Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Position vacant: research analyst, NDU/CASL

The Center for Applied Strategic Learning at National Defense University is currently advertising a position for a research analyst. The duties of the position are:

  • Conduct research and analysis focused on the development of national security exercises
  • Develop exercise and simulation concepts and approaches that are focused on the best practices for application at the policy-making and operational integration levels, such as case studies, simulations, or practical exercises
  • Identify emerging national security issues
  • Lead teams that are developing and implementing national and homeland security exercises and other experimental learning activities with a particular emphasis on subjects related to stability operations, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, counter-terrorism and other emerging national security threats
  • Manage the organization and execution of exercises, symposia, conferences, workshops, and other CASL activities

More information, including application procedures, can be found on USAJobs. Applications close January 5.

UPDATE: The deadline for this job posting has been extended until January 19th.

G4C: Favourite social impact games of 2010

Games for Change (G4C) has announced an online competition to select the most popular social impact games of 2010. The fourteen nominees are:

  • Admongo (Raising teen awareness of marketing and advertising)
  • Breakthroughs to Cures (“…online idea-generating game designed to garner new ideas for how we can change the medical research system to develop treatments and cures for patients faster…”)
  • The Cat and the Coup (“…a documentary game in which you play the cat of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. During the summer of 1953, the CIA engineered a coup to bring about his downfall.”)
  • The Curfew (“Set in 2027 in the heart of an authoritarian security state, The Curfew could be described as a miniature Canterbury Tales set in a not-so-distant future, where citizens must abide by government security measures and ‘sub citizens’ are placed under curfew at night.”)
  • Evoke (“A crash course in changing the world.”)
  • Fate of the World (“…a dramatic global strategy game that puts all our futures in your hands. The game features a dramatic set of scenarios based on the latest science covering the next 200 years. You must manage a balancing act of protecting the Earth’s resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population, who are demanding ever more food, power, and living space.”)
  • Hey Baby (“Ladies, are you sick and tired of catcalling, hollering, obnoxious one-liners and creepy street encounters? Tired of changing your route home to avoid uncomfortable situations?”)
  • Inside Disaster – The Experience (“Inside the Haiti Earthquake is designed to challenge assumptions about relief work in disaster situations.”)
  • InterroBang (“Students complete real-world missions with deeds that can win prizes, improve problem solving skills, and connect them with others to do things that just might change the world.”)
  • Macon Money (“…a community-wide social game designed for the residents of Macon, Georgia.”)
  • Participatory Chinatown (“…a 3-D immersive game designed to be part of the master planning process for Boston’s Chinatown)
  • People Power (“…is about politics, about strategy and about social change. As a leader of a popular movement you fight against tough adversaries who control the police, the army and bureaucracy, even the media. The only weapon in your hand is your strategic skill and ingenuity.”)
  • Phylo (“…an interactive game that lets you contribute to science”)
  • Wildfire (“…a game about saving the world. Opponents like rampant poverty, gender inequality, inadequate education and environmental degradation cannot be defeated by marching armies, secret potions or magic swords. This is a game about how they can be defeated.”)

I haven’t played them all yet, but I must say that I rather like Inside Disaster, which gives a good sense of the challenges of humanitarian assistance (and the need for appropriate coordination and needs assessment). The Curfew has a very cool Orwellian/1984 (or V for Vendetta) feel to it. Evoke has been previously reviewed on PaxSims here.

Vote at the top link, or by clicking the graphic above.

Review: Labyrinth

Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001- ?. GMT Games, 2010. Game designer: Volko Ruhnke. Game developer: Joel Toppen. $60.00

Before proceeding, I should note that I’m credited as one of this game’s playtesters. In fact, I was involved too late to have any input into the rules, and only offered a few comments on some of the card descriptions—hopefully, minimal enough involvement to  leave my objectivity intact in the review that follows.

Game Contents and Play

Labyrinth is a card-driven boardgame that depicts the post-2001 struggle between the United States and various radical Islamist jihadist groups. Designed for two players, it also has extensive rules to allow for easy solitaire play. Various scenarios are provided (starting immediately after the events of 9/11, shortly after the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or with US intervention in Iraq), and the game can be played in “standard,” “tournament,” or “campaign” versions that provide games of between two and five hours or so. The high-quality contents included a mounted map of the world (or, at least, the parts of it represented in the game), wooden markers for jihadist cells and US troops, game counters, dice, rules and player aids, and the nicely illustrated deck of game cards.

The game system is somewhat similar to that of the Cold War boardgame Twilight Struggle, also published by GMT Games. In Labyrinth, the jihadist player recruits cells, travels from country to country, plots terrorist attacks (including those potentially involving weapons of mass destruction), and conducts operations designed to weaken and even overthrow Muslim governments. The US, for its part, conducts “war of ideas” operations intended to influence the alignment or governance of Muslim and other countries, deploys troops (and can even overthrow Islamist governments), disrupts jihadist cells and cadres, and mounts terror alerts designed to block plots-in-progress. The cards have various operations values assigned that enable these various activities. The cards also trigger historical events ranging from the Patriot Act to Somali Pirates to UN nation-building efforts that might affect US prestige, the positions or status of countries, jihadist cells/plots/funding, and other aspects of the game. (For a more detailed account of game mechanics, see the excellent review by Jeff McAleer at The Gaming Gang.)

The rules are straight-forward enough for an experienced gamer, although could be a little better organized in places. The player aids could also more effectively summarize key information on the requirements and effects of the various operations (although alternative versions designed by players have started to appear already on BoardGameGeek).

There are a variety of ways in which victory can be achieved. The US player can win instantly if s/he manages to shift a certain number of Muslim countries with a certain level of resources into “good governance,” if fifteen of the eighteen Muslim countries in the game have “fair” governance or better, or if all jihadist cells are eliminated. The jihadist player can win instantly if a certain number of countries with a certain level of resources fall under Islamist rule, if US prestige is low and fifteen Muslim countries have “poor” governance or are Islamist, or if a successful WMD plot is undertaken in the US. Otherwise, the winner is determined by the balance of resources controlled by Muslim governments with “good” governance versus those controlled by Islamist regimes at the end of the game. As game designer Volko Ruhnke notes in the design notes:

A particular design challenge with Labyrinth’s topic is that it straddles history recorded only recently and history yet to be made. What do the Islamists want—what is their “win” ? What does US victory look like? How will the contest end?

The game’s response to these questions—and its central premise—is that the “War on Terror” is really about governance of the Muslim world: that competent, accountable government will offer Islamic populations the future that they desire and thereby drain extremism of its energy. That jihadism roots in the abysmal quality of governance in many Muslim countries. And that global jihadists seek to take advantage of that poor governance to spur Muslim populations to opt for their version of Islamist rule. Labyrinth’s victory conditions, the way it tracks the status of countries in the conflict, and its core mechanics—jihadist operations in particular—seek to portray that premise.

In our first review game, the US intervened to overthrow the Taliban, and enjoyed surprising thereafter success in suppressing jihadist cells and stabilizing the new Afghan government. However, intervention also spurred Islamist recruitment, with the jihadists establish a new center of operations in the Red Sea area. The Somali government (such as it is) was almost overthrown, and only rescued by the deployment of US troops. The Yemeni government was overthrown by al-Qa’ida affiliates, but the new Islamist regime was toppled in turn by even more US intervention. US special forces and drone strikes whittled down some jihadist cells. Meanwhile, aid and reform efforts brought improvements in governance to a number of Muslim countries, finally resulting in a long-term US victory.

The second review game started with the US already in Afghanistan, battling the Taliban insurgency. To Washington’s horror, a string of jihadist successes led to the Islamist overthrow of the Pakistani government. While this was overturned by US troops, several Pakistani nuclear weapons went missing. Even as overstretched US forces fought to stabilize Afghanistan, Pakistan, and an increasingly unstable Indonesia, Washington also devoted growing resources to detecting and preventing terrorist plots. A planned nuclear attack against US facilities in Pakistan was blocked. WMD plots in France and the UK were also defeated. At the very end of the game, however, the jihadists obtained a virulent strain of the Marburg virus from a former Soviet bioweapons lab in Central Asia, and unleashed it against the US mainland—winning an automatic victory.

As both game summaries suggest, the course of recent and future history offered by Labyrinth is even more interventionist, violent, and spectacular than has been the real course of the post-9/11 “long war”. The game certainly addresses many of the so-called “low probability, high impact” threats that keep Western security officials awake at night, weaving these seamlessly into gameplay that also heavily emphasizes aid and diplomacy. The result isn’t entirely realistic, but it is enjoyable,  exciting, and engaging.

Instructional Potential

Labyrinth could certainly be integrated into university-level courses on post-9/11 security policy, insurgency, and counter-terrorism. Through playing the game, students could learn about the very real trade-offs that policy-makers face. Should resources be allocated to military action, to immediate counter-terrorism efforts, or to aid and diplomacy intended to address social and political environments that nourish radical jihadism in the longer term? What are the costs of adopting American courses of action that are out of synch with perceptions among allies or in the Western world? How might US domestic politics, events in other countries, and US  prestige and moral standing affect the prospects for strategic success? There also insights into radical Islamist movements to be gained, although these are perhaps more limited given that the jihadist “player” represents what in reality are a disparate array of groups with different aims, leaderships, and modes of action. Certainly the game highlights well such things as the demonstrative effects of terrorism; the difficulties of intervention, regime-change, and counterinsurgency; the ways in which violence can obstruct development; and the dangers posed by failed and failing states.

In suggesting that the game offers potential insights if used in an instructional setting, however, there are several important caveats that should be emphasized.

First, this is a sensitive topic. Students with differing ideological, ethnic, religious, or other viewpoints may perceive the game’s various portrayals in very different ways, not all of them positive. Students might well be outraged at “gaming” terrorism, violence, and repression. Students who have lost family or friends in the violence of 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere might well find the game utterly offensive. (I, for example, lost two friends and colleagues in a terrorist attack depicted in one of the event cards—and while seeing it in a game didn’t bother me, it certainly might bother others.)

Second, while the game designer has worked hard to provide fair and objective descriptions of actors, events, and processes, there is certainly a considerable amount of simplification involved of various complex aspects of politics and religion. A course instructor would want to emphasize where the game has not (and could not) given detailed treatment of these complexities, and perhaps even use it as a launching pad for examining these topics in far more detail that Labyrinth would allow. A course instructor might also want to explore how the political, military, aid, and policy processes in the game differ from their real-life counterpart.

The final caveat, as seemingly with all of our boardgame reviews at PaxSims, concerns whether non-gaming students will easily be able to grasp the rules. I suspect most wouldn’t, and indeed would soon find themselves frustrated trying to work out how to play. The problem isn’t that the game is extremely complex (indeed, GMT Games rates it as medium-low complexity) or that the rules are opaque (they’re adequate), but rather that games like these aren’t intended for two neophytes to pick up and simply start playing. Rather, they work best with at least one experienced gamer helping to tutor the less experienced. In a classroom setting, therefore, one might best use the game for team play, with a proficient facilitator helping each team to understand its gameplay options. Using the game in this way could have the additional benefit of creating internal policy debates among participants as to threats, opportunities, priorities, and where best to focus scarce resources.

Concluding Thoughts

While the rules and player aids could be a little more effective, and while I could quibble about some of the politics and descriptions, it should be said that Labyrinth is an excellent game. I enjoyed playing it a great deal, and I heartily recommend it for gamers interested in the contemporary issues and era that it explores. Taking into account the caveats noted above—and with particular attention devoted to explaining, contextualizing, and facilitating it in the classroom—I also think it could also be used in some interesting and useful ways in some instructional settings.

UPDATE: Tom Grant has an excellent (and very critical) review of Labyrinth at the blog I’ve Been Diced, which has spurred a long thread of subsequent comments at BoardGameGeek. Most of his objections focus on the way in which complex political processes have been both conceptualized and rendered in the game, and—without changing any of my own views expressed above—I agree with him on many of these. That being said, I would suggest that :

  • From a gaming perspective, fitting a global strategic campaign into a two hour playable boardgame made much of this inevitable. Plus it’s a fun game, dammit.
  • The game’s focus on the stability of fragile regimes, terrorist plots, perceived global Islamist conspiracies, and “low probability, high impact” threats like WMD terrorist does reflect views that are quite commonly found in the security, intelligence, and diplomatic communities.
  • From an instructional perspective, the shortcomings in the game’s portrayal of various processes provides useful “teachable moments”—reinforcing my caveats above about properly briefing, debriefing, and contextualizing the game with students.

UPDATE 2: It occurred to me after writing this review, in the context of discussion of it at BoardGameGeek, that the card-driven nature of Labyrinth lends itself particularly well to modification. This in turn has potential instructional value too.

Feel that the game poorly models the underlying dynamics of Islamist grievance, counter-terrorism, or counter-insurgency? Simply design an additional or replacement card that addresses what you think is missing: the localized nature of many Islamist grievances, factionalism, the rentier use of oil revenues to secure domestic political support, bureaucratic politics within and between US government agencies, the negative impact of drone attacks on public opinion, or whatever. In the classroom, students who have played through the game might well be asked to suggest what cards they would design, and what game effects these would have—an assignment that would encourage them to prioritize their analytical concerns and think about how to model this without requiring that they design an entire political-military simulation from scratch.

Introducing “Archipelago Annie”

It has often been noted how fragmented the strategic gaming community is (and even more so, I might add, those of us who work on simulation and gaming on issues of peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, and conflict-sensitive development). The military simulations community is massive industry linked by major conferences, military institutions, contractors, and well-funded research, development, and acquisitions budgets. The grognards in the hobby wargaming community have myriad games publishers, conventions, forums, blogs, and software for online play.

Those working on social, political, and economic simulation, however, are a rather more dispersed and disconnected group. An outsider seeking to develop contacts and draw upon expertise would be hard-pressed to find points of contact, let alone a networked community of expertise. Those within the simulation community have historically lacked opportunities to share their experiences and exchange insights with others. As Margaret McCowan has noted:

The discipline has long lacked an energized professional discourse about how games are best put together and what consumers can (and cannot) learn from them. This lack of substantive activity is costly to the wider policy and analytical community, whose members are left with few reference points for evaluating how seriously they should take the findings from games and how useful participation in them might be, and with little awareness of the interesting topics and exercises being run throughout the national security community. Despite some admirable attempts to stimulate debate and research, even Defense Department university-based wargaming groups have avoided publishing, lecturing, and generally competitively comparing ideas about why and how we do what we do.

We here at PaxSims fairly often get questions from colleagues wanting to use simulation-based methods in the classroom, or otherwise seeking ideas and contacts. The NDU CASL Roundtable on Strategic Gaming is a good start at promoting a professional discourse—but what about those less weighty (or more profound) questions? Where is an eager gaming neophyte—or even an experienced gamer—to go?

Thinking about that question brought to mind the comment made at CASL recently about the archipelagos of gaming excellence out there. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone, somehow, navigated those islands of expertise, bring the collected wisdom and insight of gaming professionals to bear on the truly basic, truly challenging questions of the profession?

And so, to meet that need, we at PaxSims are pleased to announce Archipelago Annie, our virtual avatar of strategic simulation sagacity, ready to answer any and all questions. Feel free to email us your gaming problems—all questions will be treated, of course, with the utmost confidentiality. Feel free, with equal anonymity, to suggest answers to those questions that have already been posed.

Already Annie’s mailbag is bulging, and so without further ado we’re pleased to present the first three petitioners, humbly seeking guidance and illumination. The first of them writes to us from a recent conference of the military-industrial complex in Orlando:

Dear Annie:

Whenever I visit I/ITSEC, my lack of 20′ tall flatscreen televisions and virtual reality goggles makes me feel grossly inadequate. Will I ever find love?


Embarrassed to be a BOGSAT

The second correspondent, in the Washington DC area, raises an issue familiar to all professional game designers:

Dear Annie:

I’ve been asked to design a simulation, but what the clients want to do won’t really work well as an engaging game. What should I do? Should I tell them the truth? My boyfriend says I should, but my mother says I’ll never be a successful defense contractor if I start doing that.

Beltway Betty

Finally, who hasn’t felt this urge before, as expressed in a letter from Langley, Virginia?

Dear Annie:

Why is it we aren’t allowed to kill off the really annoying players in a game with drones?

Company Man

Stay tuned to this space for Annie’s replies—and for yet more questions from her from her mailbag….

NDU Strategic Gaming Roundtable forum launched

At the last NDU CASL Roundtable on Innovation in Strategic Gaming the many different nodes of expertise on strategic gaming were likened to an archipelago of excellence—islands of experience and insight to be sure, but not always as well connected as they might be.

To facilitate greater connection and cooperation, the folks at CASL have taken the initiative of setting up an online forum for those involved in the field. As Tim Wilkie reports:

Regular readers of PaxSims will have seen the occasional posts about a series of roundtable events at National Defense University (NDU) on the subject of strategic gaming, hosted by the Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL).  The goal has been to create a regular forum for practitioners and scholars to exchange ideas and compare notes about issues relating to game design, the use of games for analytical and teaching purposes, and interesting projects in the field. CASL is pleased to announce that our quarterly series of in-person roundtables will now have an affiliated online component, the Strategic Gaming Roundtable group site at APAN (All Partners Access Network).

The site is intended to be a place to continue conversation from the quarterly meetings, as well as a place to discuss gaming experiences, works in progress, and the state of the field.  We hope that the new site will further advance our goals of getting to know and building lasting professional connections between gamers.

If you have a professional or academic interest in strategic gaming (or in simulation of peace and conflict issues, as Rex likes to say) we hope you will join the conversation.  Please email Tim Wilkie to
request an invitation.

If you’re working or professionally interested in the field, do join up!

ISAGA 2011

The annual conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association will be held 11-15 July 2011 in Warsaw, Poland with the theme of “Bonds and bridges – how games and simulations encourage cooperation between sectors: business, education and public administration.”

The ISAGA Conference each year brings together academics, trainers, game designers and business professionals from across the continent and worldwide.  It’s an international platform for networking, knowledge exchange and inspiration for people active in the wide area of serious gaming.

The main focus of ISAGA 2011

In 2011 the conference will focus on how games and simulations can build bridges between sectors: business, education and public governance.


The globalizing world requires new competences in advanced cross-sectoral cooperation.

However, experience shows that games and simulations are still being applied mainly in business and business  education contexts.

Therefore we observe the growing need of firstly transferring best practices from games applications in business and propagating the gaming method in other sectors and secondly promoting cross-sectoral applications of games and simulations.

Transferring innovations from business to institutions responsible for creating public policy and public governance and to the general education would be a step forward in achieving the goal of “good governance” (modernization of public management).

You’ll find more information on the conference website here. Proposals for thematic sessions should be submitted by February 15. Proposals for papers and game presentations are being accepted until March 1.

Another semester, another simulation…

PaxSims readers in higher education are likely to find the latest blog post by Mike Cosgrave (University College Cork) to be of interest:

Another Semester, Another Simulation

My International Organisations course, which is heavily simulation based, has reached the end of another run, and the end of course discussion, I shared a few thoughts on it with my students, and some of their ideas are flowing back from that.While my reflections are fresh (and for the benefit of the snowbound who missed the review class) I thought I would post my thoughts on secret email diplomacy, hypothetical v real world scenarios,  integration of learning across the course and a few other things here….

Click here for the full thing.


scooped on MMOWGLI by Grog News

Sheesh—your intrepid PaxSims reporter travels all the way from the Great White North to National Defense University to attend the quarterly CASL roundtable on strategic gaming, only to be scooped by Brant Guillory at Grog News. That man is everywhere.

As Brant reports, much of the session was devoted to a session on the interesting MMOWGLI platform (Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet), being developed by the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School, the Office of Naval Research, and the Institute for the Future. The design ideas behind the project are certainly very interesting, with MMOWGLI intended to:

  • allow gaming among a large and diverse set of players (50 – 1,000), leveraging opportunities for crowd-sourcing ideas and solutions
  • flatten real-world hierarchies that might inhibit idea-generation (removing rank and hierarchy out of the equation so that the meritocracy of ideas can assert itself)
  • facilitate “knowledge accidents” where interactions generate unanticipated ideas and approaches
  • be highly “repurposable” so that the platform can be used easily for a variety of purposes, incorporating a wizard-based architecture to facilitate scenario generation

That being said, I was left wanting to hear a great deal more about what the platform could actually do. MMOWGLI is said to contain communication/collaboration tools, moderation tools, and some degree of modelling capability. To what extent and in what ways might these be superior to what is already available? We’ll have to await the playtests to see.

There’s also the issue of crowd-sourcing ideas. This can certainly produce some interesting outputs. However, as we saw with the World Bank’s EVOKE project, it doesn’t always help to generate good, informed, or useful ideas. MMOWGLI contains a fairly heavy moderation/control/referee element, which might reduce the risks of what might be called MMOS (“Massive Multiplayer Online Stupidity”)—again, it will be interesting to see in the playtests.

* * *

UPDATE: We have more on MMOWGLI here.

I/ITSEC 2010 reflections

Well, I/ITSEC 2010 (“the world’s largest modelling, simulation, and training conference”) has now come to an end. As a novice participant, it has been an interesting and useful experience.

As you might expect from a giant defence industry conference (last year they had 19,000 registrants), much of it is focused on showcasing products for potential government clients. Need a flight simulator? A ready-made Afghan village for military exercises? Pashto-speaking actors to populate the village? Immersive video displays? Medical trauma simulators? High-end joysticks? Virtual reality? Serious (electronic) games? Pyrotechnics for field exercises? Counter-IED multimedia? A drone simulator (complete with a simulated terrorist training camp with little animated jihadists doing their morning exercises to blow up)? Faux RPGs? You’ll find them here, along with lots of eager booth staff trying to sell you some. You’ll also find three days worth of panels and technical papers on military training, education, and simulation.

My interest in being here had to do with examining the evolution of social and political simulations, particularly for cultural awareness training and regarding insurgency/counterinsurgency/stabilization operations. How, in developing these, does one identify, model, depict, and validate the complex (and often poorly understood) underlying social dynamics at play? What effects do technologies have on the process, both in a positive sense (improved user interfaces, graphic representation, artificial intelligence, and raw processor power) and in potentially negative ways too?

One particularly interesting part of the trip was a chance to chat with some of the folks from US Army RDECOM-STTC who have been associated with the development and refinement of UrbanSim, the COIN training software that we’ve discussed a few times on PaxSims (such as here and here and here). It is a very impressive piece of work, combining both a clear interface with considerable rich complexity in the modelling of social, political, and economic processes. While it was developed for the purposes of training battalion commanders in COIN, it also could be quite useful outside the military as a “cultural awareness” trainer of a sort for people in the relief and development community who might benefit from understanding how conflict and fragility are seen through the lenses of US/NATO military doctrine. Many UN agency, aid and NGO folks won’t recognize the perspective—yet need to, if complex interagency and multinational peace support operations are to be undertaken most effectively.

Another highlight was a really useful chat with Jim Lunsford at Decisive-Point about the development of serious games in this area, and the design philosophies he uses in his own projects. Among these products is Elusive Victory, a stabilization operations game.

Overall, I came away from I/ITSEC with a number of observations—some obvious or trivial perhaps, and others less so.

  • A serious game is only as good as the educational environment and methodology it is situated in. No one should expect a game to do all the teaching. On the contrary, considerable thought needs to be devoted to how it is to be used, and what it can (and cannot) illustrate.  Post-simulation debriefs and discussions are essential, not only to drive home the right lessons, but also to make sure that the wrong ones aren’t learned.
  • The development of training simulation in the military seems to be, at times, more a function of bureaucratic process than it is of needs-based design. This point was particularly driven home by a presentation on a project whereby an existing voice-and-console-based naval warfare simulation was integrated into the Second Life virtual world. As far as I could tell, the original version of the simulation was far more effective and sensible than the experimental one, where Second Life avatars just stood there and text-chatted with you about incoming targets. When the presenter was asked “why Second Life” the answer was pretty much “I don’t know… that’s what we were asked to do.”
  • Virtual cultural awareness training was big business, and there are several software packages available that let a user interact with simulated Iraqis or Afghanis, perform basic negotiation or information-gathering missions, and in the process learn the local cultural dos and don’t. This can be useful, but it did seem to risk essentializing cultures that can vary significantly with social class, levels of education, urban/rural settings, and so forth. I’m not sure whether those virtual avatars that speak to you make the learning seem more real, or make the cultural “other” seem rather less human. Finally, successful cross-cultural communication is not just about knowing the local cultural code. It is also about empathy, understanding local needs and context, and not being an idiot. No matter how successfully you’ve learned to eat with tribal leaders without using your “unclean” left hand, if you can’t get a very human feel for where they’re coming from and want they want, no amount of culturally-correct eating habits will save you. (Having said that, I have a sneaking hunch some defence contractor will soon bring out a sophisticated virtual reality simulator to teach you to eat mansaf without dropping rice and yoghurt everywhere).
  • Boardgames and conventional role-playing games are all but invisible in the military training market (although roleplaying is certainly used in courses). If it isn’t computer-based it doesn’t count—which is a shame, since I think there is a great deal that could be of use here.
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