Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 12/08/2012

simulations miscellany, 12 August 2012

A few recent items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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I’ve updated the links to various report on the Connections 2012  interdisciplinary wargaming conference at the Wargaming Connection website. Even if you missed the conference, you can find out what happened.

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PAXsims gets a shout-out in an article on crowd-sourcing ideas in the military at the Training & Simulation Journal.

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According to “learning guru” John Seely Brown, businesses would be better to hire a World of Warcraft player than it is to hire a Harvard MBA:

While he’s right about the collaboration skills and inventiveness that can characterize some high-end play, and I do think people are often inappropriately dismissive about the skills and social element of MMORGs, I do think (as a moderately experienced WoW player myself) that he’s rather overselling it—unless, of course, your business model involves a lot of ganking newbies.

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Back in April 2012, the Rockefeller Foundation and Institute for the Future ran Catalysts for Change, a “a 48-hour online game to engage people around the world to reimagine the future of poverty and global well-being.” The summary report of that exercise is now available.

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The preliminary programme is now available for the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference, which will be held 7-10 November 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. You’ll find full details here, and registration is here.

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My colleague Neil Caplan passed on a recent piece (coauthored with Wendy Pearlman, Brent E. Sasley, and Mira Sucharov ) on “History, Rationality, Narrative, Imagery: A Four-Way Conversation on Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict” in the Journal of Political Science Education   8, 3 (August 2012). What does that have to do with games and simulations? Well, they are mentioned a couple of times in the article as teaching techniques:

Simulations are games in which students are (often) divided into groups representing specific actors, and sometimes individual students are given specific roles within the unit. The groups then interact with each other in the process of working toward a specified outcome (e.g., a peace agreement, a conference communique ́, etc.). The benefits to simulations have been highlighted at length elsewhere (for some discussion see Sasley 2010). Here, I would like to add that it is the ‘‘real life’’ experiences that such games provide to students that benefit them.

Let me explain by an example. In a recent class I divided students into ‘‘Israel,’’ ‘‘Fatah,’’ ‘‘Hamas,’’ and the ‘‘United States.’’ Their task was to reach the broad outlines of a written agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. This was complicated by the fact that the Palestinians were composed of two factions. What was most interesting about this simulation was that the students came very close to achieving their goals; in fact, with another two or three minutes they would have.

Hamas was composed of hardliners and moderates (not always helpful descriptions, but conventional and easy to work with in this case). They had major disagreements with each other, until one group began to plot the overthrow of the other group to take over the organization. The group that planned the coup was the one that would have signed a final agreement. Time ran out before they completed their takeover; however students were so excited by this part of the simulation that they continued to discuss it for the rest of the course.

What is interesting about this outcome is that it reflects real-life disagreements within the Hamas leadership. Certainly students could have read about this, but feeling it as they did—and generating the excitement that it did, as evidenced by evaluations and after-simulation comments to me—provided them with a real sense of the complexities and pitfalls inherent in any interactor relationship.

Interestingly, a forthcoming article in Simulation & Gaming by Sean McMahon and Chris Miller will argue that simulations of the Arab-Israeli conflict also have potential ideological biases that could be seen as problematic:

This paper reflects critically on simulations. Building on our experience(s) simulating the Palestinian-Israeli-American Camp David negotiations of 2000, we argue that simulations are useful pedagogical tools that encourage creative—but not critical—thinking and constructivist learning, but can also have the deleterious effect of reproducing unequal power relations in the classroom. We develop this argument in five stages. First, we distinguish between problem-solving and critical theory and define “critical thinking” – something not done by the simulation orthodoxy. Second, we describe the Camp David simulation. This is our contribution to the relatively small corpus of literature on simulating Palestinian-Israeli relations. Third, we review the constructivist learning and peer teaching done through our simulation. This section is notable because it is authored by a graduate student who participated in the simulation as a meaning maker. Fourth, we review the manner in which simulations promote creative, not critical, thinking and reproduce asymmetrical power relations. Fifth, we reflect on the overall utility of simulating the Camp David negotiations in the classroom.

The latter piece will appear in a special issue of Simulation & Gaming on “simulations and games to build peace,” coedited by Gary and myself.

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Finally, what serious wargamer hasn’t wondered what are the optimal siege tactics for taking Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle? (h/t @MahmudNaqi)

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