Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 14/12/2012

simulations miscellany, 14 December 2012


Some recent items of interest on conflict simulations, serious games, and similar stuff like that:

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Recent research by E.D. van der Spek finds that introducing elements of surprise can substantially improve learning outcomes in serious games. According to a forthcoming article by van der Spek, Herre van Oostendorp, and John-Jules Ch. Meyer in the British Journal of Educational Technology:


Serious games show great potential, but many fail to live up to that potential. One way to improve serious game design could be to introduce surprising events linked to the instructional material. We modified our serious game for triage training, called Code Red Triage, to include three surprising events pertaining to decision-making moments in the triage procedure. Forty-one participants were divided into two groups: one group played a version of the game with the surprising events, and the other group played a control version of the game. A pre-posttest design showed no significant difference in engagement and surface learning, but did show the participants in the surprising events condition obtained significantly superior knowledge structures, indicating that surprising events in a serious game foster deeper learning.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic:

  • (Very little.)
  • That serious games often fail to reach their potential.
  • That a surprising event can lead to a better comprehension of text.
  • But that a narrative background in a virtual learning environment led to worse learning.

What this paper adds:

  • A thorough, single-blind, controlled empirical experiment on the effects of serious game design on different factors of learning and engagement.
  • That introducing small surprising events in a serious game leads to improved deep comprehension of the instructional material.
  • That this intervention has no ostensible effect on engagement.

Implications for practice and/or policy:

  • Surprising events should be introduced in a serious game to improve learning.
  • Serious game designers should therefore carefully consider how to embed instruction in the game narrative.
  • Research in serious game design is worthwhile (and highly needed) because it can lead to better serious games.

You’ll find a pre-print (but gated) link to the article above, or you can read his 2011 PhD thesis on Experiments in  Serious Game Design: A Cognitive Approach.

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Defense News discusses how “More Realistic Avatars Could Revolutionize Training” by incorporating the individual characteristics of participants into the simulation process.

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The Pearson Centre recently provided a media team to act as journalists in the Canadian Armed Forces “Maple Resolve 2012” exercise:

In mid-October, a team of twelve media specialists from the Pearson Centre’s Community of Experts participated in Canadian Army’s Maple Resolve 2012 exercise, providing media simulation services to the exercise Media Cell. The exercise, which took place at the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, Alberta, was the biggest field exercise in Canada this year, involving over 3,000 troops and 900 vehicles.

The media team works together to replicate the process of gathering information by interacting with the training audience, and creates the daily print and electronic products that cover the operation. These media products provide perspective on how a mission is perceived at home and abroad, and can also be a valuable source of information and intelligence.

The products – daily television news updates and several print sources, reflecting in-theatre, Canadian and international news sources – were disseminated to the training audience and exercise control staffs. Military commanders and their public affairs teams were expected to be proactive in dealing with the media as part of a broader information operations strategy.

The Wainwright training area represented a region within the fictitious failed state of “West Isle”, in a scenario based on a UN-sanctioned intervention by an international taskforce including Canadian and other elements. Other civilian role-players supported the realism of the exercise by representing local populations, community leaders and humanitarian aid workers. This was complemented by state-of-the-art weapons effects simulation technology to represent the dangers of conflict. Throughout the exercise, media team members faced the risk of being “killed” or “injured” by virtual gunfire or improvised explosive devices….

One wonders if, for full realism, whether the simulated reporters had a simulated bar.

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At The Peasant Muse, Jeremy Antley muses on attitudes to, and player experiences of, digital and manual games in “Coding Mystique vs. Banality of Cardboard.”

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The undead walk in Guilford! Simon Usherwood (University of Surrey) has developed a simple zombie pandemic simulation for his international relations students, intended to address negotiation dynamics. You’ll find discussion of it here, at the Active Learning in Political Science blog. While you’re at it, also check out his How to Do Simulation Games website.

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If you are considering attending the Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference (to be held this year at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton Ohio), you might want to help the organizers plan the event by complete this online survey.

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Ernie Gygax and Luke Gygax—sons of the late, great Dungeons & Dragons (co)inventor Gary Gygax—are among those bringing out a new new tabletop gaming magazine called Gygax, under the TSR imprint. This seems likely to bring with it a whole bag-of-holding of potential legal complications. As GeekNative reported last month:

But… wait. This isn’t the TSR that was bought by Wizards of the Coast and which previously published Dungeons and Dragons. As it turns out, Wizards of the Coast let the trademark lapse in 2003 (they’re expensive and hard to defend if you’re not using them).

A company called Hexagonist registered a new trademark for TSR in late 2011. Right now, redirects to

A chap called Jayson Elliot owns the sites. It turns out that he’s not running Gygax Magazine himself, although he’s the editor. Also on the project are Ernie Gygax, Luke Gygax, Tim Kask, James Carpio and Jim Wampler.

Gary Gygax’s gamer sons are on board with the project and, of course, can use their own name for the magazine.

After the news broke that there would be a Gygax Magazine and that some of the Gygax family were involved, Gail Gygax wrote to EN World to say;

I wish to clear up any confusion I am the proper owner of the use of the name of my late husband, E. Gary Gygax. And furthermore would ask respect from his public and children from his first marriage, who are fully aware I own all rights to the use of his name and likeness, and all intellectual properties.

We have previously informed Jason Elliot of my ownership rights.

I can understand the enthusiasm for this project and will remain neutral in regard to its merits however, not at the expense of the Gary Gygax Estate, which represents his wishes.

There’s also the Gygax Memoiral Fund. They’re now involved in the communication around the magazine too. In response to a tweet from David Flor, Dianne Curtis the Coordinator for Educational Programs and Special Projects at the Gygax Memorial fund (and sister-in-law of Gary Gygax) said;

Thank you so much for bringing this project to our attention. We are aware of a group from NYC, which includes Jayson Elliot, that bought the TSR trademark. Not sure if they can legally use it in the way they want to.

In answer to your question, Gail Gygax, Gary’s widow, represents Gary Gygax’s estate, and is the sole owner of all trademark for the name and likeness of Gary Gygax.

With regard to this magazine, we were approached by Jayson Elliott’s group about a year ago and were not interested in a business relationship with them, as they presented no specific business plan for this magazine, yet were requesting use of the trademark. Therefore, this magazine does not have any legitimate endorsement by the representative of the Gary Gygax estate or Gygax family.

As Morrus at EN World notes there is no one using the name “Gary Gygax” in this project. It may be overly simplistic to say the Gary Gygax Estate does not support the Gygax Magazine without knowing who or what exactly the “Gary Gygax Estate” comprises of, their remit and views….

You’ll find more in this long thread at EN World.

MORS professional wargaming workshop (26-28 March 2013)


The Military Operations Research Society will be holding a workshop on professional wargaming on 26-28 March 2013 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland:

This special meeting focuses on professional gaming  as an analytic practice and will produce initial content for a Professional Gaming Practitioner’s Handbook. The meeting will bring together members of the community of practice to consider best practices, taxonomy, existing applications and appropriate analytic methodologies in an effort to codify the fundamentals of game design and analysis. The meeting is designed for information exchange and participant exposure to professional practice; there is no intention to conduct a game or for attendees to participate in game play.

Military and business leaders throughout history have practiced gaming with storied successes in planning and education so much so that the Department of Defense offers professional education in and develops war games. Gaming is popular and nearly everyone has played complex and informative games as well as participated in the seemingly ubiquitous military ‘war game.’ The term itself is used to describe a very wide range of activities and has come to mean nothing specific. Gaming comes in many levels of fidelity and scope; there is a big difference between a tactical board game and a strategic computer assisted game. Game designers who change organizations find that previously successful techniques and approaches do not align with differing organizational perspectives.

The principles of war gaming have changed little over time while methods and tools have continued to develop. Historically, games were kept small in scope, ‘moving pieces’ were limited and adjudication was performed manually. Modern technologies provide infinite fidelity storing millions of individual data and allowing players to select the ‘level of play’ while software aggregation provides a meta-data operational picture commensurate with that level of play. Efficiencies in data collection, processing and visualization that significantly improve capability. Concerns of old that ‘games are too abstract’ are based somewhat on limits to player cognitive capability but mainly due to limited identification and tracking of second/third order details. This, however, can lead the game designer to include many extraneous metrics, overwhelming players and generating confounded results.

Gaming is an analytic methodology that seeks to provide, for example, empirical support for hypothesis testing or virtual exposure to complex interactions, but struggles with acceptance possibly due to non-repeatability, lack of rigid methodology and the qualitative nature of data. There is a need within the gaming community to establish baseline practices for design of professional games as well as quality data collection procedures and assessment techniques. Designers should have a quality threshold against which professional games can be measured to ensure minimal standards are met. Junior analysts should have a reference of terminology, design processes, assessment tools and best practices.

The workshop will be based on the discussions and output of several working groups, plus a synthesis group:

  • WG 1: Gaming Ontology and Taxonomy
  • WG 2: Objective Development
  • WG 3: Game Design & Development
  • WG 4: Data Collection and Analysis Methods and Tools
  • WG 5: Adjudication Procedures
  • WG 6: Aligning Games with Larger Studies and Methods
  • WG 7: Professional Game Execution
  • WG 8: Quick-Turn Design or Rapid Development

Registration fees for the event are $575/$675 for government/non-government MORS members, and $650/$750 for government/non-government MORS members (this being the peculiar defence and security world where “non-government” is assumed to be richer defence contractors, not poorer academics, NGOs, and commercial/hobbyist designers). Further details are at the link above.

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