Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: July 2014

Connections 2014, virtually


Brian Train reminds everyone that if you can’t attend next week’s Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference at Quantico in person, you can still listen along to parts of it online:

So, it’s less than a week to go, but if you can’t come to MCB Quantico in person, you can still register to attend part of the conference remotely!

For the conference agenda (which marks which parts will be available remotely) and additional information, please see the website:

If you cannot attend in person, here is a registration form which will allow you to listen in to the speakers on a conference call. Slides will be made available by email so remote listeners can follow along with the presentations. Anyone wishing to register to participate in this dial-in conference call for part of the conference can register here to receive more information about the conference call.

I hope you’ll be able to attend, even if you can’t do so in person!

Once again, this conference is FREE – all it takes is your time.

I’ll be in attendance (and blogging) from the conference, along with my PAXsims colleague Gary Milante, so if you’re planning on attending in person—see you there!

Simulations miscellany, 28 July 2014


Some recent items of simulations and games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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As the conflict in and around Gaza continues, Kotaku has a piece by game developer Asi Burak on Peacemaker (2007), a game simulating Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peacemaking:

PeaceMaker was the first impact game that I was involved with. Over three years, together with game developers Eric Brown and Tim Sweeney and a group of Carnegie Mellon University students, we created what The Guardian called “an astonishingly sophisticated simulation” and what became a poster child for the burgeoning movement of so-called serious games.

In the days when PC and console games were widely blamed for violence or shallowness,PeaceMaker took on one of the most complex challenges of our time, and did so with real-world footage, and in three languages: English, Arabic and Hebrew.

PeaceMaker is a turn-based computer strategy game in which players can choose to play either the leader of Israel or the Palestinian Authority. They have to deal with real-world events and other stakeholders by taking political, social and military decisions. Their goal is to solve the conflict during their term in office. Published in 2007, the game is now available for free (for Windows or Mac).

It was also an eye-opening personal journey. After living in Israel for 33 years and serving five years (rather than the mandatory three) as a captain in the intelligence corps, it was the first time I deeply engaged with Palestinians. Quite a few collaborated with us on the project, including a granddaughter of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chairman.

I saw Palestine and the Palestinian perspective like never before. It informed our game design, and it forever changed the way I view the conflict.

PAXsims has previously featured an article by Ronit Kampf (Tel Aviv University) and  Esra Cuhadar Gurkanyak (Bilkent University) examining the game’s impact on the attitudes of Israeli, Palestinian, Turkish, and American students.

h/t Ben Foldy 

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For a very different solitaire game exploring conflict over Gaza, see A Reign of Missiles (High Flying Dice Games, 2012).

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Kris Wheaton (Mercyhurst) is currently developing a simple classroom card game about intelligence collection:

I call the game Spymaster and I have been using it in classes and playing it in my weekly Game Lab for most of the last year.  It seems to work really well both as a game and as a tool for making the challenges of collection management more real to students and young intel professionals.

It plays fast – in about 15 minutes – and is a cooperative game.  For those of you unfamiliar with this term, a cooperative game is one where all the players are on the same side trying to beat the game.  If you have ever played the board games Pandemic or Forbidden Island, you have played a cooperative game).  You can even play it solitaire but I have found it works best with 4-5 players and works really well in a classroom.

He has also been playtesting it with help of members of the intelligence community. He’s received a lot of feedback, which has led him to contemplate the challenges of realism and playability:

A couple of weeks ago, I made a print-and-play version of my new game about collection management, Spymaster,available to anyone who reads this blog and would drop me an email (The offer is still open, by the way, in case you missed it the first time).

Since then, I have mailed out over 100 copies to everyone from the DNI’s office to troops deployed in Afghanistan to academics in Japan to the Norwegian police forces!

Feedback is starting to trickle in and the comments have been largely positive (whew!) even from some very experienced collection managers (Thanks!).  In addition, I have received a number of outstanding suggestions for enhancing or improving the game.  Some of these include:

  • Making different collection assets work better or worse against different information requirements.
  • Increasing the point value of information requirements collected early.
  • Making some of the OSINT cards “Burn – 0” or impossible to burn.
  • Giving players a budget and assigning dollar values to each collection asset such that players had to stay within their budget as well.

I recognize that these suggestions may not make much sense if you haven’t played the game but all of them (plus many more) are fantastic ideas designed to make the game more real.  And therein lies the rub…

One of the classic problems of games designed to simulate some aspect of the real world is the trade-off between realism and playability.  Playability is really just how easy it is to play the game.  Every time you add a new rule to make the game more realistic, you make the game more difficult to play and therefore less playable.  It’s not quite as simple as that but it gives you a good idea of how the problem manifests itself.  Great games designed to simulate reality often give a strong sense of realism while remaining relatively simple but the truth of it is, like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the more you try to do one, the less, typically, you are able to do the other.

You’ll find the rest of his thoughts at his Sources and Methods blog.

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Building a Better Response is an online e-learning tool and simulation intended to strengthen humanitarian aid and emergency response skills.

International Medical CorpsConcern Worldwide, and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative are pleased to announce the launch of the Building a Better Response e-learning course on the international humanitarian coordination system.

This free, online course aims to build the knowledge of NGO workers and other humanitarian actors in the international coordination system for large-scale emergencies, humanitarian leadership, basics of humanitarian funding and planning, and other areas of importance to humanitarian response.

The Building a Better Response e-learning course consists of five units:

·Foundations of Humanitarian Action

·The International Humanitarian Architecture

·The Cluster Approach

·Planning and Funding the Humanitarian Response

·International Law and Humanitarian Standards

Those who complete all five units will receive a certificate from the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard.

We encourage NGO staff, as well as other humanitarian actors, who are engaged in humanitarian response, or who may benefit from increased knowledge in order to be better prepared for future emergencies, to take this course. Together, we can improve our coordination capacity and better respond to the needs of affected populations.

To register and access the course, log-on to:

A 1-minute trailer advertisement for the e-learning can be found at:

The Building a Better Response project is funded by the US Agency for International Development, Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, and is implemented through a consortium of International Medical Corps, Concern Worldwide, and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Additional questions about the project can be directed

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War is Boring featured an article earlier this month on Circle Trigon, a fictional aggressor government invented for US Army training purposes in the late 1940s. For some other fictional countries and militaries the US has fought in training exercises, see also this piece here at MentalFloss.

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No Man’s Sky is a science fiction game currently in development for the PS4. What’s interesting about it? Rather than the game universe being preset in the software, it is dynamically generated on the fly as players explore new areas, and these areas are then persistent for players to reexplore. See this discussion of the possibilities of a (near-) infinite universe at Grantland.

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Pink News notes that the new 5th edition rules for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game encourage players to think about gender identity in more diverse ways:

The new rules for roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons embrace different gender expressions and sexualities for the first time.

Version 5 of the fantasy tabletop game’s basic rules officially launched this month, and for the first time encourages players to think about their character’s sexual orientation and how they present their gender.

Part of the character creation section states: “Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behaviour.

“For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to have to leave that society.

“You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender.

“You could play as a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.”

It adds: “The elf god Corellon Latherian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic… and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image.”

Nothing in any previous set of D&D rules prevented you from playing a LGBT character, of course, and there have always been players who have played characters of a different gender. However, it is nice to see the rules explicitly addressing this in such a LGBT-friendly way.

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Gaming blogger/writer Quintin Smith of Shut Up and Sit Down has recorded a touching video about the social interaction and bonding involved in playing boardgames—and also remembering his recently-deceased father. You’ll find it here at Kotaku.

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This month, the Three Moves Ahead podcast at Idle Thumbs examines political crises in video games:

July 17, 2014 Game Designer Chris King joins Rob and Troy to talk about crisis management and political tension in video games. In this anniversary year of World War I it’s only fitting to discuss the systems and mechanics that create the powder kegs that eventually spawn global conflict. It’s also never a bad time to talk about Victoria 2.


CFP: The military and the cultural influences of role-playing games


A call for papers—or, more accurately, a call for a specific paper—has been issued in connection with a planned edited volume on the cultural impact of role-playing games:

Since its initial publication in 1974, the iconic role-playing game (RPG) Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) has spawned hundreds of other analog and digital RPGs, as well as an entirely new industry and subculture. In the last decade, scholars from across the disciplinary spectrum have explored the origins, characteristics, cultures, and player experiences of RPGs. Yet, little scholarly attention has been devoted to the meaningful ways RPGs have shaped and transformed society at large over the past forty years.

The majority of the chapters for the collection have already been selected, but we would like to include an additional chapter on the use of role-playing games (tabletop, live-action, etc.), or similar games or gaming-related activities used by the U.S. or another military organization for training, operational concept development, or any other purpose.

Please send proposed abstracts of 250-500 words, along with a brief (250 word) biography and C.V., in either *.rtf (rich text format) or *.doc (MS Word document format), to editors Andrew Byers and Francesco Crocco at by August 15, 2014. If accepted for the collection, completed essays of 7,000 to 10,000 words will be due by January 1, 2015.


Simulation & Gaming, April 2014


The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 45, 2 (April 2014) is now available.

Christle Grace G. Carabeo, Charisse May M. Dalida, Erica Marla Z. Padilla, and Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo
Timothy C. Clapper
Ki-Young Jeong and Ipek Bozkurt
Alice Y. Kolb, David A. Kolb, Angela Passarelli, and Garima Sharma
Jonna Koponen, Eeva Pyörälä, and Pekka Isotalus
Kimmo Oksanen and Raija Hämäläinen
Call for Papers

The call for papers that forms part of the issue is on the topic of “theory to practice in simulation.”

Call for Papers

Theory to Practice in Simulation

Symposium issue of Simulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory, Practice and Research.

Guest Editors: Timothy C. Clapper, PhD, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, TC Curriculum & Instructional Design, LLC, USA and Iris G. Cornell, PhD, RN, Rasmussen College, USA Email:

With this special issue of Simulation & Gaming, we call on authors to prepare and contribute original and unpublished articles exploring specific learning theories that guide best practices in simulation. Theory guides practice and practice guides theory. Practice theory is descriptive and we have a need to describe the use of the learning theories that support best-practices in active, engaging, and informative simulation-based instruction.

We will use a Conceptual paper design and a structured abstract. For this special issue, we prefer articles to be short communications (1500-2500 words) of one or two specific learning theories applicable to appropriate instructional design and simulation-based instruction.

Process: Before submitting a manuscript, please consult the Guide for S&G Authors and the detailed call for papers available on the S&G web site and (LINK). The first step involves sending an abstract and keywords to the guest editors. After the approval of your abstract by the guest editors, you will be invited to submit your full manuscript. Only those articles of the highest quality will move forward for publication.


  • Receipt of proposals: summer, 2014.
  • Response to proposals: within in a month.
  •  Submission of manuscripts: fall, 2014
  • First review: to be submitted by end of fall 2014.
  • Revision (maybe 2nd review), editing, proofing, in a month • Online publication: as articles are accepted.
  • Publication of special issue: possibly early/mid 2015

More details at:

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The Pedagogy of Statecraft

The following post was contributed by Jonathan Keller (James Madison University). For an earlier PAXsims summary of Gustavo Carvalho’s forthcoming article, see here.

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The Pedagogy of Statecraft

I would like to thank Rex Brynen for the opportunity to join this conversation on his excellent blog. A good discussion has been provoked by the forthcoming International Studies Perspectives article by Gustavo Carvalho entitled “Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: Using Ready-Made Computer Simulations for Teaching International Relations.” The article focuses on one class’s (largely negative) experience with the Statecraft simulation at the University of Toronto and generally casts doubt on the effectiveness of Statecraft as a teaching tool.

UnknownAs the creator of Statecraft, I read this article with great interest. Statecraft is certainly not a perfect simulation, and I am interested in feedback on ways in which it can be improved. I was disappointed to discover, however, that Carvalho had employed Statecraft in at least four ways that were directly counter to the explicit instructions we provide to professors. These instructions are not arbitrary, but are the result of over a decade (now approaching 15 years) of observing the pedagogical impact of different Statecraft design choices in a variety of IR courses. The instructions were designed to maximize Statecraft’s pedagogical effectiveness and to prevent precisely the sorts of negative outcomes this class experienced. Specifically, in the Toronto class that was the subject of the ISP article, (1) students were not incentivized to learn the simulation rules through the online manual quizzes, (2) the all-important grading system (which encourages realistic behavior) appears not to have been used, (3) countries and student roles were not set up properly before Turn 1 began, leading to widespread confusion, and (4) the instructor materials (lecture outlines, assignments, etc.) that are essential for helping students make sense of their Statecraft experience are nowhere mentioned in the article and appear not to have been used.

ISP has decided to include my rebuttal alongside Carvalho’s article in print. This forthcoming article is entitled “Misusing Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: A Response to Carvalho.” This article provides context regarding Statecraft’s design, instructions for use, and pedagogical intent that were missing from the Carvalho piece, so that readers may gain a more complete picture of what Statecraft was intended to do and how it is designed to work.

I encourage PaxSim’s readers to read this rebuttal, which should be available soon on ISP’s “Early View” if it is not already. But here I’d like to highlight briefly three pedagogical lessons that the Toronto experience (and my own 15-year history developing Statecraft) suggest regarding the use of simulations.

First, grading criteria greatly affect students’ behavior and should be carefully calibrated to produce the dynamics the instructor wishes to illustrate. The clearest lesson from the early trials of Statecraft (1999-2002, back when it was a purely “paper and pencil” simulation) was that unless students are given incentives to behave like real world leaders, Statecraft will quickly degenerate into entertaining but unrealistic global warfare, with a heavy emphasis on nuclear weapons. One student described an early version of the simulation as “college kids with nukes.” The current Statecraft grading system is a result of this experience, and it gives tangible incentives for students to pursue the range of goals that have historically motivated real world countries (national prestige/distinctiveness, domestic development, cooperation on transnational issues, and imperial conquest), without telling students which of these goals they must pursue. Since Statecraft assigns students to countries using a foreign policy attitudes survey, there will always be a mix of hardline countries, pacifist regimes, and so on. The “Historians’ Verdict” award was introduced specifically to curb unrealistic resort to nuclear warfare, and when used it virtually eliminates nuclear war in Statecraft. In the last 10 years of using the recommended grading system (described in detail in my forthcoming ISP article), about 40% of my “worlds” have avoided war altogether, and only one nuclear weapon has ever been launched. I encourage instructors to tweak the default grading criteria to achieve the type of “world” they want their students to experience, but they should be cautious about diverging too far from these thoroughly tested criteria. The extraordinary bellicosity of the world described in the Carvalho article, together with the omission of any mention of the grading system, indicates that the recommended grading criteria were not used.

Second, precise verisimilitude with the real world should not necessarily be the primary goal of IR simulations. Yes, some degree of realism is necessary in order to illustrate key concepts and replicate the core dynamics of world politics. But if a given run of Statecraft produces outcomes that diverge from real-world outcomes, this should not be an occasion for despair (as the Carvalho article seems to suggest) but presents a golden opportunity for reflection and critical thinking. If a class finds itself locked in conflict spirals and the UN is impotent, the instructor can ask students what factors are driving the conflict and under what conditions these processes are likely to be replicated in world politics. He or she can ask students whether these outcomes approximate the predictions of realists or liberals, and can encourage them to consider whether their classroom experience with an ineffective UN parallels the limitations of the real UN, or whether the actual UN has more influence than the Statecraft version, and why. This is how Statecraft was designed to be used, as evidenced by the many discussion questions and paper assignments (provided to instructors using Statecraft) that ask students to actively critique the assumptions behind the simulation design and compare their classroom experience with their observations of world politics.

Finally, no matter how well designed a simulation is, student learning will be stunted if the simulation experience occurs in a vacuum. It is still the job of the instructor to make clear the connections between students’ simulation experience and class material. Statecraft is intended to be fully integrated into IR courses through lecture, discussion, exams, and paper assignments. (All of these instructor resources, including 39 pages of lecture outlines on 13 different IR topics, are included with Statecraft). It is therefore not surprising that Carvalho’s students—who, based on his article, were not exposed to lectures or assignments making sense of their Statecraft experience—expressed skepticism about the utility of Statecraft as a teaching tool. As Carvalho notes (p. 13), “Simulations and video games do not replace good textbooks and content material, and they need to be carefully interwoven with lectures if they are to be effective educational tools.” On that point, we are in complete agreement.

Hopefully the upcoming publication of Carvalho’s piece and my response in ISP will continue to generate productive discussion on the pedagogy of IR simulations. I believe that the Toronto class experience in spring 2012, when properly understood, offers constructive lessons about the limitations of simulations as standalone teaching tools and the ways in which Statecraft can most usefully be employed.


Jonathan Keller is Associate Professor of Political Science at James Madison University.  He received his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 2002.  His research and teaching interests include political psychology, foreign policy decision-making, U.S. foreign policy, and research methods.  His work has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, International Studies Quarterly, Political Psychology, Conflict Management and Peace Science, and Foreign Policy Analysis.



MORS 82 virtual symposium


The Military Operations Research Society, which held its 82nd annual meeting last month (see here and here and here and here) was forced to reschedule its online “virtual” sessions due to earlier technical problems. As a result they will now be held on 23-24 July:

With the success of our in-person symposium, we believe the virtual symposium being held 23-25 July 2014 will be the advanced event you won’t want to miss.

In preparation for the Virtual Symposium please use this link to access the 82nd Virtual Symposium presentations, schedule and instructions on connecting to the presentations via DCO. We strongly recommend you visit this site prior to the start of the virtual sessions on 4 June to review the instructions and test your connection. All virtual and on-site registrants are invited to participate in the virtual presentations.

Everyone is invited to join us in the CG A virtual “room” for the kick-off on Wednesday 23 July 0900 – 0930 (eastern time). The 23 and 24 July sessions are unclassified and can be accessed by all (no CAC or government computer required). The 25 July sessions are classified and only accessible to those with access to the SIPR site.

We are looking forward to a great Virtual Symposium.

82nd Symposium Planning Team

The programme includes a few presentations on either wargaming or modelling and simulation that might be of interest to PAXsims readers.

2014-15 Disaster and Humanitarian Training Response Program

The Humanitarian Studies Initiative has announced the general details for their 2014-15 Disaster and Humanitarian Training Response Program, to be held at McGill University in Montréal. This consists of weekly classes starting in October, and a three day field exercise in May 2015:

HSI June Promo 2pg (1)

HSI June Promo 2pg (2)

A review by June McCabe of the May 2013 version of the SIMEX (field simulation/exercise) was published by PAXsims here, and covered in a CBC news report here. Some of my other students took the May 2014 version, and also came back with glowing reports (“incredible,” “wonderful,” and “fantastic” were among the terms used). The price hasn’t yet been announced, but in 2013 the cost was $1,075 for the course and and additional $850 for the SIMEX.

This is not a formal McGill University credit course. However, current McGill students (only) in political science or international development studies can arrange to take the full course for credit as POLI 490 or INTD 490. Contact me by email for details.

Last 10 hours to get in on the Twilight Struggle Digital Edition on Kickstarter

I finally got my act together and pledged on the Twilight Struggle Digital Edition Kickstarter. With an entire 10 hours left in the campaign! What, me, procrastinate?

If you didn’t know already, Playdek and GMT have teamed up to bring Twilight Struggle (a two player game of the Cold War) on to pretty much every platform available: PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android – about the only thing you won’t be able to play it on is your garage door remote – maybe that is the last classified stretch goal?

I love Playdek’s near flawless execution of Lords of Waterdeep, so I am delighted to see them delivering this great game, and Jason and Ananda always deliver high quality content, so this is going to be a win for everyone. Plus you get a lot for your money with these pledges, so it is just a good deal all around.

They’ve hit nearly all the stretch goals – the last one to meet in the next 10 hours adds strategy guides and Chinese and Korean language translations. Won’t you help our Asian gamer friends join the Struggle?

Simulation miscellany, Canada Day 2014 edition

canada-beaverHappy 147th birthday, Canada! In celebration of all those years of having successfully resisted American hegemony, PAXsims is pleased to post a few items of interest on conflict simulation, serious gaming, and other stuff we found interesting.

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PAXsims has received a mention at Foreign Policy magazine for our not-so-serious contribution to naval analysis, as Michael Peck discusses the US Navy’s new Zumwalt-class destroyers.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation 11, 3 (July 2014) is now available. You’ll find the table of contents here.

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The April/May 2014 edition of the US Department of Defense Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) M&S Newsletter is also now available.

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Ubisoft got itself into some trouble last month when it said that adding a playable female character to its next version of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed would be too much work. Ubisoft subsequently issued a statement praising itself for its commitment to diversity (unless, presumably, it involves too much work).

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Once again, Existential Comics combines everyone’s favourite philosophers and favourite games. This time, Hobbes, Rousseau, Machiavelli, and Freud play Risk (click the excerpt below for a link to the full comic).



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