Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 08/09/2013

Simulations miscellany, 8 September 2013


Some recent items on games and simulations that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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gaming-research-2The folks at GrogHeads have started a new monthly column for academic-focused research on games and wargames:

Hobby games and gamers – especially in the strategy gaming and wargaming world – have rarely been the subjects of much serious published research inquiry.  And yet, some of us know from personal experience that such research is, in fact, being conducted in graduate schools and academic institutions all over.  Distinct from marketing analyses in that they are not focused on improving commercial performance, these studies are frequently conceptualized and executed by members of the broader gaming community who are seeking to fuse their love for the hobby with an academic persuit in the social sciences or humanities.

Although there are a few academic outlets for such research – the journal Simulation & Gaming springs to mind – not every paper was written with the intention of journal or conference submission.  Nevertheless, the research is still interesting and useful, and for GrogHeads everywhere it is certainly relevant.  Papers shared may inspire better research by later investigators, and the ideas discussed may help designers and developers craft better games.

Here at GrogHeads, we’re kicking off a new monthly series on Research and Gaming.  The first of these papers was published in early August, and we plan to follow with one each month.  And we’d like you to submit your research to us.  We’re not a peer-reviewed journal, but we do have some academics on our staff and among our “Friends of GrogHeads” network that include PhD’s in history, political science, and business, as well as other grad degrees in social sciences and the humanities.  So if you’ve got something interesting that you want to share, here’s your chance.  Email us your papers at research-at-grogheads-dot-com . Make sure you include all of your citations and footnotes in the document, and attach any graphics as separate files.  We will also need a short bio from you about who you are and how people can contact you.  One great way for people to contact you is to create an account in our forums, so that you can join any discussions of feedback that go on there.  We even have an area dedicated to references and research.

A few caveats, of course:

  • Do not send us something you’re hoping to see presented at a conference, or in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Do not send us something you expect to try to claim on a CV when you’re hunting for a future academic job
  • Do not send us blatant marketing, political, or religious tracts
  • Do not expect detailed, in-depth critiques of your work from our advisory team, but do expect a lot of questions from our audience, many of whom do not have a great academic background, and for whom there will need to be some gentler discussion of the finer points of how your research got to where it is.

So please send us your tired, huddled research projects yearning to breathe free, and let’s share them with the wider gaming audience.  Who knows what great insights they may spawn for someone else to build on, what feedback you’ll get to improve your own work.  Either way, it’ll be in the public and being discussed, which sure beats languishing on a digital shelf somewhere, next to the Ark of the Covenant.

Their first piece, by Brant Guillory, examines “Entrepreneurship in the Hobby Games Segment of the Publishing Industry.”

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The various slides and presentation recordings from the recent Connections UK professional wargaming conference are now online at the Connections UK website.

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JDMSAn article by Andrew Collins, John Sokolowski, and Catherine Banks  on “Applying Reinforcement Learning to an Insurgency Agent-based Simulation”  will appear soon in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.”

A requirement of an Agent-based Simulation (ABS) is that the agents must be able to adapt to their environment. Many ABSs achieve this adaption through simple threshold equations due to the complexity of incorporating more sophisticated approaches. Threshold equations are when an agent behavior changes because a numeric property of the agent goes above or below a certain threshold value. Threshold equations do not guarantee that the agents will learn what is best for them. Reinforcement learning is an artificial intelligence approach that has been extensively applied to multi-agent systems but there is very little in the literature on its application to ABS. Reinforcement learning has previously been applied to discrete-event simulations with promising results; thus, reinforcement learning is a good candidate for use within an Agent-based Modeling and Simulation (ABMS) environment. This paper uses an established insurgency case study to show some of the consequences of applying reinforcement learning to ABMS, for example, determining whether any actual learning has occurred. The case study was developed using the Repast Simphony software package.

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Strategic Crisis Simulations, a student-run organization at George Washington University, will be conducting “Shattered Resolve: A Simulation of Conflict and Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula” at GWU from 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM on 14 September 2013. You’ll find registration details here.

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How might a  zombie elf help you get to college? The New York Times explains.

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The University of Denver sponsored an international humanitarian crisis simulation exercise over the 2013 Memorial Day weekend. You’ll find a very good video of the event below.

Review: Woods, Eurogames


Stewart Woods, Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2012). 262pp. $40 pb.

Good “Eurogame” boardgames typically combine elegance of design and accessible themes and a rich depth of play. Stewart Woods’ book Eurogames does something much the same: it is a well-organized, clearly written, and intellectually rewarding study of the design, culture, and play of games of this genre.

The book has its origins as a PhD dissertation, and it shows—in a positive way.  The author makes very effective use of the existing literature, citing it frequently (and often further expand upon an issue at hand in lengthy endnotes). The bibliography (pp. 231-255) is extensive. The analysis offered in the book flows smoothly and logically from chapter to chapter and theme to theme. The author wisely refrains from the opaque jargon that characterizes some academic studies of games and ludology.

Eurogame85The first few chapters of the volume provide an introduction to hobby games, survey the evolution of Anglo-American and German boardgaming, and trace the emergence of the Eurogames genre. Next, the book offers an examination of the systemic elements (components, spatial environment), compound elements (ruleset, game mechanics, theme, interface, information), and behavioural elements (player, context) of Eurogames. Woods’ discussion of game mechanics is especially useful, combining an overview of the most common forms of these with a quantitative analysis of their appearance within a representative sample of 139 Eurogames (Figures 5.2 and 5.3—click thumbnail at right to view). The book also contains pictures depicting the use of several of  these mechanics within particular games. Later, a similar mix of qualitative and quantitative methods is used to examine major Eurogames themes (Figures 5.15 and 5.16—click thumbnails below right to view).


After exploring what a Eurogame is, Woods moves on to an examination of Eurogame players. Based on a survey of more than six hundred game enthusiasts from Boardgamegeek, Woods sketches a demographic profile of a hobby that is overwhelmingly male (96%), with players typically in their thirties or forties (average age 36) and having above-average income and education. He further discusses Eurogaming “geek” culture, game collection, and the frequent interaction within the community between players and game designers. His survey and questionnaire data is also used to provide insights into the gaming experience, addressing such questions as what elements players most enjoy in games (Figures 7.3 and 7.4—click thumbnails below right to view).



A key theme of the book is how players manage the apparent tensions between competitive game play on the one hand, and the convivial sociability of the game experience on the other. This includes such issues self-handicapping (whereby a strong player may deliberately make sub-optimal decisions to give weaker players a chance to win), and how players rationalize and limit in-game antagonism. As one of his respondents notes, “There is a fine line between trying to win and spoiling others’ enjoyment” (p. 186). Woods’ concludes that, for most players, “winning” is not the primary objective of the social experience of game play. This issue is further explored by focusing on in-game actions that might place stress on the balance between competition and sociality. In particular, Woods examines cheating, metagaming, deception, kibitzing, and king-making. While the players in his survey were universally and vehemently opposed to cheating, the other activities elicit a broader range of responses, varying between players (and likely between different social environments too).

Eurogames is an excellent book, providing a thoughtful examination of the genre. Its value, moreover, extends far beyond this to offer valuable insight into the social experience of game-playing more broadly.

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