Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulations and gaming miscellany, US marriage equality edition


PAXsims is proud to present its readers with an inclusive rainbow of recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming.


Inside the Box: Using Integrative Simulations to Teach Conflict, Negotiation and Mediation
, a book by Natasha Gill of Track4, has recently been published by the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich. As Simon Mason notes in a blog post about the book:

Inside_the_Box-GillCritics of role plays and simulations have argued that while participants have fun and get enthusiastic about negotiations, the actual learning is superficial, as the process is too far removed from reality. Another common criticism is that simulations lead to the stereotyping of actors in conflict, rather than a deeper understanding of the various players and dynamics. It is also said that emotional tensions between participants at times spill over into the real world, as participants find it difficult to shed the perspectives they adopted and the feelings they experienced during the simulation. Many of these criticisms, however, do not necessarily reflect on the approach per se, but rather point to the low quality of some role plays and simulations, particularly in how they are designed and run. Furthermore, most supporters of simulations do not argue that these modules are magic bullets that should replace other forms of learning. Well-designed role plays may miss their target if they are not well embedded in the overall training program and complemented with other forms of learning.

In her new book “Inside The Box: Using Integrative Simulations to Teach Conflict, Negotiation and Mediation” Natasha Gill helps negotiation and mediation trainers design and run simulations that avoid many of these pitfalls. Based on more than a decade of experience, her method is tested through practice in both the academic environment as well as in professional negotiation and mediation courses. Negotiation simulations can professionalize mediation if the way they are designed and run is also professionalized. Natasha Gill’s book is a useful guide for achieving this goal.

The book is available for free download here. We’ll be reviewing it soon at PAXsims—and, having read a preproduction copy, I can already attest that it is well worth reading.


In the bah humbug department, comes this piece from the Daily Telegraph telling us that children’s “card games and board games are dying out, and it’s no great loss.” Most are “deeply dull” and”an exercise in killing time.” Many, the author suggests, are “badly designed, with too many pieces, rules, and faff.” Consequently, “so many of the games are tortuously complicated or ridiculously simple and not conducive to family bonding.”

Certainly most kids find video games more engaging. And there are also some badly-designed children’s games out there too. However, there are many, many excellent ones. Moreover, sales statistics show robust growth in the sale of both children’s games and (teen and adult) hobby games.

Making the point, the Guardian—which has run several recent articles on the renaissance of board gaming—has another piece on that theme this week, this time highlighting how such games can bring families together:

[Games] teach useful lessons about taking turns and handling defeat. They provide an outlet for tension and rivalry. They require family members to sit down and interact with each other – increasingly important in a world where we spend much of our time in separate rooms, triple-screening and arguing over Skype about whose turn it is to change the toilet roll. But perhaps best of all, they remind us how to play.

The Times of India reports on the growing number of boardgaming devotees in India too, within the growing middle class—including new games clubs, a gaming pub, and the rising popularity of boardgaming among Bollywood stars.



Speaking of children’s games, a prototype of a Osama bin Laden-themed snakes-and-ladders designed by Donald Levine for the CIA for potential information operations in the Muslim world was recently auctioned, selling for a mere $625:

Prototype of board game featuring prominent terror leaders such as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, intended for use in Arab countries in order to persuade children from idolizing terrorist world leaders. This prototype was covertly designed for the CIA by Donald Levine (the creator of the iconic G.I. Joe doll) in 2005 for an ”influence operation”, intended to strategically distribute scary or perhaps comical depictions of Bin Laden and Hussein to children, ideally to dissuade them from joining a terrorist group such as Al Qaeda. The project was discontinued after the prototypes were developed. Board game has blue cardboard playing surface with numbered grid and small photographs of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda printed. Includes two white and black die and white cup with blue, red and yellow game pieces. Game board Measures 16” x 16”. Fine condition. With an LOA from Neil Levine.

h/t: ludic geopolitics


The Providence Journal reports on a recent disaster simulation exercise held at Brown University:

A Category 5 hurricane has hit the island nation of Pwong, somewhere in the Pacific, and four days later the imaginary nation’s disaster management director has opened a single runway at the airport, allowing 40 international aid workers to arrive.

“When you all arrived from the airport,” the man playing the disaster management director told the students playing the aid workers, “I was the first person standing there, and you all walked right by me.”

The students, posing as representatives of aid groups Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Oxfam, the Islamic Relief Organization, World Vision and Care International, fanned out across the stricken nation, actually just the bamboo-lined Starr Plaza behind the Watson Institute at Thayer and Benevolent streets, interviewing about 20 volunteers from the Brown community who pretended to be Pwongians.

The students had a mission in this simulated disaster: to assess needs so their agencies could provide relief. But their mission in real life was to gain experience from the chaos, pressure and conflicting priorities after a disaster.


According to the Military Times, the Us Department of Defense recently wargamed the future of military recruitment and retention challenges.

[A cadre of tech experts] joined in a first-of-its-kind “war game” focused on military personnel issues. The two-day event held in late June in the Washington suburb of Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, brought a team of Silicon Valley pioneers and computer-science experts together with current and former Pentagon officials and military experts from think tanks across Washington.

The rare brainstorming session, sponsored by the Defense Department, was designed to tackle some of the military’s most vexing long-term challenges in building a force for the 21st century and recruiting and retaining the talent it will need in the years ahead.

The event was the latest sign of soul searching inside the Pentagon’s personnel directorate, sparked in part by the advent of cyber warfare and widespread concerns that building an effective cyber force will require skills, management styles and institutional structures that are rare in today’s military.

That anxiety is fueling a broader push inside DoD to modernize the entire military personnel system. The newly appointed undersecretary for personnel and readiness, Brad Carson, has vowed to seek “revolutionary change” in the way the military manages its people.

Carson wants to modernize the Pentagon’s antiquated, paper-based personnel system and its promotion rules that prioritize seniority and stability over performance and innovation. He has promised to draw up a slate of reforms by August that will include far-reaching policy changes and proposed laws for Capitol Hill to consider.

Carson spoke to the war game’s nearly 100 participants and urged them to “pursue disruptive innovations.”

“Don’t settle for incremental reforms that are politically feasible,” he implored.

It isn’t clear from the description how much of an actual wargame this was, and how much of it was an extended scenario-driven discussion and brainstorming event. From the description it looks more like the latter than the former.


Devils+Den+Battle+3The nationwide American backlash that followed the June 15 shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina led many US retailers to stop selling Confederate flags—and for Apple to temporarily withdraw some American Civil War games from its iTunes app store.

Most, however, have now been reinstated:

Though Apple originally said it would only remove apps from the store that used the Confederate flag in an offensive ways, even games about the Civil War that included it to be historically accurate were removed.

“We accept Apple’s decision and understand that this is a sensitive issue for the American Nation,” Games-Lab said after its game was removed. “We wanted our game to be the most accurate, historical, playable reference of the Battle of Gettysburg.”

An Apple spokesperson later said that the company would reinstate some games that were wrongly removed, and given the news about Ultimate General: Gettysburg, it seems like it is.

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