Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 09/12/2013

Simulations miscellany, 10 December 2013


Between grading exams and a forthcoming Chatham House conference, I won’t be posting much at PAXsims for the next couple of weeks. However, it does seem a good time for a round-up of recent serious games and conflict simulation-related news:

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The United States Institute of Peace has conducted the first of what will be a series of semi-annual PeaceGame, in this case devoted to the ongoing conflict in Syria. You’ll find a brief summary of the day at Foreign Policy magazine (cosponsors of the event). We’ll also feature a contribution in the coming days that looks at the methodological strengths and weaknesses of the USIP event.

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The Games+Learning+Society Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be hosting the 10th annual Games+Learning+Society (GLS) Conference on 11-13 June 2014 (with some pre-conference activities on June 10):

The GLS Conference is the premier event in the field of videogames and learning. Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, this grassroots “indie” event continues to be one of the few destinations where the people who create high-quality digital learning media can gather for serious discussion about what is happening in the field and how the field can serve the public interest. Our event is well known for its exceptionally high quality of content yet “community event” feel – one attendee called GLS “what happens if an all-inclusive Sandals Resort met a typical educational conference and landed in Wisconsin.” Each year, we foster in-depth conversation and social networking across diverse disciplines including game studies, education research, learning sciences, industry, government, educational practice, media design, and business. Our continued commitment is to reinvent learning both in and out of formal school environments through the promise of games and simulations.

Conference highlights include: keynotes by leaders in both academics and industry; interactive workshops on game research and game design; both individual and symposia presentation sessions; big debates about critical aspects of gaming and game design; hands‐on game play in the arcade; the beloved “hall of failure”; a massively multi-player evening poster session over dinner and an open bar; fireside chats that enable cozy conversations among VIP speakers and attendees; a brand new Working Examples submission system; and the third glorious year of the Educational Game Arcade, which offer a space for conference attendees to play the games created by members of our community.

We offer a variety of session formats, and encourage submissions ranging from traditional paper presentations to innovative formats focusing on game play. Submissions will be accepted starting December 1, 2013, and are due online by January 31, 2014. Complete submission guidelines and templates can be found on our website, as well as more information about the GLS Playful Learning Summit and the Doctoral Consortium.

And don’t hesitate to email with any questions –

Constance Steinkuehler
Caroline C. Williams
Games+Learning+Society Conference
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Twitter:  @GLScenter

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Hemda Ben-Yehuda, Chanan Naveh and Luba Levin-Banchik of Bar Ilan University and Sapir College are organizing an online conflict simulation before and during the 2014 International Studies Association conference.

The World Politics Simulation Project offers ISA members an innovative, informative and enjoyable way to network on Facebook with colleagues across the globe before the ISA convention and during an ISA workshop in Toronto, 2014. Stepping into the shoes of key decisionmakers in the Middle East will give participants a unique opportunity to become a part of active learning community.

The ISA 2014 Simulation Schedule

Until January 15 2014 – Registration for the Facebook Simulation and ISA workshop

FACEBOOK SIMULATION: January 31st 2014 – Scenario posted on Facebook Wall. Within team domestic politics and foreign policy formation begins. Media teams approach the political teams and interact.

February 10th – Updated scenario posted on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 12th (9.00-11.30 PM, Israel time) – World politics round, on Facebook.

February 13th – February 20th – Ongoing world politics, on Facebook.

February 25th – Feedback form deadline.

SIMULATION: March 25th 2014- ISA workshop in Toronto from 1:00 -5:00 PM, a face to face game, followed by a debriefing discussion on simulations as a teaching tool.

Join us on Facebook:

For more information:

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Interested in fictionalized settings and the scenario development process? Then check out Graham Longley-Brown’s blog.


Spooks in the guild? Intelligence collection and online gaming


The latest round of Edward Snowden leaks on the National Security Agency reveal that the NSA, together with the UK’s GCHQ, have explored the collection of data from World of Warcraft, Second Life, and other online games and virtual environments. According to an article in today’s Guardian:

The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments, stressed the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored, describing them as a “target-rich communications network” where intelligence targets could “hide in plain sight”.

Games, the analyst wrote, “are an opportunity!”. According to the briefing notes, so many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a “deconfliction” group was required to ensure they weren’t spying on, or interfering with, each other.

If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people’s social networks through “buddylists and interaction”, to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers (such as profile photos), geolocation, and collection of communications.

The story is also examined by ProPublica and the New York Times.

The Guardian article understandably combines an occasional tone of ridicule (“What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs.”) with some overstatement. However, the NSA documents make it clear that there is a legitimate intelligence angle to all of this:

  • Online environments could provide a potential mechanism for both communications and financial exchange among intelligence targets (although they have drawbacks too, including the likelihood that the game provider may archive all chat logs and financial transactions)
  • Information on online game playing may provide insight into a target’s social networks, for additional SIGINT or HUMINT exploitation.
  • Informants can be recruited in games, and other sorts of virtual HUMINT operations can be undertaken in virtual environments.
  • Some digital games (notably combat and flight simulations) may be used as virtual trainers by terrorist groups.
  • Digital games may be used as propaganda and recruitment tools.

We’ve previously discussed some of these issues at PAXsims here (“Gamifying online jihad”) and here (“Iran, covert information operations, and the politics of video games”).

Much of the thrust of the NSA documents concerns the need to collect metadata, so as to enable future analysis. While this makes sense from an analysis perspective (when a new target arises, you need to have preexisting data on interactions in order to quickly analyze that target’s contacts and network), it does raise issues of overreach, privacy protections (for US or UK citizens, in this case), and whether the costs of metadata collection and storage are justified given the useful intelligence it eventually produces. This is on top, of course, of the additional—and even more serious—issues raised by the collection of actual in-game communications.

The challenge in debating the public policy of all this, of course, is that necessary security classification  makes it impossible for the public and most politicians to know what kinds of benefits this kind of intelligence collection might have had. Moreover, SIGINT capacities are usually something that takes time to put in place. Their development thus reflects not only a desire to collect information now, but also to enable an agency to collect information at a future point if and when it became necessary. No agency wants to tell its policymakers or public that it is unable to collect material because it failed to plan ahead for such collection. Conversely, it can become very expensive building collection mechanisms that are then generate little useful information. Compounding all this, the “Five Eyes” (US/UK/Canada/Australia/New Zealand) SIGINT community is full of enthusiastic geeks who have never met data they didn’t enjoy trying to collect.


ProPublica has provided a link to the partially redacted documents. We won’t reproduce the classified ones here, but we will provide a link  to an unclassified (FOUO) report prepared by the defence contractor SAIC for the US government on Games: A Look at Emerging Trends, Uses, Threats and Opportunities in Influence Operations.

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