Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: April 2014

Review: Lahneman and Arcos, The Art of Intelligence

William J. Lahneman and Rubén Arcos, The Art of Intelligence: Simulations, Exercises, and Games (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). 282pp. $45.00 pb.


51hT0+MXdXL._SL500_AA300_This volume is intended to be a resource for those who teach about intelligence analysis, by providing a series simulations and classroom exercises that can be used directly or with modification. As the editors note in their introduction:

…students of intelligence courses can learn analytic tradecraft best through experiential learning methodologies such as simulations and games. These learning vehicles allow students to experience intelligence analysis and issues related to its practice by performing analyses and then derive other meanings from their experiences through reflection. It often happens that, after we have run a simulation in class, a student will say (in the American vernacular), “I didn’t get it before. Now I get it!” Usually he or she is referring to things such as the difficulty associated with working with information gaps, or with trying to convey uncertainty in words that a policymaker will understand, or with the need to respond to a requirement even though there is little raw intelligence on the topic, or with the effect that denial or deception had on the outcome of the student’s analysis. The student had heard about these sorts of challenges in lectures, but participation in the simulation raised the student’s understanding to a new level.

We need to highlight that we are not speaking about opposite approaches to intelligence education or training or advocating for a single approach. Rather, it is a matter of balancing the use of lectures, reading assignments, and discussion with experiential activities such as simulations, exercises, and games, on the other.

The rest of the volume contains fourteen chapters each presenting a different simulation or exercise. These range from those that take up 1-2 classes of time to longer multi-week activities. Each of the authors is describing an activity they have used in their own classroom. Throughout, the simulations and exercises are clearly explained. Many are presented in a similar format, with contributors discussing instructional and simulation objectives, target audience, playing time, number of players required, materials required (most of which are supplied in the book), other equipment required, and the debriefing format. The issues addressed include the analysis of competing hypotheses, the perils of intelligence collection, cognitive strategies, interagency collaboration, and the production and presentation of intelligence analysis.

It would have been useful if the book had included a chapter or two (or even a longer introduction) addressing cross-cutting thematic issues, such as simulation moderation, curriculum integration, and effective debriefing. Still, the volume is a very welcome contribution and will be a valuable resource for those teaching in the field, as well as those in related areas (such as public policy analysis or international relations) who might wish to adapt some of the exercises to their own specific needs.

Review: Curry and Price, Dark Guest (Training Games for Cyber Warfare)

John Curry and Tim Price, Dark Guest: Training Games for Cyber Warfare (Volume 1: Wargaming Internet Based Attacks). 2nd edition. History of Wargaming Project, 2013. 97pp.  £12.95

darkguestThis booklet is intended as a guide and aid for those involved in promoting broader awareness of “cyber warfare” and information security within their organizations. It consists of a discussion of the challenges of training on the issue, and overview of cyberwargaming, and a brief discussion of the rise of hacking and hactivism. Thereafter, it presents five games that can be used (or modified) in a training context:

  • In “Enterprise Defender” a hacker team secretly prepares descriptions of possible cyber attacks while a security team identifies IT defences. These are then discussed and resolved by an umpire as a way of both exploring the issue and generating a broader exploration of the topic.
  • “All Your Secrets are Mine” is a matrix game, whereby participants examine hacking and military-industrial espionage through a series of verbal actions and counter-actions that are assigned a probability weight by the umpire, then resolved with dice.
  • “Conspiracy” is a card game in which participants create the cards prior to game play, and is intended to show the interactive and interconnected nature of hacking and cyberwarfare.
  • “Media Wars” involves efforts by a fictional environmental group that has seized control of an oil refinery and is trying to get its message out, while the local government and other stakeholders also compete to influence the information space. Again, the primary game mechanism is one of teams developing media strategies, which are then rated by an umpire, with effects also dependent on a die-roll.
  • Finally, “Talinn  Soldier” is crisis game based on the 2007 attacks against Estonian government and private sector servers by pro-Russian activists.

The games are not technical ones. Indeed, experts in cybercrime, warfare, and hacktivism may find the lack of technical detail and analysis in this volume surprising.

If so, they would be missing the point. Dark Guest is intended to provide resources for those who have the task of spreading awareness of cyberwarfare issues within larger organizations, possibly inspiring them to modify the sample games provided or develop their own for their own particular needs. The games are thus designed to encourage non-IT specialists and managers to think about potential vulnerabilities (although some might also encourage IT specialists to go beyond issues of hardware and software to reflect on more general questions of policy, strategy, and context). All of the games are relatively free-form, and most are rather abstract. They are thus highly adaptable and designed to promote discussion-through-play. Most can also be played quite quickly, making them very suitable as ice-breakers or to provide a change-of-pace as part of a broader training programme. A previous edition of Dark Guest included a full rules-based card game on cyberwarfare, which has been dropped in this edition precisely because the authors feel that a book containing “generic ideas… [with] wider application” would be more useful for those seeking to integrate serious games into their training process.

One key aspect that the authors note, but could do more to address, is the fundamental importance of effective game facilitation and umpiring in free-form games such as these. Considerable skill is required to do this, since the moderator simultaneously needs to run the game, adjudicate actions (in a way that participants find convincing), maintain player engagement, deal with less cooperative players or those “fighting the scenario,” while all the time exploiting the teachable moments that the game generates. Experienced teachers may have some of these skills, and experienced role-playing-game “dungeon masters” have others—but not all neophytes have all of them. Given that this is volume 1 in what promise to be a continuing series—and given its association with the longstanding History of Wargaming research and publication project—this may well be an aspect that the authors turn to in a subsequent volume.


Simulations miscellany, Easter weekend edition

As you keep a wary eye out for Easter bunnies and killer rabbits this weekend, here are some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

* * *


At the Wargaming Connection blog, Paul Vebber has been discussing the development of the Fleet Power Project, a  prototype operational naval game currently in beta testing. The project is sponsored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, the Navy Warfare Development Command and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center:

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the development of FBS as we move from the Beta phase to a final product. That product is not a “game” in the shrink wrap sense, but a “toolbox” of related game systems that can be used at various scales (e.g. 24nm, 32nm or 48nm per hex and “Game Days” divided into 8, 6, or 4 operations phases.)

There are provisions for “open” face-to-face play or “closed” umpired play, and 2 main levels of complexity: a “basic” level for scenarios 3-4 days in length, that leaves out many of the complications of logistics and “friction”, and keeps the “chrome” of column shifts and player decisions to a minimum; and an “advanced” level that can theoretical be used for games of a month or more, but is best for about 2 weeks (where higher operational-strategic decision-making issues become significant).

This adaptability is meant to demonstrate the advantages of a manual game over “black box” computer simulations and allow an analyst or educator to tailor the “playability vs detail” to best achieve the objectives desired. The underlying tables for generating “situational awareness” in an area of interest (a radius around an “OpArea” marker), determining if an encounter occurs when units are in proximity to each other, and then resolving engagements that result are set up as a set of linked excel spreadsheets. The hex scale, certain assumptions about how effective units are at the subtasks underlying the “SA, Encounter, Engagement” model, and what the “steps” are between the various “CL’s”[capability levels]  are can be entered as inputs, and the various tables will update themselves.

He also notes:

Fleet Battle School is an operational level game depicting naval operations in the maritime domain. The purpose of the game is to provide a “sandbox” for the exploration of the relationships between naval capabilities, information, and decision-making.

Central to these relationships is an understanding of how the components that make up a Fleet’s combat power can be orchestrated to seize and hold initiative, then exploit it to achieve operational objectives that enable accomplishment of strategic goals.

The game is played at the “high tactical/low operational” meaning you are worried about “major muscle movements” of your forces – where to establish operating areas to patrol or strike from, and when and how you move between them. Unlike “low tactical level” games like Harpoon, where you “drive individual ships around” so as to unmask particular weapons systems, and make specific “Tactical Action Officer” weapons system employment decisions’ in the Fleet Power game system your role is the “Task Force Commander” with a variety of air, surface, subsurface and other assets under your control. You can get out your “1,000 mile screwdriver” and try to get in the cockpit, but the more you do that, the more you compromise your understanding of the “big picture” and making it harder to maintain situational awareness (SA) in your current OpAreas – and contribute to increasing the degree of “friction” within and between your units.

See his posts on the topic so far:

* * *

At GrogHeads, CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory offer some insight into “Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games,” based on a survey of game players.


* * *

The TIDES (Transformative Innovation for Development & Emergency Support) website contains a lengthy account by Amy Gorman of last month’s  American Red Cross Global Refugee Simulation and Conference:

This six hour simulation did not completely immerse you into the life of a refugee; the traveling would be longer, the rebels scarier, the threats more tangible, the loss more real, and the future less known. However, it created moments where the participants felt glimpses of the same emotions and concerns that I would imagine a refugee would. It also took us through the steps of a refugee from fleeing to crossing the border to the immersion into refugee camp life. It gave us all an opportunity to gain understanding, respect and empathize more with the people who go through similar situations. It’s one thing to look at refugees from the comfort of a developed nation. It’s something else to be one.

You’ll also find a summary of the event by the American Red Cross here.


* * *

1_123125_2097085_2097294_2100086_040505_hardgames.gif.CROP.original-originalBBC News reports on a recent study that finds that aggression among video game players may be shaped not just by game content, but even more so by the game interface:

Feelings of aggression after playing video games are more likely to be linked to gameplay mechanics rather than violent content, a study suggests.

Researchers carried out a range of tests, including making a non-violent version of popular game Half-Life 2.

Games modified to have counter-intuitive, frustrating controls – leading to feelings of incompetence – produced more aggressive reactions.

The study from the University of Oxford, however, believed it was the first to look at the impact gameplay mechanics had on aggression.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The research sought to establish whether it was violence in games which made players feel more aggressive, or a combination of other factors.

Six separate studies were carried out.

One of them involved modifying Half-Life 2 – a critically-acclaimed, but graphic, shooting title.

The researchers created a modified version in which rather than violently removing enemies, the player would instead “tag” foes who would then evaporate.

This version was tested alongside the normal, violent version.

However, only some of the gamers were given a tutorial before playing the game so they could familiarise themselves with the controls and game mechanics.

The researchers found that it was the players who had not had the tutorial who felt less competent and more aggressive, rather than people who had played the more violent version of the game.

* * *

BBC News also reported back in January that China has introduced a new video game aimed at corruption:

A computer game launched in China encourages players to zap corrupt officials with an electric prod, it appears.

The game appears on the Chinese People’s Daily website – the official news outlet of China’s Communist Party, and is based on the same idea as Whac-A-Mole, the popular 1970s arcade game.

“Everyone has a responsibility to fight corruption and embezzlement!” the game declares. When the action begins, a range of authority figures poke their heads out of one of eight prison cells, and the player has to give them a jolt from their mouse-controlled taser.

Their sins range from greed (an official with a bag of cash) to lust (a drooling bureaucrat in a pink suit). Gamers lose points if they hit virtuous police officers by mistake, however.

It isn’t the first game of its kind. Another, entitled “Incorruptible Fighter”was launched by the Chinese government some seven years ago.


* * *

The University of Roehampton has introduced an online game to help promote its Masters in Public Health programme:

This interactive simulation depicts the aftermath of a major natural disaster and its potentially catastrophic impact on public health. With buildings and infrastructure destroyed in the earthquake, the 30,000 residents of the capital, Lake City, are living in a temporary tent camp by the river. The disease has already claimed its first victims, but nobody can pinpoint the cause of the outbreak.

Although fictitious, Save Manresa depicts a potential scenario you could face when working in the field of public health and shows how people from a diverse range of backgrounds can work together to combat public health issues.

Save Manresa: Public Health Simulation

Are you ready for the challenge?

Put yourself in the drivers seat and help us stop the outbreak in Manresa. Use your skills and understanding to help improve the lives of others. You’ll gain a glimpse into a career in public health – and how you could make a difference in resolving health problems in your community, regardless of your background or experience.

You don’t need any previous knowledge of health issues — your success will be based on your knowledge, reasoning, and sense of judgment. Just choose your team. Decide what actions to take and when. And make the right choices to identify the disease and stop it from spreading. But be quick. The lives of thousands of Manresans are in your hands!

* * *

Michael Peck interviews Sid Meier, designer of the highly successful Civilization series of computer games, at Foreign Policy magazine.

* * *

guns_dice_butter_small_logoUPDATE: Oops, I almost forgot to mention the latest edition (#20) of the Guns, Dice, and Butter podcast.

0:00 Episode Intro and Preview

0:13 Conversation with Phil Eklund, designer of High Frontier, Pax Porfiriana  and 28 other games covering the human (and pre-human) experience.

1:22 War by Other Means: Panel discussion with Jim Doughan, Mark Herman and Brian Train regarding the other “7 M’s”  of warcraft—besides the 3 traditional “M’s” of combat – machetes (irregular), machine guns (conventional) and missles(strategic)—that support the BIG “M” (morale) in making and waging war: message (casus belli – manufacturing it and maintaining it) , media, money, mercenaries (mercs/brownshirts/proxies/little green men), mayhem (attacks on opponents fabric of society), Mi5/Mi6 (spycraft) and Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (Clausewitz’s “have a good pen” – diplomacy – internal/external).

2:12 Conversation with Brian Train, regarding his recent DTP design on the Ukrainian Crisis and other bits and bobs

2:36 Wrap up: What’s on my wargaming plate (using wargames in school), Eklund’s “Nature bats last”, B.H.Liddell Hart’s “Lenin had a vision of fundamental truth when he said the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the mortal blow both possible and easy.”, shout-outs and what not.

Brian’s comments include the story of how he and I first met  three decades ago, and then how we re-met via Small Wars Journal. While he recounts our epic micro-armour battles at the UVic Wargaming Club in the early 1980s, he somehow fails to mention our nostalgia game in Montréal last year, the infamous Battle of Namgang (aka “The Battle of the Cauldron of Death”)…

Connections 2014 preparations


An update from Matt Caffrey on preparations for the Connections 2014 interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia on 4-7 August 2014:


Connections 2014 is shaping up to the best Connections to date. Our theme of Understanding Wargame Cultures will focus on national wargame cultures the first day and cultures within wargaming the second day.  Some of the most influential folks in their nation’s wargaming efforts and within a type of wargaming will be speaking, including Peter Perla, Larry Bond (tentative) and Anders Frank.  Logistics are shaping up well with rooms open for reservation. Still, much needs to be done and we will appreciate all help.

We start strong on Monday 4 August. In addition for my annual Wargame 101 seminar in the afternoon the Dr. Peter Perla, author of the Art of Wargaming and former head of wargaming for the Center for Naval Analysis will teach a seminar on analytically wargaming. That’s a little like Wilbur teaching a class on designing aircraft. The day will conclude with our extremely popular ice breaker, where participants can talk one on one with wargamers from other services, other sectors of wargaming, other nations.

Tuesday, we kick off the heart of Connections with two keynotes.  The first we are not in a position to announce, the second is Milan Vego , a historian at the Naval War College will speak on how the wargaming methods of other nations (especially Germany) has influenced US practice.   We will then have two speaker panels on national wargame cultures. So far we have speakers on how wargaming is done in; the United Kingdom, Sweden, the former East Germany, Germany, NATO, and (tentatively) China.  We will have demos and a talk on wargame design over lunch, then the kickoff of our game lab, and open playing of wargames in the evening.

Wednesday our focus will shift from national wargame cultures to the different cultures within wargaming. Our Wednesday keynote speaker, Larry Bond (tentative) is uniquely qualified as he has worked in so many of those cultures; from active duty , to Think tank, to print, to computerized wargames.  (Somehow he found the time to co-author Red Storm Rising with Tom Clancy.)  We will then have a speaker panel with representatives from diverse sectors of our field. We are very fortunate to have Adam Frost from the Joint Staff who will talk to us over lunch on the little known (for a reason) field of Pol/Mil wargaming. The afternoon will include work on our Game Lab, talks on the contribution of the social sciences to wargaming, and the contribution of wargaming to peace.  We will wrap up the day with our working groups.

Thursday morning will include the out briefs of our Game Lab and working groups, concluding with the Connections hot wash.

200px-Seal_of_Marine_Corps_Base_QuanticoLogistical preparations are progressing well.  We have great facilities at Quantico MCB.  As we did last year we will be able to send out much, though not all, of the conference via VTC for those who cannot participate in person.  For those who can attend in person, rooms have been reserved on base.  Just, call Crossroads Inn (the on-base billeting for Quantico, phone: 703-630-4444) and let them know you are booking a room for the Connections wargaming conference.  Prices are not nearly as low as in the old days, but still a bargain by National Capital Region standards.

Still, much needs to be done.  If you would like to help in any way (demo, co-lead a working group, speak, etc.) please email with how you would like to help.  Better yet you could join the group that isplanning/ prepping to Connections by calling into our next meeting.  It will be on Tuesday 15 April at 1500 eastern daylight time.  Just all (605) 475-4700 and enter the pin 682165#.

Hoping to hear from you Tuesday, but even more so – hoping to see you at Connections.


Matt Caffrey
C0-Chair Connections 2014

I’ll be there!

Building a (simulated) refugee camp


This year, as in previous years, some of the students in my POLI 450 (peacebuilding) course at McGill chose to write an interactive “choose your own adventure” story using Inklewriter, rather than a conventional group research paper. One of these concerned establishing and operating a refugee camp.

You can play through it here.

w506_9293656Much of this was built upon the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Camp Management Toolkit, as well as manuals from international agencies and initiatives such as the UNHCR, the SPHERE project and the World Health Organization. From these they extracted issues, procedures, and best practices and embedded them into a fictional story.

In their accompanying “developers’ diary” they noted:

The objective of this report is to provide an overview of the development of our interactive story, “From Settlements to Shelters: An Exercise in Refugee Camp Establishment.” This story is intended to demonstrate different aspects of the decision-making process throughout the construction of a refugee camp. This includes situations such as the reorganization of self-settled refugee groups, the selection of a site, setting up basic camp facilities, registering refugees and camp-facilitated food distribution.

The protagonist is a newly-hired member of the Norwegian Refugee Council. His first assignment is to monitor the developing refugee situation along the border of the fictional Republic of Khourafiyya and the Western Sahara. The Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory annexed by Morocco in 1957, has erupted in violent confrontations. Long-standing tensions between armed Western-Saharan liberation groups and those willing to accept Moroccan sovereignty have come to a head. As a result, hundreds of refugees have fled over the territory’s eastern border to the Republic of Khourafiyya (Jamhouriyya Khourafiyya) and have begun setting up clusters of makeshift camps along the border.

The Khourafi government is displeased by the growing numbers of unmonitored refugees gathering at the border and fear possible overflow of the conflict into the country. The government has adopted a neutral stance to the conflict, advocating a diplomatic solution between the two warring groups. As such, they fear the overflow of refugees, many of whom are sympathetic to the liberation movement, may jeopardize its relationship with the Moroccan government. The Khourafi government signed onto the 1951 Refugee Convention, which means the refugees are protected from refoulement, or forced return to their country of origin. Therefore, a new refugee camp must be built in Jamhourriya Khourafiyya to accommodate the growing numbers of refugees. The player, as a member of the NRC and the Camp Management Agency, has to participate in the decision-making process and coordinate with the UNHCR and other camp agencies to successfully build the camp and ready it for the refugees.

They found Inklewriter fairly easy to work with, but warned of its habit of occasionally losing saved work:

On the whole, we found Inklewriter to be fairly intuitive and easy to use after working through the provided tutorials. There were some more powerful features, such as the use of counters that can gauge the quality of progress, which we decided were not necessary for the type of story we wished to tell. In general, we felt that direct value judgements can often be difficult to quantify in the murky situations that often arise during humanitarian crises, so we felt it more apt to use direct consequences for certain choices that would only be felt in later stages of the game as well as in the ending reached by the player. This felt more “true-to-life” than supplying an overall score, as on an actual humanitarian tour it is rare to actually know how much of an impact you had after you have left. Realizing this, we also chose to have the consequences of some decisions not reachable within the scope of the game. While the software itself did not pose many problems, the site on which the Inklewriter software is hosted still seems to be quite buggy and would sometimes fail when it attempted to auto-save our work. Since there is no way to save manually, there were two occasions when a significant amount of work was lost and had to be redone. We would also warn future groups doing this project that Inklewriter can behave unpredictably if the story editor is open on multiple computers or browser windows simultaneously, so to prevent problems no more than one person should have it open at any given time.

Overall, they found the assignment more time-consuming than a regular research paper, but worthwhile:

We would suggest that students considering the narrative option should be encouraged to start far in advance. In our case, we started working on the project in late January, focusing on planning and discussion. By mid-February we had completed our research and begun storyboarding, which continued until early March. After nailing down our narrative, it took a further two weeks to get everything set up in Inklewriter, followed by a week of polishing. As can be seen, completing this project required consistent work over the entirety of the semester, in comparison to an essay which could potentially be churned out over an uncomfortable week or two. Perhaps there could be a deadline to have a narrative topic and rough outline approved in order for the option to be allowed, which would require that groups start working earlier than those doing the essay. However, despite the additional work the project requires, we would still encourage other students to attempt the narrative over the essay. We were able to cover a wide range of material, while at the same time exercising our creativity. Further, where traditional essays can often feel somewhat abstract, we were instead forced to ground our thinking in reality as much as possible.

inklewriterpicsthanks: Ella Nalepka, Doron Lurie, Zoha Azhar, Anas Shakra 

Viking 14 peacekeeping exercise

At the Local First blog, Carol Hayman discusses efforts to insert more local peace and conflict dynamics into a multinational peacekeeping exercise:

‘Think of the exercise as stepping into a river – a river that was flowing before you arrived and will continue to flow after you leave. That river is the work of local people building peace.’

This was the message that Nathaniel Walker, Peace Direct’s Liberia Local Correspondent, and I were trying to get across, as we developed a ‘local ownership’ strand in the Viking peacekeeping simulation that begins this week. Viking is an international exercise that happens every three years in Europe, with this year being the largest and most complicated. Staff from NATO, BFOR (the EU force) and the UN join with army personnel from Sweden, Serbia, Georgia, Ireland and Bulgaria to plan the event, which will have participants from many more countries, including civilians as well as military.

Viking has its surreal aspects. The imaginary country in conflict, Bogaland, is overlaid over central Sweden, leading one participant in the planning team to exclaim – ‘This is the town I grew up in, and now it’s under siege by the militia. I can’t get my mind round this!’ Names are also all Swedish, in order to preserve the neutrality of the scenario, so a militia leader originally titled Magic Leroy had to be renamed, rather improbably, as Major Svensson.

The job of the four-person local ownership team, in the last planning session in February, was to introduce story elements that would prompt the participants to consider how local people could be involved in the peacekeeping activities. Story elements could be newspaper articles or ‘injects’ – phone calls or incidents that require a response from the participants.

We worked on a number of dimensions:

  • The involvement of local authorities: for example, a message from the town mayor, asking why she had not been involved in the decision to retake a key bridge from rebel forces.
  • The use of local leaders to prevent incidents from escalating: for example, when a militia leader arrives on the UN’s doorstep with 400 men demanding to be integrated into the army as a bloc, should force be used? Should a trusted local leader mediate? Should the Bogaland Head of the DDR Commission be involved? What strategies are most likely to escalate as opposed to de-escalate violence?
  • The involvement of local NGOs in assisting the return to normality: for example, through trust-building exercises between members of a polarised community, persuading militia leaders to disarm, taking responsibility for the reintegration of former combatants, using the media to reduce tensions and keep the population informed.

I was able to draw on ten years’ experience within Peace Direct about the kind of activities that our partners have undertaken in similar circumstances, as well as researching accounts of how peacekeeping missions have interacted with local populations and institutions….

The exercise itself is Viking 14, a command post exercise, coo chaired by the Swedish Armed Forces and the Folke Bernadotte Academy.  The objectives of Viking 14 include:

  • Understand and apply a comprehensive approach to international peace operations, including the role of the host nation.
  • Promote mutual understanding, confidence, co-operation and interoperability among all contributing and affected forces, organisations, offices and personnel.
  • Understand and apply mission command/management, staff roles and functions, procedures and structures and coordinated planning processes.
  • Understand and apply current operational concepts reflecting present and future challenges in international peace operations.


You’ll find the exercise portal here, together with some of the preparation, background, and briefing materials.

VIKING 14 Fact Sheet

 h/t Ellie Bartels 

Simulations miscellany, 12 April 2014


After having read or written some 16,529 emails during our week-long “Brynania” civil war simulation at McGill University that ended on April 7, I’m only now digging out from the backlog of other work that accumulated during that period. As part of clearing up my virtual desktop, here’s the latest PAXsims simulations miscellany!

* * *

MokhtarThe Iranian video games industry provides interesting insight into both domestic and domestic politics. A case in point is a recent game release by conservative game designers (by which I mean “folks who create really crude mods of the 1990s first-person shooter Doom“), clearly aimed at Iranian reformists. According to IranWire:

The release of online video game “The Return of Mokhtar” has hit the headlines, dominating social network debates and commanding the attention of a number of news websites. Its aim, according to the game’s creators, is to pit the player against “symbols of sedition and imperialism”. And the game, which is available via the Nofuzi website, has received enthusiastic endorsement from the Pure Islamic Art Institute.

The symbols of “arrogance” are none other than the leaders of the Green Movement, who emerged during the disputed presidential elections of 2009 – namely, former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, his wife, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami and prominent supporters.

Players move through corridors, advancing to the next stage after successfully shooting and killing an enemy. Instead of being rewarded with points, a player earns “insights”. If he or she fails to hit a target, they lose an “insight”; when they run out of them, the game is over and the player must start again.

The game’s title references the early days of Islam, when, in the 7th-century AD, Mokhtar bin Abu Ubaid Saqafi led a revolt against the governing Umayyad Caliphs. Mokhtar exacted revenge for the murder of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. Though Mokhtar successfully executed many who had played a role in Imam Hossein’s death, he was eventually crushed by the Caliph’s army and lost his life. He became a martyr for Shi’a Muslims.

On its website, the Pure Islamic Art Institute promotes and celebrates “The Return of Mokhtar”. Initially launched as a design company in 2008, the institute registered as a non-profit organization in March 2010. Soon after, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted permission for it to operate a website, an indication that the institute had widespread approval among some of Iran’s most influential political and religious leaders. According to the site, the institute is made up of “a group of committed and expert young people who want to promote Islamic culture and art”. It lists “The Household of The Prophet Mohammad’ and ‘Islamic Revolution and The Holy Defense” among the most important topics it champions.

Despite this endorsement, the game met with some consternation from Hassan Moazemi, Vice-President for Communications at the National Foundation for Computer Games. “The makers of the game never submitted a request for a permit,” he said, “but now that it has been released, we are duty-bound to refer the matter to the responsible authorities, including the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, security forces and the judiciary, so they can take appropriate legal actions.”

“We will gather necessary information and pass it on to competent authorities,” he added, “so they can perform their legal responsibilities.”

Although the game isn’t directly aimed at current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it seems likely to me that his administration is an indirect target too.


Update: Sam Razavi notes that the game designers have removed the turban from the late reformist figure Mehdi Karroubi (see left), most likely because they are reluctant to associate “sedition” with a senior cleric.

h/t Sam Razavi 

* * *

While on the subject of Iran and video games, former US Marine (and former employee of Kumar Games) Amir Hekmati has apparently been retried in secret in Iran, and sentenced to 10 years for “practical collaboration with the American government.” According to the New York Times:

Inside Iran, Mr. Hekmati’s case is viewed as highly political. He is considered a pawn in domestic infighting between hard-liners, who want him in prison, and moderates who want him freed as a good-will gesture to the United States.

“Basically the judiciary, which is under the control of hard-liners, is opposed to Hekmati’s release, but the Foreign Ministry, deeply involved in nuclear talks in which the U.S. plays a crucial role, wants him freed,” a person with knowledge of Mr. Hekmati’s case said, asking to remain anonymous in order to avoid complicating the prospects of his release.

In the past, Hekmati’s association with Kumar Games has provided part of the basis for the charges against him. You’ll find background on the case here (via al-Jazeera English), and on the Kumar games angle here (PAXsims).

* * *

0046_05 0046_04

The BBC recalls the the great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic:

Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.

“Since fantasy typically features activities like magic and witchcraft, D&D was perceived to be in direct opposition to biblical precepts and established thinking about witchcraft and magic,” says Dr David Waldron, lecturer in history and anthropology at Federation University Australia and author of Roleplaying Games and the Christian Right: Community Formation in Response to a Moral Panic. “There was also a view that youth had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.”

While the wilder claims about the nature of D&D tended to emanate from evangelical groups, they prompted wider suspicion.

“The memes from this campaign proliferated and, being published largely uncritically in the initial stages, led to a wide-ranging list of bizarre claims,” says Waldron. “For example, that when a character died you were also likely to commit suicide.”

h/t D&D paranoia from Chick Publications 

* * *

In response to recent events, One Small Step is producing a 2014 update kit for owners of their Millennium Wars Ukraine wargame.

* * *

Recently we mentioned This War of Mine, the forthcoming video game that places the player in the role of civilians trying to survive the conflict. You’ll find more on the project at Gamasutra.

h/t James Sterrett 

* * *

The February-March newsletter of the US Department of Defence Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) is now available online:

This issue presents articles ranging from maximizing the educational value of virtual training to the design process of the velodrome used in the London 2012 Olympic games. Additional articles feature a new simulation and game institute at George Mason University, simulation based training, combat convoy simulator training, and the U.S. Air Force demonstrating energy resiliency in a mission critical environment. This edition also includes a list of upcoming events within the M&S Community.

 * * *

The April 2014 edition of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is now available.

* * *


The latest news from the folks at Reacting to the Past:

We are pleased to announce that Jose Bowen and Judith Shapiro, both champions of active learning in higher education, will be our keynote speakers at the Fourteenth Annual Faculty Institute at Barnard College (New York, NY | June 5-8). Jose Bowen becomes President of Goucher College on July 1, 2014, and is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, winner of the Ness Award for Best Book on Higher Education (2013) from the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Bowen has won teaching awards at Stanford, Georgetown, Miami, and Southern Methodist University, where he was Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. Judith Shapiro is President of the Teagle Foundation, where she promotes curricular reform and broader dissemination of successful pedagogical initiatives. She supported “Reacting to the Past” from its inception, and is President and Professor of Anthropology Emerita of Barnard College. In 2002, Shapiro received the National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal Award for her contribution as a leader in higher education for women.

Interested participants are encouraged to register early in order to ensure their space and game preferences at the institute. Faculty and administrators with experience teaching “Reacting to the Past” are also invited to submit a concurrent session proposal.  Proposals will be considered on a rolling basis, space permitting.

We also invite faculty and administrators to participate in our Regional Conference at Schreiner University (Kerrville, TX | April 25-27).  This regional event will feature two game workshops: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England andVictory or Death! The Consultation of 1835 and the Texas War for Independence (game under review).  Priority registration ends April 11, 2014. Visit the conference page to learn more.

* * *

Existential Comics has had a couple of recent strips involving famous German philosophers playing boardgames. You’ll find examples here and below.



%d bloggers like this: