Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

when is a simulation not a simulation?

oilI came across this today: Oil Shockwave: An Executive Crisis Simulation. It is the report of a 2005 “simulation” designed to explore the policy implications of terrorist attacks and other events that cause a rapid increase in world oil prices. I had several immediate thoughts:

  1. I should get corporate funding like that for my simulations. Sheesh, talk about slick… ceiling-height back-projected crisis graphics! Expensive furniture! Glossy simulation reports! This tops even Gary’s fancy plasticized team badges for Carana…
  2. Oil prices might spike above $100 a barrel! OK, so we’ve learned that since 2005.
  3. This isn’t really a simulation. 

Instead, it seems to have been a preplanned scenario, in which pauses in the various stages were then used to foster a policy discussion among the high-level participants. It is not at all clear, however, that there was any interactivity, or that anything the participants said or did actually affected how the scenario unfolded.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course: such a  format can be used to encourage participants to think about alternative futures and identify the associated implications and policy options. It has the advantage that one doesn’t need complicated game mechanics, and there are no rules or umpires for participants to dispute.

A full-fledged simulation, however, involves both an iterative dimension (in that decisions taken at T1 affect the context for future decisions at T2), and an interactive one (in which the impact of decisions is contingent on decisions made by others). Both, of course, much more accurately model the real world. However, if the underlying simulation mechanisms are weak, the result can be an unrealistic and unsatisfying disaster.

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