PAXsims special correspondent Devin Hayes Ellis (Program Director, Policy & Research, ICONS Project) has provided the following report on the Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference, which wrapped up yesterday.
Connections 2013 happened despite the enormous pressures of sequestration, thanks to the heroic effort of a lot of the longtime organizers of the conference (key people to thank this year include as always Matt Caffrey, but also Tim Wilkie and Merle Robinson for so much logistical wizardry). The conference was a good time, as always, and many familiar faces were there – some on permissive TDY, many on their own dime. Crucially, Connections continued to attract a strong international audience with groups from Canada, Sweden, the UK and Germany on hand to enjoy the balmy Ohio weather.
The stripped down agenda of the conference – due to attendance and the available facilities – precluded some of the usual features like large demo sessions and simultaneous panel tracks. But there were some excellent talks, and the smaller than usual scale (plus most everyone eating and spending the evenings together) fostered making new contacts – always a key part of Connections.
The working group on a more enduring Connections web presence did resolve to try to make the materials from both this year and last year available more quickly and in a more accessible manner, so you should soon have a chance to check out the key notes and panels that took place. A personal highlight for me was hearing from Tom Allen, the Deputy Director for Studies and Analysis (J8) at the Joint Staff. Dr. Allen is a strong supporter of gaming – I recently had a chance to visit the J8 wargaming space in the Pentagon which has a larger footprint than many of the OSD policy shops – and he spoke encouragingly about the need to continue gaming as a crucial activity in the current time of budget retrenchment. He emphasized that the changes occurring across the defense community would call more than ever for insightful planning, some of which should be supported by gaming. Simultaneously he stressed the need for that planning to be smart about resources – and noted that expertise from people in the gaming and simulation community would be valuable to finding efficient, effective and economical tools and methods for supporting that goal. Several times he mentioned looking to ‘our community’ for proactive ideas. We’ll see if he can operationalize that.
Other highlights included wisdom from Peter Perla, a great panel on gaming the deep future, some insight on what goes on behind the doors at the vaunted/controversial Office of Net Assessment, and a really, really cool spreadsheet on costing naval ship buying over the next few decades (I know we are the definition of nerds). Hopefully it will all be available soon in one form or another. Stay tuned to the Connections website.
Lastly, I’ll say we get a victory point for new conversions: at least two people announced at the end of the conference that they had come as serious gaming skeptics and had been converted to believers by their time at Connections 2013. Look forward to seeing you all next year at Quantico.
Devin Hayes Ellis