Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: March 2014

Syrian refugee crisis simulation

The following guest post is contributed by Prof. Mick Dumper, Department of Political Science, University of Exeter.

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This was a simulation I ran in February 2014 for my 3rd year module – Refugee Crisis and the Modern World– in which students study the international refugee regime, international refugee law, the durable solutions framework, refugees in post-conflict agreements and with plenty of case studies. For this simulation on the Syrian Refugee crisis, the class of 25 students was divided into 8 teams of approximately 3 students in each. Five teams were country actors including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Free Syria Army. The other three teams were UNHCR strategy planning teams who competed against each other.  As module convenor, I acted as the US, Russia, and the EU.

There were two sets of complimentary objectives.  Country and opposition actors were asked to compile a paper entitled Interests and Strategy Position on Syrian Refugees, taking into account the need to cooperate with other countries and international agencies. The paper would need to identify the main concerns of their state and plan a strategy that will involve cooperation with UNHCR and other actors to implement it. They would engage in bilateral meetings with the UNHCR teams and with other actors and offer some preliminary ideas at a press conference before formulating a set of proposals which will be presented at the final plenary.

The UNHCR strategy planning teams were asked to draw up the fundamentals of an Article that would be included in any future peace plan which addressed the issue of refugees and other displaced people. Working separately and in competition, they interviewed decision-makers through a combination of bilateral meetings with country actors and press conferences.  They presented their proposals at a final plenary session.

All the teams were provided with the same set of scenarios, a reading list and list of useful websites, a 4 week timeline and a simulation diary (see below) in which they would make appointments and prepare for meetings and press conferences.



At the final plenary, the teams not presenting were given a score sheet which accorded marks to aspects of their proposals.  These included possible views of the donor community, time line for implementation, degree of cooperation required with other actors etc.

The winning Country Actor team was the Syrian government! They came up with a credible and quite feasible, given the circumstances, set of proposals for limited repatriation of Shi’ite refugees and extensive resettlement and local integration.  The Syrian team actors wereElisabetta D’Addario, Christina Gannon and Amy Pryce.  The winning UNHCR team comprised: Ursula Heywood, Emma Rosen and Cordelia Wyche.  Their proposed Refugee Article managed to incorporate some of the more generic features found in other post-conflict negotiations concerning refugees with the specificities of the Syrian case, although the fast moving situation obliged certain aspects to be vaguer than they had intended.

In the main, the simulation worked well in providing an engaging vehicle for the students to apply the knowledge and understandings they had built up over the previous few months of studying refugee situations. The simulation took place over 4 weeks in 2 hour seminar sessions and was designed in this way in order to fit into the Exeter teaching timetable.  This was a major constraint and it broke up the continuity of discussion which led to a drop in numbers. Student feedback strongly recommended that in future the bulk of the activity should take place over one day and that they would be happy to give up a Saturday to participate. The simulation also coincided at a point in the academic cycle when students were focussing on assessed work deadlines and, as the simulation was not assessed, they were frank that, however enjoyable and instructive it may have been, it took a lesser place in their scale of priorities.  My concern that there would not be enough “activity” and competition between the teams over the course of the simulation was not reflected in the student comments, who felt the structure of bilateral meetings punctuated press conferences etc., by provided for enough change, dynamism and momentum in the simulation.

Mick Dumper 

Brynania 2014


It’s that time of year again: on Monday, the week-long Brynania civil war simulation starts at McGill. More than 120 students will spend up to 12 hours a day (and seven months of simulated time) trying to bring peace to this war-torn part of Equatorial Cyberspace.

During that time I’ll be busy monitoring 15,000 or so email messages, and otherwise moderating the simulation—so don’t expect anything new on PAXsims.

You can read more about it here. While you do so, feel free to also listen to some of the many “songs of Cyberia” written by various students over the years about the people and places of this beautiful and terrible land…

Qual Rexton’s Greatest Hits (mp3 format)

Big E & Northside Crew (featuring French E), Rebelz (mp3 format)

Stephanie Butcher, Radio Unity’s Golden Hits(mp3 format)

Brendan Clarke(mp3 format)

Cyberian Frost, Zaharian Mortem (m4a format)

Jenny Woo, Revolution (mp3 format)

The ZPF militants of Camp #6, VIVA VIVA Zaharia  (mp3 format)

Russian Foreign Ministry, Songs of a Brynanian Nomad (YouTube)

American Red Cross conducts “world’s largest refugee simulation”

1920427_697859680266871_1774484826_nThe American Red Cross will be conducting “the world’s largest refugee simulation and conference” on 29-30 March. Although it is now too late to sign up, you’ll find full details here, and their Facebook page here.

“Gaming Political Science” at KSU


John Fliter at Kansas State University has put together an excellent compendium of articles and other materials on the use of serious games in political science:

Welcome to the Gaming Political Science (GPS) archive! The collection consists of over 250 published articles and books and conference papers on the use of simulations, games, and role-playing exercises in political science courses. As the acronym suggests, the goal of this website is to assist political science faculty in guiding students down different avenues of learning in the classroom. Simulations, games and role playing assignments involve the creation of simulated or hypothetical scenarios that provide participants with life-like problem solving experiences. These classroom activities are important supplements to traditional pedagogical methods and they offer a type of laboratory experience not often found in social science and humanities courses.

A wide variety of simulations, games, and role playing activities can be incorporated into political science courses in just about every area. Examples include brief “you decide” problem-solving situations that require only a limited amount of class time, to more sophisticated simulations that cover an entire semester and even some that involve multiple classes at different universities. There are a number of simulation activities that boost student learning outside the classroom as well, including Mock Trial teams, the Global Problems Summit, and Model United Nations.

The GPS archive is designed to be user-friendly. In the left margin, the first section contains pedagogical articles on the challenges and benefits of incorporating active learning exercises in the classroom and how to design these activities to maximize student learning outcomes. Following the general information section, websites and publications have been organized into the various subfields of political science. There may be some overlap to the categories. For instance, an article placed in the International Relations group might describe an activity that can be used in a comparative government course or a reference may be listed in two different subcategories. Most of the references contain a hyperlink to an abstract of the article and a few, if in the public domain, contain the full text.

This project was made possible through the financial support of the Provost’s Office at Kansas State University. I owe a special thanks to my graduate research assistant, Chelsey Eimer, who collected and organized many of these articles, and Julie Fosberg for her technical assistance. Finally, I appreciate the help of Victor Asal, Nina Kollars, Chad Raymond, Amanda Rosen, and Simon Usherwood, who shared material from their short course on simulations and games for the political science classroom.

Please send me your suggestions or comments about the site or contact me if you have a published article or conference paper for the archive. John Fliter, Kansas State University 785-532-0445 (office) 785-320-1468 (cell)

Simulation miscellany, 27 March 2014


Some recent conflict simulation and serious games items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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G4C11The eight finalists for the 2014 Games for Change Awards have been now been selected. The winner will be announced at this year’s Games for Change Festival in New York, 22-24/26 April 2014.

This year G4C will be partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival. As USA Today reported back in January:

In the clearest indication yet that video games are growing well beyond their roots as amusements built on coin boxes and hand-eye coordination, the 11th annual Games for Change (G4C) Festival this spring will take place as part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it will host a family-friendly gaming arcade in lower Manhattan.

“For me it’s a huge leap because it means that for the first time we’re bringing Games for Change … to the real person on the street,” says Asi Burak,the games festival’s president.

G4C is perhaps the biggest player in the growing “serious games” movement, which uses digital games and simulations for health, education, training and social change, among other uses. The festival last year produced Half The Sky Movement: The Game, a Facebook game based on Half the Sky, the 2009 book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the worldwide oppression of women.

Craig Hatkoff, co-founder of the film festival, says Tribeca is paying attention to “the transformative power of gaming” that goes beyond traditional entertainment. He wants the combined event to bring together “the most cutting-edge creators of games, educators, and the world’s greatest story-tellers.”

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GAMEONGAMEON’2014 will be held 9-11 September 2014 at the University of Lincoln, UK:

The aim of the 15th annual European GAMEON® Conference (GAMEON®’2014) on Simulation and AI in Computer Games, is to bring together researchers and games people in order to exchange ideas on programming and programming techniques, which will be beneficial to the gaming industry and academia. Secondly it aims to steer young people into this industry by providing how-to tutorials and giving them the opportunity to show their ideas and demos to the gaming industry. The conference will concentrate mostly on the programming of games, with special emphasis on simulation, AI and fuzzy sets, and physics related computer graphics. Next to that, all of this will be fused in the topic of computer game design in stand-alone and networked games. Software providers will be able to show their latest packages and give hand-on tutorials for the participants.

Companies will also have the opportunity to seek new talent at this unique event.

GAMEON’2014 consists of three core tracks, which cover, Gaming Methodology, Artificial Intelligence and Simulation, while the other tracks cover peripheral technologies closely linked to games design, like 3-D scalability, facial and skeletal animation, 3D in-game animation etc, mobile gaming and gaming applications.

Further details can be found here.

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The Iranian-based International Studies Journal and the United Nations Information Center in Iran are jointly selecting 45 senior advisors, resident diplomats and their dependents, heads of state organizations, NGO representatives, professors of law and International Relations, and post-graduate and graduated students to participate in a Security Council simulation, to be held in Tehran on 18 September 2014:

The Programme

The programme will cover three specific issue areas:

  1. International law and security, peace and human rights;
  2. Simulation methods and Research workshops;
  3. Global and Regional initiatives to protect peace and human rights.


Preparing for a Model United Nations conference can be a very challenging task. One time before the simulation, there will be a pre-conference training workshop for the participants at UNIC-Tehran.


ISJ and UNIC will award a certificate to all participants who successfully fulfill the workshop assignments, research, and exercises.

Admission Requirements

  1.   An accredited degree in law, international relations or a relevant field of study;
  2.  Good command of English or French;
  3.  Two recommendation letters by professors or sponsoring institutions;
  4.  Your recent photograph;
  5.  Letter of application including address, telephone, email and language skills(Persian, English, French);
  6. CV/Resume;
  7. Payment of 120 Euros (for Non Iran resident students) and 200 Euros (for other) upon admission. This fee covers registration, courses, booklet, ISJ quarterly magazines and lunch.

The registration deadline is 10 July 2014. For further information, contact

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We’ve updated our blog post on “Gaming the Crisis in the Ukraine” to include a new matrix game on the situation, designed by Tom Mouat.


Gaming the Arab Spring – more play testing


Setting up the game.

We had another playtest of Corinne Goldberger’s Arab Spring game at ICAMES last night. Once again, I thought it went extremely well, and—more importantly—our group of new players all picked it up very quickly. All of the basic game mechanics worked smoothly, or need only minor tweaking. Next she’ll face the challenge of writing up the rules in a clear and effective way.

In the game, the two opposition players joined forces to successfully “occupying the square” in Yemen in December 2010. The game uses a Freedom in the Galaxy -like domino effect mechanism, so the action there had the effect of generating grievances and activists in other countries, much like the informational cascades which characterized the real Arab Spring.


The meeples represent activists, belonging to either the secular (left half of the box) or Islamist (right half of the box) opposition. The disks in the centre indicate social grievances, colour coded to match the activists: white (or black, we didn’t have enough white) = youth, red = workers, blue = middle class, red = rural farmers. The tanks indicate the repressive power of the state (black = republic, purple = monarchy). The coins represent resources. This is early in the game, and the Yemeni opposition has just  “occupied the square” (indicated here by a yellow disk, although eventually the game will use a purpose designed card or other indicator). [Click to enlarge.]

The republican regime player lacked the card necessary to “clear the square,” and within a month the country tipped into full-scale revolt, causing President Saleh to flee. Closely-fought elections followed a few months later, which the Islamist opposition player won.

At this point, the number of activists and grievances was growing in both Egypt and Sudan. The opposition players decided to focus on Sudan, where they had a slight edge and where the regime had less repressive capability (tanks). They occupied the square too, then overthrew the regime, while an attempted counter-coup by pro-regime forces failed. Efforts by opposition forces to hold quick elections were stymied by conservative judges appointed under the earlier dictatorship.

While the overthrow of two republics in quick succession certainly made the republics feel very vulnerable, it may have been a blessing in disguise. With opposition energies focused on two low-value countries (both Sudan and Yemen are only worth 2 victory points), the republics launched a series of reforms and repression in Egypt (6 VP) intended to reduce grievances and eliminate activists. In the Arab Spring, you need both to successfully challenge regimes: grievances have no effect unless there are activists of a similar kind (youth, workers, middle class, and rural), and activists are of no value if there are no significant social grievances to play upon. Egypt also increased military expenditures, thereby gaining an additional “tank” (signifying the repressive strength of the state).

With the Mubarak regime in Egypt consolidating its position, both opposition players then went after Algeria. The Algerian regime responded by using its oil money to co-opt some opposition activists, and then—in a striking display of the ruthless efficiency of the mukhabarat state (or good dice-rolling) arrested all of the others.  Tunisia clamped down for good measure too, while Libya announced new social programmes designed to address popular discontent.

Through much of the first two-thirds of the game, the monarchical player had felt quite secure. Opposition energies were largely focused on the republics. The Gulf monarchies were awash with resources, in part because of high oil prices. Morocco and Jordan were a little more vulnerable, but generally any growth of activists or grievances there were met by appropriate responses quite quickly.


At this point in the game, the governments of both Yemen and Sudan have been overthrown (we’ve indicated this with a black disk for now, but it will have a proper marker eventually). Egypt is full of Islamist activists, but regime reforms (supported by petrodollar foreign aid) have reduced popular grievances so their appeal is limited. Algeria, with its large number of worker (red) and farmer (green) grievances and activists will thus be the next target of the opposition. The monarchical player has noticed the growing number of grievances in Morocco and Jordan (bottom right), and will soon take steps to address these. [Click to enlarge.]

Then it all started to go wrong. In the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain, a combination of sectarian tensions and youth activism was beginning to challenge the regime. Demonstrators occupied Pearl Roundabout. Saudi Arabia sent in massive military forces to help quell the protests. This however, wasn’t enough. As violence mounted, the protestors forced the Khalifa dynasty from power. A revolution in the Gulf! Who would have thought it possible?

The shockwaves were immense. Protestors in Saudi Arabia tried to mobilize, but failed. However, in Oman they were more successful. Moreover, under the game rules the monarchy player, who otherwise would be in contention for first place, automatically loses if a single monarchy is overthrown at the end of the game.

It all came down to the last turn, November 2011. The monarchy player hoped that a “counter-revolution” of royalist officers and foreign mercenaries in the armed forces would be able to turn back the clock in Bahrain—or, if that failed, trigger a civil war which the better-armed royalists might win. They were unable to do so, however.

Thus the game ended with the opposition players neck-and-neck at around a half-dozen victory points each. The royalists had many more, but the loss of Bahrain meant that they automatically lost the game. The republican regimes had 18 VP, and so were the winners.

Despite the apparently large winning margin, the game had been very close—indeed, the republics spend the first half of the game convinced they were a losing cause, the oppositions had been quite buoyant until things began to bog down for them mid-game, and the monarchies went from a strong position to losing in the last few months/turns of the game.  Had Egypt fallen the republican player would have  lost 6 VP, and the opposition players could have gained as many as 10 VP, entirely changing the outcome. Thus the game manages to both reflect real-world dynamics but to give everyone a real chance at “winning.” I’m really impressed with the design.

Simulation miscellany, 25 March 2014


Some recent items on conflict simulations, serious games, and similar topics that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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The Mind’s Lie is a free Android gaming app designed by Kris Wheaton (Institute for Intelligence Studies, Mercyhurst University), now available in beta version at the Google Play Store available now:

The game is designed to implicitly teach you and the other players (up to six players per game) to recognize confirmation bias, anchoring bias, stereotyping/representativeness bias, projection/mirror imaging bias, bias blind spot, or fundamental attribution error in more or less realistic situations. It is based on a successful tabletop game I designed.

Read much more about it at his Sources and Methods blog.

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This War Is Mine is a video game under development by 11 Bit Studios:

This War Of Mine provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle. For the very first time you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout. At night you get a chance to scavenge nearby locations for items that will help you stay alive.

Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them to endure the hardships. During war, there are no good or bad decisions; there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.

See also the coverage at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. (h/t James Sterrett)

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A call for papers has been issued for a special issue of the journal Traces.

This issue of the Tracés journal questions the relationships between play and games, on the one hand, and materiality, on the other – i.e. materials, objects, interfaces and infrastructures, as well as bodily aspects involved in play and games. Various forms of play and games can be studied in that perspective, such as gambling, board games, children’s games, role play and video games, among others. Contributors are invited to explore the role of materiality in play, to tackle the industrial, political, economic or legal dimensions of the materiality of games, their aesthetic or symbolic aspects, or to embrace the material aspects of “non playful” functions sometimes attached to games.


Studies devoted to play and games are increasingly visible in the humanities. This issue of Tracés aims at questioning this theme from an interdisciplinary perspective with a focus on materiality. It aims at probing the relationships between play, games and the physical and sensitive world.

Although materiality contributes to any experience of play to a significant extent, it has been little approached by game and play studies. Play and games have long been conceptualized separately from their relationship to materials, objects, technical interfaces and infrastructures, or to the body – presumably as a consequence to classic contributions which stressed normative or epistemological aspects of play and games (Huizinga, 1938; Wittgenstein 1953; Henriot, 1989). In the field of video games, such notions as the “virtual” and the “immaterial” have long prevented taking into account the material aspect of these games.

Play can be considered as an activity, framed by systems of rules or models for describing action, or simply bound to specific objects related to an activity or situation. This issue welcomes various definitions of games and play, to reflect on their relationship with materiality. Is materiality necessarily central to the study of games and play, and in what regard? Various types of games can be considered, such as traditional games (card games for instance), toys, digital games, role playing games, sport and all hybrid forms. Investigations can be based on various conceptualizations of games and play, in line with the paper’s research methodologies.

The editors suggest four major themes:

  • Materiality and the framing of play (“This part explores the construction of a frame for play, which can entail formal, normative, symbolical and material dimensions. Relationships between the rules of the game and players’ practices can be explored, in so far as they rely on material elements in the game.”)
  • Materiality and the political, economic and legal implications of game industries. (“Materiality plays a part in the organization of cultural industries, in their political, historical, economic and legal dimensions. Focusing on game industries, the role of materiality in manufacturing, distributing and commercializing games can be explored, as well as its role in marketing and advertising.”)
  • Materiality, representations and game images. (“This part is devoted to cultural, visual and symbolical aspects of games in their material dimensions. Contributors are welcomed to explore the visual and aesthetic dimensions of games as well as the social and cultural representations they can convey. Relationships between the materiality of components and the meanings attached to games and play can be interrogated.”)
  • Materiality and “non-playful” uses of games. (“Finally, this issue aims at dealing with situations where other aims than fun are devoted to games, for instance in ritual, educational, artistic or business environments. The values and roles of play and games in these contexts, and the amount of “seriousness” attached to them, can vary from one context to another. The limits and definitions of this activity are hence questioned in the light of its material dimensions.”)

Contributors can submit long papers  or shorter notes, and papers are expected to consist in first-hand original research, in French, English, or Spanish. Papers will be evaluated using a double-blind review process.The deadline for contributions is 15 June 2014.

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David Gooblar suggests that if you want students to come to class prepared, try rolling some dice.. Read more about it at his “Pedagogy Unbound” column at Vitae. (h/t Brian Train)

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The fourth annual Serious Play Conference will be held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles on 22-24 July 2014.

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The 8th European Conference on Games Based Learning will be held at the University of Applied Sciences HTW Berlin, Germany on 9-10 October 2014. The call for papers will close on April 4.

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The Society for Modelling and Simulation International will be holding its 2014 Spring Simulation Multi-Conference (SpringSim’14) on 13-16 April 2014 in Tampa, Florida. Details here.

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At the recent World Affairs 2014 conference held in San Francisco on14-15 March 2014 included a simulation of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis:

Elkus on video games and war

Pentagon_seen_from_CH-47_U.S.D.D._BOAdam Elkus (@Aelkus) has an excellent piece today at War on the Rocks on video games  and war. In it he argues that the problem is somewhat different than usually expressed:

It is often said that the rise of military robotics and cyber warfare is turning war into a “videogame.” But this thesis—which blames technology for a supposed loss of moral seriousness about war—gets the causation wrong. It isn’t bloodless technology that really makes war videogame-like. Rather, videogames are simple and deterministic in that they mirror the ways a cross-section of national security experts think about war. It seems that as hard as we try to be treat war as “tragic, inefficient, and uncertain,” we end up getting our military analysis from the same mental place that’s engaged by a shopping trip to GameSpot. We might as well use this to our advantage by diversifying our unconscious war(games) rather than playing the same titles over and over again.

He goes on to argue that value of video games (and, by extension, simulations), for exploring the possible consequences of alternative courses of action:

Videogames (and games more broadly), however, offer opportunities for creative exploration that other models don’t. We can immerse ourselves inalternative identities and possibilities and play through them, even if game rules are simple and deterministic. The fact that we can re-spawn when our characters die allows us to experiment and try different strategies, much in the way that Bill Murray always has a second chance in Groundhog Day.We can play against other people in dynamic multiplayer games that allow us to explore the parameters of a given map or play mode via free play. And strategy games, like Starcraft, that force you to play each game campaign set of missions as a different military faction, give the player a general command of abstract ideas about strategy and tactics that are independent of a particular context.

In this context, it is depressing that the same leaders who dragged us into a decade-plus of indecisive war and are poised to muddle through yet another “strategic” planning cycle could not and cannot treat war as a videogame. A skilled Team Deathmatch or role playing game player—unlike many defense analysts and military men—intuitively understands that combined arms is the only way to win. An imbalanced World of Warcraft party that has too many close combat specialists and not enough ranged weapons will lose to one that better balances capabilities. Playing as Zerg, Terran, and Protoss in Starcraft allows the gamer to truly grasp the choices available to anyone who plays as any one of the three factions. Sadly, in Afghanistan we did not listen to those who produced detailed analysis of our own allies, and further ignored those who produced detailed assessment of the enemy.

If we had challenged our internal cognitive models by gaming, perhaps we might have been able to think more deeply and creatively. Gaming mattersprecisely because war is “tragic, inefficient and uncertain.” The stakes are too high for us not to try to creatively probe our assumptions and experiment with new possibilities. If we already treat war as a videogame internally, at least we can add a diversity of game titles to our mental PlayStation 4s instead of playing the same game over and over again.

The role of chance in wargames

Nicholas Edwards was a MA student in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and VBS Designer for Bohemia Interactive Simulations (UK). His 2014 thesis on the incorporation of chance into wargames can be found here..

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chance-dice-random-numbers-1-AHDThe role of chance in wargames used for training purposes is an important, if little written-about, issue that can greatly influence the perceived value of these games in the minds of both instructors and trainees. I am therefore currently completing a Masters dissertation looking at this issue of chance, defined here as those mechanics introduced to add an aspect of randomness and unpredictability to result outcomes within the game. The study aims to establish an understanding of the major considerations that exist in the design of this aspect, along with the benefits and pitfalls the element has due to its very nature.

This project will need to investigate just how chance can best help derive the appropriate decision-making environment for meeting the training objectives. This shall require understanding just what is meant when speaking of uncertainties in combat, how this may be represented through game mechanics, and in what way the training objectives shall guide this process of abstraction. It must also be recognised whether there is a risk of the wrong lessons being drawn due to fluke results and if there are some training objectives are better suited to deterministic result calculations. Finally, the study will need to look at the extent to which uncertainties in information and adversarial intent may offer alternative or complementing methods of achieving the same effects.

Nevertheless just as, and if not more, important is the consideration of the target audience. Players are a reactive, not passive, part of any wargame and how to ensure a positive player reaction to the aspect of chance in a game is important to achieving the training objectives. It must be seen if certain groups of players will potentially react differently to the introduction of the chance element in a game and whether its application may need to be tailored based upon this. Dice offer a good example as they can have a divisive effect and their acceptability may be very dependent on who is playing the game. Bad presentation could easily therefore lead to a situation where the entire wargame is met with the derision of being simply a “dice game”. Furthermore, the risk of a negative reaction because players do not accept the representation of chance, use it as a scapegoat, or feel the game is unfair and rewards luck over skill, will need exploring.

The issue of presentation shall therefore be a major element in answering this question and it will be important to comprehend just by what extent the method by which chance is generated influences the learning potential of a wargame. Central to this will be seeing if mechanically identical representations of chance can have vastly different impacts because of variances in presentation. Another avenue to explore here must also be the role of the instructor in ensuring that the presentation of chance avoids these potential pitfalls and instead bolster the training objectives.

The credibility of wargaming in training is in many ways linked to the correct utilisation of chance and this study has set out to find how individual contexts may influence the balance required between skill and luck, the reaction of the audience, and what methods of presentation may be best suited. By applying the experiences of those with an expertise in military wargaming who have dealt with these issues, this study can hopefully outline the major considerations needed to ensure best practice when dealing with this aspect of wargaming.

Nicholas Edwards  

Gaming the “Arab Spring” – A First Playtest

On Monday, several of us got together for a first play test of Corinne Goldberger’s Arab Spring board game. Corinne is developing the game as part of an undergraduate independent reading course at McGill University, and you’ll find her other posts on the topic here.

I thought the game (in which I played the Islamist opposition) went very well. On the first turn (December 2010) the opposition players, working together, managed to “occupy the square” in Yemen. We overthrew the government there a month later, but  were immediately forced from power by a military coup (“counterrevolution”). Thereafter, state repression decimated the ranks of our activists in the country.

In February, we occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo, and then overthrew the Egyptian regime in March. As the Islamist and secular forces jockeyed for position in anticipation of forthcoming elections there, our general level of cooperation declined. The elections were eventually won by the secularists.

In Many and June 2011 we made several attempts to mobilize an uprising in Libya, with no success. However, the general level of violence increased there, placing the country on the verge of civil war.

Efforts to mobilize in Morocco were offset by a great deal of regime patronage, bolstered by Saudi foreign aid. The Jordanian government also took efforts to undercut any opposition. Thereafter, we generally left the monarchical regimes alone, and concentrated on the beleaguered republics. Efforts to mobilize in Algeria were unsuccessful, but as in Libya violence mounted there too. In August, mass protests erupted in the Sudan—but we couldn’t quite topple the regime by the time the game ended in November (turn 12).

The basic game mechanics are solid, and gameplay is exciting. Strategy matters. The rules (notably the move sequence, and the ability to swap cards) produce an interesting combination of cooperation and rivalry between the two oppositions and between the two sets of regimes. While outcomes are certainly not identical to the real events of 2010-11 (it would be a rather dull game if the outcome were preordained), they are certainly similar in tone and type. At this point, what is largely needed is tweaking of the cards. We also decided to add small optional decks from which players can draw if countries are in civil war or once regimes have been overthrow, thereby expanding their range of options.

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Last week I had my long-awaited first playtest of the Arab Spring board game – and I think it was a success! Overall, as far as I can tell, it was a fairly typical first playtest experience in that the general game mechanics worked mostly as anticipated, but some cards, some rules, and some mechanics are in need of varying degrees of overhaul. There were also some markers missing from the game that were mostly an oversight on my part, such as violence markers and ways to denote when a country has its square occupied or has a transitional government.

I was very fortunate to have four people willing to playtest, leaving me free to take many, many pages of notes over the course of the game. My sincere thanks to the four playtesters: Professor Brynen, Tom Fisher, Jason and Kat. Below you will find my summary of this initial playtest and my next steps in the game’s development.

The Board

The board, designed by Tom Fisher, worked extremely well for the game. While we are still changing the details, the board facilitated the game with no major issues.

Arab Spring copy 3

The game board used for the play test.

Each country has one box in which all pieces are played for said country. In the middle of each box is the area for the grievance tokens, surrounded by actvists (or lack thereof). The box for activists is split down the middle, with the secular players’ activists on one side and the Isalmists’ activists on the other. This box with activists represents the “main square” of a major city, like Tahrir Square or Pearl Roundabout. Surrounding this main square with activists are government troops, represented by tanks. There is also an overhang circle on the bottom of each square where each country’s money is held. These are the main sites of gameplay, and no major changes were needed to it after the playtest.

The Arab Spring game board (latest version, as of March 18).

The latest version of the game board.

Some small changes have been made to the board since this particular iteration. The colour scheme has changed, the countries with oil (denoted with an oil derrick) have changed, and the places for the decks have changed to reflect the existence of only two decks, one for the regimes and one for the opposition. Following the playtest we also added a turn tracker, after deciding throughout the course of the game on the number of turns we would have. The last major change to the board at this point is the addition of “contagion” lines on the map, lines that denote geographically touching countries. These are relevant for the placement of demonstration effects following particular actions, such as overthrowing a regime in a country.

The Set-up

One thing I realized I overlooked in the planning of this game was how the game board would be set up asymmetrically at the beginning of the game to reflect differences in levels of discontent and differences in the extent of regimes’ repressive force on the ground. Each country will now start with different numbers of grievances, activists, tanks, and money, in a configuration that is relatively consistent with the realities of the region in December 2010.

The Gameplay

Playing the game.

Playing the game.

Generally the game went much as expected. In particular, I was pleased to watch players interact in the ways I anticipated for the game. One element of the game that facilitated player cooperation was the ability to swap a card with the other player of your type (regime or opposition) in lieu of playing a card. Early on in the game there was a lot of cooperation, with some wariness as to the other player’s intentions, but as the game progressed and victory points got closer, skeptcicism increased and cooperation was more difficult.

The violence aspect of the game was barely relevent to this particular game, with only two instances of double 1’s (which adds violence when rolled during a repression attempts as a result of particularly ineffective repression) being rolled throughout the entirety of the game. Initially there were three levels of violence in the game, with the third level being full civil war, but due to the lack of violence in this game I have changed it to two violence markers is a civil war. I will also be adding a card into each deck that gives a player the ability to escalate violence, to mirror the de-escalate violence cards that already exist.

A lot of tweaking of cards happened throughout the playtest. I think I underestimated how difficult it was to make cards extremely clear in such a small space, without leaving any room for ambiguity as to which countries a card can be played on or when a card could be played. I realized that some assumptions I had made in creating the cards (that regime players could only play cards on their respective countries, for instance) were not assumptions that the players made, thus making some of the card actions confusing. Some cards were overpowered, others were underpowered; some cards needed to exist that did not exist, other cards came up too frequently. And even if the card effects were balanced, other cards needed changes to the flavour text! The bottom line seems to be that adapting the decks is just a constant exercise throughout game development. Now I know.

The Win

The win/loss conditions and victory points system was the other element of the game that still underdeveloped at the time that we played the first game. While some of that was just regular tweaking, we also decided to scrap many of the overly complicated overriding win/loss conditions that existed as of my last blog post. Now the game is far more victory points oriented, with the only overriding conditions being: 1) if any monarchy is overthrown at the end of the game, the monarchical regime player loses; and 2) if all republics are not overthrown at the end of the game, the republican regime player wins. The former is to instil a sense of paranoia in the monarchical player, such that they have clear incentives to maintain the smaller monarchies (such as Bahrain) even at a financial cost to say, Saudi Arabia. The latter is a mirror to the monarchical lose condition, but also provides a concrete reason for the republican player to hold on to their less important republics.

The rest of the scoring relies on victory points. The main component to the victory points system is that each country is worth a designated amount of victory points to the player who controls said country. Therefore while regimes begin with all the victory points of the countries they hold, opposition begins with zero victory points. This too reflects initial assymetries. The result however is that opposition players need more opportunities to gain victory points than regimes do through gameplay.

One way this was dealt with was to give victory points to an opposition player when they successfully occupy a square or overthrow a regime, regardless of if they or the other opposition player ultimately ends up in control of the country and its associated victory points. After the playtest I increased the number of points opposition got for those actions, however I have also added victory points for the regime players when they successfully implement a counter-revolution or clear the square (both the results of a particular card in the regime deck).

The last victory points rule addition goes to affect the monarchical player’s incentive structure, reflecting the monarchies’ interests during the Arab Spring. That is, at the end of the game, the monarchical player gains one victory point if Libya is overthrown, and gains two victory points if Syria is overthrown. However, the monarchical player loses two victory points if Egypt is overthrown at the end of the game.

Plans for the Future

I am currently in the process of making changes to the cards used in the game, as explained above. The next step is a comprehensive list of rules and game mechanics that are sufficient to explain to someone new to the game everything that needs to happen. After that, more playtesting!

Corinne Goldberger 

Gaming the crisis in the Ukraine


UPDATED 29 December 2015.

I’ve pulled together a summary of recent and current wargame on the Ukraine, which I will update from time to time as new material becomes available. . If any readers have material to suggest, I would certainly welcome suggestions via the comments section, or by email.

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Game designer Brian Train has quickly put together a small print-and-play political-military of the Ukrainian crisis, entitled—appropriately enough—Ukrainian Crisis.

It is a fairly simple, free-form pol-mil game for two players that concentrates on the buildup and resolution of threatened territorial annexation by Russia.

An overt military invasion of Eastern Ukraine is possible and perhaps profitable, but not necessary for the Russian player to win the game. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian player desperately mobilizes to defend himself and build a coalition of allies to support him.

You can download it at Brian’s Ludic Futurism website here. He also discusses the Russian and Ukrainian order of battle in a subsequent post. There’s  a lively discussion of the game and possible revisions at ConSimWorld.

Brian’s game  has also generated some discussion among gamers in the region about the ethics and practicalities opt designing a game about a conflict that is still current (and which could go “hot”). See, for example, the discussion of the Russian gaming site Tesera (Google translated version here). Some seem to think that his game is more than a game, and indicative of broader policy or popular thinking on the crisis.

Brian has also posted (24/11/2014) updated rules to his website.

He has now (02/12/2015) posted completed new rules:

The game now concentrates specifically on the first 6 months of the crisis, from Yanukovytch’s departure in late February 2014 to about the time of the adoption of the first Minsk Protocol in September. This was the period in which a large and overt Russian military intervention might have taken place, and while violence continues in Ukraine, the main threat of a military invasion seems to have passed.

Two important changes to the game include: game is lengthened to 8 turns, and instead of there being a pre-invasion and invasion phase of the game either player can declare a Combat or a Strategic turn . This gives players a bit more time to fill out strategies, and fits with the stop-and-start nature of how the crisis played out militarily. Following on from this, the map has been revised slightly and the cards also have additional or changed functions.

Still no NATO units.

The latest files for the game are here, and links are also on the original page:


* * *

Even before the crisis, Brant Guillory was (rather presciently!) in the process of producing an operational-level wargame of civil war in a future Ukraine, Next War I: Orange Crush – Civil War in the Ukraine . You can follow its development on BoardGameGeek or at the Bayonet Games website .


Following a series of contentious elections in which both sides accused the other of support from outside the country, the Ukraine began to fracture.   What started as competing protest marches in the streets rapidly escalated into a shooting war between the different factions.   When the President of the Ukraine finally ordered the Army to restore order, several units revolted, and the President appealed to NATO for assistance.

Ignoring Russian warnings against intervening, NATO provided a small UK-led force, which the Russians countered with a reinforced mechanized corps, plus reinforcements from their Belorussian allies.   The US sent their available forces to the Polish frontier, hoping that their deterrent effect would stabilize the situation.

The Ukrainian “Interventionists” (so named for their favorability toward Russian “intervention”) had organized their own fighting force around the two mechanized brigades (and assorted smaller units) that mutinied against the national command.   Russian operatives assisted in arming and organizing the “101 Brigade” from provinces near the border; other partisans throughout the Ukraine also took up arms on the Interventionist side.

The Ukrainian government incorporated their volunteers into the standing army, hoping to avoid any public relations backlash from having irregular forces on the battlefield, as they attempted to paint the conflict as a civil war in which the Russians were meddling and NATO were invited peacekeepers.

The first battles were joined near Lvov, as the Interventionists bypassed Kiev and pushed as far west as possible, hoping to prevent the NATO forces from establishing a bridgehead in the Ukraine. Russian and Belorussian reinforcements arrived from the north to try and flank the existing Ukrainian national forces before NATO could join the fight. The Americans were moving through Poland, but had concerns about the security of their supply lines.

Earlier this month Michael Peck gave a preproduction version of the game a try at Foreign Policy magazine.

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Finally, there is one already-published  game on the area set in the modern era, Millennium Wars: Ukraine, This was designed by Joe Miranda and published by One Small Step games in 2003:

Millennium Wars: Ukraine presents a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia later this decade. Scenarios put the Russians in the roles of seizing oil, driving to the Black Sea, or pursuing fleeing rebels while NATO forces move to aid Ukraine. External political events can impact the ability of both sides to prosecute their desired strategies.

The BoardGameGeek page for the game can be found here. A 2014 update for the game will be available shortly from the publisher at the end of September 2014.


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Digital wargamers have been examining military conflict in the Crimea too. For example, have a look at Flashpoint Ukraine 2014, an impressively detailed current order of battle and scenario depicted by the Baloogan Campaign (@BalooganCamp) using the Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations platform by Matrix games.

OPERATION TIGER RIFLE examines an attempted NATO amphibious landing in the Crimea:

The Russian Federation has taken Crimea by force and within 48 hours a major NATO assault is planned. You must clear the way for the HW Bush to lead an amphibious assault group. Destruction of the 11th Anti-submarine Ship Brigade and (most importantly) the S-400 and Bastion ASM located near Sevastopol is required for the amphibious landing.

There is a lengthy discussion thread on this at the Matrix Games website.

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Tom Mouat has put together his own quick wargame of the Crisis in Crimea, which he has kindly passed on to PAXsims. This takes the form of a free-form “matrix game”:

Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before rolling a dice. It takes a long time and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a Matrix Game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Umpire or the players (or both) decide how likely it is and you roll a dice. If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game.

The game involves up to six-players: Olexander Turchynov, Victor Yanukovych, Barak Obama, Vladimir Putin, the European Union and China

You’ll find the map here, and the guidelines, roles, and other supporting materials here. You’ll find it an interesting introduction to how a matrix game works (although you really need to see one in action to get a full understanding).

UkraineMap* * *

Kickstarter features a proposal for a tactical boardgame based on the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests in Kiev, pitting demonstrators against the authorities. You’ll find more details here. (The game has since been withdrawn.)

30c4ad27696033f01e157336813fdefb_large* * *

Majdan is a game of the Euromaidan protests by the Polish game company Symeo Games. According to the game summary at BoardGameGeek:

Majdan is trying to simulate events which took place in Ukraine in January and February 2014 during what is called an “Euromaidan”. The players create the political situation of this state on their own. Depending on their strategy, the paths of Ukrainians future may develop in many different ways. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the moral loser will always be a faction which decided for the force solution fighting for control over districts as the first and allowing the blood to be spoiled.

The goal of each faction is to gain as many Victory Points as possible, i.e. retain the power in hands of Government and his supporters or to create a new government by the opposition.

Victory Points are scored by taking Control or getting Support in 25 districts, which differs in value. When two factions meet in one district there is a Struggle (for Support or Control). To win a Struggle, players use Cards which portrays means used to win: Masses (supporters of Government or Euromaidan), Militia, Berkut, Army, Specnaz, Media or Titushki. Cards have different values (value part of them is defined by a dice roll). For example, Media has value 5 in Struggle for Support, and 0 in Struggle for Control.

Players has several types of action to choose: get a Card, initiate a Struggle, influence a district, make an peace offer. 5 Actions made an Action Round. 6 Action Rounds makes an complete game (unless someone get to automatic victory earlier).

Majdan reimplements Pomarańczowa Rewolucja game – mechanics was slightly changed, as district values on the map. Cards was changed (new images and its quantity).

All changes were fit to the 2013/2014 political situation on Ukraine.

h/t Volko Ruhnke


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abrams-0_tnBattlefront has introduced Combat Mission: Black Sea, as part of its Combat Mission series:

Combat Mission: Black Sea is a military simulation depicting a fictional 2017 conflict between NATO and Russia in Ukraine. Following the events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Kiev government and Russia continue to clash over the status of the contested regions. This culminates several years later in a dramatic announcement by Ukraine that they will be joining NATO and the EU. Tensions explode as Russia perceives a direct threat to Russian citizens and deploy troops to the Ukrainian border again, while Western governments, welcoming a chance to expand NATO and EU influence eastward, mobilize as well. The escalation continues until the summer of 2017, when a large firefight erupts between Ukrainian and Russian troops in the Donetsk region. The next day fighting flares up on the border, and on a dark early morning in June 2017, pre-positioned Russian and NATO forces roll forward into Ukraine.

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The private sector intelligence and analysis firm Stratfor will be unveiling the results of a series of analytical wargames of the Ukraine crisis in March. You’ll find the introductory video to the series here, and some initial PAXsims thoughts here.

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The Polish gaming magazine Tactics & Strategy might be producing a game of the Ukraine crisis, Mariupol 2014-15. Their website is here.

1907590_807293999340390_6849495475835347588_n-2* * *

In an article in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 21, 2 (April 2015), Richard E. Ericson and Lester A. Zeageroffer an analysis of strategic interaction in the Ukraine crisis through a game theoretic lens.

CFP: Special issue of S&G on sustainability and simulation/gaming


Levent Yilmaz (Auburn University) and  Tuncer Ören (University of Ottawa) have issued a call for papers for a special issue of Simulation & Gaming that would be devoted to sustainability and simulation/gaming.

As the challenges involving the achievement of a sustainable society become truly global involving complex interdependencies among social, political, and technical dimensions that collectively influence risk, simulation gaming with complex system models is becoming a highly effective strategy to study them. In today’s challenging policy environment, government officials and other decision-makers are confronting difficult sustainability problems whose common feature is their complexity.

Even under optimistic conditions, unexpected disasters and crises will increase severity of conditions for immediate disaster relief and the need to assist large number of refugees. Also, human actions contribute to environmental disasters such as oil spills. These emerging challenges suggest development of adaptive and resilient plans that can be revised under conditions of deep uncertainty. Development of simulation-based predictive displays for a control system or predictive displays based on multisimulation to evaluate several futures and decisions based on the outcomes of several futures will be critical enablers to deal with uncertainty that is pervasive in complex interconnected systems that need to be properly managed. Better data can also drive simulation games, which can help predicting important trends, assessing how well proposed policies and strategies would meet desired system-level objectives, and determining the optimal levels of resource use. Examples include growth, development, and evolution of urban areas, management of critical infrastructures during crisis and disaster, and management of natural environments such as forests or rivers as well as policies for governance such as fiscal and economic policies to assure sustainability and definitely to avoid disasters. However, effectiveness and relevance of simulation games to decision-making require careful consideration of the integration of the simulation gaming solutions with deliberation and political process. Hence, the issues pertaining to transparency, legitimacy, and participation are critical pillars of an integrated strategy.

With this special issue, we aim to provide the opportunity for authors to contribute original and unpublished articles that present the use of simulation/gaming, including debriefing, for exploring social, economic, and environmental sustainability of human and natural systems. Simulation/gaming, with debriefing, can serve as a proactive anticipatory system to examine possibly unintended consequences of course of actions, as their impacts are amplified and are often unforeseeable due to complex interactions and emergence that permeate through the components of a complex interconnected system of systems. Multidisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome to address the problem of complex system sustainability.

  • Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
  • Integrated economic, social, and environmental simulation games for sustainability
  • Models of human factors and social dynamics in relation to human and organizational enterprises
  • Simulation games for decision support under uncertainty and long-term policy analysis
  • Metrics for proactive anticipation of unsustainable conditions and their solution
  • Tools and techniques for assessing adaptability, resilience, and emergent behaviour in complex adaptive human and social systems
  • Simulation gaming for disaster management and recovery
  • Advanced methods and tools for testing of the resilience of proposed financial regulations
  • New ways of thinking for policy makers for predictability, control, and explanation of complex adaptive phenomena
  • New resource management paradigms investigated by M&S
  • Data needs and validation of sustainability models and simulation games
  • Synergy of software agents and simulation games, including agent-monitored simulation games
  • The use of debriefing, and the integration of debriefing into simulation/games, for sustainability.

Proposals will be accepted through spring/summer 2014. For more information on submissions, click the link above.

The Economist: To understand war, American officials are playing board games

Tomorrow’s Economist has a short article on boardgames and strategic policy, featuring more than a few names that will be familiar to many PAXsims readers:

economistMilitary strategy

War games

To understand war, American officials are playing board games

Mar 15th 2014 | From the print edition

TWO evenings a month, four dozen defence and intelligence officials gather in an undisclosed building in Virginia. They chat informally about “what if” scenarios. For example: what if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites? Recent chats on this topic have been fruitful for a surprising reason, says John Patch, a member of the Strategic Discussion Group, as it is called. Nearly a quarter of those who regularly attend play a board game called Persian Incursion”, which deals with the aftermath of just such an attack. For half the players, such games are part of their job.

You don’t need a security clearance to play Persian Incursion. Anyone can order it from Clash of Arms, a Pennsylvania firm that makes all kinds of games, from Epic of the Peloponnesian War to Pigs in Space. Yet playing a war game is like receiving an intelligence briefing, Mr Patch says. It forces players to grapple with myriad cascading events, revealing causal chains they might not imagine. How might local support for Iran’s regime be sapped if successful Israeli raids strengthen claims that its anti-aircraft batteries were incompetently sited? Might a photo purportedly showing Iran’s president with a prostitute help the Saudi monarchy contain anti-Jewish riots? Might those efforts be doomed if the photo were revealed as a fake?

Paul Vebber, a gameplay instructor in the navy, says that in the past decade the government has started using strategy board games much more often. They do not help predict outcomes. For that, the Pentagon has forecasting software, which it feeds with data on thousands of variables such as weather and weaponry, supply lines, training and morale. The software is pretty accurate for “tight, sterile” battles, such as those involving tanks in deserts, says an intelligence official. Board games are useful in a different way. They foster the critical but creative thinking needed to win (or avoid) a complex battle or campaign, he says.

Some games are for official use only. The Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA), a federally funded defence outfit, has created half a dozen new ones in the past two years. Most were designed by CNA analysts, but commercial designers occasionally lend a hand, as they did for Sand Wars, a game set in north-west Africa.

CNA games address trouble in all kinds of places. In Transition and Tumult, designed for the marine corps, players representing groups in Sudan and South Sudan try to whip up or quell local unrest that might lead American forces to intervene. In The Operational Wraparound, made for the army, players struggle to stoke or defeat a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Avian Influenza Exercise Tool, a game designed for the Department of Agriculture, shows health officials how not to mishandle a bird-flu epidemic.

Board games designed for the government typically begin as unclassified. Their “system”, however, becomes classified once players with security clearances begin to incorporate sensitive intelligence into it, says Peter Perla, a game expert at CNA. If an air-force player knows that, say, a secret bunker-busting bomb is now operational, he can improve the dice-roll odds that a sortie will destroy an underground weapons lab. During official gaming sessions, analysts peer over players’ shoulders and challenge their reasoning. Afterwards, they incorporate the insights gleaned into briefings for superiors.

One reason why board games are useful is that you can constantly tweak the rules to take account of new insights, says Timothy Wilkie of the National Defence University in Washington, DC. With computer games, this is much harder. Board games can also illuminate the most complex conflicts. Volko Ruhnke, a CIA analyst, has designed a series of games about counterinsurgency. For example, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (sold by GMT Games of California) models “parallel wars of bombs and ideas”, as one reviewer puts it, on a board depicting much of Eurasia and Africa.

Even training for combat itself can be helped with dice and cards. Harpoon, a game about naval warfare, has proved so accurate in the past that hundreds of Pentagon officials will play it when the next version comes out in a couple of years, says Mr Patch. One of its designers, Chris Carlson, is also responsible for the “kinetic” aspects of Persian Incursion (ie, the bits that involve shooting). Mr Carlson is a former Defence Intelligence Agency analyst; Persian Incursion’s data on the nuts and bolts of assembling and commanding bomber, escort, and refuelling aircraft “strike packages” for destroying Iran’s nuclear sites is so precise that on at least two occasions intelligence officials have suggested that he is breaking the law by publishing it.

Counterfactualism, wargaming, and historical analysis

Paths of Glory (GMT Games)

WWI as depicted in Paths of Glory (GMT Games)

In the pages of today’s Guardian, historian Richard Evans unleashes a blast against the popular and academic use of counterfactual history:

Too much of the current debate about 1914 and the outbreak of the first world war focuses not on why it happened, but how things might have been if Britain hadn’t entered it.

…this kind of fantasising is now all the rage, and threatens to overwhelm our perceptions of what really happened in the past, pushing aside our attempts to explain it in favour of a futile and misguided attempt to decide whether the decisions taken in August 1914 were right or wrong. For that way, of course, leads not to historical understanding but to all kinds of wishful thinking, every hypothesis political in motivation. “We” – the identification is telling – were right to fight the continental despot; “we” were wrong to involve ourselves in the continent’s conflicts; you pays your money and you makes your Eurosceptic choice.

“Counterfactuals”, as such “what-if” speculations are generally termed by the aficionados, are often claimed to open up the past by demonstrating the myriad possibilities, thus freeing history from the straitjacket of determinism and restoring agency to the people. But in fact they imprison the past in an even tighter web: one tiny change in the timeline – Archduke Franz Ferdinand escapes assassination in Sarajevo, the British cabinet decides not to enter the war – leads inevitably to a whole series of much larger changes, sometimes stretching over decades almost up to the present day. Yet this ignores, of course, an infinite number of chances that might have deflected the predicted course of events along the way – Franz Ferdinand might have fallen victim to another assassin’s bullet, or died in a hunting accident; Britain might have entered the war later on; the US might have come into the conflict on the side of the French; Austria-Hungary might have collapsed in the face of nationalist revolts; and so on.

If counterfactuals really did restore chance and contingency to history, then we wouldn’t actually be able to extrapolate any consequences at all from changes in the timeline such as a British decision not to enter the war in 1914. In practice, of course, every historian tries to balance out the elements of chance on the one hand, and larger historical forces (economic, cultural, social, international) on the other, and come to some kind of explanation that makes sense. The problem with counterfactuals is that they almost always treat individual human actors – generals or politicians, in the main – as completely unfettered by these larger forces, able to make decisions without regard to them in any way. And yet this simply isn’t the case, as many a tyrant in history, from Napoleon to Hitler, has found to his cost. To suppose otherwise is to regress into a “great man” view of history that the historical profession abandoned decades ago.

It’s also a form of intellectual atavism in another sense: “what-ifs” are almost invariably applied to political, military and diplomatic history: they represent a “kings-and-battles” view of the past…


Wargaming even gets a particular swipe, as Evans dismissively notes that “Armchair generals refight hundreds of battles to show they could have done better than Napoleon or Montgomery.” A similar swipe appears in the blurb for his new bookAltered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History (emphasis added):

Alternative history has long been the stuff of parlor games, war-gaming, and science fiction, but over the past few decades it has become a popular stomping ground for serious historians. The historian Richard J. Evans now turns a critical, slightly jaundiced eye on a subject typically the purview of armchair historians. The book’s main concern is examining the intellectual fallout from historical counterfactuals, which the author defines as “alternative versions of the past in which one alteration in the timeline leads to a different outcome from the one we know actually occurred.” What if Britain had stood at the sidelines during the First World War? What if the Wehrmacht had taken Moscow? The author offers an engaging and insightful introduction to the genre, while discussing the reasons for its revival in popularity, the role of historical determinism, and the often hidden agendas of the counterfactual historian. Most important, Evans takes counterfactual history seriously, looking at the insights, pitfalls, and intellectual implications of changing one thread in the weave of history.

It is an important topic, and one hopes that it receives more thoughtful attention in the book than Evans offers in his op-ed. This, unfortunately, gives every appearance (whether intended or not) of petulant annoyance that the mainstream media and fellow-travelling academics have sought to engage the public imagination through informed speculation on alternative history.

In responding, I would first note that all social science theorizing—without exception—involves implied counterfactuals. When scholars argue, for example, that certain types of constitutional arrangements are more or less conducive to containing  ethnic strife, they are suggesting that different constitutional outcomes are likely to have produced different outcomes had they been adopted. Certainly, the variables embedded in such theories may not be the sorts upon which human agency can easily operate, but rather may be structural characteristics of a broader and more complex system. However, a great deal of theorizing does involve the effects of policy choices (like constitutional structures) that were, in fact, constrained choices among several possible alternatives.

Second, a great deal of policy-making—including almost all foreign-policy making that I have ever observed—involves the explicit (if often unstructured) use of alternative future scenarios, whereby decision-makers examine the chain of consequences that seem likely to arise from doing X or Y. Similarly, intelligence analysis not only involves exploring the branch-points of possible future events, identifying the drivers associated with multiple future possibilities and even the predicted probabilities of these taking  place. All of this is a sort of pre-counterfactualism whereby future history is assumed to be contingent.

51eGL+7O5iL._SY445_Third, the piece seems to harbour a particular animus for an excessive focus on the historical role of  individuals and the conduct of warfare. Pointing to the straw man of “kings and battles” history is hardly helpful, though: most historians (and political scientists) would argue that both structure and agency matter, and that good analysis involves finding the appropriate balance. With regard to the conduct of war, it presumably matters, for example, that German offensive of August 1914, based on a modified version of the Schlieffen Plan, failed to defeat the French and allied armies or capture Paris. Given that, it seems to me that understanding what strategic and operational decisions shaped  battlefield outcomes (and vice-versa)  is a useful set of questions for historical enquiry. Was German failure inevitable? If so, why? If not, what alternative actions by Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, or others might have made a difference? It is probably also helpful to know what difference military capabilities and their tactical employment made too. As Philip Sabin has argued, wargaming provides a lens, through a sort of structured counterfactualism, that allows for the manipulation of key variables to enable exploration of such questions.

Answering such questions, moreover, does not imply a narrow focus on battlefields, generals, and military hardware. It inevitably raises questions about logistics (and hence road and rail networks), communications, men and materiel (and hence labour force structure, industrialization, and economic development), ideology, and politics.

k9206.gifFinally, and perhaps most importantly, Evans seems to ignore the increasing amount of sophisticated scholarly work (like this, this, this, and this, among many, many others) that has been done on counterfactualism as a methodology for exploring historical contingency.

In fairness, of course, his piece a pithy one intended for a popular audience. He is engaging contemporary political controversies in the UK over commemoration of World War One rather than genuinely addressing the state of the art in the scholarly field. He seems upset by a parochial focus by politicians and the press on Britain’s impact on the war, rather than the broader historical context within which the war took place.

That being said, however, it is a shame that one would decry shallow populist counterfactualism in  history by offering such a shallow critique.

In his closing paragraphs, Evans tries—rather speculatively— to link all of this to broader social trends:

Why are we so prone in the early 21st century to approaching history in this way? The fashion for counterfactuals, after all, only began around the mid 90s: before that, they were few and far between, and seldom taken seriously even by those who indulged in them. Now you find them everywhere….

Perhaps it’s because we’re living in a postmodern age where the idea of progress has largely disappeared, to be replaced by uncertainty and doubt, and where linear notions of time have become blurred; or because truth and fiction no longer seem such polar opposites as they once did; or because historians now have more licence to be subjective than they used to. But it’s time to be sceptical about this trend. We need, in this year especially, to start to try to understand why the first world war happened, not to wish that it hadn’t, or argue about whether it was “right” or “wrong”. In the effort to understand, counterfactuals aren’t any real use at all.

Ironically, the very statement embeds some apparently counterfactual assumptions: namely that great prior skepticism among professional historians might have blunted this trend, and that our understanding of the causes and consequences of WWI would be all the richer for having done so.

Simulation and gaming at ISA 2014


The 2014 annual conference of the International Studies Association will be held in Toronto on 26-29 March, featuring some one thousand papers and more than five thousand participants. Among these, there are more than a few presentations on simulations and serious games. I have compiled a list below, although it may be incomplete.

Attending the conference requires registration with ISA.

Wednesday, March 26

WA21: Experiencing Analytic Tradecraft: Simulations for Education and Training in Intelligence Analysis

Wednesday, March 26, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“TEST Simulation Model: Team Working and Experiential Scenario-based Training”

  • Author: Julian J. Richards (University of Buckingham)
  • Author: Chris Jagger (Managing Director 2creatEffects)

The TEST model provides a learning environment in which students can experience intelligence analysis in relevant scenarios. They can then reflect on their experience and how it enhances their understanding and future performance in analysis. The simulaiton emphasizes that intelligence in today’s world is not just about analyzing but about making operational decisions on courses of action to be taken in the real world. It is also about considering the consequences of such actions on the environment, some of which may be unexpecfted and unwelcome. The simulaiton tests a set of core skills needed by intelligence analysts, which they can deploy in mitigaiton of analytical challenges and pitfalls. Two core skills — creativity and critical thinking — form the core of these skills.

WA21: Experiencing Analytic Tradecraft: Simulations for Education and Training in Intelligence Analysis

Wednesday, March 26, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Spies and Lies: The Perils of Collection (A Simulation)”

  • Author: Kristan J. Wheaton (Mercyhurst University)
  • Author: James Breckenridge (Mercyhurst University)

The collection of information is a core part of the intelligence process no matter how that process is defined. This exercise is designed to allow students to experience not only some of the issues involved in planning and executing collection operations (particularly HUMINT operations) but also to experience how poorly structured collection systems can seriously impair the quality of the overall collection effort as well as the accuracy of the ensuing analysis. The simulation is designed for a class of 20-30 and takes approximately 40 minutes to one hour to run. The simulation puts teams of students in the roles of intelligence operatives collecting information for one of six Balkan nations. Topics to discuss in the after action review include: How well did the initial collection strategy work? How did the strategy change during the course of the exercise? How did the teams use their allies? What techniques did the teams use to get access to enemy information? What would the teams do differently?

WA21: Experiencing Analytic Tradecraft: Simulations for Education and Training in Intelligence Analysis

Wednesday, March 26, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Why Senior Policymakers Value Simulations and Table top Exercises”

  • Author: Randy Pherson (Pherson Associates)

The author draws upon his career as a senior intelligence analyst/manger and his subsequent experience as president of Pherson Associates LLC, which provides innovative training and educational courses to members of the intelligence comunity and the private sector, to assess the reasons that simulations and table top exercises are valued so highly by senior policymakers.


Thursday, March 27

TA05: Visualizing Dynamics of Stakeholder Development with Spatial Representation

Thursday, March 27, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Human Development Dynamics: An Agent Based Simulation of Macro Social Systems and Individual Heterogeneous Evolutionary Games”

  • Author: Zining Yang (Claremont Graduate University)
  • Author: Birol A. Yesilada (Portland State University)

 Combining a system dynamics and agent based modeling approach, we formalize a simulation framework of the Human Development (HD) perspective. First, we build a system of asymmetric, coupled nonlinear differential equations that capture the core logic of HD theory, empirically validated from World Values Survey (WVS) data. Using the framework of evolutionary game theory, second we fuse these endogenously derived individual attribute HD changes over simulated time with Prisoner’s Dilemma in an agent based framework to model the interactive political-cultural effects of heterogeneous, spatial intra-societal transactions. We explore the model’s behavioral dynamics via simulation methods to identify paths and pitfalls towards economic development, cultural plasticity, social change and elite challenging behavior. Our preliminary results show different combinations and magnitudes of economic, cultural, social and political crisis and shocks produce dissimilar cultural, social and revolutionary political behavior with either persistent or transitory positive and negative social externalities.

TA50: Fantasy and Reality? Diverse Approaches to Active Learning in IR

Thursday, March 27, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Roll the Dices! An Empirical Experience Towards the Use of Board Games in IR Classrooms”

  • Author: Mário Afonso Lima (Rio de Janeiro State University)
  • Author: Rodrigo Martins
  • Author: Pedro Araujo
  • Author: Leticia Simões (Inst. Nacionais de Ciência e Tecnologia-Políticas Públicas Estratégia e Desenvolvimento (INCT-PPED) )

Seeking new ways to stimulate students into learning the dynamics of international relations in a long lasting way, this paper will be the result of an experience that will occur next semester of teaching International Relations using board games to assist the learning process. The extra-curricular course with undergrad students proposed to work in a partnership with a traditional course, will seek to explore concepts such as Grand Strategy, the anarchic nature of the international system, prisoner’s dilemma, stag hunt among others. During the semester, at least four board games will be used in order to let the students feel the hardships of the decision-making, the subtleties of diplomacy and the insecurity of an anarchic system. The selection of the four games were made due to its strategic content, its capability of make the players (students) think and the linkage the games have with the IR area. The chosen games are: Twilight Imperium, Supremacy, Senji and A Game of Thrones. The evaluation will be through a series of interviews and essays with the participants and non-participants as a way to measure the impact of using board games in the learning process. So let the Dices Roll!

TA50: Fantasy and Reality? Diverse Approaches to Active Learning in IR

Thursday, March 27, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Orcs and Gnomes Living Together? Realism Through Fantasy in Teaching International Relations Through “World of Warcraft””

  • Author: Andrea M. Lopez (Susquehanna University)

Along with zombies and Harry Potter, the Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft presents a pedagogical tool for exploring theories of conflict and cooperation in IR. The game, played by roughly ten million people worldwide, is set in an anarchical world. In realms where players can target and kill other players’ avatars, all are constantly vulnerable to enemy attack, leading to a Hobbesian situation of brutish and short lives. Even in these most realist of realms, cooperation emerges. Norms are developed; violators punished. Individuals temporarily ally with potential enemies to complete quests, despite the potential that the opponent will defect and kill their character. Organizations are developed as individuals create guilds. This paper examines ways in which World of Warcraft can draw out aspects of realism, neoliberalism, and game theory. It presents findings from a sophomore-level course. Pre- and post-tests were used to discern students’ understanding of the effects of anarchy and causes of cooperation and conflict; findings suggest that use of the game helped students relate to concepts of IR theory better than traditional readings and in-class simulations alone.

TD17: Challenging Our Students and Ourselves: Innovative Approaches to Teaching IR

Thursday, March 27, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

“Teaching IR through popular games, culture and simulations”

  • Author: David Romano (Missouri State University)

A number of easily accessible and popular games, films and books exist to help students understand key concepts of international relations. Games like RISK, Diplomacy, Civilization and others can be viewed as models. Like all models, they simplify the world and focus on certain relational and structural issues while downplaying others. The same is true of fiction such as Game of Thrones and Star Trek. Fantasy and science fiction can prove particularly useful for getting students to think about levels of analysis and the assumptions we rely upon in IR. This paper lays out various ways to adapt these “models” to the IR classroom through experiential learning.

TD17: Challenging Our Students and Ourselves: Innovative Approaches to Teaching IR

Thursday, March 27, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

“Teaching without Textbooks: Narratives, Simulations and Original Texts in the Teaching of an Introduction to IR Course”

  • Author: Lucian Mark Ashworth (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

 Teaching IR to first and second year undergraduates can parallel the distinction in Niebuhr between justice and security. Students find security in simple narratives that neatly compartmentalize ideas, yet this simplification easily slips into the injustice of myths and errors. To do justice to the complexity of IR usually means robbing the students of the security of simple stories. The greatest source of security for the student is the textbook. Many textbooks from top publishers pride themselves in providing a flat-pack course, often complete with PowerPoints and course notes. This security comes at a cost, though. Textbooks are often written in an uncontroversial style that rarely inspires students, and they perpetuate errors. The result may provide security, but does not do the subject justice. In this paper I discuss how an introductory course can be organized without a textbook using techniques that include (i) using provocative and original texts that stimulate debate; (ii) running simulations that allow students to explore both possibilities and constraints; and (iii) the use of narratives that allow the lecturer to introduce and contextualize the areas they wish to cover.

TD56: Popular Culture, World Politics, and New Media – Time, Place, Space, and Race

Thursday, March 27, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

“The American Way of Death? Military videogames and militarised violence”

  • Author: Nick Robinson (University of Leeds)

Videogames matter and they matter for international politics. Videogames have grown to be the largest entertainment sector in Europe and North America, with military games at the forefront of such sales – the last 4 games in the Call of Duty series, for example, have all grossed revenues of over $1bn. Accompanying this growth, scholarship has begun to hypothesis that videogames have important political effects centred on the importance of the so-called ‘military-entertainment complex’, focusing, in particular, on the way in which videogames contribute to the militarization of the domestic realm. Stahl, for example, sees videogames as part of a process in the creation of ‘virtual citizen soldiers’ with citizens increasingly acquiescing in support for military action as their critical faculties are reduced. If true, this is profoundly important, reducing domestic opposition to miiltaristic foreign policy and making the military appear (in Jackson’s words) ‘good, natural and necessary’. Building on a combination of the literature on militarization, the persuasive potential of videogames and interrogating the role of the player, this paper provides a detailed experimentally based approach to this debate in which a framework with accompanying data for the measuring of militarization is presented to the audience.

Friday, March 28

A05: Advancing the Learning Environment in the Digital Age

Friday, March 28, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Assessment Strategies in Simulation Games”

  • Author: Simon Usherwood (University of Surrey)

One of the big challenges in bringing simulations into the classroom is the question of how (or even whether) to assess them. In this presentation, I will consider the underlying logics of simulations, which in turn suggest a number of assessment strategies. These include assessing knowledge acquisition, skills development and critical reflection. Beyond that immediate challenge, the presentation will also throw some light on related questions of feedback and simulation design.

FA05: Advancing the Learning Environment in the Digital Age

Friday, March 28, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Negotiating with Hitler – a World War II simulation”

  •  Author: Victor Asal (State University of New York at Albany)
  • Author: Amira Jadoon (State University of New York at Albany)
  • Author: Steve S. Sin (Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany- SUNY)

What is peace worth? What are people willing to do for power? This simulation asks these questions by putting the students in the position of negotiating with Hitler on December first 1941 when the Germans are clearly winning the war. Students take the role of leaders or the population of countries in Europe and need to wrestle with the ethics of different peace proposals by Hitler’s representatives that present strong ethical dilemmas given that at this point in history Germany is likely to win. We will briefly demonstrate how the game is conducted and discuss the educational benefits of running the simulation.

FB53: Popular Culture and World Politics – Where Time and Place Collide

Friday, March 28, 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

“Recreationalising Violence: Video Games, Drone Warfare and the question of Responsibility”

  • Author: Aggie Hirst (City University London)

 Much has been made in recent years within IR and associated disciplines regarding the relationship between remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UVAs) and popular violent video games. Alongside suggestions that they share much in the way of software, visual graphics, and operation techniques, debate continues as regards the question of the relationship between the ‘real’ and ‘simulated’ violences enacted in these contexts. This paper engages with the question of the relationship between violence and recreation provoked by these related phenomena, exploring the question of what forms of violence are already at work in violent video games, and how this might relate to the use of remotely controlled aircraft as weapons of war. The question is thus posed of wherein violence of violence consists. The paper argues that an important and illuminating problem is that while the ‘real’ corporal violence cannot be responsibly conflated with forms of simulated violence, the supposed innocence or benign character of the latter is significantly overstated in many prevalent accounts. There are, the paper suggests, important intersections to be explored between the recreationalisation of violence and the responsibility for violent acts which become increasingly blurred in the context of drone and game warfare.

FB53: Popular Culture and World Politics – Where Time and Place Collide

Friday, March 28, 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

“Where Time and Place Collide – Towards a Spatial and Temporal Understanding of Videogames”

  • Author: Nick Robinson (University of Leeds)

Videogames have emerged as the largest entertainment industry in the world with crucial implications for world politics. Central to representations within videogames are the themes of time and place. At one level, games say much about the ‘self and other’, which allows for reflection on how different countries represent themselves and ‘others’ through the medium of games. What is particularly striking – which is quite different to film, TV and literature – is that a great many nations are simply absent from games with no national industry telling stories about self or other. Politically, such representations of self and other are crucial – both in terms of what is shown and what is absent. At another level, time is crucial to the study of games – games frequently ‘re-claim the past’ and ‘tell the future’ to offer stories which are politically contentious. For example, the game Call of Duty Black Ops (which grossed revenues of over $1bn) portrays a narrative in which the Vietnam war was ‘justified’ as the Vietnamese were complicit in a plot to unleash chemical weapons on the USA. Videogames are thus not ‘just a game’ having crucial implications for the temporal and spatial aspects of politics.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

“Simulating Shock and Awe: Developing a Simulation of U.S. National Security Policy to Teach Decision-Making under Duress”

  • Author: Matthew Clary (Univeristy of Georgia)

Domestic and international crisis dynamics and management is often a difficult subject to teach to a group of high school or undergraduate-level students. Attempting to convey the sense of physical and mental duress that often exist during times of crisis is extremely difficult through conventional lecturing and discussion. In most cases, the best method to teach such lessons to a classroom of students is through in-class simulations such as Model United Nations. While teaching a course on U.S. National Security Policy, I designed a simulation of the U.S. national security apparatus in order to teach institutional design, decision-making, crisis dynamics and management, as well countless other lessons from material and lessons throughout the course During the simulation, students are presented with a real-time national security crisis that begins as an energy security threat and evolves into a multifaceted crisis that operates within several domains simultaneously. These include domains such as global and domestic terrorism, economic crises and trade relationships, humanitarian interventions, weapons proliferation, energy security, among many others. The fundamental purpose of such a simulation is to place students in the position of real American policymakers to reinforce the lessons and activities covered over the duration of the course.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

 “The Pedagogical Value of Simulation: Model United Nations”

  • Author: Francine J. D’Amico (Syracuse University)

What do students learn from simulations of international negotiation? This paper analyzes the pedagogical value of one type of simulation of global diplomacy, the annual National Model United Nations conference, for undergraduate students of international relations. The NMUN is sponsored by the UNA-USA and the NCCA and held each spring in New York City, with concurrent sessions at a local hotel and concluding sessions at UN headquarters. The conference is attended by over 5,000 university students from around the world. Using content analysis of primary documents and data collected from structured interviews of past participants, this project analyses the learning outcomes reported over a five-year period by student delegates from one participating university.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

“Simulating Peace Negotiations: A Case Study of the Arab-Israeli Conflict”

  • Author: Tina Kempin Reuter (Christopher Newport University)
  • Author: Taylor Ballenger (University of Chicago)

This paper reflects on the use of a simulation of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians in my upper-level undergraduate course “The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Workshop”. The university was commissioned to test an externally developed proposal and implementation plan for peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians (hereinafter “Implementation Plan”). The Implementation Plan goes beyond traditional models of simulations, which aim primarily at illustrating real life events or organizations for learners. The goal in this case is not only to contribute to students’ academic learning and understanding of the conflict, but also to transfer the outcomes of the simulation onto application in reality. As a result, special challenges arose over the past years that will be addressed in this paper. Beyond the introduction of the model, the paper examines three interrelated questions. First, how does the simulation affect the overall class experience and academic learning? Second, how can a classroom situation be designed to closest match a real life situation? And third, how can the simulation outcomes be transferred to “reality”? Past simulations have clearly identified the strengths and weaknesses of the Plan and stressed the need for flexibility and modification of the model.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

“Assessing Less Tangible Student Outcomes in Online International Simulatons and Collaborations” 

  • Author: Hemda Ben-Yehuda (Bar-Ilan University)
  • Author: Chanan Naveh (Sapir College Israel )
  • Author: Luba Levin-Banchik (Bar-Ilan University)
  • Author: Mary Jane C. Parmentier (Arizona State University)

This paper focuses on collaborative simulations of world politics conducted online by universities in Israel and the U.S. in 2012-2014. What do students take away from such cross-cultural learning experience? While the assessment of classroom simulations in international studies has received growing attention, the evaluation of simulations in online environment is still relatively new. As the opportunity for international collaborations increases, it is essential to develop rigorous tools to assess how and what students are learning online. The acquisition and retention of information is a common desired outcome, but the less tangible aspects of such experiential learning may be the essential skills for students in an era of globalization. In 2012 we used Facebook to run a simulation of Middle East politics. Observation and post-simulation de-briefing revealed a complexity of outcomes, including emotional responses from students. During the game participants had to cope with complex issues, acquire information, apply critical thinking, prioritize, practice tolerance, be aware of cross-cultural differences and challenge personal views on states, nonstate actors and media organs in world politics. During the 2013-2014 we will run another simulation, this time developing assessment tools, both formative and summative, to evaluate the less tangible learning elements in cross-cultural simulations.


Saturday, March 29

SC60: Modelling Worlds: The Spatial Politics of Economic Simulation

Saturday, March 29, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Modelling Worlds: The Spatial Politics of Economic Simulation

  • Chair: Nathan Coombs (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Discussant: Amin Samman (City University London)


The Spatial Politics Of Modeling Financial Resilience

  • Author: Chris Clarke (Universiy of Warwick)

Governing (Through) Expectations: Inflation Targeting And The Performation Of Rational Expectation Formers

  • Author: Benjamin Braun (University of Warwick)

The Sociotechnical Politics Of Central Bank Modeling

  • Author: Nick Srnicek (University College London)

Performing The Global Order: Algebraic Topology, ‘Big Data’ And The Twilight Of Austrian School Economics?

  • Author: Nathan Coombs (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The Political Consequences of Risk Model Performativity in International Finance

  • Author: Erin Lockwood (Northwestern University)

Frequently held in suspicion by critical scholars, economic modelling and simulation techniques are nevertheless increasingly difficult to ignore. Utilised by international bodies, governments, financial firms, and large corporations, economic models do not only reflect “the economy” but also, as is now well documented, “perform it”. However, the issues raised by this development remain under-explored by academic literature. The way in which such techniques can engender new and unpredictable sociological realities has, in particular, not received sufficient attention as an eminently political problem. Crucially, the simulation technologies now trickling down from government and high-finance to large and medium-sized firms may herald changes in global behavioural patterns, raising profound questions about the spatial politics of simulation with which this panel wishes to grapple. The questions animating this panel thus include: In what ways might simulation techniques affirm the status quo merely by dressing up dominant ideologies in technical drapery? What novelty may their spatial and political possibilities introduce, and what limits might be encountered? And is it possible to utilise simulation techniques for critical purposes, such as proposing new economic alternatives?




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