Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: November 2010

USIP Open Simulation Platform news (25/11)

Courtesy of Skip Cole’s USIP Open Simulation Platform newslist, the latest updates from the project:

  • We play tested a new sim, “The Case of Palmyra.” The test revealed some issues both with the simulation and the platform. We are fixing those and are going to do another run again soon. If you would like to be a part of the next play test, please just drop an email.
  • The OSP has now been run on 2 continents! I’m keeping a google map of all the cities where OSP sims have been conducted, and we just added Sippy Downs, Australia to the list. We were blessed to meet some wonderful instructors down there who wanted to let their students try out Peaceconferencing.
  • A great Peaceconferencing video has been released! Its nine minutes long, and one needs to download it first, but it is really worth the wait. I was extremely impressed by what the students had to say.
  • Our facebook community keeps growing, and I do hope you all get a chance to check it out every now and again.

NDU Roundtable on Strategic Gaming (7/12)

The Center for Applied Strategic Learning at National Defense University will hold its fifth of it quarterly “Roundtables on Strategic Gaming” on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 7.

The Roundtable is by invitation only. However, if you are in the Washington DC area and are professionally involved in simulation of peace and conflict issues, you can email Tim Wilkie and request an invitation.


recent articles from the Training & Simulation Journal

Michael Peck covers serious games and other issues as US Editor at the Training & Simulation Journal, and has had several recent pieces that would likely be of interest to PaxSims readers:

Less is more: Easy-to-learn games offer big lessons for West Point

T&SJ, August 24, 2010

There is a computer game for just about everything today. Marksmanship. Convoy security. Proper dental hygiene. But a game on military logistics? Who could possibly make a game out of schlepping Fuel Convoy A down Road B to Depot C?

Jim Lunsford can, and he’s doing pretty well at it. The retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel has carved himself a niche in the world of defense simulations, with customers including the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC), the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Air Force Research Lab and the Ukrainian military.

Lunsford’s games are the polar opposite of the U.S. military’s traditional big, one-size-fits-all simulations. Instead of complicated, high-fidelity designs that stumble over their own complexity, Lunsford and his company, Decisive Point, produce small, tightly focused games that cover everything from tactics for platoon leaders to counterinsurgency to logistics and force structure. With tightening defense budgets and the U.S.’s insatiable appetite for training games, Lunsford’s smaller, cheaper approach might be the wave of the future….

Engage the heart, teach the mind: Randy Hill, Institute for Creative Technologies executive director

T&SJ, August 24, 2010

The Institute for Creative Technologies is a research center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Funded mostly by the U.S. Army, ICT applies the talents of Hollywood and the video game industry — also located in the L.A. area — to create immersive military simulations. ICT executive director Randy Hill spoke with TSJ’s Michael Peck….

Thought control: Brain-computer interface holds potential for realistic training

T&SJ, October 01, 2010

Back in 1982, when the coolest Apple gadget was an Apple II computer glowing in glorious monochrome green, there was a movie called “Firefox.” Clint Eastwood played — as only Clint Eastwood could — a crazy, two-fisted American pilot who steals an experimental Soviet fighter. But the real star of the movie was the Firefox, a Soviet jet armed with thought-controlled weapons.

Twenty-eight years later and thought-controlled aircraft are as elusive as action heroes who can act. But thought control is coming. Slowly, tentatively, Army researchers are beginning to explore how to use human thoughts to control avatars in training simulations. Instead of hitting a keyboard or struggling with a joystick, a user would control a mechanical device or command an avatar in a computer game just by thinking…

Man or machine? Virtual humans are a heartbeat away from running the class

T&SJ, October 01, 2010

Legendary mathematician Alan Turing devised a simple test to establish a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligence. Put a human and a computer behind separate curtains. Have a human judge communicate with them. If the judge can’t tell which is flesh and which is metal, then we have an intelligent computer.

Those who fear a Terminator-esque future should relax. Computers have yet to pass the Turing test. Perhaps they never will. But virtual humans are coming. Not Schwarzenegger-like killers, but computer-controlled personalities that can serve as teachers and mentors….

Game Review: Unleash your inner imperialist—Quirky ‘Victoria II’ works as a nation-building simulation

T&SJ, October 01, 2010

Nation-building may be all the rage, but how can we make a functional nation out of Afghanistan if we can’t even model how a nation works? For all of our impressive visuals and kinetic modeling in virtual simulators, a good but playable political-military simulation has proved elusive.

Enter the Swedes. From the land of the smorgasbord comes “Victoria II” (, a global political-military simulation of the dawn and sunset of the Age of Imperialism, 1836 to 1919. Players can opt to play as one of more than a hundred nations, from Great Britain and the U.S., to Argentina and Persia, to a host of small Asian and African states long faded into words in a history book (c’mon, you know you want to play the mighty Empire of Bhufan)….



Technology-enhanced roleplaying (TERP)

Skip Cole at the United States Institute of Peace has sent on to us his powerpoint presentation from the recent USIP Open Simulation Platform conference, in which he emphasizes the concept (and educational utility) of TERPs—technologically-enhanced role-play.

Why TERPs?

  1. Allows people playing your simulation to act more as they would in the real world: communicating via email and chat, working on draft agreements together, etc.
  2. Allows people to be physically located in different places.
  3. Allows the linking-in of real time data available on the web (such as current articles and videos) to your simulation.
  4. Reduces the work on instructors running the simulation, thus increasing the chances that it will get played.
  5. Allows the automated tracking of data (how student’s respond to events, for example) allowing ‘accessible experience’ to accumulate.
  6. Opens the door to further automation, such as the addition of hard constraints, by keeping your data in a standard format (XML).
  7. Provides places to put information (such as your objectives, audience, plan for playing it, etc.) to help make sure one has all bases covered.
  8. Opens the door to improved sharing and collaboration by keeping the design considerations together with the simulation.

Is the TERP concept a useful one? Have a look at the powerpoint (link above), and let us know what you think.

European Conference on Games-Based Learning 2011

A call for papers, workshops, and tutorials has gone out for Fifth European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL 2011), which will be held in Athens on 20-21 October 2011:

Over the last ten years, the way in which education and training is delivered has changed considerably with the advent of new technologies. One such new technology that holds considerable promise for helping to engage learners is Games-Based Learning (GBL). The Conference offers an opportunity for scholars and practitioners interested in the issues related to GBL to share their thinking and research findings. Papers can cover various issues and aspects of GBL in education and training: technology and implementation issues associated with the development of GBL; use of mobile and MMOGs for learning; pedagogical issues associated with GBL; social and ethical issues in GBL; GBL best cases and practices, and other related aspects. We are particularly interested in empirical research that addresses whether GBL enhances learning. This Conference provides a forum for discussion, collaboration and intellectual exchange for all those interested in any of these fields of research or practice.

The conference committee welcomes both academic and practitioner papers on a wide range of topics using a range of scholarly approaches including theoretical and empirical papers employing qualitative, quantitative and critical methods. Action research, case studies and work in progress/posters are welcomed approaches. PhD Research, proposals for roundtable discussions, non-academic contributions and product demonstrations based on the main themes are also invited.

You’ll find further details at the link above.


Review: Wargaming for Leaders

Mark Herman, Mark Frost, and Robert Kurz, Wargaming for Leaders: Strategic Decision Making from the Battlefield to the Boardroom (New York: McGraw Hill, 2009).

According to Herman, Frost, and Kurz, the “genius of modern professional wargaming is that it… provides a methodology to get at the things that one leader, no matter how visionary, cannot grasp on his or her own” by allowing them to “experience the future in a risk-free environment and find answers to questions that had not been on their radar screens before they began the wargame” (pp. 2-3). With this, the authors proceed to examine the use of wargames (or, more broadly, decision-making simulations) in three major settings: the military, business, and in preparing for global crisis. All three authors have very considerable experience. Mark Herman is both a well-known commercial/hobby wargame designer and a Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton. Frost and Kurz also work with Booz Allen Hamilton’s wargaming division. As the blurbs on the book jacket from senior former politicians, generals, and cabinet members indicate, they (and Booz Allen Hamilton) are very well connected inside the Washington DC beltway.

Readers should not pick up this book expecting to find a broader, comprehensive, or independent account of the role of wargaming in government or business. Instead, every game that is described is an example of the corporate services offered by Booz Allen Hamilton. Every game is depicted as successful in allowing leaders to develop or refine strategies. To the extent that problems are identified in the course of simulations, they are almost all attributed to the failure of participants to approach the exercise with sufficient flexibility or inventiveness. The book draws entirely upon the principals’ accounts, with few reflections from participants or others outside the firm. In short, much of the volume reads as a lengthy PR release for a major US defense and commercial contractor—which may well have been how it was partially intended.

That being said, there are some insights to be gleaned here. From the outset the authors emphasize two conditions that are required for wargames to really work. First, clients must have a clear objective and vision of what it is they want to achieve through the wargame. Second, “it is crucial that there be key groups with different equities—interests that are at real or imagined odds with each other, based on arguments on strategic or tactical plans, data, or institutional culture” (p, 13). These are fundamentally important points for any successful and engaging simulation. The volume also provides insight into processes of wargame design for government and especially corporate clients.

Most of the games described in the book are two day exercises, in which various teams interact and hold discussions based on the simulation scenario, then submit decisions or a plans to the control team for adjudication—at which point the exercise is advance several months or years, and a second and possibly third game turn then take place. The authors several times offer caveats about the predictive value of all this, noting that games are far from a foolproof way of determining what the future holds. By the same token, however, they do allow plausible scenarios to be explored, and for participants explore the anticipated and possible unanticipated consequences of various actions.

Reading between the lines, a few of the case studies in the book also highlight some of the potential weaknesses of wargaming. In discussing a large crisis game that examined possible responses to HIV/AIDS in India over the next three decades, for example, the authors note, “our computer modeling staff developed what we called the HOPE Model—HIV operation planning environment” (pp. 245-246):

At the beginning of the wargame, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection was expected to grow from 0.5% of India’s population to 4.5% by 2025; by the end of the simulation, the strategies proposed by the teams had reduced that projection to 2 percent by 2025. Projected cumulative deaths, as a result, declined from more than 70 million to around 30 million by 2025.

Yet to what extent were these effects the results a function of the strategies chosen by the teams, and to what extent were they a function of assumptions about HIV/AIDS policy built into the computer model? While there is a rich academic and policy literature on the epidemic, we are very far from knowing what sorts of education and treatment programs, targeted at what kinds of client groups, in what kind of ways, in what kind of cultural and socioeconomic contexts, will produce precisely what kinds of health effects. Modeling it to one decimal place simply provides a false sense of precision, even validation. Indeed, in reading this I was reminded of a workshop that Gary and I attended where the simulation of irregular warfare in Africa by the US Department of Defense was discussed. DoD staff would input force levels, configurations, and actions. Defense contractors would take these away to crunch numbers, and return with predictions not only on casualties and bomb attacks, but also the impact of such actions on various indicators of corruption, the rule of law, and good governance. The problem, of course, is these things are really not understood with the kind of precision that makes such detailed social and political predictions meaningful, and in any case are highly contextual. It all remains much more art than science.

In fairness to the volume under review, the moderation of most of the games described does not appear to be driven by computational modeling, but rather by human evaluation. Even here, however, there are some interesting critical issues that could have been explored. How do game moderators, even acknowledged subject matter experts, avoid injecting their own analytical and other biases into the moderation process? In wargames that aim to allow participants to try out new ideas and potentially think outside-the-box, how does one minimize the risk of game designs that implicitly entrench flawed conventional wisdoms? How does one promote productive “red teaming” in a way that doesn’t fall into mirror-imaging (playing the opponents the way you think, not the way they think) or stereotypes, especially in cases where the real opposition can’t be engaged as participants? Given the rather poor predictive record of many (or most) subject matter experts, it is an important issue.

Overall, this book really doesn’t answer such questions in any deep and sustained way. Those looking for a critical exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of simulation and gaming as a policy development tool certainly won’t find it in this volume. However, if you are looking for a highly readable descriptive account of how wargaming is used by government agencies (especially in the US) and large corporations, you may find Wargaming for Leaders: Strategic Decision Making from the Battlefield to the Boardroom to be a quite useful introduction to a very interesting subject.

I/ITSEC 2010

The annual  Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) will be held in Orlando this year from 29 November to 2 December 2010. I’ll be there for much of it, and will be blogging my impressions from the conference.

If any regular PaxSims readers will be in attendance too, drop me an email—perhaps we’ll meet up.

International Studies Association 2011: simulation panels

The preliminary program for next year’s International Studies Association conference (Montreal, 16-19 March 2011) is now online on the ISA website. While some of the details are likely to change over the next few months, here is a sneak peak at the various simulation-related panels, papers, and poster sessions that I could find:

TD45: Thursday 4:00 PM ‐ 5:45 PM
The Way Home: Refugees, IDPs and Diaspora Social Networks (panel)

  • Run, Refugee Run! Simulation and the politics of refugee camps
    • Carolina Moulin: Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro

FA06: Friday 8:15 AM ‐ 10:00 AM
Communicating about Terrorism through Teaching and Research (panel)

  • Online Simulation Modeled on November 2008 Mumbai Attacks
    • Katherine Izsak: University of Maryland

FC98: Friday 1:45 PM ‐ 3:30 PM
Pedagogical Playground (poster session)

  • An Open Source Simulation Platform for Education and Training in International Conflict Management, Security and Peacebuilding
    • Jeffrey Helsing: United States Institute of Peace
    • Ronald N Cole: USIP
  • Using Role‐Playing Games in a Combined Class of Security Studies and Contemporary International Politics
    • Marcelo Mello Valenca: Independent Researcher
  • Integrating 2D and 3D Environments to Create Experiential Simulations for International Studies
    • Naomi Malone: University of Central Florida
    • Houman A. Sadri: University of Central Florida
  • Symbols in the Margins: An Active Reading Strategy for Complex Political Arguments
    • Mark Busser: McMaster University

FD40: Friday 4:00 PM ‐ 5:45 PM
Performing (Representations of) World Politics: The Everyday Practice of International Relations in Video Games (panel)

    • James Der Derian, Brown University
    • David Grondin, University of Ottawa
  • Fire‐and‐Forget: What Can Video Games Tell Us about How We Understand the Complexity of Waging War
    • Paul RacineSibulka: Carleton University
  • The Digital Imperial Temptation: Militarism, Foreign Policy and America’s Founding Myths in Western, War and Sci‐Fi Video Games
    • Frederick Gagnon: University of Quebec at Montreal
  • Civilization Theory of International Politics
    • Philippe BeaulieuBrossard: University of St Andrews
    • Nicolas Côté: University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC)

SC62: Saturday 1:45 PM ‐ 3:30 PM
Innovative Uses of Simulations as Learning Tools (panel)

    • J. Simon Rofe, University of Leicester
    • Douglas Becker, University of Southern California
  • The Integrated Simulation: A Method for Implementing an International Negotiation Simulation in a Larger Class
    • Steven Rothman: Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
  • Designing and Developing Simulations for Online Area Studies Classes
    • Mary Jane C. Parmentier: Arizona State University
  • Process and Product: Teaching Simulation Design in the Undergraduate Context
    • Sara M. Glasgow: University of Montana Western
    • Duel Thyer: University of Montana Western
  • Eliminating Free Riders for Group Work
    • Jean Marie Stern: Siena College
  • May It Please the Court: Using an International Criminal Court Simulation to Teach International Law
    • Emek M. Ucarer: Bucknell University

WB09: Wednesday 10:30 AM ‐ 12:15 PM
Computational Models of Internal Conflict (panel)

    • D. Scott Bennett, Pennsylvania State University
    • Philip Andrew Schrodt, Pennsylvania State University
  • Understanding the Early Dynamics of Terrorist Campaigns: An Empirical Test of an Agent Based Simulation
    • Navin Bapat: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • D. Scott Bennett: Pennsylvania State University
  • Modeling Dynamic Violence: Integrating Events Data Analysis and Agent‐Based Modeling
    • Michael Findley: Brigham Young University
    • Joseph Young: Southern Illinois University
  • How Does Ethnic Geography Shape the Location of Violence?
    • Ravi Bhavnani: Michigan State University
  • State Capacity in Conflict: The Case of Afghanistan
    • Armando Geller: George Mason University
    • Cameron G. Thies: University of Iowa

I’ll be there—the conference site is just a few blocks from McGill University—so we might even organize an informal PaxSims get-together, if there’s interest.

ICT moves to new facilities

We’ve previously discussed a number of the cutting-edge simulations that have been developed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, in particular those focused on counter-insurgency and other military operations. With ICT’s recent move into new facilities in Playa Vista on October 28, there’s been renewed coverage of their work, including these pieces in the USC Daily Trojan, the Los Angeles Times and Engadget.

Those interested in the development of virtual reality and other simulations may find the reports of interest.

Cuba, zombies, and training psychopaths

PaxSims readers may remember the controversy over the play-as-Taliban option in the recent videogame Medal of Honor (subsequently resolved by simply renaming the Taliban-looking team in multiplayer mode “OpFor”). Now we have another case of videogames and international sensitivities:  Cuban furor at the try-to-assassinate-Castro mission in Call of Duty: Black Ops.

According to the pro-Cuban website CubaDebate:

What the government of the United States did not achieve in more than 50 years, it now intends to do virtually. The video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops”, released Tuesday worldwide, takes the player into the environment of War Cold and planning special operations, the first one of which is to assassinate the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro.

The company says its new version of Activision’s “Call of Duty” on the internet can play up to 18 people simultaneously, which guarantees virtual armed clashes and spectacular assassinations, undoubted entertainment for psychopaths.

The logic of this new game is doubly perverse: firstly, it glorifies the attacks that the United States government illegally planned against the Cuban leader (Fidel has survived more than 600), and on the other hand, it encourages sociopathic attitudes of American children and adolescents, the main consumers of these virtual games….

Unfortunately, there’s not yet an official Cuban comment on the game’s surprise “extra” ending, which pits John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, and a very-much-alive Fidel Castro against a horde of zombies overrunning the Pentagon.

Now back to our more serious PaxSims discussions..


Amani Africa Command Post Exercise

Last last month, the AU held a command post exercise as part of the Amani Africa cycle of peacekeeping and stabilization capacity-building within the African Union. According to a recent report:

The Amani Africa Command Post Exercise (CPX) officially kicked off on 20 October 2010 at the Headquarters of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The CPX, which will be conducted until 29th October is the culmination of the Amani Africa Cycle of preparations and activities, “designed to both contribute towards and to validate the operational readiness of the Africa Standby Force (ASF)” as recalled by Dr Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission while inducting the Exercise.

As a joint effort of the African Union and the European Union, the Amani Africa is designed to accelerate and validate the state of operational readiness of the ASF. The CPX is it’s the final stage and is to take stock of how Peace Support Operations should be handled. As stated by Chairperson Ping in his address, it will allow “both to assess and validate the progress which has been made to date, and to identify gaps and shortcomings which we must address as we move forward in the development of the African Standby Force”.

Speaking at the same occasion, General Pierre-Michel Joana, European Union Special Advisor for African peacekeeping capabilities added “We have carried out an exercise of all decision making bodies; at the African Union level as well as at the Command Post level of a mission which would be deployed on the ground”.

Since the inception of the African Union in 2002, African leaders have put peace and security high on the continent’s agenda, conscious that they are essential for the pursuit of an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa”. The ASF is a core element of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) which will “provide the Peace and Security Council with the ability to conduct multidimensional interventions, as a measure of last resort, across a range of conflict scenarios”.

During the CPX, the military, police and civilians will map out all the characteristics of a conflict in Africa and inject them in a fictitious scenario in a country named Carana. The simulation will involve civilian, police, and military injects. The CPX is taking place while 2010 has been declared by AU Heads of state and Government, Year of Peace and Security in Africa under the theme, 2010: Make peace happen….

Additional details can be found on the Amani Africa Cycle website, as well as on on the website of US Africa Command, and at the press service

USIP Open Simulation Platform news

The United Stated Institute of Peace held its first conference on its Open Simulation Platform (OSPCON 1) on 24-26 September 2010. You’ll find a report on the event on the USIP website here, and further background on the OSP project here.

In addition, Skip Cole will be delivering a talk on the project at USIP on November 10. If you are professionally involved in simulation/gaming design, you’ll find more information on the event via the Games Gateway meet-up group.


Wanted: project manager, social impact games

Reposted from the Games for Change Google group:

Hi all,Our partners at USAID and NetHope ( are looking for a Program Manager with gaming and/or education experience, project management and leadership skills to manage a complex and exciting new global initiative around social impact games. The program aims to empower and engage youth in developing countries through compelling new media and assist in their transition into adulthood.

The role is to lead the pilot in one or two countries and manage the implementation of a portfolio of games, some new and some existing products that are re-purposed for the target audience and the region in question. The position is located in Washington DC (Preferred) and requires travel of 10-15% of the time. Experience in international development or working abroad is a big plus. The role involves collaboration with a range of game companies, NGO’s, universities, corporations and other partners.

Please send your resume and cover letter to:

  • Erin Mote – erin.mote (at)
  • Walidah Willoughby – walidah.willoughby (at)

And feel free to mention that you are from the Games for Change community.



Asi Burak

Games for Change
M: 1.917.520.2212
twitter: @aburak

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