PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wong on wargaming

Yuna Wong briefly discusses wargaming at the latest edition of Eye on IDA. You can watch it below!

Edward Snowden, “What I learned from games: playing for and against mass surveillance”

Headshot of Edward Snowden from shoulders up. White man with short-cropped brown hair, wireframe glasses and goatee. Wearing black, button-up shirt.

Part of the GAM(BL)ING: Commodification of Leisure in the Digital Era symposium.

Thursday, May 13, 2021
8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Free

For Registration and further information click here.

Imaginetic Game Club

Join us FREE via Zoom for the Imaginetic Game Club! Play or observe as we test, discuss, and play through various games with a serious bent. Get ideas from like-minded players and budding designers, all for FREE!

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/imaginetic-game-club-tickets-147590785011


May 19th 7pm (EDT, UTC-4): Undocumented: The Journey to the American Dream 
Designers: Erick Pelayo Aubert, Victoria Aponte, Elizabeth Varkovetski, Stefanie Game

follows the journey of a migrant from Latin America as they cross through Mexico to the US border. Along their travels, they encounter real-life scenarios such as altercations, police checks, and robbery, all while trying to mitigate the risks of boarding trains and supporting their dependents. While the journey is long, and the path is winding, the American Dream lies just beyond the fence. Will they make it and find success across the border? Or will they get trapped in an ever circulating motion of deportation and secondary attempts? Grab your backpack, it’s time to go.

Join us May 19th 7pm (EDT, UTC-4) for the public reveal of Undocumented. Meet the student-creators as you navigate the hazards as a migrant in this game born in Rex Brynen’s Conflict Simulation course. Will you have what it takes to make your dreams come true?

Don’t forget to sign up for our June 2nd session when we will be playing 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution from Academy Games. Link to rules and player aids here.

The year is 1775. The American colonies are outraged over new taxes imposed upon them by Great Britain. They begin to stockpile arms and organize militia. On April 19th, militia members ambush a column of 700 British Redcoats ordered to seize stockpiled arms. 273 British soldiers are killed or wounded before they reach safety in Boston.
The American Revolution has begun!

1775 Screenshot


Sign in here, and let the games begin! https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/imaginetic-game-club-tickets-147590785011

Player slots are limited and assigned on a first-come first served basis, so sign up quickly before player slots are filled.

Imaginetic Game Club is a FREE game showcase where like-minded serious games players, designers, developers, and interested parties can come together, play a game, discuss serious games, and have some fun.

Watch this space for future game announcements.

Registration now open for Connections US 2021

Registration is now open for the Connections US 2021 professional wargaming conference, which will be held (virtually) on 21-25 June 2021. The theme for this year’s conference is Ethics and Wargaming.

You will find addition information on the conference at the Connections US website.

Review: Gaming Disease Response

ED McGrady and John Curry, Roll to Save: Gaming Disease Response (History of Wargaming Project, 2021). 143pp. USD$20 paperback, USD$7.92 Kindle.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the value of serious gaming for supporting health sector preparedness and government policy response. Indeed, in my own case, during the past year I have found myself designing games on pandemic-related food security issues, working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Department of National Defence in red teaming Canada’s national vaccine roll-out plans (including a major national tabletop exercise), and I’m currently working with the READY Initiative on digital games-based training for epidemic disease preparedness and response in the humanitarian sector.

All of that is to say that I wish Roll to Save: Gaming Disease Response had been published a year ago, because it is a very useful resource indeed for anyone working in this area. Some of the chapters address general design issues, including the value of serious games; gaming at the strategic (policy), operational, and “tactical” levels of disease response; and important considerations in professional game design. Other chapters discuss particular game designs, addressing topics as wide-ranging as vaccination/prophylaxis; bioterrorism (anthrax, melioidosis); particular epidemic outbreak scenarios (ebola); mental health support; and pandemic recovery (COVID-X). It also contains brief chapters discussing some of the basics of infectious diseases, epidemiology, public health planning, outbreak investigation, and the importance of information, politics, and the media. My only disappointment was the bibliography, which lists some of the sources cited in the book but which doesn’t provide a wider reference to the substantial literature on medical and emergency preparedness gaming.

Above and beyond the very considerable value of this publication for those designing disease response games, it also stands as an excellent example of how serious gaming should be undertaken. McGrady not only has extensive experience in designing and implementing serious games on a wide range of national security and policy issues, but also has keen insight into what works in what context. He thus underscores the importance of designing a game around not only the topic, but equally the game objectives, available resources, participants, and client/sponsors.

Bryant and Nagle on “Wargaming for the new great game”

At the Modern War Institute (West Point), Susan Bryant and Tom Nagle have written an excellent article on “wargaming for the new great game.” In it, they explore the challenges of wargaming irregular warfare, highlighting common shortcomings and suggesting some very useful best practices.

Specifically they identify “four keys to better wargames”:

Focus on the Narratives

In irregular warfare, narratives carry the day. Narratives describe how individuals experience the world around them and then communicate that information to others. The Department of Defense has enormous blind spots in understanding how adversaries interpret our actions and spin new counternarratives.

Each party to a conflict comes with its own narratives. Robert Rubel, who chaired the Naval War College’s Wargaming Department, notes that participants routinely fail to connect the political and military aspects of the game. Unfortunately, this often results in unnecessary and costly escalations.

Plentiful Parties and Overlapping Objectives

Irregular warfare wargaming requires more robust, skeptical third-party teams with knowledge of political warfare and narratives. In traditional wargames of conventional conflicts, enemy and friendly forces fight over discrete objectives with minimal third-party engagement. However, in irregular warfare scenarios, third parties’ interpretations of friendly and enemy actions may decide the conflicts. Further, many parties simply defy these categories.

The Syrian Civil War provides an example of the complex array of actors involved in IW. To secure its interests, Russia must support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, defuse friction with Turkey, partner with Iran, defeat ISIS, and isolate the United States. No wargame could responsibly model the Syrian conflict without these and other players competing and seeking to advance their own objectives.

Unfortunately, US wargames understate the complexity of these types of situations. Once third-party players begin to outnumber friendly and enemy players, the games will begin to represent IW’s complexity. Attempts to accomplish this type of wargaming are nascent, but they do exist. The work done by Lieutenant Colonel Arnel David and Dr. John De Rosa on gaming narratives in the Baltics provides an example of what this type of approach would entail.

Whole-of-Government cannot be Controlled by the Military

Wargames are too military-centric. While the military aspires to a whole-of-government solution to population-centric conflicts, wargames rarely reflect this aspiration. Too often, the military assumes a degree of latitude not representative of real-world constraints. Expanding interagency and coalition teams in wargaming is one way to ensure more instruments of national power are realistically incorporated, rather than simply assumed.

Games Should Seek a Position of Continuing Advantage

Successful strategies in an actual irregular warfare conflict create conditions favoring long-term success, rather than the achievement of discrete military objectives. Irregular warfare–oriented games should employ an approach tailored to the scenario and avoid an emphasis on specific, traditional military outcomes. Though military objectives will still play a role, the use of the military instrument must be fully integrated with other activities intended to create favorable conditions for successful military actions.

They conclude by noting that addressing the challenge of irregular warfare is difficult, in part because of institutional inertia and the difficulty of promoting truly innovative thought.

Replicating IW is hard. As compared to conventional conflicts, IW campaigns will often play out over months and years. Fortunately, new wargaming tools offer promise to unlock new IW concepts and shift perceptions of IW. These tools can take many forms: for example, planning wargames as asynchronous, multiday events would leverage the time between turns to stimulate creativity and new IW concepts. Similarly, transitioning to a virtual format for some types of wargames not only can add more nuance to the scenario, but can make participation more accessible to tactical and operational decision makers across the force who may not normally have the opportunity to engage in these exercises. Increasing distributed, scalable, and easily manipulated irregular warfare wargames both for the operational force and at all levels of military education will not only promulgate new concepts and shift mindsets about irregular warfare, but will better prepare the entire defense apparatus to approach the contemporary security environment in dynamic and innovative ways.

h/t Scott Cooper

Connections US: Call for game lab proposals

The organizers of the Connections US professional wargaming conference have issued a call for proposals for their “game lab” sessions. If you wish to proposal a topic for discussion, USE THIS LINK (since the ones in the image below won’t work here).

As noted above, the deadline for proposals is May 30.

UK Fight Club: Wargaming peace, stabilization, and counterinsurgency operations

On May 13, UK Fight Club will be hosting a webinar on wargaming peace, stabilization, and counterinsurgency operations, featuring none other than me. The session starts at 20:00 BST, and you can sign up here.

CSIS: Fellow or Senior Fellow in gaming and futures analysis

The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC is looking for a Fellow or Senior Fellow in gaming and futures analysis.

The CSIS International Security Program (ISP) is a constant source of reliable analysis on the threats and opportunities shaping U.S. and partner security interests at home and abroad. The Fellow or Senior Fellow, Gaming and Futures Analysis, is expected to help create a broad intellectual agenda in accord with the overall approach of the program, and to maintain a high level of scholarship in a dynamic and fast-paced environment. The Fellow or Senior Fellow will work on several projects simultaneously, in addition to responding to daily demands.

Essential duties and responsibilities

Essential functions may include, but are not limited to the following

• Conceptualizes and actualizes the vision of ISP work on gaming and futures analysis, including securing necessary sponsors and fundraising, as well as energizing Center-wide initiatives and cooperative arrangements.
• Develops and executes complex games, scenarios, and other events to deepen CSIS’s research and insight on a wide range of national security-related subjects. 
• Contributes to the intellectual vitality of the Center by serving as a nationally-recognized thought leader whose work embodies the CSIS principles of scholarly independence, objective analysis, and political bipartisanship.
• Manages the substantive and operational priorities of sizable projects and initiatives.
• Collaborates effectively with staff across ISP and CSIS.
• Produces content-rich proposals and publications that contribute to analysis of key policy debates in Congress, the Executive Branch, between the public and private sectors, and in the international sphere.
• Represents CSIS on a national and international level in media outlets, at conferences and workshops, and among a broad range of stakeholders.

You will find a fuller description of the position and application information at the CSIS website.

Simulation and gaming publications, March-April 2021

PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis. Others might address “gaming-adjacent” issues such as group dynamics and decision-making, assessment, forecasting, or related topics. If you have published something recently and we haven’t yet included it, let us know!

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.


Christensen, Kyle (2021). “Wargaming the use of intermediate force capabilities in the gray zone,” Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (online first).

This work reviews the development and tests of an intermediate force capability (IFC) concept development hybrid wargame aimed at examining a maritime task force’s ability to counter hybrid threats in the gray zone. IFCs offer a class of response between doing nothing and using lethal force in a situation that would be politically unpalatable. Thus, the aim of the wargame is to evaluate whether IFCs can make a difference to mission success against hybrid threats in the gray zone. This wargame series was particularly important because it used traditional game mechanics in a unique and innovative way to evaluate and assess IFCs. The results of the wargame demonstrated that IFCs have a high probability of filling the gap between doing nothing and using lethal force. The presence of IFCs provided engagement time and space for the maritime task force commander. It also identified that development of robust IFC capabilities, not only against personnel, but against systems (trucks, cars, UAVs, etc.), can also effectively counter undesirable adversarial behavior

Hill, Richard T.; Hirtz, Derek (2020), Rebels and States: A Game Of Revolution And Dominance, MSc thesis, US Naval Postgraduate School. 

The U.S. military is currently in an era of change highlighted by a shift in focus from small-scale and limited wars involving counterterrorism (CT) and counterinsurgency (COIN) to preparations for large-scale combat operations with a near-peer threat. This shift has placed emphasis on conventional focus in training, education, and planning to stand ready for a potential conflict as the United States continues to maintain its unilateral grip as the world’s lone superpower, and Russia and China try to expand their spheres of influence in the great power competition (GPC). But as with the Cold War, it is unlikely this showdown will occur. Conversely, it is far more probable conflict will be highlighted by competition through state-sponsored insurgencies, proxy wars, and a struggle over influence. Special operations forces (SOF) therefore must balance their understanding and preparedness of conventional warfare while standing ready to execute unconventionally. This wargame is designed to train entry-level SOF candidates in the interaction between the insurgent and counterinsurgent, utilizing COIN and unconventional warfare (UW) doctrine as a basis while also employing the concepts of insurgent, resistance, and COIN theorists. The goal of the wargame is to aid SOF candidates as they prepare to serve in their operational units, providing a venue to test strategies and understandings of COIN and UW principles, and ensure an enhanced education in doctrine and theory.

Jaramillo-Alcázar, Angel; Venegas, Eduardo ; Criollo-C, Santiago; and Luján-Mora, Sergio. (2021). “An Approach to Accessible Serious Games for People with Dyslexia,” Sustainability 13.

Dyslexia is a cognitive disorder that affects the evolutionary ability to read, write, and speak in people, affecting the correct learning of a large percentage of the population worldwide. In fact, incorrect learning is caused because the educational system does not take into consideration the accessibility parameters that people with dyslexia need to maintain a sustainable educational level equal to others. Moreover, the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, has been deployed in education programs, offering many benefits; however, the lack of accessibility of those devices creates new barriers to students with dyslexia that hinder their education. With the aim of reducing these barriers, this paper presents an approach to the development of accessible serious games games for children with dyslexia. As a case study, a serious game based on a previously proposed serious game development method and a new set of accessibility guidelines for people with dyslexia is presented. The main purpose of the serious video game is to improve the treatment of dyslexia, through the collection of data obtained from two puzzles designed to train certain cognitive areas that affect this disability. This article has a double contribution: on the one hand, the guidelines and the method that can help video game developers and therapists to develop accessible serious games for people with dyslexia and, on the other hand, the two specific serious games that can be used by therapists, family members and people with dyslexia themselves. 

Lim, Jong-Won; Choi, Bong-Wan; Yim, Dong-Soon (2021).  “A Study on the Methodology for Combat Experimental Testing of Future Infantry Units using Simulation,” Journal of the Korea Academia-Industrial Cooperation Society 22(3).

Owing to the development of science technology, particularly the smart concept and defense policy factors of the 4th industry, military weapon systems are advanced, and the scientific and operational force is reduced dramatically. The aspect of the future war is characterized by the operation of troops with reduced forces from advanced and scientific weapon systems in an operational area that has expanded more than four times compared to the present. Reflecting on these situational factors, it is necessary to improve combat methods based on the changes in the battlefield environment and advanced weapon systems. In this study, to find a more efficient future combat method in a changing war pattern, this study applied the battle experiment methodology using Vision21 war game model, which is an analytical model used by the army. Finally, this study aimed to verify the future combat method and unit structure. Therefore, the scenario composition and experiment method that reflect the change in the ground operational environment and weapon system was first composed. Subsequently, an analysis method based on the combat effectiveness was applied to verify the effective combat performance method and unit structure of future infantry units.  [In Korean]

Lu, Tongliang; Chen, Kai; Zhang, Yan; Deng, Qiling (2021). “Research on Dynamic Evolution Model and Method of Communication Network Based on Real War Game,” Entropy 23(4).

Based on the data in real combat games, the combat System-of-Systems is usually composed of a large number of armed equipment platforms (or systems) and a reasonable communication network to connect mutually independent weapons and equipment platforms to achieve tasks such as information collection, sharing, and collaborative processing. However, the generation algorithm of the combat system in the existing research is too simple and not suitable for reality. To overcome this problem, this paper proposes a communication network generation algorithm by adopting the joint distribution strategy of power law distribution and Poisson distribution to model the communication network. The simulation method is used to study the operation under continuous attack on communication nodes. The comprehensive experimental results of the dynamic evolution of the combat network in the battle scene verify the rationality and effectiveness of the communication network construction

Tanner Mirrlees, Tanner, and Ibaid, Taha (2021). “The Virtual Killing of Muslims: Digital War Games, Islamophobia, and the Global War on Terror,” Islamophobia Studies Journal 6 (1).

This article argues that digital war games communicate misleading stereotypes about Muslims that prop up patriarchal militarism and Islamophobia in the context of the US-led Global War on Terror. The article’s first section establishes the relevance of the study of digital war games to feminist games studies, feminist international relations, and post-colonial feminism. The second section contextualizes the contemporary production and consumption of digital war games with regard to the “military-digital-games complex” and real and simulated military violence against Muslims, focusing especially on the US military deployment of digital war games to train soldiers to kill in real wars across Muslim majority countries. The third section probes “mythical Muslim” stereotypes in ten popular digital war games released between 2001 and 2012: Conflict: Desert Storm (2002), Conflict: Desert Storm 2 (2003), SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs (2002), Full Spectrum Warrior (2004), Close Combat: First to Fight (2005), Battlefield 3 (2011), Army of Two (2008), Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007), Medal of Honor (2010), and Medal of Honor: Warfighter (2012). These games immerse players in patriarchal fantasies of “militarized masculinity” and place a “mythical Muslim” before their weaponized gaze to be virtually killed in the name of US and global security. The conclusion discusses the stakes of the stereotyping and othering of Muslims by digital war games, and highlights some challenges to Islamophobia in the digital games industry.

Satopää, Ville and Salikhov, Marat and Tetlock, Philip and Mellers, Barb, (2021). Decomposing the Effects of Crowd-Wisdom Aggregators: The Bias-Information-Noise (BIN) Model, SSRN.

Aggregating predictions from multiple judges often yields more accurate predictions than relying on a single judge: the “wisdom-of-the-crowd” effect. This aggregation can be conducted by different methods, from simple averaging to complex techniques, like Bayesian estimators and prediction markets. This article applies a broad set of aggregation methods to subjective probability estimates from a series of geopolitical forecasting tournaments. It then uses the Bias-Information-Noise (BIN) model to disentangle three mechanisms by which each aggregation method improves accuracy: the tamping down of bias and noise and the extraction of valid information across forecasters. Averaging works almost entirely via noise reduction whereas more complex techniques, like prediction markets and Bayesian aggregators, work via all three BIN pathways: better signal extraction and noise and bias reduction.

Schupp, Janina (2021). “Wargaming the Middle East: The Evolution of Simulated Battlefields from Chequerboards to Virtual Worlds and Instrumented Artificial Cities.” In A. Strohmaier and A. Krewani (eds.), Media and Mapping Practices in the Middle East and North Africa: Producing Space. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Shortly after the end of a tank combat during the Gulf War, a team of US Army historians, scientists, and engineers flew to Iraq to gather detailed data of the battle. The collected information was used to create an exact virtual simulation of the combat for training. The mapping capability – offered by the resulting simulation game 73 Easting – to visualize the battlefield from any position and point in time revolutionized military exercises. With ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, these digital training cartographies are now linked to real bodies and vehicles through digital and mobile technologies during live training in artificially constructed villages. This chapter analyses this evolution and critically investigates the growing ‘gamification’ ensuing in these representations of Middle Eastern battlefields.

Bandera online

Tim Price—reclusive starship designer, small-holder, zombie survivalist, and lock-pick—has put together an online version of his recent Bandera Russo-Ukranian conflict matrix game for PAXsims readers, using Google slides. The link to access these is below, but first you need to read these instructions verrrrry carefully.

  1. Go to the Google slides at the link below.
  2. Do not move, alter or edit anything on this slide deck in any way!
  3. Instead, pull down the File menu and make a copy of the presentation for your own use (see below).
  4. Close the original set of slides.
  5. Do whatever you want with the copy!

Using Google slides, any number of users can view the deck, move tokens, and so forth. It’s also easy to clone tokens if you need more, or make up new ones.

And what is the link, you ask? Here it is.

CNAS call for applications: A Russia Crisis Simulation

The Center for a New American Security has issued a call for applications for “Wargaming with the Next Generation: A Russia Crisis Simulation.” The virtual workshop will provide students and young professionals with the opportunity to simulate decision-making in a political crisis and military conflict in Europe.

The one-and-a-half-day event will be held on July 21 and 22, 2021. The first half-day will focus on the basics of wargaming and will teach participants how defense and strategy games are used by U.S. and EU stakeholders to enhance decision-making. During the second day, participants will engage in a virtual crisis simulation with defense and national security experts to gain greater insight into the longstanding diplomatic and defense relationships between the United States and Europe, including NATO and EU dynamics.

Applications will be accepted until 11:59 pm EDT on Friday, May 21, 2021. Selected applicants will participate in a virtual workshop on July 21 and 22, 2021.

To be eligible, applicants must be US citizens between 15 and 30 years old.

Additional information and application details can be found at the CNAS website.

KISG PhD studentship – intelligence and wargaming

Anna Nettleship at the King’s Wargaming Network has circulated the following announcement:

The Wargaming Network is pleased to announce the availability of the KISG PhD Studentship – Intelligence and Wargaming award for the 2021-2022 academic year. Details are below, interested applicants may find details on the application process here

The King’s Intelligence and Security Group (KISG) provides a forum for collaborative research and networking between War Studies faculty and PhD students, external partners and affiliate institutions, and practitioners working in intelligence. We bring together a research community with expertise ranging from the history of military and civilian intelligence to contemporary intelligence issues, such as oversight, privatisation, and international liaison. Through an active programme of events, expert workshops and applied research, we foster the public discussion of key issues in intelligence.

This PhD studentship is for a thesis on intelligence and wargaming. The successful applicant will work within KISG but provide a link to the Wargaming Network. We welcome applications on theses that seek to bridge the two disciplines of ‘intelligence’ and ‘wargaming’, particularly around the methodology of forecasting, prediction, and scenario building.

Award value: Home Tuition Fees.

Eligibility criteria:  Applicants must have already applied to the War Studies PhD programme and must satisfy the entry requirements of the PhD programme. The studentship is open to citizens from the UK. 

Bandera: A Russo-Ukrainian conflict matrix game

The ever-mysterious Tim Price has put together yet another matrix game, this time on the most recent developments in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict

The package contains background materials, briefings, a map, counters, and basic instructions on how to play a matrix game. You can download it here:

A high-resolution version of the map can be downloaded here:

Permission is hereby granted to print copies of the game, counters and maps, for educational, professional, or recreational purposes, without restriction (provided you aren’t using them to plan an attack against a neighbouring country or annex part of its sovereign territory.)

Building a climate change megagame (Part 3)

The following series of articles was written for PAXsims by Ola Leifler, Magnus Persson, and Ola Uhrqvist. You can read Parts 1 and 2 here and here.


Concluding thoughts

One of the first impressions was that we were rather overwhelmed by the experience, which is one of the reasons this blog post, long overdue and way too long, did not materialize until at least one academic period had transpired after the main CCM event. However, now that we have gathered our thoughts a bit, we realized that we have probably learned a great number of things so far. For instance:

1.     Reasons for creating a megagame on climate change and social transformation

There are many types of games that relate to climate change and negotiations, but few that we feel concern the types of negotiations, dilemmas and interactions that may be common for professionals in companies and citizens in local regions facing the prospect of societal change. One of us, Ola Uhrqvist, had previous experience developing a game about city planning to take both climate adaptation into account— but there, few negotiations were conducted as the game was primarily a single-player web application. 

In the literature on learning for a sustainable development, engagement and various pedagogical forms is stressed as key to ensure that learners experience first-hand the dilemmas and difficulties they need to overcome. Furthermore, we noticed that when we pitched the idea of a “Climate Change Megagame”, it immediately piqued people’s interest in a way that acted as an icebreaker and helped us to engage rather diverse groups in conversations. Even though there were practical issues with every single version of the game we have tried, the concept itself has been intriguing enough to make people joining as players or contribute as control team and even contributing to game development. However, to understand exactly which difficulties to subject players, and what type of realistic situations to simulate, has proved to be almost as elusive as real societal transformation.

2.     The eternal challenge of playable realism

Serious games always needs to balance between relevance and playability. The activities players engage in, and the type of experience they have, must be of relevance whether it is “realistic” or not. We learned that some types of realism, such as players getting bogged down by managing their daily lives, may not be helpful in ensuring that the resulting experience is relevant to the end goal of understanding dilemmas and options for societal transformation. We wanted the game to offer interesting challenges without directing players too much with respect to what they would want to do. As designers, we can include mechanisms that reflect aspects of reality such as economic capital being vital for investments in infrastructure, say, without going so far as to say that without a growing economy, people would starve to death. We wanted to provide enough context and feedback mechanisms to stimulate discussions and make different visions apparent, without constricting players in such a way that their room for creative discussions and maneuvering would be artificially restricted. 

A golden rule for how to ensure players understand the rules well enough to be comfortable about breaking them and understanding just how much freedom they have to negotiate freely probably don’t exist but we understand much better now than before what would count as interesting and relevant challenges compared to “realistic” ones. In our experience minimalism of game mechanics is desirable in order to let participants focus on the content. 

3.     Recruiting and maintaining a committed and diverse design team

Including more people from the early playtests in game design and discussions made it apparent that it was difficult to ensure equal commitment among all when the game concept changed quite a lot, partly as a result of feedback. Also, we wanted to be open to suggestions about how different groups could contribute to the project, which placed high demands on participants to express clearly what they wanted to contribute to and what they expected. Some of the early contributors who provided invaluable feedback on the game and made it much better in the end still did not feel comfortable joining at the end as the game changed quite a lot between playtests. Though it was necessary to make the changes, it became difficult for all members of the design team to keep up with the ideas for changes that the core group brought forward, especially as we became limited to digital meetings during the pandemic. The take home lesson is the value of a clear aim, participants roles and modes of decision making and communication is increasingly important in a dynamic, explorative project.

4.     Going digital

Going digital opened up new opportunities for players from around the world to join and it greatly simplified our ability to collect data on how the game progressed, but also introduced a whole host of new issues. We spent quite some time even after the core game mechanics and graphical elements had been decided to ensure that the digital platform (Miro) could handle all graphical components and the 50 players with decent latency. Therefore, some graphical optimizations were required before the main event took place. For instance, components were merged into bitmaps instead of hundreds of separate graphics components. The communications channel (Discord) was set up very professionally by our Megagame colleague Darren Green from Crisis Games in the UK and that enabled players to have both private and public spaces for communications. Even with such a setup though, some players felt lost between all the channels and the Miro board. Having a technical setup and preparation before the main event, just focusing on the technical aspects of the game would probably have helped some participants who were struggling.

The main event was hosted at a venue where we broadcast everything live from a studio over Vimeo. This worked rather well as a compromise between having only an internal event and only having a studio with professional talking heads but having dual roles as hosts for both the game and the “show” was hard to manage. It would have been better to have studio hosts who could have focused on being hosts. Then again, a digital event that plays out through discussions on Discord and board changes on Miro might not offer enough continuous action for a continuous live show.

5.     The importance of good debriefing

The main event was intended to let people experience and reason about the needs for mitigation and adaptation, as in the needs for making changes to our societies that will reduce emissions versus the needs to adapt to climate change we cannot avoid. The primary aim of the debriefing was to capture the perceptions of these potentially conflicting needs, but it became apparent that the participants were mostly preoccupied with thoughts about the game mechanics, graphical elements and direct experiences. A debriefing is very important for a proper learning experience, and for us, the fact that people became preoccupied with the mechanics and graphical elements indicated that these were in fact the objects they thought mostly in terms of directly afterwards. Maybe the game was too heavy on mechanics since it became hard to talk about abstract things such as mitigation and adaptation in direct connection to having played. It would probably have been easier to first address game-specific issues and then later broaden the horizon to comprise the real world.

6.     Future development

The project had until this point been run exclusively on a small amount of seed money for a pedagogical project and a lot of personal commitment. We realized that continued work with this require us to leverage our initial experiences and gain access to proper funding for work that could significantly expand on what we have been doing. The game itself is not a goal, it is not even a product that may be finished but at best a way to help us think better, as designers and players, about what a sustainable society may be like. With some luck, we may have a chance to build on all we have learned and enable others to learn as we have about how to move constructively towards a societal transformation to sustainability.


Ola Leifler is a senior lecturer in software engineering at Linköping University who, over the last ten years and upon learning more about the state of the world and the effects of how we educate, has formed a strong interest in learning for a sustainable development. With a special interest in boardgames, role-playing games and simulations, he now explores how they can be harnessed to promote more constructive thinking about global challenges.

Magnus Persson is a translator and academic proofreader with an interest in board game development who has been serious about games for as long as he can remember and only in recent years came into contact with the megagame genre and the concept of serious games. 

Ola Uhrqvist is a teacher and researcher in the field of Environmental and Sustainability Education with a special interest in using serious games as a tool to enhance engagement in and understanding of complex issues, such as environmental and social change. 

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