PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulations miscellany, 21 May 2015

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

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Peter Perla’s recent article on “Work – ing” Wargaming has sparked much discussion among wargaming professionals, most notably at Phil Sabin’s Simulating War online discussion group. That in turn has spurred Paul Vebber to offer his own extensive thoughts on the subject, in a blog post at Wargaming Connection: “Wargaming – Does “better” mean more Art, or more Science?

Science is indeed a part of wargaming, but we must resist calls to scientism for our tool to prove its worth to those ready to embrace it. There is also art. Powerful art. Art that can greatly complicate efforts to use a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, but is nonetheless of critical importance to “goodness”. In the various discussions of Dr. Perla’s paper, many have described how to make games “good”. There are as many definitions of “good” as people weighing in. There is good design process. There are innovative and elegant game designs. Some are historically evocative, others effective in achieving specific purposes. I offer another – value. How does a game produce value? One measure is how it changes the way we think about things. I difficult thing to measure because it is a thing we experience, but to give in the idea that if we can’t measure something, it must not be important, or useful, or valuable, is to give in the scientism.

It is must-read stuff for anyone involved in the field.

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Have you registered yet for the 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at National Defense University in Washington DC on on 27-30 July 2015? PAXsims will be there!

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Red Team Journal will be offering a two-hour online introductory course on, well, red teaming:

We are pleased to announce that our first two-hour online mini-course in the Becoming Odysseus series is now open for registration. In the course, titled “Framing the Red Team Engagement,” we introduce our high-level red teaming process model and address the challenge of incorporating your stakeholders’ problems, goals, and metrics in your design—all with the aim of helping you maintain a systems view while promoting analytical transparency. We add frames of reference, stakeholder modeling, and objectives trees to your red teaming toolkit. The course is designed for both beginning and experienced red teamers from all domains. To register, go to our WebEx Training Center page and find the course listed on 4 June. Registration terms and conditions are listed here and again at registration. The cost per individual is $149.

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Students at the University of Portsmouth recently completed a three-day disaster relief and crisis communication simulation, wherein “participants had to respond to a scenario where there had been an earthquake in a region that has a history of political conflict and deteriorating infrastructure, with existing humanitarian concerns.” You’ll find further details here.

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In a recent article in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 21, 2 (April 2015), Richard E. Ericson and Lester A. Zeageroffer an analysis of strategic interaction in the Ukraine crisis through a game theoretic lens:

This paper presents an analysis of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 through the lens of the Theory of Moves as formalized by [Willson, S.J., (1998), Long-term Behavior in the Theory of Moves, Theory and Decision, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 201–240]. It derives the equilibrium (ultimate outcome) states under various assumptions about Western and Russian preferences over outcomes. The “paths” of their generation, i.e., the sequences of strategic choices made by each side, are also explored, casting light on the structure of incentives guiding behavior in the conflict, and perhaps predicting what the actual outcome will be when the world moves beyond this crisis. Incomplete information on preferences prevents derivation of a unique prediction of the outcome of the crisis, but the analysis enables us to substantially narrow the range of possibilities.

You’ll find further discussion of their findings in an article at Bloomberg View.

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At the History of Wargaming Project blog, John Curry considers future directions for the project. Feel free to contribute to the conversation there.

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Interested in MegaGames? You may find this discussion on Reddit of interest. If you don’t know what they are, have a look at this article in The Independent.

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At the BBC News magazine, Dominic Lawson (President of the English Chess Federation) asks: “Has chess got anything to do with war?

So it seems fitting that one of my guests on the third series of Across the Board – in which I have interviewed eminent chess enthusiasts and the odd world champion while playing a game against them – is the military historian Antony Beevor.

Beevor’s books on the World War Two battles of Stalingrad and Berlin have sold in their millions across the globe, but his first career was as a British army cavalry regiment officer. And since he is also a passionately keen chess player, I was intrigued to know if he thought that great generals were like chess grandmasters – brilliant strategists of iron logic.

“Generals would love that parallel and they tend to see themselves in that way. But the truth is very far from that,” says Beevor. His point is that battle is indescribably chaotic, with luck and chance playing a large role in any outcome.

And he makes an additional point: “In modern warfare the idea of total victory is now almost irrelevant. You’ve won – and then you lose the victory in a short space of time. Look at Iraq.”

At Politico, Michael Peck discusses the hidden—and ometimes not so hidden—politics of video games:

Games and gamers inevitably reflect the values of their times. If today’s video games are laden with violence and frenetic with high-tech weapons, that is the nature of the society that created them.

But do games change their societies? Rivers of ink have been spilled over whether violence in video games leads to the real thing. Whether the link is true or not, a genre that started with harmlessly batting around a virtual ping-pong ball in the 1970s game Pong, now requires games to carry age ratings to shield children from virtual gore. Some politicians have even called for warning labels that would treat video games like tobacco and alcohol.

Games can be  criticized for being too violent, or a brain-dead waste of time. But they are not usually criticized for being political. Games are entertainment, not politics, right?

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