Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 29/09/2014

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 September 2014


Some recent simulation and serious gaming items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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The latest issue of the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s semiannual publication  Building Peace includes a piece by  Helena Puig Larrauri on “Technology and the Moral Imagination in Local Peacebuilding” that briefly addresses the possible contribution of digital games to peacebuilding:

One of the hardest things for communities living in conflict is to imagine a common future. Community work shops, peace festivals, and conferences are important forums for encouraging this vision, but often hard to scale. Could digital games be a viable alternative for connection?

A group of Arab and Jewish Israeli teenagers recently built a peace village together — in the virtual realm of the Minecraft game world. It was an initiative of Games for Peace, a nonprofit organization that believes “online games represent a radical new way of bridging the gap between young people in conflict zones.” The initiative has not yet been evaluated, but the pilot was popular enough that a broader game is being planned.

Games for Peace demonstrates the potential for existing popular games to enable collaborative game-play situations where a peaceful future can be imagined.

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One current example of using gamification to encourage cross-community dialogue in an area of conflict can be seen in Georgia, as the United Nations Development Programme has recently noted:

What do online gaming and peacebuilding have in common?

One simple answer is they both need people to do the job together. To succeed in both building peace and network gaming, you have to be willing to communicate openly.

It’s the only way to achieve any meaningful progress.

Tech specialists from Elva Community Engagement, an online platform based in Tbilisi, believe that tech-driven initiatives have strong potential to be a gateway for peace with Abkhaz and Georgian youth.

They are currently developing an online game that will connect peers from across the dividing lines, with the goal of transforming them into peace brokers of their own. For Elva’s advocacy director, Mark van Embden Andres this makes perfect sense:

“Youth worldwide have similar interests, hobbies, and pursuits – and online games are one of the most popular. Our game will nurture teamwork towards shared, concrete, peace-related goals. This is how Georgian and Abkhaz youngsters become peacebuildersthemselves. Teamwork and joint efforts are the ultimate blueprints for success.”

In Georgia, peer-to-peer contact between Abkhaz and Georgian youth is rare, if non-existent. They live in separate worlds; their communities, until recently, wracked by conflict and infighting.

Lack of information nourishes stereotypes and continues to play into prejudices about the other.

All too often, communities end up knowing precious little about their neighbours. It is precisely this fear of the unknown, as Build Up‘s Helena Puig Laurrari writes in a recent blog post, that gaming has the potential to break through.

“For many Georgian and Abkhaz youngsters, a virtual world is the only place they can meet and communicate. This is where damaging stereotypes can be broken and personal features of each other become more important,” says van Emden Andres.

The new game is being developed within a joint confidence building mechanism commissioned by both the European Union and UNDP in Georgia.

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Another example of using gamification to try to break down social tensions can be seen in the Shared Words project in Cyprus, in which interconnections between Greek and Turkish Cypriots are discovered through the relationships between the two languages. You’ll find more about it at the The Peace Exchange blog.


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Defense Video and Imagery Distribution News (we at PAXsims read just about everything) has an article on what is ahead for the Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI), the Naval Postgraduate School’s gamified crowdsourcing and discussion platform:

[Garth Jensen] continues to lead the MMOWGLI effort, but he and [Don] Brutzman are working to guide the enterprise toward a user-developed, community-based, self-sustaining business model.

“The transition is succeeding. We are sharing capabilities and addressing new challenges that will ensure the success of a self-sustaining model that is repeatable and broadly innovative while maintaining player privacy and anonymity,” said Brutzman.

“We want to get to where anyone can run their own MMOWGLI … where anyone can download the MMOWGLI source code and user manual and literally run their own game,” added Jensen.

Brutzman and his colleagues are also exploring techniques and technologies with the potential to, amongst other things, open up MMOWGLI to foreign participants.

“We are working to figure out how to run a multilingual game where people can type in their own language and an automatic translation can be provided,” said Brutzman.

But first, the MMOWGLI team will be challenged by prescheduled forays into the worlds of naval air power and perhaps their most challenging wargame to date – the Black Swan Event, a catastrophe like 9/11 whose inevitability is predictable, but only if the best minds in the business, are able to read the tea leaves pointing to a disaster of international proportions.

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Need UN peacekeeping berets, helmets, and vests for your next mod of the popular tactical combat simulation Arma 3? Click the image below to download them.


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At e-International Relations, Margot Susca discusses “Violent Virtual Games and the Consequences for Real War.”

When it comes to violent video games, war and conflict, and the creation, maintenance, and cultivation of adolescent entertainment space and war ideologies by military powers, the academic community across disciplines must start taking greater notice. For this piece, I will use America’s Army as a case study to help outline the need to include more investigation of war video games on the agendas of multiple academic disciplines. It would be too easy and without methodological merit to say that playing violent video games makes people violent or more prone to military service. However, it must be noted that the U.S. Army uses and studies its own game as a way to improve marksmanship and build teamwork as service members prepare for battlefields. I focus here on the growth of the video game industry and explain the U.S. military’s use of video games to train soldiers to explain the growing significance of military video games and their links to real war.

She concludes (emphasis added):

More research on the effects of war video games on players is clearly needed. But what we know should trouble scholars from across disciplines: The U.S. Army already is using virtual violent video games to recruit and train soldiers for real war. Games can help shape narratives about foreign policy, service, recruitment and nationalism. As mediated storytellers, video games have powerful relationships to adolescent culture. Just look at young people claiming they want to kill Czervenians because the government game directs them to. Another player named PapaBear=VX9= wrote of the fictional country: “Why NOT have a backstory as to why our American soldiers are in this place? Every other game out there has a storyline. And as the US Army, we should have a legitimate reason for being there.” When the U.S. Army is the storyteller, any chance to “soldier” is legitimate. And that’s not some commercial fantasy.

Her critique largely focuses on the the fact that 1) the US military recruits people, and 2) the US military sometimes kills people. Of course, that is what it is supposed to do—indeed, what it is directed to do by the people’s elected representatives. If one doesn’t think countries should have militaries (#1) or that those militaries shouldn’t be trained to kill (#2) the critique might have some resonance–otherwise it seems to largely rest on a political objection, rather than any particular analytical insight. Although one could also make some sort of argument about such games having broader social effects, the paper really doesn’t do that.

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At his game design blog, Bruno Faidutti has a very good discussion (in both French and English) of “Postcolonial Catan,” in which he explores the issue of orientalist exoticism in contemporary boardgames:

There might be technical reasons, but I think there’s also something if not reactionary, at least romantic or backward looking in board games themes – much more than in video games themes.

The novel form has now been assimilated and transformed in the formerly colonized world, by postcolonial authors such as Salman Rushdie – but we’re still waiting for a postcolonial board or card game designer. Boardgame and card game design is not necessarily adverse to critics and subversion.  The authors of Cards against Humanity might be the William Burroughs of game design – but there’s no Salman Rushdie, and boardgames are probably still one of the most typically western cultural forms – more about how Japanese card games fit into this later.

There is something old-fashioned, charming and romantic, not only in the themes and settings of boardgames, but also in their graphic style. See the covers of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, probably the two most influential typical board game designs of these last twenty years. Playing games has become a powerful anxiolytic in a western society which probably feels less secure than it did a few decades ago. This might explain why board game sales are countercyclical, why game designers are mostly old white males (I’m one), and why game themes and looks sound so old-fashioned.

In Orientalism, Edward Said showed how the orientalist discourse, which he studied mostly in XIXth century novels but can be found in other cultural domains, created its own object, how a fantasy Orient became a part of the real Orient, and how this was embedded in the colonization ideology and process.

As I said earlier, world literature has largely become postcolonial, and the same could probably be said of music (rap is something like postcolonial rock) and movies. There’s nothing like this in games, and the image they show of the Orient is plain orientalist exoticism….

h/t Ellie Bartels 

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The 12th annual Games for Change Festival will be held  in April 2015 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.The professional conference will be held on April 21-23, while April 25 will be devoted to a day-long public arcade.

You’ll find more information here.


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