Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 17/12/2010

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!

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