.  Their proposed Refugee Article managed to incorporate some of the more generic features found in other post-conflict negotiations concerning refugees with the specificities of the Syrian case, although the fast moving situation obliged certain aspects to be vaguer than they had intended.

In the main, the simulation worked well in providing an engaging vehicle for the students to apply the knowledge and understandings they had built up over the previous few months of studying refugee situations. The simulation took place over 4 weeks in 2 hour seminar sessions and was designed in this way in order to fit into the Exeter teaching timetable.  This was a major constraint and it broke up the continuity of discussion which led to a drop in numbers. Student feedback strongly recommended that in future the bulk of the activity should take place over one day and that they would be happy to give up a Saturday to participate. The simulation also coincided at a point in the academic cycle when students were focussing on assessed work deadlines and, as the simulation was not assessed, they were frank that, however enjoyable and instructive it may have been, it took a lesser place in their scale of priorities.  My concern that there would not be enough “activity” and competition between the teams over the course of the simulation was not reflected in the student comments, who felt the structure of bilateral meetings punctuated press conferences etc., by provided for enough change, dynamism and momentum in the simulation.

Mick Dumper 

Brynania 2014


It’s that time of year again: on Monday, the week-long Brynania civil war simulation starts at McGill. More than 120 students will spend up to 12 hours a day (and seven months of simulated time) trying to bring peace to this war-torn part of Equatorial Cyberspace.

During that time I’ll be busy monitoring 15,000 or so email messages, and otherwise moderating the simulation—so don’t expect anything new on PAXsims.

You can read more about it here. While you do so, feel free to also listen to some of the many “songs of Cyberia” written by various students over the years about the people and places of this beautiful and terrible land…

Qual Rexton’s Greatest Hits (mp3 format)

  • Berri-Degoba 

  • Uqamistan 

  • If I Forget Thee oh Rexingrad 

  • Burn Those Western Pigs 

Big E & Northside Crew (featuring French E), Rebelz (mp3 format)

  • Kings of the Jungle (Rise up Zaharia) 

Stephanie Butcher, Radio Unity’s Golden Hits(mp3 format)

  • Rebels Won’t Succeed 

Brendan Clarke(mp3 format)

  •  Zahra al-Zahra 

Cyberian Frost, Zaharian Mortem (m4a format)

  •  Hymn of Brynania (Rex be with you, oh Motherland)

Jenny Woo, Revolution (mp3 format)

  • Uqami Freedom Song 

The ZPF militants of Camp #6, VIVA VIVA Zaharia  (mp3 format)

  • VIVA VIVA Zaharia 

Russian Foreign Ministry, Songs of a Brynanian Nomad (YouTube)

American Red Cross conducts “world’s largest refugee simulation”

1920427_697859680266871_1774484826_nThe American Red Cross will be conducting “the world’s largest refugee simulation and conference” on 29-30 March. Although it is now too late to sign up, you’ll find full details here, and their Facebook page here.

“Gaming Political Science” at KSU


John Fliter at Kansas State University has put together an excellent compendium of articles and other materials on the use of serious games in political science:

Welcome to the Gaming Political Science (GPS) archive! The collection consists of over 250 published articles and books and conference papers on the use of simulations, games, and role-playing exercises in political science courses. As the acronym suggests, the goal of this website is to assist political science faculty in guiding students down different avenues of learning in the classroom. Simulations, games and role playing assignments involve the creation of simulated or hypothetical scenarios that provide participants with life-like problem solving experiences. These classroom activities are important supplements to traditional pedagogical methods and they offer a type of laboratory experience not often found in social science and humanities courses.

A wide variety of simulations, games, and role playing activities can be incorporated into political science courses in just about every area. Examples include brief “you decide” problem-solving situations that require only a limited amount of class time, to more sophisticated simulations that cover an entire semester and even some that involve multiple classes at different universities. There are a number of simulation activities that boost student learning outside the classroom as well, including Mock Trial teams, the Global Problems Summit, and Model United Nations.

The GPS archive is designed to be user-friendly. In the left margin, the first section contains pedagogical articles on the challenges and benefits of incorporating active learning exercises in the classroom and how to design these activities to maximize student learning outcomes. Following the general information section, websites and publications have been organized into the various subfields of political science. There may be some overlap to the categories. For instance, an article placed in the International Relations group might describe an activity that can be used in a comparative government course or a reference may be listed in two different subcategories. Most of the references contain a hyperlink to an abstract of the article and a few, if in the public domain, contain the full text.

This project was made possible through the financial support of the Provost’s Office at Kansas State University. I owe a special thanks to my graduate research assistant, Chelsey Eimer, who collected and organized many of these articles, and Julie Fosberg for her technical assistance. Finally, I appreciate the help of Victor Asal, Nina Kollars, Chad Raymond, Amanda Rosen, and Simon Usherwood, who shared material from their short course on simulations and games for the political science classroom.

Please send me your suggestions or comments about the site or contact me if you have a published article or conference paper for the archive. John Fliter, Kansas State University 785-532-0445 (office) 785-320-1468 (cell)

Simulation miscellany, 27 March 2014


Some recent conflict simulation and serious games items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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G4C11The eight finalists for the 2014 Games for Change Awards have been now been selected. The winner will be announced at this year’s Games for Change Festival in New York, 22-24/26 April 2014.

This year G4C will be partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival. As USA Today reported back in January:

In the clearest indication yet that video games are growing well beyond their roots as amusements built on coin boxes and hand-eye coordination, the 11th annual Games for Change (G4C) Festival this spring will take place as part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it will host a family-friendly gaming arcade in lower Manhattan.

“For me it’s a huge leap because it means that for the first time we’re bringing Games for Change … to the real person on the street,” says Asi Burak,the games festival’s president.

G4C is perhaps the biggest player in the growing “serious games” movement, which uses digital games and simulations for health, education, training and social change, among other uses. The festival last year produced Half The Sky Movement: The Game, a Facebook game based on Half the Sky, the 2009 book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the worldwide oppression of women.

Craig Hatkoff, co-founder of the film festival, says Tribeca is paying attention to “the transformative power of gaming” that goes beyond traditional entertainment. He wants the combined event to bring together “the most cutting-edge creators of games, educators, and the world’s greatest story-tellers.”

* * *

GAMEONGAMEON’2014 will be held 9-11 September 2014 at the University of Lincoln, UK:

The aim of the 15th annual European GAMEON® Conference (GAMEON®’2014) on Simulation and AI in Computer Games, is to bring together researchers and games people in order to exchange ideas on programming and programming techniques, which will be beneficial to the gaming industry and academia. Secondly it aims to steer young people into this industry by providing how-to tutorials and giving them the opportunity to show their ideas and demos to the gaming industry. The conference will concentrate mostly on the programming of games, with special emphasis on simulation, AI and fuzzy sets, and physics related computer graphics. Next to that, all of this will be fused in the topic of computer game design in stand-alone and networked games. Software providers will be able to show their latest packages and give hand-on tutorials for the participants.

Companies will also have the opportunity to seek new talent at this unique event.

GAMEON’2014 consists of three core tracks, which cover, Gaming Methodology, Artificial Intelligence and Simulation, while the other tracks cover peripheral technologies closely linked to games design, like 3-D scalability, facial and skeletal animation, 3D in-game animation etc, mobile gaming and gaming applications.

Further details can be found here.

* * *

The Iranian-based International Studies Journal and the United Nations Information Center in Iran are jointly selecting 45 senior advisors, resident diplomats and their dependents, heads of state organizations, NGO representatives, professors of law and International Relations, and post-graduate and graduated students to participate in a Security Council simulation, to be held in Tehran on 18 September 2014:

The Programme

The programme will cover three specific issue areas:

  1. International law and security, peace and human rights;
  2. Simulation methods and Research workshops;
  3. Global and Regional initiatives to protect peace and human rights.


Preparing for a Model United Nations conference can be a very challenging task. One time before the simulation, there will be a pre-conference training workshop for the participants at UNIC-Tehran.


ISJ and UNIC will award a certificate to all participants who successfully fulfill the workshop assignments, research, and exercises.

Admission Requirements

  1.   An accredited degree in law, international relations or a relevant field of study;
  2.  Good command of English or French;
  3.  Two recommendation letters by professors or sponsoring institutions;
  4.  Your recent photograph;
  5.  Letter of application including address, telephone, email and language skills(Persian, English, French);
  6. CV/Resume;
  7. Payment of 120 Euros (for Non Iran resident students) and 200 Euros (for other) upon admission. This fee covers registration, courses, booklet, ISJ quarterly magazines and lunch.

The registration deadline is 10 July 2014. For further information, contact

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We’ve updated our blog post on “Gaming the Crisis in the Ukraine” to include a new matrix game on the situation, designed by Tom Mouat.


Gaming the Arab Spring – more play testing


Setting up the game.

We had another playtest of Corinne Goldberger’s Arab Spring game at ICAMES last night. Once again, I thought it went extremely well, and—more importantly—our group of new players all picked it up very quickly. All of the basic game mechanics worked smoothly, or need only minor tweaking. Next she’ll face the challenge of writing up the rules in a clear and effective way.

In the game, the two opposition players joined forces to successfully “occupying the square” in Yemen in December 2010. The game uses a Freedom in the Galaxy -like domino effect mechanism, so the action there had the effect of generating grievances and activists in other countries, much like the informational cascades which characterized the real Arab Spring.


The meeples represent activists, belonging to either the secular (left half of the box) or Islamist (right half of the box) opposition. The disks in the centre indicate social grievances, colour coded to match the activists: white (or black, we didn’t have enough white) = youth, red = workers, blue = middle class, red = rural farmers. The tanks indicate the repressive power of the state (black = republic, purple = monarchy). The coins represent resources. This is early in the game, and the Yemeni opposition has just  “occupied the square” (indicated here by a yellow disk, although eventually the game will use a purpose designed card or other indicator). [Click to enlarge.]

The republican regime player lacked the card necessary to “clear the square,” and within a month the country tipped into full-scale revolt, causing President Saleh to flee. Closely-fought elections followed a few months later, which the Islamist opposition player won.

At this point, the number of activists and grievances was growing in both Egypt and Sudan. The opposition players decided to focus on Sudan, where they had a slight edge and where the regime had less repressive capability (tanks). They occupied the square too, then overthrew the regime, while an attempted counter-coup by pro-regime forces failed. Efforts by opposition forces to hold quick elections were stymied by conservative judges appointed under the earlier dictatorship.

While the overthrow of two republics in quick succession certainly made the republics feel very vulnerable, it may have been a blessing in disguise. With opposition energies focused on two low-value countries (both Sudan and Yemen are only worth 2 victory points), the republics launched a series of reforms and repression in Egypt (6 VP) intended to reduce grievances and eliminate activists. In the Arab Spring, you need both to successfully challenge regimes: grievances have no effect unless there are activists of a similar kind (youth, workers, middle class, and rural), and activists are of no value if there are no significant social grievances to play upon. Egypt also increased military expenditures, thereby gaining an additional “tank” (signifying the repressive strength of the state).

With the Mubarak regime in Egypt consolidating its position, both opposition players then went after Algeria. The Algerian regime responded by using its oil money to co-opt some opposition activists, and then—in a striking display of the ruthless efficiency of the mukhabarat state (or good dice-rolling) arrested all of the others.  Tunisia clamped down for good measure too, while Libya announced new social programmes designed to address popular discontent.

Through much of the first two-thirds of the game, the monarchical player had felt quite secure. Opposition energies were largely focused on the republics. The Gulf monarchies were awash with resources, in part because of high oil prices. Morocco and Jordan were a little more vulnerable, but generally any growth of activists or grievances there were met by appropriate responses quite quickly.


At this point in the game, the governments of both Yemen and Sudan have been overthrown (we’ve indicated this with a black disk for now, but it will have a proper marker eventually). Egypt is full of Islamist activists, but regime reforms (supported by petrodollar foreign aid) have reduced popular grievances so their appeal is limited. Algeria, with its large number of worker (red) and farmer (green) grievances and activists will thus be the next target of the opposition. The monarchical player has noticed the growing number of grievances in Morocco and Jordan (bottom right), and will soon take steps to address these. [Click to enlarge.]

Then it all started to go wrong. In the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain, a combination of sectarian tensions and youth activism was beginning to challenge the regime. Demonstrators occupied Pearl Roundabout. Saudi Arabia sent in massive military forces to help quell the protests. This however, wasn’t enough. As violence mounted, the protestors forced the Khalifa dynasty from power. A revolution in the Gulf! Who would have thought it possible?

The shockwaves were immense. Protestors in Saudi Arabia tried to mobilize, but failed. However, in Oman they were more successful. Moreover, under the game rules the monarchy player, who otherwise would be in contention for first place, automatically loses if a single monarchy is overthrown at the end of the game.

It all came down to the last turn, November 2011. The monarchy player hoped that a “counter-revolution” of royalist officers and foreign mercenaries in the armed forces would be able to turn back the clock in Bahrain—or, if that failed, trigger a civil war which the better-armed royalists might win. They were unable to do so, however.

Thus the game ended with the opposition players neck-and-neck at around a half-dozen victory points each. The royalists had many more, but the loss of Bahrain meant that they automatically lost the game. The republican regimes had 18 VP, and so were the winners.

Despite the apparently large winning margin, the game had been very close—indeed, the republics spend the first half of the game convinced they were a losing cause, the oppositions had been quite buoyant until things began to bog down for them mid-game, and the monarchies went from a strong position to losing in the last few months/turns of the game.  Had Egypt fallen the republican player would have  lost 6 VP, and the opposition players could have gained as many as 10 VP, entirely changing the outcome. Thus the game manages to both reflect real-world dynamics but to give everyone a real chance at “winning.” I’m really impressed with the design.

Simulation miscellany, 25 March 2014


Some recent items on conflict simulations, serious games, and similar topics that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

* * *

The Mind’s Lie is a free Android gaming app designed by Kris Wheaton (Institute for Intelligence Studies, Mercyhurst University), now available in beta version at the Google Play Store available now:

The game is designed to implicitly teach you and the other players (up to six players per game) to recognize confirmation bias, anchoring bias, stereotyping/representativeness bias, projection/mirror imaging bias, bias blind spot, or fundamental attribution error in more or less realistic situations. It is based on a successful tabletop game I designed.

Read much more about it at his Sources and Methods blog.

* * *

This War Is Mine is a video game under development by 11 Bit Studios:

This War Of Mine provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle. For the very first time you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout. At night you get a chance to scavenge nearby locations for items that will help you stay alive.

Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them to endure the hardships. During war, there are no good or bad decisions; there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.

See also the coverage at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. (h/t James Sterrett)

* * *

A call for papers has been issued for a special issue of the journal Traces.

This issue of the Tracés journal questions the relationships between play and games, on the one hand, and materiality, on the other – i.e. materials, objects, interfaces and infrastructures, as well as bodily aspects involved in play and games. Various forms of play and games can be studied in that perspective, such as gambling, board games, children’s games, role play and video games, among others. Contributors are invited to explore the role of materiality in play, to tackle the industrial, political, economic or legal dimensions of the materiality of games, their aesthetic or symbolic aspects, or to embrace the material aspects of “non playful” functions sometimes attached to games.


Studies devoted to play and games are increasingly visible in the humanities. This issue of Tracés aims at questioning this theme from an interdisciplinary perspective with a focus on materiality. It aims at probing the relationships between play, games and the physical and sensitive world.

Although materiality contributes to any experience of play to a significant extent, it has been little approached by game and play studies. Play and games have long been conceptualized separately from their relationship to materials, objects, technical interfaces and infrastructures, or to the body – presumably as a consequence to classic contributions which stressed normative or epistemological aspects of play and games (Huizinga, 1938; Wittgenstein 1953; Henriot, 1989). In the field of video games, such notions as the “virtual” and the “immaterial” have long prevented taking into account the material aspect of these games.

Play can be considered as an activity, framed by systems of rules or models for describing action, or simply bound to specific objects related to an activity or situation. This issue welcomes various definitions of games and play, to reflect on their relationship with materiality. Is materiality necessarily central to the study of games and play, and in what regard? Various types of games can be considered, such as traditional games (card games for instance), toys, digital games, role playing games, sport and all hybrid forms. Investigations can be based on various conceptualizations of games and play, in line with the paper’s research methodologies.

The editors suggest four major themes:

  • Materiality and the framing of play (“This part explores the construction of a frame for play, which can entail formal, normative, symbolical and material dimensions. Relationships between the rules of the game and players’ practices can be explored, in so far as they rely on material elements in the game.”)
  • Materiality and the political, economic and legal implications of game industries. (“Materiality plays a part in the organization of cultural industries, in their political, historical, economic and legal dimensions. Focusing on game industries, the role of materiality in manufacturing, distributing and commercializing games can be explored, as well as its role in marketing and advertising.”)
  • Materiality, representations and game images. (“This part is devoted to cultural, visual and symbolical aspects of games in their material dimensions. Contributors are welcomed to explore the visual and aesthetic dimensions of games as well as the social and cultural representations they can convey. Relationships between the materiality of components and the meanings attached to games and play can be interrogated.”)
  • Materiality and “non-playful” uses of games. (“Finally, this issue aims at dealing with situations where other aims than fun are devoted to games, for instance in ritual, educational, artistic or business environments. The values and roles of play and games in these contexts, and the amount of “seriousness” attached to them, can vary from one context to another. The limits and definitions of this activity are hence questioned in the light of its material dimensions.”)

Contributors can submit long papers  or shorter notes, and papers are expected to consist in first-hand original research, in French, English, or Spanish. Papers will be evaluated using a double-blind review process.The deadline for contributions is 15 June 2014.

* * *

David Gooblar suggests that if you want students to come to class prepared, try rolling some dice.. Read more about it at his “Pedagogy Unbound” column at Vitae. (h/t Brian Train)

* * *

The fourth annual Serious Play Conference will be held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles on 22-24 July 2014.

* * *

The 8th European Conference on Games Based Learning will be held at the University of Applied Sciences HTW Berlin, Germany on 9-10 October 2014. The call for papers will close on April 4.

* * *

The Society for Modelling and Simulation International will be holding its 2014 Spring Simulation Multi-Conference (SpringSim’14) on 13-16 April 2014 in Tampa, Florida. Details here.

* * *

At the recent World Affairs 2014 conference held in San Francisco on14-15 March 2014 included a simulation of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis:

Elkus on video games and war

Pentagon_seen_from_CH-47_U.S.D.D._BOAdam Elkus (@Aelkus) has an excellent piece today at War on the Rocks on video games  and war. In it he argues that the problem is somewhat different than usually expressed:

It is often said that the rise of military robotics and cyber warfare is turning war into a “videogame.” But this thesis—which blames technology for a supposed loss of moral seriousness about war—gets the causation wrong. It isn’t bloodless technology that really makes war videogame-like. Rather, videogames are simple and deterministic in that they mirror the ways a cross-section of national security experts think about war. It seems that as hard as we try to be treat war as “tragic, inefficient, and uncertain,” we end up getting our military analysis from the same mental place that’s engaged by a shopping trip to GameSpot. We might as well use this to our advantage by diversifying our unconscious war(games) rather than playing the same titles over and over again.

He goes on to argue that value of video games (and, by extension, simulations), for exploring the possible consequences of alternative courses of action:

Videogames (and games more broadly), however, offer opportunities for creative exploration that other models don’t. We can immerse ourselves inalternative identities and possibilities and play through them, even if game rules are simple and deterministic. The fact that we can re-spawn when our characters die allows us to experiment and try different strategies, much in the way that Bill Murray always has a second chance in Groundhog Day.We can play against other people in dynamic multiplayer games that allow us to explore the parameters of a given map or play mode via free play. And strategy games, like Starcraft, that force you to play each game campaign set of missions as a different military faction, give the player a general command of abstract ideas about strategy and tactics that are independent of a particular context.

In this context, it is depressing that the same leaders who dragged us into a decade-plus of indecisive war and are poised to muddle through yet another “strategic” planning cycle could not and cannot treat war as a videogame. A skilled Team Deathmatch or role playing game player—unlike many defense analysts and military men—intuitively understands that combined arms is the only way to win. An imbalanced World of Warcraft party that has too many close combat specialists and not enough ranged weapons will lose to one that better balances capabilities. Playing as Zerg, Terran, and Protoss in Starcraft allows the gamer to truly grasp the choices available to anyone who plays as any one of the three factions. Sadly, in Afghanistan we did not listen to those who produced detailed analysis of our own allies, and further ignored those who produced detailed assessment of the enemy.

If we had challenged our internal cognitive models by gaming, perhaps we might have been able to think more deeply and creatively. Gaming mattersprecisely because war is “tragic, inefficient and uncertain.” The stakes are too high for us not to try to creatively probe our assumptions and experiment with new possibilities. If we already treat war as a videogame internally, at least we can add a diversity of game titles to our mental PlayStation 4s instead of playing the same game over and over again.

The role of chance in wargames

Nicholas Edwards is a MA student in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and VBS Designer for Bohemia Interactive Simulations (UK). He is writing a very interesting thesis on the role and perception of chance in wargames, and he has kindly offered to provide a summary of his current research for PAXsims.

* * *

chance-dice-random-numbers-1-AHDThe role of chance in wargames used for training purposes is an important, if little written-about, issue that can greatly influence the perceived value of these games in the minds of both instructors and trainees. I am therefore currently completing a Masters dissertation looking at this issue of chance, defined here as those mechanics introduced to add an aspect of randomness and unpredictability to result outcomes within the game. The study aims to establish an understanding of the major considerations that exist in the design of this aspect, along with the benefits and pitfalls the element has due to its very nature.

This project will need to investigate just how chance can best help derive the appropriate decision-making environment for meeting the training objectives. This shall require understanding just what is meant when speaking of uncertainties in combat, how this may be represented through game mechanics, and in what way the training objectives shall guide this process of abstraction. It must also be recognised whether there is a risk of the wrong lessons being drawn due to fluke results and if there are some training objectives are better suited to deterministic result calculations. Finally, the study will need to look at the extent to which uncertainties in information and adversarial intent may offer alternative or complementing methods of achieving the same effects.

Nevertheless just as, and if not more, important is the consideration of the target audience. Players are a reactive, not passive, part of any wargame and how to ensure a positive player reaction to the aspect of chance in a game is important to achieving the training objectives. It must be seen if certain groups of players will potentially react differently to the introduction of the chance element in a game and whether its application may need to be tailored based upon this. Dice offer a good example as they can have a divisive effect and their acceptability may be very dependent on who is playing the game. Bad presentation could easily therefore lead to a situation where the entire wargame is met with the derision of being simply a “dice game”. Furthermore, the risk of a negative reaction because players do not accept the representation of chance, use it as a scapegoat, or feel the game is unfair and rewards luck over skill, will need exploring.

The issue of presentation shall therefore be a major element in answering this question and it will be important to comprehend just by what extent the method by which chance is generated influences the learning potential of a wargame. Central to this will be seeing if mechanically identical representations of chance can have vastly different impacts because of variances in presentation. Another avenue to explore here must also be the role of the instructor in ensuring that the presentation of chance avoids these potential pitfalls and instead bolster the training objectives.

The credibility of wargaming in training is in many ways linked to the correct utilisation of chance and this study has set out to find how individual contexts may influence the balance required between skill and luck, the reaction of the audience, and what methods of presentation may be best suited. By applying the experiences of those with an expertise in military wargaming who have dealt with these issues, this study can hopefully outline the major considerations needed to ensure best practice when dealing with this aspect of wargaming.

Nicholas Edwards  

Gaming the “Arab Spring” – A First Playtest

On Monday, several of us got together for a first play test of Corinne Goldberger’s Arab Spring board game. Corinne is developing the game as part of an undergraduate independent reading course at McGill University, and you’ll find her other posts on the topic here.

I thought the game (in which I played the Islamist opposition) went very well. On the first turn (December 2010) the opposition players, working together, managed to “occupy the square” in Yemen. We overthrew the government there a month later, but  were immediately forced from power by a military coup (“counterrevolution”). Thereafter, state repression decimated the ranks of our activists in the country.

In February, we occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo, and then overthrew the Egyptian regime in March. As the Islamist and secular forces jockeyed for position in anticipation of forthcoming elections there, our general level of cooperation declined. The elections were eventually won by the secularists.

In Many and June 2011 we made several attempts to mobilize an uprising in Libya, with no success. However, the general level of violence increased there, placing the country on the verge of civil war.

Efforts to mobilize in Morocco were offset by a great deal of regime patronage, bolstered by Saudi foreign aid. The Jordanian government also took efforts to undercut any opposition. Thereafter, we generally left the monarchical regimes alone, and concentrated on the beleaguered republics. Efforts to mobilize in Algeria were unsuccessful, but as in Libya violence mounted there too. In August, mass protests erupted in the Sudan—but we couldn’t quite topple the regime by the time the game ended in November (turn 12).

The basic game mechanics are solid, and gameplay is exciting. Strategy matters. The rules (notably the move sequence, and the ability to swap cards) produce an interesting combination of cooperation and rivalry between the two oppositions and between the two sets of regimes. While outcomes are certainly not identical to the real events of 2010-11 (it would be a rather dull game if the outcome were preordained), they are certainly similar in tone and type. At this point, what is largely needed is tweaking of the cards. We also decided to add small optional decks from which players can draw if countries are in civil war or once regimes have been overthrow, thereby expanding their range of options.

* * *

Last week I had my long-awaited first playtest of the Arab Spring board game – and I think it was a success! Overall, as far as I can tell, it was a fairly typical first playtest experience in that the general game mechanics worked mostly as anticipated, but some cards, some rules, and some mechanics are in need of varying degrees of overhaul. There were also some markers missing from the game that were mostly an oversight on my part, such as violence markers and ways to denote when a country has its square occupied or has a transitional government.

I was very fortunate to have four people willing to playtest, leaving me free to take many, many pages of notes over the course of the game. My sincere thanks to the four playtesters: Professor Brynen, Tom Fisher, Jason and Kat. Below you will find my summary of this initial playtest and my next steps in the game’s development.

The Board

The board, designed by Tom Fisher, worked extremely well for the game. While we are still changing the details, the board facilitated the game with no major issues.

Arab Spring copy 3

The game board used for the play test.

Each country has one box in which all pieces are played for said country. In the middle of each box is the area for the grievance tokens, surrounded by actvists (or lack thereof). The box for activists is split down the middle, with the secular players’ activists on one side and the Isalmists’ activists on the other. This box with activists represents the “main square” of a major city, like Tahrir Square or Pearl Roundabout. Surrounding this main square with activists are government troops, represented by tanks. There is also an overhang circle on the bottom of each square where each country’s money is held. These are the main sites of gameplay, and no major changes were needed to it after the playtest.

The Arab Spring game board (latest version, as of March 18).

The latest version of the game board.

Some small changes have been made to the board since this particular iteration. The colour scheme has changed, the countries with oil (denoted with an oil derrick) have changed, and the places for the decks have changed to reflect the existence of only two decks, one for the regimes and one for the opposition. Following the playtest we also added a turn tracker, after deciding throughout the course of the game on the number of turns we would have. The last major change to the board at this point is the addition of “contagion” lines on the map, lines that denote geographically touching countries. These are relevant for the placement of demonstration effects following particular actions, such as overthrowing a regime in a country.

The Set-up

One thing I realized I overlooked in the planning of this game was how the game board would be set up asymmetrically at the beginning of the game to reflect differences in levels of discontent and differences in the extent of regimes’ repressive force on the ground. Each country will now start with different numbers of grievances, activists, tanks, and money, in a configuration that is relatively consistent with the realities of the region in December 2010.

The Gameplay

Playing the game.

Playing the game.

Generally the game went much as expected. In particular, I was pleased to watch players interact in the ways I anticipated for the game. One element of the game that facilitated player cooperation was the ability to swap a card with the other player of your type (regime or opposition) in lieu of playing a card. Early on in the game there was a lot of cooperation, with some wariness as to the other player’s intentions, but as the game progressed and victory points got closer, skeptcicism increased and cooperation was more difficult.

The violence aspect of the game was barely relevent to this particular game, with only two instances of double 1’s (which adds violence when rolled during a repression attempts as a result of particularly ineffective repression) being rolled throughout the entirety of the game. Initially there were three levels of violence in the game, with the third level being full civil war, but due to the lack of violence in this game I have changed it to two violence markers is a civil war. I will also be adding a card into each deck that gives a player the ability to escalate violence, to mirror the de-escalate violence cards that already exist.

A lot of tweaking of cards happened throughout the playtest. I think I underestimated how difficult it was to make cards extremely clear in such a small space, without leaving any room for ambiguity as to which countries a card can be played on or when a card could be played. I realized that some assumptions I had made in creating the cards (that regime players could only play cards on their respective countries, for instance) were not assumptions that the players made, thus making some of the card actions confusing. Some cards were overpowered, others were underpowered; some cards needed to exist that did not exist, other cards came up too frequently. And even if the card effects were balanced, other cards needed changes to the flavour text! The bottom line seems to be that adapting the decks is just a constant exercise throughout game development. Now I know.

The Win

The win/loss conditions and victory points system was the other element of the game that still underdeveloped at the time that we played the first game. While some of that was just regular tweaking, we also decided to scrap many of the overly complicated overriding win/loss conditions that existed as of my last blog post. Now the game is far more victory points oriented, with the only overriding conditions being: 1) if any monarchy is overthrown at the end of the game, the monarchical regime player loses; and 2) if all republics are not overthrown at the end of the game, the republican regime player wins. The former is to instil a sense of paranoia in the monarchical player, such that they have clear incentives to maintain the smaller monarchies (such as Bahrain) even at a financial cost to say, Saudi Arabia. The latter is a mirror to the monarchical lose condition, but also provides a concrete reason for the republican player to hold on to their less important republics.

The rest of the scoring relies on victory points. The main component to the victory points system is that each country is worth a designated amount of victory points to the player who controls said country. Therefore while regimes begin with all the victory points of the countries they hold, opposition begins with zero victory points. This too reflects initial assymetries. The result however is that opposition players need more opportunities to gain victory points than regimes do through gameplay.

One way this was dealt with was to give victory points to an opposition player when they successfully occupy a square or overthrow a regime, regardless of if they or the other opposition player ultimately ends up in control of the country and its associated victory points. After the playtest I increased the number of points opposition got for those actions, however I have also added victory points for the regime players when they successfully implement a counter-revolution or clear the square (both the results of a particular card in the regime deck).

The last victory points rule addition goes to affect the monarchical player’s incentive structure, reflecting the monarchies’ interests during the Arab Spring. That is, at the end of the game, the monarchical player gains one victory point if Libya is overthrown, and gains two victory points if Syria is overthrown. However, the monarchical player loses two victory points if Egypt is overthrown at the end of the game.

Plans for the Future

I am currently in the process of making changes to the cards used in the game, as explained above. The next step is a comprehensive list of rules and game mechanics that are sufficient to explain to someone new to the game everything that needs to happen. After that, more playtesting!

Corinne Goldberger 


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