PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: January 2013

APSA Teaching & Learning Conference 2013

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February 1 is the last day to register for the American Political Science Association Teaching & Learning Conference, which is being held on 8-10 February 2013 in Long Beach, California.

The program contains two full tracks on classroom simulation and serious gaming, one on American politics and simulation design, the other on international relations and comparative politics.

I won’t be able to attend this year, unfortunately. However if any PAXsims readers are going, we would love a conference report—drop us a line.

PeaceConferencing Games: A New Paradigm for Digital Learning

The video below describes the “PeaceConferencing” exercise that is currently a part of Kristen Druker’s 9th grade Modern History Classes at The Bishop’s School. The simulation uses the Open Simulation Platform, first developed at the United States Institute of Peace, and now being further developed by Sea Change Simulations.

Military Operations Research Society 81st annual symposium

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The 81st annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will be held at the United States Military Academy on 17-20 June 2013. Because of US defense budget uncertainty (including growing restrictions on conference participation by DoD personnel), the deadline for submitting an abstract has been extended.

Abstract Submission Deadline extended to Friday, 15 February. Understandably, there have been many requests to extend the deadline to submit abstracts for consideration at the 81st MORS Symposium, 17-20 June 2013, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. And we are listening.

We would also like to note that although there are questions about the Department of Defense’s budget, submitting an abstract(s) for consideration does not obligate you to attend.

Please visit the 81st MORS Symposium website for all information currently available regarding this leading event. For over 45 years, the annual MORS Symposium has been the premier opportunity for the national security community to exchange information, examine research and discuss critical national security topics. The MORS Symposium gathers over a thousand analysts from military, government, industry and academic ranks to share best practices. We welcome you to share your experience and knowledge by submitting an abstract for presentation at the 81st MORS Symposium.

When you present at the MORS Symposium, the value of your work multiplies and you are recognized by your colleagues for your important contributions to the profession and to national security.

Announcement and Call for Presentations (ACP) – To download the ACP, please click here.

Abstracts – To submit an abstract please click here. Please note: You will need to login using your MORS website user ID (your e-mail address) and password (or if it is your first-time create a new profile) to submit an Abstract. Once you are on the site please follow the instructions provided. Be sure to complete as many of the fields as possible, and include your email address. This will ensure that you receive a confirmation of your submission.

This is one of the premier professional wargaming events, with working groups on both wargaming and modelling and simulation, as well as computation advances in OR, decision analysis, training and education and a range of other related areas

…or so we’ve heard: the meeting is NOFORNed and thus only open to US Citizens with an active Secret clearance. <insert snide comments from NATO allies here>

As previously noted on PAXsims, MORS will also be convening a professional wargaming workshop at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on 26-28 March 2013. This will be open to all.

Inter Agency Emergency Simulation (IAES) TOT workshop

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Interested in how to organize and conduct emergency and humanitarian training sessions? If so, then this training workshop in Arusha, Tanzania on 12-14 February 2013 may be of interest:

Organized by the Inter Agency Working Group, United Nations – World Food Programme and World Vision International, the workshop aims to train humanitarian simulation facilitators with the purpose of creating a pool of trained personnel capable of supporting regional and national humanitarian experts in mounting an effective emergency simulation at country level.

The workshop will be held in Arusha, Tanzania and will last four days. Travelling to the venue will take place on the 11th while the course will begin on the 12th through to the 14th. The Facilitator and conferencing fees has been waved for all participants, however, please note that participants will be required to cater for their travel arrangements and accommodation. (Venue to be communicated soon ) approx. $ 700

This training targets humanitarian simulation facilitators at regional and national level.

Participant Profile: The following abilities and experiences should be considered for participants for the course

  • Planning and Organization: As much of the preparation work for a simulation requires a high degree of planning and organization, all candidates must have proven experience in this field.
  • Language: As this first course will be conducted in English, candidates must have a high level of the language (both written and spoken).
  • Presentation skills: As future facilitators, candidates must have prior experience in group facilitation particularly in working with senior managers and technical experts.
  • Professional experience: Candidates should have extensive experience in emergency preparedness and response with a UN, governmental, or non-governmental organisation active in humanitarian response. Experience at the field level would also be highly desirable.

There are limited spaces available therefore participants shall be selected on a first come first served basis.

To register, kindly send your bio data / brief profile with complete contact details to tcbg@iawg-africa.org by 1st Feb 2013.

h/t ReliefWeb

Bousquet on War and Simulation

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At the group blog The Disorder of ThingsAntoine Bousquet (Birbeck College, University of London) offers some reflections on “Marshalling the Real: War and Simulation.”

Bousquet suggests that “simulation” can be understood in two, sometimes complimentary, ways. The first is a “signification which refers back to an older understanding of simulation and is a more etymologically faithful meaning of simulation in terms of deception, in terms of pretence, illusion, and false appearance.” The second and more modern sense of simulation is as  “the imitation of processes, situations and systems through the modelling of the internal characteristics and dynamics of that system and the formalisation of the constituent variables,” with which “comes a claim… to capturing some depth to whatever is being simulated, rather than simply its surface.” In this latter respect, he suggests, “the moment at which simulation actually appears, or at least when a crucial forerunner manifests itself, is with the invention of Kriegspiel in the early nineteenth century within the Prussian military corps.” This then grew more sophisticated in the context of modern 20th (and 21st) century military operations research. Technology has taken the process a step further too, such that “it is necessary to conceptualise the relation of simulation to the real beyond notions of pretence and illusion but also how entangled real and virtual have become (or perhaps always were).”

His piece makes short and interesting reading, especially in conjunction with Philipp von Hilgers’ War Games (which traces the evolution of Prussian Kriegspiel and other wargames in the context of the evolution of modern mathematics) and Sherry Turkle’s Simulation and its Discontents.

 

simulations miscellany, 27 January 2013

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With absolutely no predictability whatsoever, PAXsims once again brings you various and sundry items of gaming news,. This time we have quite a few interesting scholarly articles in the mix:

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In the  International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations 4, 2 (2012), Mark Pearcy discusses “America’s Army: “Playful Hatred” in the Social Studies Classroom.”

America’s Army is a first-person “shooter” online video game produced by the U.S. Army and freely available on the Internet. Ostensibly a recruitment tool, the game constitutes a “mimetic” experience that encompasses real-life Army codes, regulations, and behaviors, approximating an authentic military experience, including realistic missions that involve violence. This article considers the educational role of such mimetic games, practical impediments to its inclusion in classrooms, and the conceptual demands the use of such games may place on teachers and students. Additionally, this article considers the ideological barriers and arguments against the educational use of games like America’s Army. Finally, this article connects the experience of America’s Army to Douglas’ (2008) concept of “playful hatred,” calling for a reconceptualization of the term towards a more competitive and pedagogically useful approach.

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In Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, 6, 1 (2012), Henrik Schoenau-Fog exploresTeaching Serious Issues through Player Engagement in an Interactive Experiential Learning Scenario.”

In order to inform about a serious subject concerned with the tragic consequences of being a victim of war in an interactive narrative game-like experience, it is essential to design a scenario which engage the participants despite the grave content. This paper thus focuses on how player engagement and playfulness can be applied to drive participants through a non-pleasurable experiential learning scenario in order to communicate serious topics. By investigating the concept of engagement in games, a framework of player engagement will be described. The framework has been used in a case-study to aid the design of an application – the “First Person Victim” – which is intended to be used in combination with an in-class discussion in order to address the serious topic. An evaluation of the scenario indicated that theme related feelings like hopelessness, fear, loneliness, and chaos are experienced by engaged participants and that there is a potential for using the scenario as a tool in teaching.

As the article discusses, this is done through the development of a “First Person Victim” video game which “places the participant in the role as a civilian in a war torn country during an airstrike, where it is possible to explore tragic and dramatic events.”

During the entire experience, the participant’s narrative construction depends on encountering several different audiovisual events varying in tension (Fig 2). There are in total 42 events organized in six scenes, each with seven events. These events can be audio events (e.g. a phone call or cries for help), audiovisual graphical events (e.g. an exploding building), texts (e.g. sms-messages) or video recordings of real actors placed the 3d world.

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Fig. 2. (a) Meeting a smuggler. (b) Woman being harassed. (c) Rockets hit the City

An ‘Interactive Drama Experience Manager’ (Schoenau-Fog et al. 2010) organizes the various events by selecting the next possible events based on the users’ navigation in the environment as well as causality. For each scene there is one less event to encounter, so in the first scene in an apartment it is possible to encounter seven events, in the next scene on a street there are six events and so on. The final events are all concerned with tragic endings, and users have no options for happy endings. The scenario is mediated through the game engine Unity (2011) by inverting first person shooter (FPS) conventions so it is not possible to use weapons or engage in combat. However, the participants can be shot at, hit by rockets or explosions and step on mines, but in order to let participants encounter as many events as possible before the discussion, it is not possible to die. There is no explicit goal defined by the scenario, as it is the intention to let participants define as many intrinsic objectives as possible in order to keep them engaged through the emergent narrative.

Some participants found the experience engaging, and wished to continue—but others did not.

The main objective of this study is to evaluate engagement in the FPV application and the results show that 40% clearly wanted to continue playing, while 32.5% did not want to try again and 27.5% were in doubt. The survey and observations show that the engaged respondents, who wanted to try again had the desire to continue due to intrinsic objectives, activities related to exploration, solving problems, experimentation and experiencing the characters and story. Moreover, they also wanted to continue mainly because of the theme and positive elements from the game design. The evaluation furthermore investigates the affect experienced by the students, as the mediation of feelings related to the topic is important for the communication of the theme. The engaged group reported the experience of more feelings related to the theme than both the group of respondents who were in doubt and the group who did not want continue.

The group who did not want to continue playing reported that it was mainly due to game design issues and technical problems while feelings related to the theme were not as frequently reported as in the other groups. While most of the students in this group state that they did not feel anything in particular, the findings show that engaged students report that the FPV triggers negative feelings, which are related to the theme, and that they want to continue even though those feelings are not fun, enjoyable or pleasurable.

The findings thus suggest that this affect can be the result of the activities introduced in the PEP framework – e.g. exploration and experiencing the characters. Since there is nothing explicit to accomplish in the FPV, the affect encountered is not intended to include positive feelings such as satisfaction, triumph or closure, which is usually related to accomplishments in game experiences. However, disengagement can also be a sign of successful communication of the theme, since negative emotions related to the content can make participants not wanting to try again. For example, one teacher who did not want to continue stated that she felt afraid and powerless: “I felt a lot like a victim. […] that loneliness… I felt bad.” (Female, 42)

The study finds some potential educational value in the FPV, but provided it is appropriately debriefed and integrated with curriculum.

Another goal of the evaluation in this study is to investigate the potential for using the FPV as a tool in teaching. Findings of the survey show that the engaged students reported that they learned something related to the topic more frequently than the other groups. Moreover, a majority of the students who were disengaged state that they did not learn anything related to the theme. When discussing the experience with the classes, both students who were engaged in the experience and students, who did not want to try again participated in the discussions. Although there was a risk that the self-selective sample of the discussion could result in that only the engaged students would contribute, the discussion showed that also students who were not engaged during the experience of the FPV participated actively. However, the factor of social expectancy could also have affected the outcome of the discussions, as students might want to answer “correct” during the interview, especially because one of the designers, who is a refugee himself, was present at the discussions.

During the post-game interviews, teachers state that applications such as the FPV could have potential in teaching as an initiator for in-class discussions about a theme. Some of the teachers mentioned that there were examples of students, who usually never contribute to discussions (especially the “quiet boys”), who took active part in the discussions after the experience.

The findings from the discussion and teacher interviews supports the idea that an in-class discussion and debriefing is important and valuable for learning as it makes learners reflect on another level, which is no always achieved during the experience. However, a comparison with a group of students who did not have a post-game discussion would be needed to verify this impression.  The results furthermore suggest that the FPV can be seen as a successful exemplification of how learners in a designed experience (Squire 2006) can gain knowledge of serious issues by “doing and being” (ibid. p.32) in an experiential learning scenario.

Methodologically, this is a very serious and thoughtful piece of scholarship, and well worth a read.

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The third issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing came out late last month, with articles on “Creativity Rules. How rules impact player creativity in three tabletop role-playing games,” “An Embodied Cognition Approach for Understanding Role-playing,” “A tale of two cities: Symbolic capital and larp community formation in Canada and Sweden ,” and “The self-perceived effects of the role-playing hobby on personal development – a survey report .”

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Want to know how best to teach agent-based simulation? C M Macal and and M J North have some suggestions in the Journal of Simulation (2013).

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In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation, Susannah J. Whitney, Philip Temby, and Ashley Stephens offer “A review of the effectiveness of game-based training for dismounted soldiers“—and find the results rather disappointing:

Computer games are increasingly being used by armed forces to supplement conventional training methods. However, despite considerable anecdotal claims about their training effectiveness, empirical evidence is lacking. This paper critically reviews major studies conducted in the past decade that have examined game-based training with dismounted soldiers. The findings indicate that these studies are characterized by methodological limitations and that the evidence regarding the effectiveness of game-based training for this military population is not compelling. Furthermore, due to methodological limitations with the studies, the possibility of negative training effects cannot be discounted. The paper concludes with implications for the scientific and military communities, as well as recommendations for the conduct of future studies in this area.

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If you haven’t yet read the December 2012 issue of the M&S Newsletter, published by the Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office of the US Department of Defense, now’s your chance.

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Michael Peck is in search of women. More specifically, in the wake of the recent US decision to (finally) open combat roles to women, his latest gaming column at Forbes asks “Are Female Soldiers Coming to Video Games?

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Issue #3 of Modern War (January-February 2013), complete with a game of near-future coalition operations against Somali pirates (and Somalia).

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This year’s Serious Play conference will be held on August 20-22, 2013 at Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA—and they are looking for speakers.

SEATTLE – Jan. 22 2013 – Submissions are now being accepted from professionals who create games or sims or lead game programs for the education, corporate, military, healthcare or location-based market to speak at Serious Play Conference. The annual gathering for leaders in the industry will be held August 20 – 22, 2013 at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash., just outside Seattle.

A new feature of the conference will be four pre-conference workshops on Monday, August 19 designed as introductory sessions for new serious game program directors, workforce and talent development professionals and K-12 educators and university faculty:

  • How to Integrate Games into the Classroom – created for heads of school districts, curriculum specialists and cutting edge teachers
  • Using Location-Based Games – designed for Instructional designers, museum education departments, non-profit organizations and entertainment destination professionals
  • Using Games to Grow Talent, Train and Engage Employees – aimed at IDs, HR and organizational development, military and government workforce managers
  • Building a Serious Games Curriculum – geared toward faculty of higher education institutions interested in adding serious game degree programs

Speakers at both the main conference and the various workshops will share their expertise and outline critical success factors in game design. Industry analysts will discuss the latest industry trends and how best to take advantage of current market needs.

The submission form is located online at www.seriousplayconference.com/speakers

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The Stack Academie 2013 gaming convention will be held on 3-5 May in Montréal. Volko Ruhnke (designer of Wilderness War, Labyrinth and Andean Abyss, and codesigner of the forthcoming A Distant Plain) and Brian Train (designer of Algeria, Arriba Espana, War Plan Crimson, and a great many others, and the other codesigner of A Distant Plain) will be guests of honour. More details here.

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Roman ceramic game pieces were actually… toilet paper?

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In keeping with PAXsims’ enduring commitment to bring you the most important gaming-related news from around the planet, we offer this recent item from the Daily Mail:

‘They would have been a bit scratchy’:
The ceramic ‘gaming pieces’ that new research claims were a Roman equivalent  to loo roll

  • The flat, disc-shaped relics were unearthed in West Sussex in 1960
  • British Medical Journal article proposed their personal hygiene function
  • Museum curator says he doubts they would have been comfortable to use

Ancient artefacts thought to be early gaming pieces will have to be reclassified after new research which claims they were actually used to wipe bottoms.

The flat, disc-shaped Roman relics have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Chichester, West Sussex, since the Sixties.

Up until now museum experts thought the items were used for early games like draughts, but an article in the British Medical Journal has now proposed that they have a very different function.

It had been thought that they were chips used to play an ancient game, also known as ‘pessoi’,  but research published last month in the BMJ drew from classical sources to present evidence that they were also used to clean up after going to the toilet.

Noting the ancient Greek proverb ‘three stones are enough to wipe one’s a***’, Philippe Charlier, assistant professor in forensic medicine at the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in Paris, points to archaeological excavations which have uncovered pessoi inside the pits of Greek and Roman latrines across the Mediterranean.

In one such dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2-4in in diameter and 0.2-0.8in thick which, Professor Charlier wrote, were ‘re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma’….

The discovery could spark an entire “what game would you be most likely to use as toilet paper” thread at BoardGameGeek. Or, for that matter, it might suggest a whole new etymology for the gaming term “chit.”

Registration now open for G4C 10

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Registration is now open for the 10th annual Games for Change Festival, which will be held 17-19 June 2013 in New York. According to the organizers:

New in 2013…

  •  Venue – New World Stages in midtown Manhattan
  • Programming just for game developers
  • More opportunities for developers to demo their games
  • A chance to play games specifically commissioned for the Festival (thanks to an energetic team of students at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center!)
  • Access to the “marketplace” – a hub for service providers and publishers to showcase their latest offerings
  • A sneak peek at games in development
  • Social events (10th Anniversary Reception, Daily Happy Hours)

As always, we also have…

  • Access to thought leaders in gaming and social change
  • 40+ hours of programming
  • Demo Spotlight, Games for Change Awards, Game Arcade
  • As the largest gaming event in New York City, it is the annual destination for those working at the intersection of social impact and games. Watch for news in the coming weeks on some of the programming in collaboration with new partners: the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, the David & Lucille Packard Foundation, and the Tribeca Film Institute.

Our application for speakers, talks, presentations and case studies will go live next week, along with the submission form for the Games for Change Awards.

McGill AUS: Games and politics

ImageIf you’re a McGill University student, you might want to drop by the Arts Lounge today at 17h00, since I’ll be giving an informal talk on “Games and Politics” for the Arts Undergraduate Society. There will be free food too!

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Well, I certainly enjoyed myself. You’ll find an accounts of the talk in the McGill Daily and the Bull and Bear.You’ll also find a video report on the event below from TV McGill.

Review: Salakari, The Simulator Instructor’s Handbook

Hannu Salakari, The Simulator Instructor’s Handbook. Eduskills Consulting 2011 (available via Granum). 86 pages .€38.75.

SIHThis book by Hannu Salakari seeks to “provide instructors with clear guidelines concerning the practical arrangement, planning, and development of simulator training.” Its three substantive chapters address the benefits of simulation-based training; the 15 most important principles of simulation-based training; and the role of debriefing and its relationship to learning. This is complemented by a glossary of key terms, and a very brief bibliography.

It is difficult to quibble with many of the quite sensible principles and ideas put forward in the volume. However, the work as a whole is rather skimpy, looking rather more like notes for a a conference presentation or the draft outline for a book project than an actual handbook. Ideas are never discussed in any depth. There are only a limited number of examples and illustrations. Ironically for a work that is supposed to be on issues of effective pedagogy, the handbook’s writing style and physical presentation is unengaging. The bibliography runs only to a page or so of sources, and isn’t likely to be of much help for anyone hoping to explore the existing literature on the topic. The volume also make very little explicit use of scholarly research to support its various suggestions and principles.

This wouldn’t matter much if the volume were available as, say, a free pdf or low-price eBook.  However, given its very high cover price (€38.75)—to which the Finnish distributor added a hefty €18 of additional postage—it is very far from free. For that price I would expect proper typesetting, more legible diagrams and illustrations, and much, much more substance.

Neophyte instructors who have suddenly been called upon to implement simulation-based training and who have absolutely no idea what they are doing might find this handbook of use. Most others, however, won’t find its limited contents worth the cost.

simulations miscellany, 20 January 2013

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A few items of recent interest from around the conflict simulations and gaming world:

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In a newly-published article on “Games, Claims, and New Frames: Rethinking the Use of Simulation in Negotiation Education” in the Negotiation Journal 29, 1 (January 2013), Daniel Druckman and  Noam Ebner find that role-play simulations aren’t necessarily an especially effective way of teaching about negotiations:

Negotiation educators have long considered the use of role-play simulations as an essential classroom teaching method, and have had high expectations regarding their suitability and efficacy for teaching. In this article, we review the literature to examine the degree to which simulations deliver on these perceived benefits, finding that simulations enjoy only limited advantages over other teaching methods.

On the other hand, their research suggests much greater teaching effectiveness when students are asked to design, rather than just participate, in such simulations:

We note three trends that have developed as part of this reevaluation process: improving the way simulations are conducted, deemphasizing the use of simulations as a teaching tool while seeking new methods, and finding paradigm-changing uses for simulations. With regard to this last trend, we describe our own experiments assigning students to design their own simulations, rather than participate in them as role players. Among other benefits of the design method, we found that designers showed greater improvements in concept learning and motivation than did role players.

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While on the subject of academic journals, I’m told by a reliable source that the forthcoming issue of the Middle East Journal will contain a review essay on Middle East-related games, with reviews of four boardgames about conflicts in the region: Oil War—Iran Strikes, Persian Incursion, Battle for Baghdad, and Labyrinth.

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Game The News has recently released Endgame: Syria, a game about the ongoing bloody civil war in that country. The game is available as an Android app, or can be played online at the developer’s website.

It won’t be available for Apple products, however, since Apple refused to carry it in their app store. As Michael Peck reported at Forbes:

…the company was told that Endgame: Syria was rejected because of guidelines “forbidding games that ‘solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity’”, according to a statement by Auroch Digital. Tomas Rawlings, the game’s designer, said “we had hoped that Apple would be more nuanced in how they applied this rule, but we got a bit worried when it had been in submission for around two weeks without a decision – we then figured that because of the controversy of using the gaming medium to cover an ongoing war meant passing the game had become an issue for them.” Apple could not be reached for comment.

You’ll find further coverage of Apple’s decision at The Guardian. Russia Today ran a story on the game too, offering a mild critique of the underlying politics:

 

Meanwhile, at the Political Violence @ a Glance blog, Erica Chenoweth (University of Denver) offers a few broader thoughts on the issue:

1. The game is meant to approximate “real life.” Why would this approximation yield satisfaction to players? Is it because they want to learn how to be better rebels?

2. The game was developed in two weeks! If this kind of technology — where news aggregation can be translated into artificial intelligence and then repackaged into a real-time civil war simulation — proves valuable, it opens a host of new opportunities for rebel groups and opposition movements in general. I’ve discussed before the inherent difficulties of strategic planning facing non-state actors: they rarely have the time, resources, manpower, or space available for realistic simulations. But if games like Endgame: Syria become more ubiquitous and speak to ongoing civil conflicts, simulations may eventually prove to be ample substitutes for real war games.

3. If the latter hypothetical were to come true, then here’s an interesting research question: does war-gaming improve rebel performance in civil war? Governments certainly seem to think that war games help their own forces’ military performance. But it remains to be seen whether this perception would extend to rebel military performance. My hunch is that this would be largely contingent on the level of coordination and organizational discipline within the rebel group — which is noticeably lacking in Syria. But where rebel groups are well-organized, easily accessible tools like this may provide opportunities for more strategic (rather than just tactical) approaches to fighting. I can see why Apple would be dubious of approving the game.

4. Apple rejected Endgame: Syria. Is this because of technical specification problems, or because they do not want to put their brand behind something that trains people to be better rebels? If the former, then the rejection’s not a very interesting story. But if it’s the latter, here is an interesting example of a powerful corporation anticipating a moral hazard down the line.

As you’ll see in my comments on Erica’s blogpost, I think that Endgame: Syria has some limited value as a newsgame that illuminates for its players some of the strategic choices faced by the opposition. However, it certainly isn’t the sort of game that would develop useful tactical, operational, or operational skills. Equally, while there are a few digital games out there that could sharpen warfighting skills (such as Steel Beasts or Arma 2), I don’t see much evidence that this has ever been a significant factor in contemporary civil wars, notwithstanding the oft-quoted (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) comment by Libyan rebels in Misrata in 2011 that they had honed their combat abilities playing Call of Duty.

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WPGJohn Hunter’s book World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements is now available for preorder. It will be published on April 14.

In John Hunter’s classroom, students fearlessly set about tackling global problems—and discovering surprising solutions—by playing Hunter’s groundbreaking World Peace Game. These kids—from high school all the way down to fourth grade, in schools both well-funded and under-resourced—take on the roles of presidents, tribal leaders, diplomats, and military commanders. Through battles and negotiations, standoffs and summits, they strive to resolve a sequence of many-layered, interconnected scenarios, from nuclear proliferation to tribal warfare.

Now, Hunter shares inspiring stories from over thirty years teaching the World Peace Game, revealing the principles of successful collaboration that people of any age can apply anywhere. He offers all of us not only a forward-thinking report from the front lines of American education, but also a generous blueprint for a world that bends toward cooperation, rather than conflict. In this deeply hopeful book, a visionary educator shows us what the future of education can be.

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Robert Hossal is thinking about the challenges of developing a “universal” insurgency simulation, into which localized variables could be plugged so as to simulate particular conflicts. You can follow Part I of his thoughts of the subject here at his SmartWar blog.

CASL: Operations Research and Wargaming

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The folks at the Center for Applied Strategic Learning at National Defense University will be convening another of their “Lectures on Strategic Gaming” on January 24th at 1130-1230. The speaker this time will LTC Mary Lou Hall (J8, Studies, Analysis and Gaming Division), who will presenting “We’re All McNamara’s Children: Connections between operations research and wargaming”.

As part of CASL’s efforts to reach a broad segment of the gaming community, the series will be conducted in a distributed environment. In this case, the event on January 24th will be held as a teleconference. To participate in the teleconference on January 24th, please RSVP to CASLLecturesRSVP@gmail.com. The presentation will later be publicly available here from the CASL website.

For those who have not joined us for this series in the past, the aim of the lectures is to create a resource for educating “journeyman” gamers outside of the dominant mentorship training methodology. The resulting library of presentations will help to bring gaming expertise and lessons-learned out ofisolation and ensure they are accessible to a wider community.

Familial loyalties and online gaming

chickennativityWell, this BBC news item is just too good to pass up:

A man in China hired virtual “assassins” to hunt down his son in online video games and kill off his avatar, according to local media.

The man, named by the Kotako East blog as Mr Feng, was concerned about the amount of time his 23-year-old unemployed son was spending online.

He hoped his actions would deter his son from playing the games, he is reported to have said.

His son eventually asked one of the gamers why they kept targeting him.

“It’s not going to do much for family relations,” Prof Mark Griffiths, a gambling and addictions expert at Nottingham Trent University told the BBC…

My own experience is rather different—I was once abandoned in World of Warcraft somewhere in the wilderness of Kalimdor by my own daughter after she complained that my weaker combat skills were “just slowing her down.”

“Unstable Gulf” playtest

Annual_Day_Parade_Iran_spy_tank_002Back in November I drew up a set of modified rules for the wargame Oil War—Iran Strikes. In this “Unstable Gulf” variant, the Coalition player must contend not only with Iranian military intervention in a future Iraqi civil war, but also with growing political protests in several Gulf countries. My point in proposing this variant was not only to add more political content to what is otherwise a very traditional, force-on-force boardgame, but also to add a new series of operational challenges and choices that highlighted the fundamental linkages between political objectives and the employment of military force. From the perspective of gameplay, I also wanted to create some action outside the Kuwait bottleneck around which so much of the game otherwise focuses.

This week we finally got a chance to playtest the result. Once again I was playing Iran, while my son David was playing the Coalition.

As usual, we started by determining the contours of the civil war in Iraq. This is what the map looked like, before we tested for the loyalty of Iraqi units and militia:

IMG_5072…and this is what it looked like afterwards, with the green counters indicating pro-Iranian units. The loyalist units near Baghdad were a problem, since I had hoped to capture the city quickly.

IMG_5074As per the variant rules, the Coalition player was also faced with opposition protests in Kuwait, Dahran (Saudi Arabia), and Manama (Bahrain). Those in Bahrain are particularly dangerous: not only are protests more likely to occur there, but they can also escalate rapidly. One of the variant random events even generates a test for a full-scale uprising the country that can topple the monarchy and potentially gain the Iranian player victory points. Consequently—and as in real-life—the GCC needs to think about internal security as much as it does about Iranian troops.

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On Turn 1, I decided to stoke the fires of political protest in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia through covert IRGC al-Qods Force destabilization operations, using the revised covert action rules in the game variant. Unfortunately, both attempts went poorly. My teams were captured, and exposure of an Iranian connection caused the demonstrations to fizzle.

My third al-Qods operation was more successful, subverting the loyalist Iraqi militia unit in Baqubah with large offers of cash and causing it to switch sides. This allowed Iranian military forces to approach Baghdad quickly, seizing the Iraqi capital.

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To the north, the Kurdish “capital” of Irbil also fell quickly, although the nearby city of Mosul took somewhat longer to secure. Iran now had three of the four victory points it needed to win.

I decided not to deploy Iran’s airborne or marine forces in the first few turns of the game. Under the rules these become much more difficult to use as the game continues, reflecting the growing strength of Coalition sea and airpower. In the regular game of Oil War there is thus a strong incentive to use them early. However, my hope was that the Shi’ite majority in Bahrain might eventually rise up against the regime—at which point, Iranian troops could be landed to “protect” the new government from any GCC counterattack.  Under the modified rules, the Iranian airborne and marine forces would gain a landing bonus under such circumstances.

I also toyed with the idea of landing these Iranian forces near Dahran to slow any GCC efforts to aid the Bahraini government. In retrospect that might have been useful. However, under the variant rules it would have come at the political cost of aborting any further protests in Saudi Arabia, and increasing the level of military commitment to the Coalition.

Sure enough, new protests soon erupted in Bahrain and in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The Coalition diverted three divisions of Saudi troops, plus a contingent from the UAE, to help put these down. To maximize their effectiveness, they often used deliberately brutal tactics. While these made their efforts more successful, the sight of GCC troops firing upon anti-government protesters weakened US support. On several occasions US ground reinforcements were delayed as a result.

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Within Iraq, Iranian troops consolidated their control over the Baghdad area, clearing out the last pockets of loyalists. Others moved south, to the Kuwaiti border. I did not attack Kuwait immediately, however. Doing so would have increased US resolve, dampened any protests in Kuwait, and freed up Saudi troops to enter the country. At this point I was still hoping that the protests in Bahrain would rebound in strength. Consequently, al-Qods Force operatives made it a top priority to provide covert assistant to friendly elements of the Bahraini opposition.

The US, however, decided to force my hand. Backed by airstrikes, two US brigade combat teams launched an attack out of Kuwait against Iranian troops in the south, destroying several divisions of Revolutionary Guards. I counterattacked immediately, inflicting heavy casualties on the Americans, and slowly pushing back Kuwaiti and later Saudi troops. One Saudi column entered southern Iraq in an attempt to turn my flank, but was destroyed.

I was careful not to cross the border into Saudi Arabia itself—under the modified rules, doing so would have brought to an end any new protests in the country. In the “Unstable Gulf” variant, such political calculations often shape military strategy.

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A sandstorm struck, slowing Coalition efforts to reinforce their positions. I also used my al-Qods Force teams (reinforced by an additional team from Hizbullah via the Lebanese Complications event) to try to sabotage transportation facilities and thus slow the arrival of US troops. On one occasion the team was detected by an alert sentry and killed, but a few days later another enjoyed somewhat greater success.

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GCC troops continued to play whack-a-mole with protesters in and around Bahrain. Motivated by the Wahhabi zeal random event, Saudi troops again used brutal tactics against Shi’ite protestors to slowly regain the upper hand. Once again, this didn’t help US efforts to build political support at home for an expanded American military commitment.

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However, the GCC gamble paid off. When a full-scale uprising did eventually come via the Bahrain Erupts random event, it was weak and quickly crushed. My hopes of a Shi’ite liberation (and Iranian intervention) were dashed. With so few protests still active, not even the Social Media random event could reenergize the opposition.

Things were going rather better for me around Kuwait, where I continued to push back Kuwaiti and Saudi troops. American reinforcements continued to trickle in only slowly. I was certainly glad that so many GCC troops were tied up suppressing protests to the south.

At this point I still had two Revolutionary Guards divisions in reserve. I was reluctant to commit these to operations—under the variant rules, they might be needed to suppress any demonstrations at home should there be a political backlash against the war.

IMG_5083US air power was taking its toll, however. Iranian movement was increasingly interdicted, and slowed to a crawl. In Kuwait, US airstrikes inflicted heavy damage on my formations as they approached Kuwait City.

As if that wasn’t enough, a Marine Expeditionary Unit launched an amphibious attack to the north of Kuwait City. It pushed back several Iranian divisions, and pinned others to prevent them from moving south.

IMG_5084Between this and the defence-in-depth offered by newly-arrived Saudi troops it seemed unlikely that my troops would break through before the game ended. In desperation, I ordered my Iranian airborne and marine units to make landings south of Kuwait City.

The result was expected, given coalition air and naval power. My forces were destroyed before ever reaching their assigned landing zones.

And so the game ended. Iranian troops had reached the very gates of Kuwait City. However, they clearly lacked the firepower to dislodge the two US brigade combat teams that defended it, while additional US reinforcements continued to arrive. It was a draw.

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How did the “Unstable Gulf” variant play? I have since made a few small rule tweaks and clarifications based on the playtest, but in general we were both pleased with how well it worked. The addition of a political overlay to the game added a whole new series of strategic and operational trade-offs for both players. Much more of the map was at play in this version compared to the standard game, with GCC troops having to contain political protests across a wide area. The game modifications somewhat tilted play in favour of Iran  during our game, compared to the original rules. However, this is offset by the fact that, in the variant, any potential Turkish and (post-Asad) Syrian intervention arising from the random events phase is always on the Coalition side—unlike the original rules where the Turks can come in on either side, and the Syrians always join the war as Iranian allies. Finally, the Iranian player can potentially lose victory points by suffering heavy casualties, and then having insufficient forces on hand in their strategic reserve to deal with any subsequent anti-war protests by the opposition.

In addition to the link at the top of this page, a pdf copy of the variant rules (minus the development notes in the original blogpost) can be downloaded here.

simulations miscellany, belated 2013 New Year’s edition

IMG_0863We’ve been a bit slow posting material over the last couple of weeks, what with the holidays and all. (I’m also happy to report wargames were received under the Christmas tree.) Now, however, we’re back in the saddle—and hence this, our periodic PAXsims round-up of simulation-related news. Happy 2013!

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MOWThe new edition of Geopolitical Simulator 2—Masters of the World: Geopolitical Simulator 3—will be released by Eversim between January 15 and February 15, and is now available for preorder.

Masters of the World, Geopolitical Simulator 3, includes a number of new features, including a multi-country game mode, new map construction items (pipelines, high-speed train lines, ports, etc.), new laws (nationalization; taxation by brackets; regulation of abortion, physician-assisted suicide, marijuana consumption, and more), the ability to create your own international organizations, televised appearances, debt management including rating agencies and international lenders, new commando troops, new playable countries, and new scenarios.

You’ll find our positive review of the previous version of the game here.

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Military-Sim-feature-Point-of-Attack-1-610x468At PC Gamer last month, Tim Stone explored “Ten military sims that are answering the call of duty.”

While a PC Gamer Editor’s Choice logo on the front of a wargame or simulation box might be a cast-iron Fun Guarantee, it doesn’t mean you’re about to purchase a product that will help you understand or stay alive on a modern battlefield. To be sure of that you need to seek out one of The Camo Club – the select band of titles so steeped in realism, today’s armies use them as training tools.

The men with the buzz cuts and big pockets began utilising videogames back in the early ’80s. One of the first recruits was arcade classic Battlezone. Struck by the parallels between hunting vector-graphic hover-tanks and UFOs in a 3D battlespace, and hunting T-72s and Hind gunships on a Cold War battlefield, the US Army persuaded Atari to adapt their coin- op for instructional purposes. Two ‘Bradley Trainers’ were eventually built. Featuring 20th century targets and weapons, and AFV-style control yokes rather than joysticks, the machines were designed to assess and sharpen the skills of Infantry Fighting Vehicle gunners – a fact that could explain why movement options were restricted to turret traversal.

Today’s military classrooms are awash with PC-based games. Cheap and convenient compared to field exercises, versatile 3D simulations and map-based strategy titles are helping teach our troops to do everything from pilot aircraft and operate tanks, to lead infantry platoons, plan counter-insurgency operations, and organise logistics. Those careworn warriors on the evening news – the ones dashing from Chinooks, crouching behind mud walls, or poring over laptops in tented HQs? At some point in their careers, they’ve probably sat in front of a monitor wondering whether to push on, pull back, or check GameFAQs for a walkthrough….

The PC games discussed include  Harpoon, Tacops, Decisive Action, Future Force, Close Combat, VBS, Combat Mission, Point of Attack 2, DCS: A-10C, and Steel Beasts Pro.

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A forthcoming article by Håkan Söderberg et al in the The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation will ask “In video war games, are military personnel’s fixation patterns different compared with those of civilians?” The answer is: apparently not.

For combat personnel in urban operations, situational awareness is critical and of major importance for a safe and efficient performance. One way to train situational awareness is to adopt video games. Twenty military and 20 civilian subjects played the game “Close Combat: First to Fight” on two different platforms, Xbox and PC, wearing an eye tracker. The purpose was to investigate if the visual search strategies used in a game correspond to live training, and how military-trained personnel search for visual information in a game environment. A total of 27,081 fixations were generated through a centroid mode algorithm and analyzed frame-by-frame, 48% of them from military personnel. Military personnel’s visual search strategies were different from those of civilians. Fixation durations were, however, equally short, that is, about 170 ms, for both groups. Surprisingly, the military-trained personnel’s fixation patterns were less orientated towards tactical objects and areas of interest than the civilians’; the underlying mechanisms remaining unclear. Military training was apparently not advantageous with respect to playing “Close Combat: First to Fight”. Further research within the area of gaming, military training and visual search strategies is warranted.

Although the findings have multiple explanations, they potentially do raise some important questions about video-game based tactical military training, given that the visual cues, muscle-memory responses, and so forth of game playing can be quite different from those in the field.

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The folks at Statecraft have posted two videos of their classroom international relations simulation online, showing how both instructors and students set up the game to play.

Statecraft appears to be a very thoughtfully-designed, polished product. We won’t be able to bring you a full review, however, since the folks there are reluctant to let us have a play around with the software.

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The NGO Seeds of Peace recently held a dialogue meeting of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian youth that involved, among other things, a simulation of the forthcoming Israeli elections. You’ll find details here.

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Meanwhile, Ms. Riley’s A Block Honors Global Studies class held their own simulated Middle East Peace negotiations.

We haven’t the faintest idea who or where “Ms. Riley’s A Block Honors Global Studies class” is, but they seem to be having rather more success with it than the actual Middle East process-formerly-known-as-peace.

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Finally, Adam Bemma has put together a radio report on the annual “Brynania” peacebuilding simulation that I hold each year at McGill University. The civil war there will be continuing again in April of this year in POLI 450/650. Have a listen!

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