PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Validating models of irregular warfare

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A forthcoming article in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation by Jeffrey Appleget, Curtis Blais, and Michael Jaye offers a useful look at “Best Practices for DoD Model Validation: Lessons Learned from Irregular Warfare Models.”

The US Department of Defense (DoD) requires all models and simulations that it manages, develops, and/or uses to be verified, validated, and accredited. Critical to irregular warfare (IW) modeling are interactions between combatants and the indigenous population. Representation of these interactions (human behavior representation (HBR)) requires expertise from several of the many fields of social science. As such, the verification, validation, and accreditation (VVA) of these representations will require adaptation and, in some cases, enhancement of traditional DoD VVA techniques. This paper suggests validation best practices for the DoD modeling community to address new challenges of modeling IW.

While the title stresses US Department of Defense practices, the article itself also has a great deal to say about the inherent challenges of validating models of complex human behaviour of the sort that are relevant to insurgencies and stabilization operations. Unfortunately, the full piece is behind the SAGE paywall, so you’ll need a subscription to access it.

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THATCamp IMMERSe 2013

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THATCamp IMMERSe will be held on 12-14 July 2013 in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario:

Announcing THATCamp IMMERSe! On the weekend of July 12th, we’ll gather in Kitchener-Waterloo to discuss, create, debate, design, and play games!

THATCamp IMMERSe is an unconference hosted by the University of Waterloo Games Institute, in partnership with the IMMERSe Research Network for Video Game Immersion. THATCamp IMMERSe was founded as a way to bring together game studies and digital humanities theorists and practitioners, game developers and designers, games enthusiasts and advocates, and humanities instructors and scholars interested in games, pedagogy, and player experience. This THATCamp is organized by Lauren Burr, Neil Randall, and the graduate students of The Games Institute.

What is THATCamp? Short for “The Humanities and Technology Camp,” THATCamp is a user-generated “unconference” on digital humanities. THATCamp was originally the brainchild of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, where the first THATCamp was held in 2008. Since then, more than sixty THATCamps have convened across the US and internationally.

What is an “unconference”? According to Wikipedia, an unconference is “a conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by one or more organizers in advance of the event.” Participants in an unconference are expected to share their knowledge and actively collaborate with fellow participants rather than simply attend or read a paper. Unconferences strive to avoid pomp and hierarchy; as a result, they’re generally more comfortable and free-flowing than a typical academic gathering. A frequent THATCamp attendee summed up the difference between a THATCamp and a regular academic conference this way: “[THATCamps] give all the good of traditional conferences and nix the endless PowerPoint presentations, sage-on-stage moments, and insane costs.”

Who should attend THATCamp IMMERSe? Anyone with energy and an interest in games, technology, and the humanities. We invite games scholars, students, developers, designers, and enthusiasts interested in the confluence of games and the (digital) humanities to join us.

What will happen at THATCamp? Our THATCamp will feature workshops and sessions. Workshops are pre-planned, and feature informal and fun instruction in a particular skill or topic in the broad fields of game design and game studies. Sessions are looser, participant-generated gatherings, which will be collaboratively scheduled the first morning of our THATCamp. At THATCamp IMMERSe, sessions may range from software demos to game jams to training sessions to discussions of research findings.

What’s my role as a Camper? Using our THATCamp blog, propose a session before we meet in person. Alternatively, bring a session idea and propose it to the group during our scheduling session. Once you’re at THATCamp, you may also find people with similar interests to team up with for a joint session. If you would like to lead a workshop, see our call for workshop leaders. If you would like to contribute something to our public games showcase, see our call for games.

Where is all of this taking place? We’ve booked a different venue for each day of THATCamp IMMERSe. On July 12th, workshops will be held at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in UpTown Waterloo. On July 13th, unconference sessions will be held at Kitchener City Hall. And on July 14th, a public showcase and gaming event, as well as a private THATCamp Design Lab, will be held at THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener. This arrangement gives campers a chance to see more of what both “Uptown” Waterloo and downtown Kitchener have to offer, and to partake in fun gaming and social events sponsored by The Games Institute.

How do I sign up? Visit our THATCamp site’s registration page and fill out a short application. Registration will begin on APRIL 1st. It will remain open until JUNE 15th, or until all available spots are full. Please note that we can accommodate no more than 100 people, so sign up as soon as possible to reserve yourself a spot!

How much? THATCamp IMMERSe is FREE to all attendees! THATCamps are cheap or free on purpose. Our THATCamp has been generously sponsored by The Games Institute, IMMERSe, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Kitchener City Hall, and THEMUSEUM, and so we’ll be able to provide coffee, snacks and swag, along with three state-of-the-art venues, at no cost to our participants.

Contact: For more information, visit our website at http://immerse2013.thatcamp.org/ or send us an email at thatcampimmerse@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter for regular updates!

“Pipe Trouble” trouble

Pipe Trouble is a Canadian digital game that explores some of the issues around pipeline construction in environmentally-sensitive areas. In it, a player must connect two ends of a natural gas pipeline. In doing so, however, they must cross areas of forest, wildlife, and farmland. Placing pipes costs money, so there is an incentive to take the shortest route. However, building in sensitive areas brings out environmental protesters, and even the occasional saboteur. If a pipe isn’t connected when the gas starts flowing, spillages and explosions can result. Between levels, one hears “news broadcasts” in the background that showcase many of the issues involved. Part of the funds from purchases of the game were to be donated to the David Suziki environmental foundation.

According to the website of game developer Pop Sandbox:

PIPE TROUBLE was developed in conjunction with the documentary film TROUBLE IN THE PEACE by Six Island Productions.

Trouble In The Peace is a much anticipated documentary film by award-winning director Julian T. Pinder, commissioned by TVO. It takes an unflinching look into the world of Big Oil & Gas told through the eyes of artist/cowboy Karl Mattson and his four-year-old daughter.

As the video above suggests, Pipe Trouble is simply a classic pipeline game repurposed with a somewhat satirical political and environmental overlay. It is also rather fun. However, the part where angry locals blow up the pipeline (as really happened in British Columbia in the past) has ignited a storm of controversy—especially since the game was partially developed with public money, and featured on the website of TV Ontario.

 

The premier of Alberta condemned the game:

Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she is disappointed to see a taxpayer-funded online game showing the bombing of a gas pipeline.

TV Ontario provided money to create the game, called Pipe Trouble, to accompany a documentary about the pipeline debate in British Columbia.

But questions have been raised about the game’s introductory video, which appears to show activists protesting before a pipeline blows up.

This screen grab shows a taxpayer-funded online game showing the bombing of a gas pipeline, called Pipe Trouble, which will accompany a documentary about the pipeline debate in British Columbia.

The provincially funded broadcaster says the game is meant to engage people on both sides of the pipeline debate and it’s not taking sides.

But Redford says a taxpayer-funded game depicting the blowing up of pipelines is contrary to Canada’s interests given that the entire country benefits from a strong and diverse energy sector.

B.C. premier Christy Clark said there was no place for positions that advocate violence:

“In British Columbia, we have a long history of strong, vigorous debate on issues and it is always done in a respectful way,” she said.

“There is no place in debate for positions that advocate violence and it is disappointing this video would even suggest that approach is appropriate.”

At least one federal cabinet minister also jumped into the fray:

On Saturday, Federal Heritage Minister James Moore came out critical of the David Suzuki Foundation for supporting the game’s message.

“[The game] has sparked discussion, and it’s tasteless, and I think that they [the game developers] should be ready for that kind of a pushback,” Moore said.

“There are video games that depict all kinds of pretty aggressive acts — violent acts from time to time — but I think that angle, of the David Suzuki Foundation actually collecting a financial benefit from those who want to play games that depict violence against people who work in our natural resource sector, I think probably goes a little bit too far and I think probably tests the boundary of good taste.”

At first TVO defended the game:

As a public media organization our mandate is to use media to engage citizens in the issues that shape our world, and to spark discussion and debate by exploring different points of view. The issues our content has addressed over more than four decades are complex and sometimes controversial. We explore these issues through hundreds of hours per year of documentary programming and current affairs (For a blog and video on the issue of pipelines click here:  http://theagenda.tvo.org/blog/agenda-blogs/agenda-insight-say-yes-keystone).

TVO does not endorse any one point-of-view. We have solid editorial processes in place to ensure all our content meets our programming standards.

Docs like Trouble in the Peace and immersive games like Pipe Trouble are some of the ways in which TVO uses media to engage people in complex issues. The point-of-view documentary tells the story from the perspective of a farmer who sees the construction of a pipeline affecting his remote community of Peace River. Worried about environmental repercussions, he takes an unusual course of action, building a protective capsule on his property for he and his daughter.

Pipe Trouble allows players to explore both the corporate and the environmental perspective of this complex issue. To get a perfect score, players must build the pipeline as economically and environmentally responsibly as they can. The objective is to lay down as few pipes as possible, while not disrupting the environment. A demo of Pipe Trouble is on TVO’s website. The full version is available for purchase as an app for iPads and Android devices.

TVO has no relationship with the David Suzuki Foundation. The game developer, who owns the rights to the game, has decided to donate a portion of the revenues to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Trouble in the Peace premiered on TVO and will be running on several other Canadian broadcasters later this year. The game has just completed an exhibition at the SXSW digital media conference in Austin, Texas.

But then they later removed it from the website pending a review:

TVO has rigourous editorial oversight processes in place to ensure that our Programming Standards are met. However, we recognize the public concern regarding this game and have therefore decided out of an abundance of care, to appoint two individuals of experience and independent standing to review the game in the context of TVO’s Programming Standards. We expect to be able to confirm these individuals by early next week. They will produce a report for TVO’s Board of Directors by the end of April. Until this process is complete TVO has made the decision to remove Pipe Trouble from its website.

TVO takes very seriously the expenditure of public funds with which we are entrusted and would like to assure Ontarians that the organization is in full compliance with all related Government policies and directives.

Much of the criticism is a little off-base, since the game certainly doesn’t advocate bombing gas pipeline. Rather, it is simply one of the things that can occur if your lay pipe in sensitive areas and anger the local population. Then again, pipeline sabotage is a rare and criminal activity that certainly doesn’t characterize the pipeline debate in Western Canada. A publicly funded (and Ontario) broadcaster could have anticipated the likely political backlash the game would generate.

As for the game itself, in many ways it has served its purpose: the film it was meant to publicize has now received far more publicity than would have otherwise been the case.

Apple and politically-provocative game apps

PAXsims readers may remember that earlier this year Apple rejected a Syria-based current affairs games app for its online store on the grounds that it was, well, too current affairs. Consequently the game designers have apparently now decided to relaunch the game by deleting all the references to Syria.

Michael Peck at Forbes has more on the story:

Remember “Endgame: Syria”, the iOS newsgame on the ongoing Syrian civil war, that the Apple store rejected because it covered a real war by real nations instead of the usual silly made-up wars in most games.

I wish I could say that Apple changed its mind. But it’s more accurate to say that the game’s publisher, UK-based Auroch Digital, found a way to humor the humorless iBureaucrats. “Endgame: Syria” has been repackaged as “Endgame: Eurasia”, which is pretty much the same game except that the name “Syria” has been removed along with references to specific groups such as the Free Syrian Army or Hezbollah.

“We’ve come to the end of three rejections and one appeal and the only way we’ve been able to get Endgame: Syria out on iOS was to remove all references to the real world and sadly that changes it from a ‘newsgame’ into just a ‘game’,” developer Tomas Rawlings announced in a press release. “We’ve released this game version so at least players with Apple devices can get a feel for what we originally intended for the platform.”

Rawlings told me that “the Eurasia game is the same structure as Endgame:Syria, but we’re replaced the images of that identify Syria, such as the flag with fictional ones and all the locations are replaced with places from out-of copyright fictional locations, for example Eurasia is from 1984.”

“Endgame: Syria” is still available for Android on Google Play  and for the PC on GameJolt. It has been recently updated to include Scud missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

“Endgame: Syria” is not a high-fidelity political-military simulation of a very complicated civil war that even real governments and experts can’t figure out how to resolve. But it is laudable that the publishers at least have tried to enhance the public’s understanding of current events through games. If only Apple were as open-minded, or less fearful of offending dictators.

Recently Apple also also rejected Sweatshop HD, a sweatshop-themed game. As Pocket Gamer reports:

According to UK developer Littleloud,Sweatshop HD is an iPad game that “challenged people to think about the origin of the clothes we buy”.

But it has now been removed from Apple’s online marketplace. Why? Well, because the App Store gatekeeper was “uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop”.

Littleloud’s game was a skewed spin on tower defence games, where you put together a production line to churn out designer shoes and baseball caps for brands like “CryMark”.

But to keep costs down, it paid to ignore a few basic human rights, hire cheap labourers, and treat your underage workforce with only a modicum of respect.

If you can stomach the paralysing guilt of mistreating your virtual workers, you’ll bring in cash and ace the level.

We called it a “superbly crafted combination of tower defence game and management sim that’s consistently thought-provoking, yet never heavy-handed” in our PG Silver Award review.

The game was released in November 2012, but it was removed earlier this year.

Littleloud’s head of games, Simon Parkin, told Pocket Gamer that “Apple removed Sweatshop from the App Store last month stating that it was uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop.”

“Apple specifically cited references in the game to clothing factory managers ‘blocking fire escapes’, ‘increasing work hours for labour’, and issues around the child labour as reasons why the game was unsuitable for sale.”

“Littleloud amended the app to clarify that Sweatshop is a work of fiction and was created with the fact-checking input of charity Labor Behind the Label, and to emphasise that the game doesn’t force players to play the game in one way or another. Rather, Sweatshop is a sympathetic examination of the pressures that all participants in the sweatshop system endure.”

“Sadly, these clarifications and changes weren’t enough to see the game reinstated for sale.”

So, if you want to experience it, you’ll have to play the free Flash version.

Apple declined our offer to comment on the story.

SmartWar: Designing an insurgency wargame

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We should have mentioned in the last PAXsims “simulations miscellany” that Robert Hossal has been continuing his series on designing an insurgency wargame at his SmartWar blog. Here are the instalments to date:

 

simulations miscellany, Spring 2013 edition

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As the northern hemisphere welcomes the imminent arrival of Spring 2013—evidenced by the view outside my front window this morning (above)—PAXsims is pleased to present another collection of conflict simulation and gaming news from around the internet.

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Need a virtual continent? Look no further than “Missionland,” the four million square kilometres of politically-correct terrain data produced by the NATO Science and Technology Organization, Modeling and Simulation Group. You’ll find the full story at Defense News.

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The folks at Reacting to the Past have announced the formation of a new “Reacting Consortium.”

Reacting Consortium is an independently chartered organization of colleges and universities committed to developing and publishing the “Reacting to the Past” series of role playing games and providing programs for faculty development and curricular change. Its broader mission is to promote imagination, inquiry, and engagement as foundational features of teaching and student learning in higher education. Institutions interested in exploring the benefits of membership should contact Dana Johnson, Administrative Director, at djohnson@barnard.edu.

We are already working to expand our outreach activities, as well as to strengthen our collaborative enterprise.  Several faculty workshops will be held in the coming months, including a Regional Conference at Pikes Peak Community College (Colorado Springs, April 19-21) and a special JALT Faculty Workshop at Sophia University in Tokyo (May 11-12).  Registration is also open for the Thirteenth Annual Faculty Institute at Barnard College (New York, June 6-9). Interested faculty are encouraged are encouraged to register early. For further details about the program, registration rates, and the call for proposals, please visit the institute web site.

Finally, the Reacting Consortium is developing a partnership with a new publisher, W.W. Norton & Company. Norton will be working closely with the Reacting Consortium Editorial Board to prepare revised editions of existing games and to publish new games, as well as to expand the resources available to instructors and students

You’ll find several forthcoming RTTP events and conferences listed on their website, including a RTTP Game Development Conference to be held at Central Michigan University on 18-20 July 2013.

This conference focuses on designing games for the pedagogical method “Reacting to the Past.”  We will play several Reacting-style games that are currently in development, discuss game design principles and processes, and work to expand and explore ideas for new games.

For further information, please visit the conference web site.

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The latest issue (March 2013) of Simages—the newsletter of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association—has been published, with NASAGA news, several articles, and information on the 2013 conference. You can download it here.

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At Forbes, Michael Peck comments on “Al Qaeda’s Goofy Video Game.” Technically it’s not really an al-Qaida game at all, but rather a game by a couple of AQ wannabe game designers, but he’s right that it isn’t very good. You’ll also find coverage at Foreign Policy magazine, Kotaku, and Globalpost.

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What have the folks at MMOWGLI been up to lately with their Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet? You can find out at DoD Live.

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Kris Wheaton (Institute for Intelligence Studies, Mercyhurst University) offers more thoughts on game-based learning and intelligence at his Sources and Methods blog. What’s more, he’s also formed a gaming company!

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We missed this one before: an academic paper by Nina Kollars and Amanda M. Rosen  on “Arming the Canon: Reviving the Foundation of International Relations through Games—another of the many game/simulation papers presented at the recent 2013 APSA Teaching & Learning Conference.

This paper attempts to add a layer of conceptual clarity to the study of simulations and games in international relations by classifying simulations and games according to their unit of analysis and the number of sources they attempt to incorporate. We present this classification and note the advantages and disadvantages of such a model with particular attention paid to the potential misuses of topic-based and multi-source games. We introduce a new unit of analysis, the question- or problem-based approach, and offer a new game to illustrate the potential benefits of such an approach. Ultimately we conclude that a large part of the answer to whether or not simulations are effective in advancing learning may depends on how a particular game is framed and executed.

Reconstructing Afghanistan (2013)

On Friday night, a group of students from my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) class attempted to reconstruct Afghanistan using the Afghan reconstruction game. This is the second time we’ve played the game at McGill, although this year we modified the original rules to add a Taliban team. (In the original version of the game Taliban actions are entirely determined by decks of random event cards.)

We also somewhat modified the rather confusing way that victory points (the “National Stability Index”) is calculated in the game, although in retrospect the revised formula was a little too harsh.

While there are around one hundred students in POLI 450, there were only spaces for 18 to play the game. This isn’t a particular problem in this course, because the “course participation” grade includes a number of optional activities, of which this game is only one. However, it could be a challenge integrating the game into larger courses organized in a different fashion.

As the video above suggests, the game went well, with a lot of student engagement. While the NATO team and the Kandahar provincial team came close to eking out a victory, in the end the result was a substantial Taliban victory (perhaps a not entirely unrealistic outcome).

Below I’ve collected together some of the comments that students had about the game. Not only do they provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses of this particular game design, but they show how quickly a group of neophyte players can move from playing into thinking about the underlying social models and they way they are represented in the rules. While we didn’t have much opportunity to do so on Friday, such a discussion over game design can reap significant analytical dividends. What are the essentials of reconstruction? How does development relate to political stabilization? What is missing from the game that is important enough in real-life peacebuilding to add? What effects are “unrealistic”—and why? …and so forth

FSJ, the Taliban commander in Khost province, commented:

I though the game was very interesting in laying out the fundamentals of condensing and simulating a nation-building/conflict resolution situation into a board game.  There were both some very through of design features, and also some very not-thought-through design features when we played the games.

Good features:

  • The rock-paper-scissor method of a combat made the game more engaging (and even sometimes aggressive in an entertaining way) between actors.
  • The ‘resource’ and ‘influence’ chips were very well thought of because it helped simulate reality forces that polarized decisions and outcomes on both a provincial and national level (and to win the game).
  • It was also good to have the Taliban added than any other actor in its place, because it helps simulate the reality and complications that this simulation addresses to teach.

Bad features:

  • As Prof. Brynen mentioned, as per the funding for the game, it was indeed a bit odd to see Christian-based NGOs in the realm of Afghan provinces, such as the “World Church Union.”
  • The scoring of the National Stability Index was a bit wonky in terms of being equitable to all parties, i.e. the provinces and their actors and the Taliban.
  • SInce the event cards were the same for all 3 provinces, it was not as specific to that province as it could have been. More specific event cards would have made the game more interesting on a provincial level.

All in all, well worth the 5 hours of play, and WOOHOO the Taliban had a National victory!

The “rock-paper-scissors” system mentioned above for resolving combat was one of my game modifications, and it worked really well both as a random-outcome generator and as an engagement device. These fight’s invariably elicited a great of attention, and the US Stryker battalion commander in Kandahar province become something of a NATO legend for her success in fending off multiple Taliban assaults.

MM, the Taliban commander in Kunar province had these comments:

Just thought I’d offer comments as well on the Reconstruction Game. The Game was a very engaging and entertaining mode of learning about the on-the-ground difficulties that multiple actors face while attempting to undertake sustainable reconstruction in a conflict-ridden area. It highlighted all the vectors of development which must be undertaken by different actors according to their differential capacities to achieve national stability. As I was a Taliban Representative to the Kunar province, my views may be a bit one-sided.

The merits of the Game lie in its emphasis on strategy. This is true not only of the Provincial and National forces (The Afghan Govt., NATO and the NGOs), but also of the Taliban forces. The Game highlighted the paramountcy of coordination, priority-management and foresight. At the national level, actors were faced with the task of effective devolution of resources and influence amongst local actors. On the provincial level, local actors realised their fundamental role in the maintenance of national stability. Of course, this was realised in the form of the National Stability Index. I noticed that when the Game got rolling, actors from all 3 provinces started coordinating reconstruction efforts (in particular, completion of key projects in development and security) to garner enough points to increase the Index.

Professor Brynen’s inclusion of the Taliban actors and their role in the seasonal “insurgency” was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining aspects of the Game. It also definitely made the Game more realistic. The actors in this rendition of the Game were not able to achieve a NSI over a 100 — at the end of the Game it was still below 50 and none of the Provinces had successfully completed their projects, although 2 Provinces were only one short of this mark. For all intents and purposes, I would count that as a realistic win.

Although actors could have won on a provincial level, I felt that efforts were dedicated toward the end of national stability. I am not sure exactly how realistic this would be. As Professor Brynen mentioned, in reality, Kandahar Province received most attention in terms of aid and resources during the War and recon effort because of the presence of important actors such as the US and NATO.

An obvious drawback to the Game was the identical structure of all the Provinces (they even had exactly the same maps and local leaders). It is important to be sensitive to not only the particular conditions of each locality, but also to the diversity of its people. Not to sound too harsh, but the Game ran on a principle of appeasement (in particular monetary appeasement) of the local Malik, the local religious leaders (Mullahs) and the local Majlis-e-Shura. There were no efforts to include the local actors in the reconstruction efforts, which is an important vector emphasised in lectures time and again. Perhaps another category where players can place their “influence chips” could include the local populace.

The calculation of the NSI was skewed, as all of us noted. It made it very difficult for the provincial characters to advance in the Game. The “Event Cards” seemed too harsh — it was very difficult to advance with development projects which kept being obstructed by freak accidents such as storms and cholera outbreaks. While it makes sense that a cholera outbreak should test health sector development, it does not have to erase all development hitherto achieved.

I want to thank Professor Brynen for letting us partake in this great exercise. The pizza was also yummy!

Once again, I should reiterate that the difficult in increasing the “National Stability Index” was the result of my own over-adjustment to the rules, following last year’s game when the Coalition players won too easily.

The Afghan Government player in Kunar province commented:

I agree with all of the pros and cons you’ve listed. Here are a few others:

Pros:

  • It was very interesting to see the shifts in alliances and loyalty that occurred towards the end of the game since it was possible to win with your organization instead of just with your province.
  • I think the ‘telephone’ idea of not being able to show intelligence cards to other members and only relay information verbally was a great addition to the game. It created a realistic aspect of what it could be like in the field with miscommunications or problems with translation.
  • I think that having to buy influence from the Shura was a great aspect to the game since it underscored the importance of having influence first to get things done and the possibility of having all your work halted when alliances sour. However, as we discussed during the game, there was a flaw that made it more beneficial to accumulate lots of influence instead of focussing on the projects. That flaw was partially counterbalanced by the requirement of 6 completed projects to keep the Taliban from winning in your province.
  • The impact of having a warlord was also very interesting because it created different arguments for strategy in terms of fighting the Taliban and resulted in some realistic punishments (withholding funds) from the national level because of ignored orders.

Cons:

  • As mentioned before, the point scale made it very difficult to raise the stability score, especially when the score needed to be rounded down to the nearest tenth.
  • After a certain point, it started to feel like the provincial events card had a stronger negative impact on our projects than the Taliban.
  • It seemed a bit too easy for every single actor to have all their projects completed by the deadline.

Overall it was a fun way to learn and even a little stressful to juggle so many responsibilities while on a clock. The game gives you an idea of the dilemmas of negotiations and allocations of limited resources.

SM, a national-level Taliban leader, also noted how much the introduction of active Taliban players contributed to the game:

I thought the Taliban was an excellent addition to the game. As a member of the Taliban, we were able to exert strategic decision-making throughout the game. For example saving cards up to strike at once, spreading resources fairly evenly through all provinces, using our money efficiently etc. That said, I think the game would be greatly improved if the provincial and national actors would be able to exert the same amount of strategy that the Taliban were permitted to through their role. This could be facilitated through provinces and national government following the same system of pulling cards and being allowed to save them strategically that was enforced by the Taliban (instead of just pulling cards and having it happen right away.)

I also think that the cards themselves for the provincial and national governments should be changed. I found them too harsh, it almost became guaranteed that every round a project would be destroyed in the provinces. However, this problem was solved to an extend by the ability to over-build on projects, which would be useful to do from the start the next time the game is played. It would probably also make it more difficult for the Taliban to win provincially.

As previously mentioned there were some problems with the national index scale being somewhat flawed. However, this can be easily fixed through a new scaling system.

The ability for the Taliban to build up money reserves through drug smuggling and then spend money on additional cards for insurgency purposes was a nice touch and accurate to real life.

As discussed after he simulation, the level of communication between provincial and national level of governments, provinces and organizations was perhaps a bit unrealistic. Especially with the ability to trade resources and influences between them.

All together I thought that it was a really fun game, the addition of the Taliban created a fun and competitive environment. It was a great learning tool and I would definitely participate in this kind of thing again.

The game as originally designed for National Defense University played down the military strategy and competitive components because the audience were primarily military officers who needed to focus on issues of interagency coordination, not kinetic operations. My participants were rather different, however. Compared to last year, moreover, I thought the Taliban players (who were routinely booed when they entered the room) made the whole environment more fun. One of them also uttered perhaps my favourite line when, during a slightly heated point in the game, she asked “What’s with all this negativity?”—as she plotted how best to attack Coalition projects and personnel.

LK, the national-level Afghan government player, points to some of the coordination problems that cropped up in the game—and the possible need to build in even more of this:

What an informing five hours! A lot of what I have to same or comment on has already been said, but I still want to make a comment as a national participant of the reconstruction game. Overall, I enjoyed the takeaway. A the national GIRA player and representative of the Afghanistan government, nothing was more frustrating than seeing my fellow national NATO player two chips away from ‘completing’ all of his projects while our national stability index was in the red. I didn’t expect the final result to be reflective of the real world situation where NATO’s projects may be deemed successful but overall the country is worse off than before the conflict started.

As a national player, I expected more coordination problems to crop up. The only glaring issue we ran into was if I didn’t speak to NATO about where they were sending their military forces. If we didn’t ensure that every province had capable forces, then Taliban attacks could occur without the chance of fighting back. I started to pay attention to who was getting what NATO forces, though it seemed that my counterpart could care less who was getting the Afghan army or police. That proved irritating as well. I do wish that more coordination problems could have occurred to prove the importance of national level players coordinating with the government. Not once did the national NGO player ask what my priorities were either, but instead went straight to her provincial level players. I wish I had a voice in that as well but I’m not sure how that could be worked into the game.

National events, the way they played out, had a tendency to severely limit my resources at times, leading to discontent from my national players. In the initial phase of the game, I and my NATO counterpart requested that two provinces with warlords get rid of them and gave them the extra resources to do so. When they didn’t, I threatened to limit resources and I did – giving one cash chip instead of three. My NATO counterpart’s threat didn’t hold and his players didn’t care. Unfortunately, getting rid of the warlord was relatively useless and I didn’t have the foresight to realize that every other provincial event card (or so it seemed) had another one popping up. Still, the idea of corruption and having my resources given by my provincial players to the warlord every turn was frustrating.

But on the topic of national events, the cards seemed powerful but not as powerful as provincial events which could wipe 6 projects off the board. I wished there were different sets of events for each province and, like many other players have mentioned, that the provinces themselves were more differentiated in their dynamics, their projects and their needs. I had a tendency to treat all three provinces the same, if I gave more to one turn, another got extra the next and so on. I wish I had been forced to consider trade-offs of different projects in different places. Allocation on my side was always very fast and efficient. By the time national resource allocation rolled around I had almost always decided what I was going to do and I just doled out to my players. The NATO player on the other hand had a lot more bargaining going on and begging from players saying what they were going to use it for. I tried to be more demanding and give my players resources for specific things – though they didn’t always listen. Other than limited resources the next turn, I had no other way of rebuking them which kind of sucked.

Regardless of the troubles and mild coordination problems, I very much enjoyed the game and the pizza.

The pizza—from Angela’s Pizzeria—is always good at McGill game nights!

The overall NATO commander, TS, had this to say about the game:

Although the odds were in their favour, player-controlled Taliban actors were an important (and more realistic) addition to the game. Their ability to survey our actions and conduct theirs in private was a good part of that—the disparity in our information let them react more appropriately to developments than we were able to react to their actions, much as I’d expect.

At the same time, I was never really as worried about the Taliban as I was about the dreadful national and provincial cards. LK and I looked through the deck of national cards after the game, and positive developments were sparse, while negative ones could be terrible. With the Taliban actions, at least, we got some level of control with the rock-paper-scissors games. There was also no practical way to prepare for national cards, and mitigating the effects of provincial cards was hampered by reliance on my memory (and that of NGO players when the mechanic arose) and imperfect relaying of the contents. As Prof. Brynen mentioned near the start of the sim, there needs to be a way to look at national-level cards so that it actually matters for gameplay—possibly by looking at the second, rather than the first, in the pile. The addition of a fourth level for projects was also important. Without it, I think it would have been almost impossible to meet the alternative province or faction win conditions after the final round, with it, there was at least a chance. Sarah seems to have similar feelings.

As MM reminds me, Kandahar province was the recipient of most of the attention in real-world Afghanistan, and I’m tempted to say that an in-game strategy which mirrored that would be more successful. The problem is that the attacks from Taliban and the provincial event cards were all very good at removing projects when they were built up minimally, however, when many were in place it seemed much easier to weather the assaults. In another iteration, it might be best for the national-level NATO actor (and likely the other two national-level actors) to feed all of their resources and chips to a single province for rapid development, then repeat the process for the other two provinces while maintaining the developed province(s). Without needing to split up protection, the province being built up would be much less prone to attacks, as well.

My strategy was not complex; it consisted of giving each provincial NATO actor what they needed according to their situation as they presented it to me, punishing them for changing their plans if we agreed to a particular use for what I gave them, rewarding them for keeping their word, and generally assuming that they each knew what the most important things to them were. When it became clear we couldn’t win with the index, I switched to pursuing the national-level win condition for NATO. (Focusing exclusively on that condition from the beginning might also be a good component in a revised strategy.) I’m glad TM noticed the withholding of funds, I was worried the NATO player in her province might have just ignored punishment in his quest to be Rambo.

One of the bigger problems (although definitely a ‘pro’ in terms of creating a more realistic game) I saw was communication. LK discusses this, too, and I think the focus of her post might highlight one of the biggest barriers to communication between the national-level players (I was seated in-between her and the NGO player, and that seems to have made the difference in who everyone interacted with). While I think a strategy which relies on the provincial players to assess their own needs and bargain for what they want is a more effective form of allocation, neither it nor the more nationally-directed strategy LK employed (of deciding her allocations ahead of time) were going to be successful on their own, something I didn’t realize until near the end of the simulation when I switched to a more selfish strategy. I had wrongly assumed that everyone individually working towards their own goals at the provincial level would naturally lead to a heightened NSI. It might happen with a better overall system for the NSI, but a better communication system would still be helpful.

A probable model for more effective allocation would be one where the nine provincial-level players came collectively to us three national-level players (likely grouped as their provinces) and plead their cases for monetary tokens and chips which we would allocate together. This would allow us to get past the problem LK observes where protection wasn’t evenly distributed, increase accountability from the provincial actors, and to better implement an overall strategy where each player knew what the others were doing.

The NSI index formula would need to be changed (FSJ’s choice of “wonky” to describe it is spot on). The suggestion of using two tracks (1s and 10s) would be great, allowing the movement of the index to be more representative of the investments in each region. I think it’s possible that may be the only change necessary, though, if other changes are implemented to make it a bit easier for provincial players to build up their provinces (because they can then garner a higher increase in the NSI). You may want to decrease the impact of some of the more negative cards, too. One, for example, dropped the index by four stages without a possibility of mitigation, more than the Taliban managed in a few turns. Earlier in the game, it seemed possible that we could succeed via the common NSI win condition, but that proved unrealistic near the end.

(It was also interesting that warlords were seen as a form of protection/mitigation worth the recurring cost—I was staunchly against them but the provincial players seemed happy to have them around at times.)

In the original game rules, Warlords are solely a bad thing, draining your resources and undermining your projects. In the revised rules, however, they also adversely affect Taliban operations too, making their impact rather more ambiguous. As in the real Afghanistan, many local players found it more convenient to tolerate than to confront them, despite their costs.

KJ, one of the NGO players, offers his thoughts too:

All in all, I thought the game was a tremendous success. For me, the most evident lesson was the necessary interdependency of all the provincial actors. As an NGO representative, I obviously started out prioritizing my own projects. I soon realized, however, that my projects were very easily destroyed and made worthless without cooperating with the security efforts of the Afghan and NATO forces. Similarly, the Afghan and NATO forces really benefitted from the fact that, as an NGO, I was “close to the people” and often had intelligence on what provincial events were on the horizon. It became very evident why, in real life Afghanistan, a lack of coordination among provincial actors can be so detrimental.

For me, like most of the others, the biggest issues were the fact that potentially project-destroying provincial events occurred AFTER provincial resource allocation, and also that one could not ‘over-build’ one’s projects. This made it nearly impossible to possess fully completed projects at the end of a turn, which really crippled our ability to boost the NSI. I also agree with Tiphaine’s point that, most of the time, I was far more scared of the random provincial events than the actual Taliban. These need to either be toned down, or interspersed with more positive cards.

Like Mina, I was uncomfortable with the idea that securing influence with the tribal elders primarily amounted to paying them off. It would be more interesting, I think, if the influence->project completion relationship was more of a two way relationship: one needs the initial influence of elders to complete projects successfully, but successfully completing these projects and keeping them in operation for a certain amount of time also earns additional influence by gaining the elders’ trust. There are some provincial cards that achieve this, but I think there should be more. A provincial card, for example, that reads “the Mullah walked by a collapsing school today, and shows increasing concerns about provincial education projects. Maintain a fully completed “Education” track at the end of the next turn to earn 2 Mullah influence points” makes considerations of ‘influence’ seem far more realistic and reciprocal.

Also, there are necessarily a lot of rules to the game, and I think there could be additional visual reminders on the board to help keep the players on track (although maybe the problem was simply the cluelessness of the players, ie. me.) For example, the completion of “top-row” projects was supposed to yield one additional money chip each turn for the corresponding provincial actor. However, almost every player forgot this. On the Taliban/Warlord square it reminds the player that they must PAY a money chip per turn, so I think it would make sense to visually remind players that with completed ‘top-level’ projects they also RECIEVE an additional coin per turn. This, to me, seemed like an obvious omission.

I agree that the rock paper scissors game was a great way of making the game more exciting and involved. I did, however, find it hard to believe that the Afghan National Police was basically just as likely to defeat a coordinated Taliban strike as the US Army Stryker Brigade. Perhaps there should be a way to randomly factor corruption variables into the rock paper scissors games? Perhaps in 2 out of 3 rock paper scissors games the Afghan Army automatically “flees” out of cowardice?

But like most respondents, I would have to agree that one of the game’s best aspects was the complementary Angela’s Pizza. Thanks again, professor!

Based on this year’s game—and thanks to the players—I now have plenty of modifications in mind for next’s year’s POLI 450 class.


The victorious Taliban team pose triumphantly with a “Peace on Earth” poster while the Afghan, NATO, and NGO players look on glumly

MODSIM 2013

modsim2013

Registration is open for the MODSIM WORLD 2013, a multi-disciplinary international modelling and simulation conference.

MODSIM World is a unique multi-disciplinary conference for the exchange of modeling and simulation knowledge, research and technology across industry, government and academia.  Focus areas for MODSIM World 2013 will include Defense, Healthcare/Medicine, Engineering & Applied Science, Information Assurance and Cyber Warfare, Cross-Cutting Applications in M&S, Education/Workforce Development, Transportation, and Manufacturing.

MODSIM World 2013 will feature a robust agenda of papers and panel discussions, as well as an exhibit floor featuring a variety of companies and organizations showcasing new advances in Modeling & Simulation.

MODSIM World 2013 will take place in the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton, VA.

CFP: Validating cyber-interventions for training, wellbeing and sustainability

10055_15_2_oc.qxpWe’re pleased to pass on this call for papers for a special issue of the academic journal Virtual Reality on the theme of  “validating cyber-interventions for training, wellbeing and sustainability.” While the deadline is very close, we’re told that if an author has serious intention to submit a paper and needs a deadline extension, this can be negotiated.

Validating cyber-interventions for training, wellbeing and sustainability

We define cyberinterventions as the attempt at modifying people’s actions, meanings and habits with a protocol that is primarily supported by a digital environment, with the final goal of increasing wellness of a consentient user and to serve values shared by the society at large. Typical domains of ‘cyber-interventions’ are, for instance, applications designed to increase consumers’ awareness of the environmental consequences of each single consumption act; cognitive-behavioral therapeutic interventions carried out with virtual environments; virtual simulations aimed at training users in the proper reaction to emergency situations; serious games showing the long-term effect of risky behaviors for educational purposes. The environments used for all these interventions range from immersive virtual worlds, to complex driving simulators, to mobile applications.

As is the case with any intervention tool and protocol, the mediated environment for cyberintervention must be validated to prove that it is able to generate the proper user experience instrumental to the goal of the intervention and that the protocol is effective.

We invite scholars to contribute to a theme issue on validation in cyberinterventions of any kind and in any domain. Examples of topics for submissions to this theme issue are:

* Specific methods and techniques to validate cyberintervention and/or cyberintervention environments
* Issues raised while validating cyberintervention and related solutions
* Differences and similarities between cyberinterventions and regular, face to face interventions in terms of validation
* Review/studies on relevant user experience dimensions for specific application fields
* Quality standards, requirements and guidelines to frame cyberintervention
* Relation between user experience validation and cyberintervention effectiveness
* Ethical validation of cyberinterventions
The theme issue will appear in the Springer journal Virtual Reality. Submissions will be peer reviewed in accordance with the journal’s normal process. Submission of a manuscript implies: that the work described has not been published before; that it is not under consideration for publication anywhere else; that its publication has been approved by all co-authors, if any, as well as by the responsible authorities – tacitly or explicitly – at the institute where the work has been carried out. The publisher will not be held legally responsible should there be any claims for compensation.

 

Guest editors

Anna Spagnolli, University of Padova, Italy

Cheryl Campanella Bracken, Cleveland State University, USA

 

Important Dates

Submission of paper: 22nd of March 2013
Notification of acceptance to authors: 14th of June 2013
Revised papers: 27th of September 2013

To discuss a possible contribution, please contact the theme issue editors at anna.spagnolli@unipd.it and c.bracken@csuohio.edu.

 

Submission modality

Papers should be submitted at: http://www.editorialmanager.com/vire/ under the category of “Cyberinterventions”.

 

About Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality covers a wide range of topics, to fully capture the multidisciplinary nature of the field. From business and commerce to telecommunications, entertainment and gaming to medicine, Virtual Reality covers a wide range of specific application areas, featuring clear, well-written, and accessible articles that will appeal to a multidisciplinary audience.Virtual Reality is abstracted and indexed by Science Citation Index Expanded (SciSearch), Journal Citation Reports/Science Edition, INSPEC, Google Scholar, EBSCO, Academic OneFile, ACM Computing Reviews, ACM Digital Library, Computer Abstracts International Database, Computer Science Index, Current Abstracts, Current Contents/Engineering, Computing and Technology, DBLP, EI-Compendex, Gale, io-port.net, OCLC, PASCAL, Summon by Serial Solutions

S&G: Simulations, games and peace

SGpeaceThe latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 44, 1 (February 2013) has just been published—and it is a special issue on “Simulations, games and peace” coedited by Gary and myself. Most of the articles are paywalled by SAGE and you’ll need a subscription to access them, but our introduction to the issue (excerpted below) is open access:

Simulations and games have long been used to examine war-fighting. Chess—one of the world’s oldest, and certainly most ubiquitous, games—has its origins some 1,500 years ago in India as a game of contemporary warfare. Since the invention of KRIEGSSPIEL in 19th century Prussia, professional wargames have been used to educate officers and train armies for battle (Perla, 1990).

Similar mechanisms can also be used, however, to examine conflict from another perspective: that is, how it might be avoided, reduced, managed, transformed, or resolved. Whether we focus on nuclear deterrence, provincial reconstruction in Afghanistan, tribal tensions in Sudan, or efforts to avert genocide in COUNTRY X, the games featured in this special symposium issue of Simulation & Gaming share a common interest the in building or maintaining of peace.

Our interest in this area comes from our own practical experience using games as an experiential teaching technique. One of us works as a senior economist at the World Bank, where he designed and implements the CARANA simulation, used to teach World Bank staff the skills necessary for assessment, strategic planning, prioritization, and program design in conflict-affected and fragile states (World Bank, 2012). The other uses a variety of games in teaching about development and war- to-peace transitions at McGill University, most notably the annual BRYNANIA civil war role-playing simulation (Brynen, 2010). Together, we also coedit the PAXsims (2012) blog on conflict simulation, which brings together game designers, users, students, and practitioners.

Why Use Games?

With regard to military matters, Philip Sabin (2012) has argued that the educational value of games can be substantial:

The most important function of wargames is to convey a vicarious understanding of some of the strategic and tactical dynamics associated with real military operations. Besides learning about the force, space and time relationships in the specific battle or campaign being simulated, players soon acquire an intuitive feel for more generic interactive dynamics associated with warfare as a whole. . . . As variation in combat outcomes during the game creates unexpected threats and opportunities, players will be faced with other classic real world dilemmas such as whether to reinforce success or salvage failure. Actually grappling with such dilemmas at first hand rather than simply reading or hearing about them has enormous educational potential. (p. 31)

Much the same arguments can be made about the use of simulation and gaming techniques to enhance our understanding, not of warfare, but rather of the process whereby peace might be achieved and sustained. Through serious games, participants can gain a better sense of the dynamic relationships at work in complex environments, explore good fits and practical solutions, and understand how mistakes occur (often, by making them themselves). These are real skills needed in the real world: In recent decades, policy makers working on peacekeeping and peacebuilding have certainly been faced with the prospects of failure and have been forced to choose between “rein- forcing success and salvaging failure.” When games engage multiple participants, the games reproduce some of the political, coordination, communication, and coalition- building challenges that often accompany peace and stabilization operations, especially if a simulation is designed to reproduce some of the organizational silos and bureaucratic politics that exist in the real world.

The value of peacebuilding games is particularly evident in training and educational settings (Lantis, Kuzma, & Boehrer, 2000). However, they have other uses as well. Because simulations are inevitably built upon an explicit or implicit model of reality, their construction is essentially an exercise in social science theorizing. As a consequence, they can be used as a research tool to examine the implications of hypothesized relationships and conflict dynamics (Boyer, 2011). Advances in both computation power and conflict modeling allow this to be done with ever-greater degrees of sophistication (Yilmaz, Ören, & Ghasem-Aghaee, 2006).

There are, of course, good reasons to be doubtful about the ability of games to work as predictive tools, as social and political processes are complicated things and the particular dynamics of peace and conflict are often highly context dependent; they are “wicked problems” (Rittel & Webber, 1973). However, games can certainly serve as useful heuristic devices, helping practitioners and policy makers to think in new and creative ways about challenging issues or simply to compare worldviews for a better shared understanding of these complex challenges. The use of games as problem-solving spaces and as exercises to better understand complex problems are explored in all the articles in this issue; the reader is directed to the contributions by McMahon and Miller and by Bartels, McCown, and Wilkie for more substantial discussion.

Such games can take a variety of forms. Abstract games can be used to highlight particular issues that arise in conflict resolution, or to build key communication, mediation, coordination, or other skills. Role-playing exercises are also quite common, in which participants explore either historical and contemporary conflicts (for example, Kumar, 2009; Public and International Law Policy Group [PILPG], n.d.) or fictional ones (such as Gamson & Peppers, 2000, or Tessman, 2007). Such games may involve rule sets that govern interaction and resource management, or simply focus on processes of discussion, debate, and negotiation. The REACTING TO THE PAST series of books and role-play resources, although aimed more at history courses than at the development of conflict resolution skills, is a particularly successful version of this approach (Barnard College, 2012). In some cases, such educational simulations have been taken a step further, in the form of digital implementations of these traditional approaches. In such cases (such as the Open Simulation Platform or the ICONS Project), software serves to facilitate customizable player briefings, interaction, and debriefs (Brynen, 2012; ICONS Project, n.d.; United States Institute of Peace [USIP], n.d.-b). In still other examples—such as the USIP’s Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise (SENSE) simulation, or the GEMSTONE counterinsurgency wargame at National Defense University (NDU)—players may interact with a digital model of the political, social, and economic model of the society in conflict, which provides a focus for broader discussion and negotiation (NDU, n.d.; USIP, n.d.-a). Although there remain relatively few traditional boardgames that have peacemaking as an educational (as opposed to entertainment) focus, recent years have seen the development of serious video games that serve this purpose, such as PEACEMAKER, in which participants seek to achieve a negotiated outcome to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict (Kampf & Gürkanyak, 2012).

Inside This Issue

The contributions to this special issue of Simulation & Gaming examine a wide variety of different types of learning games and simulations (Table 1). In drawing out the many lessons that the contributors have to offer, it is useful to think about both the similarities and differences in their approaches to the topic….

The articles included in the issue are as follows:

Editorial

  • Peace, Violence, and Simulation/Gaming
    • David Crookall 

Guest Editorial

  • Peacebuilding With Games and Simulations
    • Rex Brynen and Gary Milante

Articles

  • Designing Peace and Conflict Exercises: Level of Analysis, Scenario, and Role Specification
    • Elizabeth Bartels, Margaret McCown, and Timothy Wilkie
  • Playing With Conflict: Teaching Conflict Resolution Through Simulations and Games
    • Richard B. Powers and Kat Kirkpatrick
  • Modeling Choices in Nuclear Warfighting: Two Classroom Simulations on Escalation and Retaliation
    • Julian Schofield
  • Leveraging Web-Based Environments for Mass Atrocity Prevention
    • Tucker B. Harding and Mark A. Whitlock
  • War Gaming Peace Operations
    • Roger Mason and Eric Patterson
  • Simulating the Camp David Negotiations: A Problem-Solving Tool in Critical Pedagogy
    • Sean F. McMahon and Chris Miller
  • Games, Social Simulations, and Data—Integration for Policy Decisions: The SUDAN Game
    • Peter Landwehr, Marc Spraragen, Balki Ranganathan, Kathleen M. Carley, and Michael Zyda

 

We would like to thank both S&G editor David Crookall and the various authors for their contributions. We hope that our collective efforts spur further discussion of the role that conflict simulations can play in enhancing both the theory and practice of peacebuilding.

Masters of the World: Geo-Political Simulator 3 released

Masters of the World: Geo-Political Simulator 3 is now available for the PC, with a Mac version promised for the end of the month.

We’ll review it when time allows. You’ll find our review of the game here.

Training simulations & serious games: benefits for teaching, assessment and employability

The Centre for Disaster Management at Coventry University, in conjunction with the Higher Education Academy,  is organising a one-day workshop on “training simulation & serious games: benefits for teaching, assessment and employability” on 14 March 2013.

Simulation and gaming provide an excellent opportunity to enhance learning in an alternative and engaging environment.  When developed and implemented appropriately, they can support problem-based learning, develop communication, decision making and management skills and, in the case of IT based approaches, develop digital literacy. At Coventry, staff with expertise in geography, environment, emergency planning and disaster management have worked together to develop and deliver a wide range of simulations, exercises and games. Different evaluation and assessment methods have been used to support student debriefing and feedback.

In this workshop, we will share some of our experiences in the use of simulation and gaming to support student learning. We will discuss some of the issues that have arisen from several projects, especially in the disaster/hazard management discipline. The event aims to bring together those interested in developing simulations and games to support teaching and learning, using a range of technologies from low tech to high tech.

You’ll find further information here.

h/t David Becker

The zombie humanitarian fiction challenge

zombiefiction

We here at PAXsims have been in the forefront of advocating advanced simulation methods as a way of preparing for the impending zombie apocalypse (such as here, and here, and here). We’ve highlighted innovative design competitions that have sought to address the potential scourge of the mindless, murdering undead. We’ve pointed to the challenge that zombies pose for modern stabilization missions, as well as their potential impact on hemispheric international relations. Heck, we’ve even convened regular zombie preparedness exercises.

With all that in mind, how could we refrain from mentioning the humanitarian zombie fiction-writing contest that was announced last week at the Humanitarian Fiction blog? Sharpen your pencils, boot up your laptops, and start writing!

 

simulations miscellany, 5 March 2013

flightsimulatorSome recent items on games, serious games, and conflict simulations that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

From Clipboard

The 2013 Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Training Program will be held in Toronto on 8-19 May 2013. The course will make extensive use of simulation methods, notably in the simulation/field exercise component:

The Simulation Exercise part of the program is designed to simulate a complex humanitarian emergency that involves understanding cultural context, war, natural disaster and forced migration of the local population in addition to other challenges injected to add stress to the participants. Participants are in the simulation for 72 hours, working in multidisciplinary teams to perform a series of assessments on the fictional populations. Teams must find ways to solve dynamic and complicated problems including security incidents, disease outbreaks, child soldiers, environmental shocks, limited resources, supply issues and populations on the move. Participants apply their skills in all areas specific to humanitarian response including: health, water and sanitation, food, shelter and protection. They also use principles of triage and of humanitarian action, coordinate the emergency, run meetings, apply globally-recognized standards to meet shelter, water, sanitation and nutritional needs, enumerate populations and calculate important health indicators that translate into numbers needed to treat and the dollars needed to do so. They draw on knowledge in international humanitarian law, negotiation, population sampling, information management, and crisis mapping along with other technologies specifically used in humanitarian emergencies. Teams establish their own compound, eat military rations, draft situation reports and evacuation plans, respond to militia strikes and kidnapping, practice landmine safety and provide media interviews on camera. At the end of the simulation teams submit and present a final proposal for their intended project to assist the affected population to the UN and other donors. Individual performance is assessed using and CCHT-created competency-based evaluation tool.

The deadline for application is March 7.

From Clipboard

The UN Staff College will offer a course on Advancing Training Skills and Simulations Development in Turin on 9-12 April 2013:

During this course, participants will be exposed to theoretical lessons, coaching sessions, demonstrations, group-work and presentation tasks enabling them to successfully design, develop and deliver effective security training programs. In order to allow participants to monitor the improvement of their training skills and capacities, their performances will be assessed during the course through pre-established criteria, which will contribute to the final evaluation of the competencies and abilities acquired during the course.

From Clipboard

The United State Institute of Peace, as usual, offers a number of forthcoming courses on peacebuilding and conflict resolution that make use simulation methods.

From Clipboard

For those putting together humanitarian and disaster relief simulations, there are a great many useful resources to be found at the website of the Emergency Capacity-Building (ECB) project. You’ll find an overview of their work on simulation-based training here, and links to various resource materials here.

From Clipboard

ActionAid is looking for an international programme manager, to lead their “preparedness and emergency response work, managing a team for emergency response as and when necessary.” While primary emphasis is on applicants with extensive field and management experience in insecure environments, including emergencies and conflict situations, part of the job also involves ensuring that “simulation exercises take place with country programmes and ensure that country based preparedness plans are in place.” Applications close on March 11—details here.

There are also several United Nations positions currently advertised for which familiarity with simulation methods would be an asset. Search at UN Jobs for more details.

From Clipboard

At Playing the World, Jon Peterson discusses how gaming got its (polyhedral) dice.

From Clipboard

Allan B. Calhamer, the postal worker who invented the influential boardgame Diplomacy, died on February 25 at age 81

From Clipboard

At Slate, Farhad Manjoo reviews the new edition of SimCity, and likes what he finds—especially the shift in the game engine from macro-modellling to agent-based modelling of urban processes.

From Clipboard

h/t last two items, Jacob Levy

Professional gaming conferences feel the sequestration axe

sack022813As budget sequestration takes a bite out the discretionary spending by the US military, one casualty has been conference and workshop participation—including conferences on professional wargaming. Most military personnel (and other personnel at DoD institutions) have had support for conference participation severely restricted, if not suspended altogether.

The MORS special meeting on professional gaming that had been scheduled for 26-28 March, for example, will now be postponed to next fiscal year. Similarly, the Connections 2013 conference, scheduled for July 2103,  is also struggling to attract the usual number of US military participants given the absence of government travel funding.

Cartoon: Steve Sack, StarTribune

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