PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

simulations miscellany, 28 November 2012

As is our periodic habit, PAXsims brings you some recent simulations-related news that might be of interest to readers.

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At the Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East blog, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova recounts the results of a simulated 2012 Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-Free Zone in the Middle East:

…a group of 25 United Nations Disarmament Fellows – young diplomats from all over the world – played out the last hours of the planned Middle East conference during a half-day simulation in New York on October 23, 2012. The simulation’s outcome may be too ambitious compared to what the “real” 2012 MEWMDFZ Conference is expected to achieve, considering that many observers still doubt if it would even convene this year (or ever). Certainly, to run a simulation one has to suspend the disbelief, and in this case, we assumed away one of the biggest perceived obstacles: getting all relevant states to attend. The simulation’s scenario thus was that all the Middle Eastern states, including Iran and Israel, showed up and did so in good faith, working toward a meaningful outcome. Unrealistic as they may appear, such exercises help explore what can be achieved if more political will is in place and, at the same time, highlight some of the more problematic aspects of reality.

Negotiating simulations can provide space for greater flexibility, imagination, and compromise. Specifically, by skipping over roadblocks such as lack of political will and direct communication between the major actors, simulations can help look for practical solutions that otherwise seem completely beyond reach. At the same time, simulations can raise new questions and draw attention to challenges that are overlooked or overshadowed by immediate concerns. In the case of the 2012 Middle East Conference simulation, assuming all parties’ participation and goodwill – the most immediate concern about the conference today – brought to the fore a number of other difficult issues. In this sense, the Middle East simulation held up a mirror to a rather harsh reality but did not leave the participants without hope.

For a more detailed report, check out the link above.

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At Foreign Policy, Michael Peck offers readers an opportunity to “launch your own Gaza war” by playtesting a relatively simple boardgame that examines Israel’s response to the threat of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Readers are then invited to provide feedback via the Foreign Policy website, for possible incorporation into a revised version of the game. The experiment was spurred by an earlier column by Michael, drawing parallels between the 2012 Gaza war and the 1944 V-1 blitz on London via the wargame War with a Vengeance.

I suspect some FP readers may be a little queasy about “gaming” a war so soon after the fact—even as a rather hardened wargamer who doesn’t blanche at  ongoing conflicts, I must admit to a little disquiet at trying to model a conflict in an area I know well, and with the death and destruction still very recent. Still, we’ll try to give the game a try on the weekend and post some thoughts as a way of exploring how design choices might try to capture essential real-life military and political-tradeoffs.

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The PC gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an interview earlier this month with (past PAXsims contributor) James Sterrett (Digital Leader Development Center, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth) on professional wargaming. In it he offers some thoughtful reflections on—among other things—the requirements of military simulation and gaming, and the differences between this and most civilian/hobby wargames.

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On the subject of military games/simulations, Defense News (Michael Peck again!) reported on November 26 that TRADOC (Training & Doctrine Command of the US Army) has issued a directive “warn[ing] Army training centers against using unauthorized games, simulators and other training aids.”

TRADOC Policy Letter 21, signed in August by TRADOC commander Gen. Robert Cone, decrees that before any TRADOC organization may acquire or develop any games or training aids, devices, simulators and simulations (TADSS), it must contact the appropriate TRADOC capability manager (TCM) at the Combined Arms Center-Training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“The Army cannot afford TADSS that provide singular solutions or cannot be integrated with other TADSS in the integrated training environment,” Cone wrote. “We also cannot afford to have money diverted from other programs to support procurement of non-program of record, school-unique TADSS and high-licensing fees.”

The move has caused some concern:

A captain at an East Coast training installation fears that depriving local commanders of the freedom to procure training aids will stifle creative solutions.

“In the end, the memo will kill innovation and creativity as organizations seek to maintain the status quo within their shrinking budgets. All the letter reinforces is how the higher level managers are out of touch with where education actually takes place,” said the officer.

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BenthamFish’s Game Blog has a report by Alan Paull on a recent two-day workshop on games and systems thinking at the School of Transformative Leadership, Palacky University, in the Czech Republic:

Our focus for the workshop was on the learners learning about systems thinking. We intended to introduce how to play and think about the games through systems thinking techniques and vice versa

We alternated between playing the games and covering the theory illustrated by the games. We started by having plenary sessions for the theory, but found that getting responses from the whole group was difficult, as individuals were reluctant to speak. Therefore we switched to individual and group tasks, followed by discussions in which we could ask individuals to respond for the group. This worked very well.

Essential systems thinking concepts that we covered were:

  • Holism
  • Interconnectedness and relationships
  • Perspective
  • Purpose
  • Boundary
  • Emergent properties
  • Closed mechanical systems vs open living systems

And we introduced the following techniques:

  • Systems maps
  • Sign-graph diagrams
  • Control model diagrams
  • Very basic process model diagram
  • Systems model diagrams
  • Rich pictures

You’ll find more at the blog.

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At McGill University, we take preparedness for the forthcoming zombie apocalypse very seriously—we really do. However, a recent simulation revealed that only 50% of graduate students were likely to survive even basic academic activities like visiting the library should the campus be overrun by cannibalistic hordes of undead abominations. Clearly more practice is needed.

One response to “simulations miscellany, 28 November 2012

  1. Ronald Skip Cole 28/11/2012 at 2:19 pm

    > “The Army cannot afford TADSS that provide singular solutions or cannot be integrated with other TADSS in the integrated training environment,”

    This sounds like it will favor the larger players. And larger players, just due to the dynamics generated by their size, tend to be less innovative than smaller players. So this probably does portend a decrease in innovation.

    But it is more disturbing to learn that Canada does not have our back when it comes to fighting zombies. Seriously! You all can do better.

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