Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 29/04/2015

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 April 2015


Some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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On April 28 the Guardian published a good article on “Why political board games have the power to change our view of the world,” mentioning Labyrinth and A Distant Plain, digital game designer Brenda Romero’s analog game designs, Papers Please, and Democracy 3:

We label board games as cerebral things; toys for the mind. I agreed, until I played Labyrinth, a title by CIA analyst Volko Ruhnke simulating the war on terror. Playing as the Jihadists, I put down a “Martyrdom Operation” card. My aim was to secure funding for my terrorists by demonstrating their effectiveness. It struck me like an ice wall what that card’s clinical euphemism actually meant: I’d just killed dozens of innocent people. I felt so sick I had to walk away. A physical reaction from a mind game.

It’s an illustration of how effective tabletop games are at making political points. The most extreme examples are Brenda Romero’s series of art-games entitled The Mechanic is the Message. Train is the best known of these. It appears at first to be an exercise in getting players to optimise space on public transport. During the game, it’s revealed that it’s actually about transporting Jews to Auschwitz. If there was ever a more direct, personal demonstration of the banality of evil, I’ve yet to see it.

Yet this latent power remains untapped. While the indie video game scene hums with political titles like Papers, Please and Democracy 3, few tabletop games even have a political theme. This absence is a puzzle to both Ruhnke and Romero. “Games are nothing more than systems where there is a winner,” said Romero. “Politics are the same.”

Indeed, the designers agree that face-to-face play offers more opportunities to convey a message than the impersonal world of digital interaction. “It’s easy for a player to betray another online,” Romero observed. “It’s much more difficult to do so to their face.”

For Ruhnke, it’s more about transparency. “Tabletop games put players inside their world by requiring them to learn and operate the game model themselves,” he explained. “That aspect is even more critical for games that are about something controversial. Even players who are skeptical at the outset can evaluate and choose what parts of the model to add to their understanding, and what to leave by the roadside.”

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At the Navy Matters blog, blogger ComNavOps reflects on whether renewed attention to wargaming by the US Department of Defense will result in more useful and effective games.

ComNavOps has frequently stressed the need for wargaming to explore strategic and tactical scenarios and fully supports any efforts to increase usage of this valuable tool.  Hence, full credit to Mr. Work.

However, ComNavOps has an uneasy suspicion about this effort.  Wargames can be used for two purposes.  The first, the proper one, is to explore and validate friendly and enemy strategies and tactics using realistic capabilities and counters on the part of both sides.  The second, the faulty one, is to stage pre-determined set piece scenarios designed to “prove” a pet theory or technology.

Too often over the last couple decades, the wargames have been the later – contrived scenarios intended to prove the value of a favored piece of technology so as to justify procurement.  The LCS, for example, was the subject of a number of pre-determined scenarios intended to prove how wonderful it was.

You can read the full piece here.

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Registration is now open for the University of Minnesota’s 2015 Humanitarian Simulation Crisis course, to be held in September 2015.


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The Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University recently held an Israeli-Palestinian peace process simulation:

Many involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process argue that recent attempts at peace have failed because the interests of citizens have not been considered. If citizens are encouraged to understand together the underlying reasons for conflict and to listen to the needs of other parties, the chances of lasting peace will increase.

With this reasoning in mind, on April 24, 2015, INSCT hosted a simulation exercise for first year law and Masters of International Relations graduate students who will be studying in Israel and Palestine in summer 2015.

The exercise—which was led by SU Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and INSCT Faculty Member Miriam F. Elman (Associate Professor, Political Science)—was designed to mimic Track II grassroots engagement. Its purpose is to show how techniques of mediation and dispute resolution might be used to gauge the interests of the people who will need to “buy in” to a peace agreement in order to sustain any final deal that is reached by high-level, Track I negotiators.

Based on a US Institute of Peace exercise, which Elman updated and modified for the INSCT simulation exercise, the students role-played Israeli and Palestinian citizens, engaging in one-on-one and group discussions about the conflict, peace negotiations, and the potential impact of real peace in their daily lives.

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The Humanity in War blog describes a student-run refugee simulation held at Valparaiso University.

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Lundstrum—a Dutch student group—will be holding a “Third Hague Peace Conference” on May 9 in The Hague:

In the First and the Second Hague Peace Conferences (1899 and 1907) the representatives of the Nation States at that time came together to regulate the warfare in the 20th Century and to agree on the peaceful settlement of disputes. 100 years ago, the 3rd Hague Peace Conference was scheduled to take place, in The Hague’s very own Peace Palace. Sadly, the ravages of WWI made this dream impossible. This conference, as the two which preceded it in 1899 and 1907, was organized in order for representatives of the participant states to draft treaties in International Humanitarian Law, more commonly known as the laws of war, but also on the settlement of disputes in a peaceful fashion. Neither war nor peace arises from nothing. They are forged by people. This simulation will put you in the shoes of one such person, giving you the unique opportunity to experience what a Peace Conference would look and feel like in today’s world.

Now, we would like to give you the opportunity to participate in the Third Hague Peace Conference in 2015 and share your ideas on the modern warfare of the 21st Century and the perpetuation of Peace among the nations in the rapidly changing global landscape!

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We’ve mentioned it before, but don’t forget about the excellent GrogCast wargaming podcasts from GrogHeads.

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