PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 14/04/2014

Connections 2014 preparations

connections

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:

Colleagues,

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.

Sincerely,

Matt Caffrey
C0-Chair Connections 2014

I’ll be there!

Building a (simulated) refugee camp

w506_9692789

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 

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