Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Peacekeeping the Game

Peacekeeping the Game is  a relatively simple 3-4 player boardgame developed by Michael Goon (Yeshiva University) that explores the challenge of long-term peace building in fragile and conflict-affected countries:

Political science students face the difficult challenge of understanding the obstacles to resolving intrastate conflict. Often, instructors will use negotiation-based role-playing simulations to model arduous discussions between the warring groups and intervening parties. However, the long-term challenges of directing peacebuilding and ensuring security are equally important parts of intrastate conflict resolution that remain unaddressed in current simulations. The design of simulations with board-game-like rules for teaching about intrastate conflict has also been unexplored. This paper lays out a new type of simulation with board-game-like rules that present realistic obstacles to students as they try to balance the various needs of their assigned state. A detailed discussion of the significance of each of the game rules and potential applications of the simulation is included.

The abstract above is from his article on the game published last year in International Studies Perspective—and, while the journal itself is behind a paywall, there’s a text version of the piece on his website. Moreover, you’ll also find a full version of the game rules there, together with various game aids. On the website he notes the following learning objectives:

  • Understanding strategic planning and risk taking faced by leaders in post-conflict societies
  • Evaluating the role of peacebuilding and reconstruction in conflict resolution
  • Understanding insecurity and uncertainty in conflict resolution
  • Exploring the importance of a long-term peacekeeper presence in the gradual reduction of militarism
  • Understanding vulnerabilities in peacebuilding
  • Understanding uncertainty in elections, including the potential for extremism
  • Considering the difficulty of transitioning from a welfare state to market economy
  • Exploring the role of external actors in conflict resolution, including the potential for third parties to sabotage peace

In its conceptualization and approach, Peacekeeping the Game explicitly draws from from Roland Paris’ excellent book At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict. This is especially true in the way that it views the relationship between economic and political transition,  in the focus on the importance of sectoral institution-building, and in the view that a rush to premature elections can be dangerously destabilizing.

It is a clever game design, and worth looking at for several reasons.

First, it is impressive how much the designer has packed into a few play sheets and a couple of pages of rules, with a game that only needs a few tokens (pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters) to play. The website also supplies a useful debriefing sheet to maximize  learning outcomes from the game. As a “cardboard” (or paper) game, it is also easily modified by instructors for their own purposes.

Second, the game also illustrates how games can embody a theoretical model of social, economic, and political process—in this case, a particular perspective on the dynamics and challenges of liberal peace building. While I don’t entirely agree with some of that analysis, Paris’ work is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, and required reading in my own graduate seminar.

Finally, as Goon correctly notes in his article, most peacebuilding simulations focus on the immediate dynamics of negotiation and conflict settlement rather than the longer-term processes of reconstruction and institution-building addressed in his game. Consequently, it fills an important niche.

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