Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

MORS 82 Summary – Day 3


Today was the third and final full day of the Military Operations Research Society 82nd annual symposium. While there weren’t any additional wargaming panels scheduled today, there was a meeting of the MORS Wargaming Community of Practice, several relevant panels in other working groups (such as modelling and simulation), and a demonstration of the NDU counterinsurgency board game COIN of the Realm. In addition, there was plenty of time for the sort of sidelines-of-the-conference conversations with colleagues that can be so useful.

Rather than summarize any of that, however, I thought I would simply present a few tentative conclusions I’ve reached from the totality of this year’s symposium:

  • Differences in language and underlying concepts continue to divide the serious games and simulations community. However, I don’t believe that it is possible to develop a unified professional vocabulary, any more than it is to establish a clearly demarcated profession. Rather, we simply need to be explicit in what we mean by things, and why.
  • In part because of this, we need an evidence-based, practice-oriented approach to the field, in which we clearly identify the problem that a game is meant to address, and draw upon a toolkit of gaming approaches and tricks that might help to address it. For this reason, many of the conference and workshop presentations that I find most useful say something like this:
    1. We wanted to do X,
    2. we were operating under practical constraints Y,
    3. we decided to use gaming approaches A, B, C, D,
    4. all of which resulted in outcome Z (including a discussion of how and why we know this),
    5. …and here are some broader implications and applicability of our experience.
  • Interdisciplinarity and pluralism—in methodology, theory, game design, and members of the team—are valuable. (I was already convinced of this, but Yuna Wong made the case especially well.)
  • It is sometimes said—including repeatedly at MORS—that there are analytical games on the one hand, experiential/learning games on the other, and that mixing the two is a sin so grave that it will provoke some sort of world-wide zombie apocalypse. Certainly I agree that a game can be optimized for analysis, and might as a consequence offer very little learning, and vice-versa. However I would argue that it is possible to do some of both in the same game. Moreover, in many fields one has little choice, since the resources and participant availability simply don’t exist to organize separate games for each task. Humanitarian emergency response simulations, for example, often only get one chance to engage participants, and therefore need to simultaneously increase player knowledge AND allow senior participants to identify shortcomings in current arrangements that might be addressed.
  • The average time it takes Time Wilkie and I to come up with another “game that would be cool to do” is around 4.7 minutes.

With the MORS symposium now finished for the year, the next dates on my interdisciplinary wargaming calendar will be Connections 2014 (Quantico, 4-7 August) and Connections UK (King’s College London, 2-4 September).




3 responses to “MORS 82 Summary – Day 3

  1. Rex Brynen 25/06/2014 at 9:49 am

    I certainly think that games can–and generally, should–be optimized for one or the other, in part for the reasons you suggest. However, it is also the case that many organizations do not have the luxury of running separate, purpose-built games (in the humanitarian response community, for example). In such cases I do think it is possible to design hybrid games that give you most of the teaching/training pay-off with some analytical pay-off too. The challenge, as you note, is how to do this without compromising the validity of the latter.

  2. joesaur 25/06/2014 at 8:54 am

    In re the mixing of analytical games with training: the latter are intended to teach something, and games to support this learning often depend on the scenario pushing the participants into specific decision-making situations: “What do I do next?”. Events for analysis may or may not reach those crises, and if they are “guided” into certain lanes, would lose all semblance of analytical rigor. At best, one can observe the participants during an analysis game, and make some comments about what they may or may not have learned (which, btw, may be wrong…), but that would be about it.
    Your thoughts?

  3. seachangesimulations 22/06/2014 at 6:06 pm

    Sounds like it was great. Wish I could have made it!
    Maybe next year …
    Do we have a baseline for the 4.7 minutes point of data? Is that going up or down over time?
    Curious minds want to know ;-)

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