Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 11/03/2014

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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