Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: November 2013

Intelligence, airport security… and a board game


The Fall 2013 issue of the Journal of Strategic Security contains proceedings from the 2013 annual conference of the International Association for Intelligence Education. Among the papers included is one by Arnaud Palisson (Aéroports de Montréal) on the development of a simple cooperative boardgame used to highlight the importance of intelligence in airport security:

A Board Game to Teach the Rudiments of Intelligence in an Airport Context 

Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) is the airport authority for both Greater Montreal international airports. Unlike other Canadian international airports, at both Montreal airports, security is not the prerogative of an airport police. It is the duty of a security department within the airport authority: the Airport Patrol (AP) is in charge of protecting passengers, operations, and facilities against all threats to civil aviation. To adequately fulfill its mission, the Airport Patrol largely relies on intelligence.

In the context of their initial training program at the Airport Patrol, future security officers and constables receive a three-hour long introductory lesson about intelligence. Students – who are not cognizant of intelligence purpose – often initially question the pertinence of such a lecture. Thus the Airport Patrol developed in 2012 an educational boardgame to teach students the rudiments of intelligence in an airport context. The purpose of this game was threefold: 1) to get students interested in intelligence, despite their initial skepticism, 2) to help them understand key concepts to be discussed during the following lecture period, and 3) to facilitate the future work of Airport Patrol investigators to recruit on-the-job officers for their intelligence network.

Considering adult learning theories, the design process strives to root the game into the students’ future work environment. This paper will focus on the reasons why a game-based learning approach has been selected, how the game has been designed, and what are the lessons from this experiment….

He concludes by suggesting:

This emergent game-based learning approach is actually not about teaching the rudiments of those topics to staff members. It is much more about making them understand the reasons why those topics matter and what they can do in their everyday work to better secure airport operations and protect our competitiveness. Teaching through games remains a tough challenge. Popularizing with games may be an easier tool to implement, but a powerful one: it is not so much about transmitting knowledge but changing mindsets and culture.

You’ll find the full article here.

Simulation & Gaming (October 2013)


A new issue of Simulation & Gaming 44, 5 (October 2013) is available:

Autobiographical article


Concordia University: Recruitment award for PhD candidates in digital game studies

Concordia University is offering a PhD bursary for PhD candidates in digital game studies:



Call for Applications

Recruitment Award for Doctoral Candidates in Digital Game Studies at Concordia University, Montreal

The Centre for Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) invites applications for the TAG-IMMERSe Research Bursary, in support of a Doctorate in Digital Game Studies at Concordia University in Montréal. The bursary is available for a maximum of $15,000 CDN/year for up to three years. For promising candidates, it may be combined with other fellowships and entrance awards, including the TAG Merit award (valued at $10,000/yr). Details of the award package may vary for each successful applicant.

This recruitment award is specifically designed to support humanities-based research with the Concordia unit of IMMERSe, a federal research network focused on digital games and interactivity, funded by a SSHRC Partnership Grant hosted at the University of Waterloo. The award is tenable for doctoral projects consistent with the Concordia unit’s research mandate within the network on narrative and games, player storytelling and narrative cultures, and the craft of game writing.

To be eligible for the bursary, students must work under the supervision of Darren Wershler, Jason Camlot, Bart Simon or Mia Consalvo, and be accepted in one of the following PhD programs at Concordia: The PhD in Humanities program, the Individualized Program in Game Studies and Design, or the PhD in Social and Cultural Analysis.

In addition to a complete application to one of the PhD programs listed above, interested students must submit a package containing the following documents to Dr. Darren Wershler [] by January 15, 2014: Letter of intent, curriculum vitae, academic transcripts, two letters of recommendation and a representative sample of your most current work. This can include academic essays, research/creation papers, conference papers, game mods, complete video games or game elements.

Learn more about the TAG Centre.

Learn more about the IMMERSe network.

For all inquiries about this recruitment award, please contact Dr. Darren Wershler.

For inquiries about graduate admissions, please contact the specific program administrators or the Concordia School of Graduate Studies:

2145 Mackay Street (S 105), Montreal, Quebec H3G 2J2, Canada Telephone: +1 514-848-2424 ext. 3800 Fax: +1 514-848-2812

GridEx II

A quick guest blog post by Devin Hayes Ellis:

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Garbage-in-garbage-out? You decide:

GridEx IIFor those who are not familiar with it, GridEx is a simulation exercise dealing with massive failure of the nation’s power grid due to cyber attack. The show is organized by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and involves dozens of utilities and government entities as either participants or observers. In short, it’s a pretty big deal. They did the first one in 2011, and the current one (GridEx II) ran this week. The stated goal is:

…to validate the readiness of the Electricity Sub-sector to respond to a cyber incident, strengthen utilities’ crisis response functions, and provide input for internal security program improvements.

Good stuff. Then I heard a story about the exercise on the radio program Marketplace which made me pause – we’ll come to it in a moment. As designers, we are all familiar with the fundamental tradeoff between realism and manageability in creating any simulation or wargame, especially a really big one. But that’s why we ask foundational questions like: what is the thing you actually want to learn? The capability you actually want to test? Well it seems to me the GridEx guys know the answer to that question – but did it inform their simulation design? Here’s the quote from Marketplace :

But there is one element of a real, nationwide, long-term blackout that Grid Ex will not address: Telecommunications. In the world of the game, the internet and the phone system will keep working. “It’s very difficult to run an exercise without phone lines and email, I’ll be honest with you,” Harrell says. “That may be something we look at for next time.”

Really? A nationwide power grid failure that did not impact email or telecommunications? I hope when the after-action report highlights response times and cooperation they folks at NERC are responsible enough to brief the audiences on that REALLY important caveat…  Do I have the wrong end of the stick on this?


Devin Hayes Ellis



Review: Ewalt, Of Dice and Men

David Ewalt, Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons (New York: Scribner, 2013). 264pp+ index. $26.

DiceMenAbout 35 years ago, one of my then high school gaming group showed up one day with a simple, but undeniably magical, cardboard box. It contained the original, three volume edition of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, which had first been published just a few years earlier.

We started to play—and play, and play. That D&D campaign, in what we termed “just off-centre Earth,” would continue on through high school, college and university on two continents, and later was dusted off for exploration by my children and their friends. D&D proved  to be both the progenitor of, and gateway to, an almost infinite variety of table-top roleplaying games. Its influence can also be seen in almost every digital RPG and MMORPG today. Game mastering skills honed in D&D contributed in countless ways to my own later professional educational and policy gaming. And I’ve still got a halfling rogue called Arnold adventuring in an ongoing campaign, not to mention two bookshelves full of various editions of the rules.

David Ewalt’s Of Dice and Men is an attempt by a fellow D&D enthusiast to explain to a broader audience what the game is all about. His style is enthusiastic and highly readable as he describes the game, its players, its history, and its broader cultural significance. This is not an academic volume or detailed history of the genre—for that, one would be better served by Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World. Rather it is written as a joyful tour guide for the interested but largely uninitiated.

How well did Ewalt succeed? It is surprisingly difficult for me to tell, precisely because I’m an enthusiast and not a non-gamer. Certainly I enjoyed most of it, especially his discussion of the game’s history and evolution.

I did rather think, however, that the book sometimes excessively decorates its topic in eccentricities. After all, we’re really not all that strange, nor is the idea of an RPG as culturally unfamiliar as Ewalt seems to suggest. Over half of all Americans play digital games (with an average age of 30), and role-playing games are among the most popular types, from the Sims to Grand Theft Auto to World of Warcraft. Collectively, tens of millions of people are RPG gamers of some sort. And, while most console and computer gamers may have never rolled a d20 in a pencil-and-paper version of the genre, almost all of them understand the principles and mechanisms that D&D first embodied.

The author’s periodic habit of enlivening the text with somewhat cutesy D&D or geek references —”We’ll get back to D&D in two shakes of a lamia’s tail” (p. 44) or “Making a Monty Python reference in a room full of geeks is like bringing brownies to a Weight Watchers meeting” (p. 21)—does not help. (In fairness, I understand the impulse that led him to do this—I’m tempted to write this review laden with self-referential comments too, and keep editing/deleting/rewriting that his book is intended for “the NPCs (non-player characters) among us.” ). My fear is that the book’s style might sometimes  contribute to a textual distancing of RPG gamers from mainstream culture and “othering” them as somehow exotic and unfamiliar.

Or does it? It all rather reminds me of the debate over the TV comedy Big Bang Theory. Does it promote and popularize geek chic? Does it stereotype it and hence marginalize it?  Both? Neither? Does it matter?

I’m not sure. I enjoyed the book. I’m not entirely sure I would recommend it to a non-gamer friend.

Or then again I might, and then ask them to write their own review for PAXsims.



simulations miscellany, 12 November 2013


Some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that might be of interest to our readers:

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck asks “Should You Be Allowed to Use Chemical Weapons in a Video Game?

Your next Call of Duty game might be a bit less colorful — or less ethically challenged — if the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has its way. 

The ICRC is now asking video game publishers to incorporate the laws of war into their games. The organization makes clear that it is not calling for a ban on violence in video games, nor does it consider — contrary to earlier reports in 2011 — that war crimes in video games equate to real crimes. But it does want games to penalize players for violating the laws of war. “The ICRC is suggesting that as in real life, these games should include virtual consequences for people’s actions and decisions,” notes the Red Cross website. “Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes.”

The ICRC fears that the next generation of soldiers will have their notions of ethical battlefield behavior shaped by video games. “Certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” the organization says. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behavior.” Such virtual behavior includes “the use of torture, particularly in interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of prisoners or the wounded, attacks on medical personnel, facilities, and transport such as ambulances, or that anyone on the battlefield can be killed.”

How widespread the problem is can be seen in an article on game site Gameranx, which identified 10 egregious cases of war crimes in video games, such as executing wounded prisoners in Call of Duty 2, genocide in Gears of War 3, and using torture against captives in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

But the ICRC is not calling for removing war crimes from games, on the grounds that including them is actually educational, allowing players to make the same difficult choices that real combatants face. “We do not suggest that games be sanitized of all illegal acts,” ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett said in an email to Foreign Policy. “Also, games must remain fun and challenging. A boring game is of little interest to the players, to the manufacturers or to us. We would prefer that players not be required to commit illegal acts to move to another level or be rewarded in some other way.”

For previous discussion of this issue at PAXsims, see here and here.

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Can a wargame spark a real war? It has long been known that a 1983 NATO military exercise named “Able Archer” caused some in the Soviet Union to fear an impending surprise attack. An article in The Observer reports on further evidence of how dangerous this all became:

Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.

Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Archer, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.

When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.

The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.

“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.

“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”

The Observer piece doesn’t really add anything we didn’t know, however—indeed, there is even a Wikipedia entry on the exercise. It also doesn’t mention the glitch in the Soviet early warning system that, on 26 September 1983, gave a false warning of a US nuclear missile launch against the USSR. Fortunately the Soviet officer on duty at the time violated protocol and waited for further evidence, rather than immediately passing on the warning to already nervous superiors.

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Wondering how Bayesian inference can help you understand Iranian nuclear negotiations with the P5+1? Harry Hale discusses the issue at Arms Control Wonk:

Life can be modeled as a tree of future events with branches that will be realized with different probabilities.  Each branch can be thought of as forked paths in the forest.  Each branch in the past or the future relates to other branches.

Bayesian inference offers a method to relate the conditional probability of a certain branch to the probabilities of other branches.  This can be a useful tool in improving the odds of achieving a desired result.  I have applied such a tool to the Iranian nuclear negotiating portfolio, looking at the situation from the perspective of the P5+1 negotiation team (a tree created from Iran’s perspective would have different nodes and primary goals).  It is simple in concept, yet surprising in results.  This tool, which I have modeled in Excel spreadsheet form, can help to realize the implications of various decisions on the ultimate outcome: an Iran with or without “the Bomb.”

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In a forthcoming article in International Studies Perspectives, Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç, and Teri Murphy discuss “Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus.”

This article reviews experiences from a large-scale student simulation, which concluded the Istanbul Conference on Mediation: Enhancing Peace through Mediation that took place in February 2012. We share insights on two unique aspects of the simulation. First, the paper examines a rare case where the simulation crossed paths with real life: a number of the impersonated officials (and offices) including the president of the General Assembly of the UN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and the Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs were in the audience and shared their impressions. Second, the setup of the simulation was more complex than its typical in-class counterparts. Our insights from this multi-day, multi-stage, and multi-issue simulation can inform colleagues who plan to run larger scale simulations. Besides sharing experiences on a number of logistical points, we especially draw attention to the constructive role facilitators can play in augmenting the learning benefits accruing to the students from simulations.

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Coming soon to PAXsims: a review of another volume in GMT Games “COIN series,” Cuba Libre.

Concordia University: Position in Digital Media, Learning and Games


Concordia University is making a tenure-track appointment in digital media, learning, and games:

Strategic Hire in Digital Media, Learning and Games

Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, invites applications for a tenure-track strategic hire position in the area of Digital Media, Learning and Games. Depending on the selected candidate’s profile, the appointment will be made either in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences or in the Faculty of Fine Arts. The goal of the strategic hire program is to augment existing research capacity at Concordia through the development of high profile interdisciplinary research clusters. The successful candidate will receive an attractive research support and teaching package.

Working with members of Concordia’s Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre (TAG), the strategic hire in Digital Media, Learning and Games will build on Concordia’s leadership in the growing field of game studies and design to enhance our understanding of the cultural and learning potential of digital games, develop new research partnerships and applications, and innovate programs and curriculum. The TAG Centre is an interdisciplinary, cross-faculty research platform dedicated to advanced research and graduate training in digital culture, new media art and design, and game studies. TAG operates under the umbrella of the Hexagram Institute for Research/Creation in Media Arts and Technologies which is the largest and most productive new media lab in Canada.

Applicants for this position may come from any disciplinary background but must have a PhD or appropriate terminal degree for the relevant discipline and a superior record of research, research creation and/or design innovation in interdisciplinary, critical cultural and/or qualitative approaches in the field of digital media, learning and games. The successful candidate is expected to have demonstrated abilities to work in collaborative multidisciplinary settings, attract excellent graduate students and secure external funding.  She or he will also be expected to take a leadership role within TAG. The appointment will be made in one of the following departments at Concordia, as appropriate: Communication StudiesDesign and Computation Arts,EducationEnglish, or Sociology and Anthropology.

Applications should be submitted electronically and consist of a cover letter, current curriculum vitae, copies of recent publications and/or a design portfolio, a statement of teaching philosophy/interests, a statement of research achievements, a three-year research plan and evidence of teaching effectiveness. Candidates must also arrange to have three letters of reference sent directly to:

Dr. Mia Consalvo
Chair, Digital Media, Learning and Games Search Committee
Concordia University
c/o Donna Stewart
Assistant to the Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science
1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. West, L-AD 326-1
Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8

Subject to budgetary approval, we anticipate filling this position, normally at the rank of Assistant or Associate Professor, for August 1, 2014. Appointments at a more senior level will also be considered. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled. All applications should reach the Chair of the hiring committee no later than January 6, 2014. All inquiries about the position should be directed to

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada will be given priority. Concordia University is committed to Employment Equity and encourages applications from women, aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities.

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