Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 28/07/2014

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.


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