Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.
The 11th annual conference of the European Social Simulation Association will be held 14-18 September 2015 in Groningen, Netherlands. Topics to be addressed include:
- policy modelling
- social conflict and social simulation
- simulating the social processes of science
- simulation model analysis
- modelling history
- social simulation and serious game
- cognitive models in social simulation
- affiliation, status and power in society
- simulation of economic processes
- opinion dynamics
- models of agreement and affiliation
- social Simulation of land, water and energy
- social simulation and the (lack of) gender in simulation studies
You’ll find a copy of the programme here.
If you missed the Connections 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference last month, all is not lost: the various presentations made there are available via the Connections website.
Can you tell who is about to betray you in a game of Diplomacy (or anything else, for that matter)? Science News reports on a study that examined text-based interaction between Diplomacy players for indicators:
Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, colleague and fan-of-the-game Jordan Boyd-Graber, and colleagues examined 249 games of Diplomacy with a total of 145,000 messages among players. When they used a computer program to compare exchanges between players whose relationships ended in betrayal with those whose relationships lasted, the computer discerned subtle signals of impending betrayal.
One harbinger was a shift in politeness. Players who were excessively polite in general were more likely to betray, and people who were suddenly more polite were more likely to become victims of betrayal, study coauthor and Cornell graduate student Vlad Niculae reportedJuly 29 at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Beijing. Consider this exchange from one round:
Germany: Can I suggest you move your armies east and then I will support you? Then next year you move [there] and dismantle Turkey. I will deal with England and France, you take out Italy.
Austria: Sounds like a perfect plan! Happy to follow through. And—thank you Bruder!
Austria’s next move was invading German territory. Bam! Betrayal.
An increase planning-related language by the soon-to-be victim also indicated impending betrayal, a signal that emerges a few rounds before the treachery ensues. And correspondence of soon-to-be betrayers had an uptick in positive sentiment in the lead-up to their breach.
Working from these linguistic cues, a computer program could peg future betrayal 57 percent of the time. That might not sound like much, but it was better than the accuracy of the human players, who never saw it coming. And remember that by definition, a betrayer conceals the intention to betray; the breach is unexpected (that whole trust thing). Given that inherent deceit, 57 percent isn’t so bad.
In the Financial Times, former UK cabinet minister Ed Ball highlights the value of crisis simulations in preparing governments and officials for future policy challenges:
While at the time, I remember spending hours in the European Council listening to the German finance minister lecturing Britain about “irresponsible” hedge funds, even while German banks were falling over themselves to buy US subprime mortgages and Greek debt. It was in that uncertain environment that I decided to initiate our simulation.
It envisaged a lender collapsing after an unexpected legal ruling, and a large UK clearing bank being exposed to huge liabilities as a result, turning a local difficulty into a systemic event. The simulation ended with my tough meeting with the governor of the Bank of England and the chairman of the Financial Services Authority. We debated the risk that stepping in might send the wrong message and encourage recklessness by signalling that institutions could expect rescue if they ended up on the rocks. But we decided that the failure of a clearing bank would cause immense damage. So we opted to arrange a takeover.
When the real crisis struck later in the year, it did help that officials had been through that simulation — although I know many of the same arguments resurfaced.
You’ll find the full article here (paywall).
In a somewhat similar vein, Lee Drutman suggests in the Washington Post that the process of choosing among US presidential candidates could be improved by running the contenders through a simulation, rather than debates:
Instead, let’s have our aspirants try out for president by putting them in charge of a simulated crisis: Imagine that a bus is blown up in downtown Chicago, killing 40 people, and the Islamic State claims responsibility. Imagine that a cyberattack takes down the power grid in Atlanta in the middle of a summer heat wave. Imagine that a sudden financial market collapse leaves several mid-size commercial banks temporarily unable to fulfill depositor withdrawals, and instead they must rely on FDIC insurance.
How would the candidates think through their options? How would they react? And wouldn’t we gain more insight by examining their responses than by discussing why one hopeful sighed inappropriately or checked his watch?
Such a simulation would have to be carefully planned, with former government officials or expert actors playing key roles based on meticulously rehearsed stories. In the banking simulation, performers would portray the heads of regulatory agencies and large financial institutions. One could be instructed to offer bad advice — would any of the candidates fall for it? Candidates could also bring in their own advisers and would be free to call anybody they wanted during the simulation (just like the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” lifeline).
Presidential hopefuls could be fed the details of the crisis over a couple of hours, from “advisers” and faux live news coverage. Markets could “respond” in real time, with financial pundits offering different guidance: The government should immediately buy up the failing banks! Don’t intervene, it will only spur more panic! It’s easy for candidates to criticize bailouts or government intervention in the abstract. But what would they do while staring into the abyss of a collapse, faced with only bad and worse options?
At the end of the simulation, each candidate would give a short speech, summarizing his or her response so far and outlining plans to confront the crisis ahead.
A recent report by the European Leadership Network (August 2015) warns that current Russian and NATO wargames/exercises could contribute to an escalation of political and military tensions:
First, while one side may aim its actions at strengthening deterrence and preparing for defensive actions, the other side perceives the same exercises as provocative and deliberate aggravation of the crisis. In the current climate of mistrust, the exercises can feed uncertainty in an almost classic illustration of the ‘security dilemma’ written about by many scholars of international affairs. This uncertainty is further aggravated and elevated into a sense of unpredictability when the exercises are not pre-notified or publicly announced beforehand, as is apparently the case with a number of Russian exercises.
Second, in our view another effect of such heightened activity is an increased risk of the dangerous military encounters between Russian and Western military units of the sort documented by the European Leadership Network in November 2014 and updated since. Some of these incidents and near misses have been connected with increasingly close surveillance of each side’s exercises. For example, there were reports that Russian Su-30 and Su-24 bombers approached close to NATO warships exercising in the Black Sea in March 2015. Also, a number of NATO interceptions of Russian aircraft and ships moving between the Kaliningrad exclave and mainland Russia have been a consequence of ongoing Russian exercises. This has also been the cause of several Russian breaches of Finnish and Estonian airspace.
They recommend that the parties improve and increase communications, and reconsider the value of military exercises in border areas.
Is this Able Archer 83 all over again? While exercies might contribute to increasing political tensions, I really don’t see them sparking conflict: neither NATO nor the Russian military wishes to, nor is really in a position to, fight a major war in Europe.
Global News reports on a shocking revelation of US covert assistance to the Ukraine:
On July 22, the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine released what appeared to be a shocking video: a Stinger, an American-made Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS), was found in the Luhansk Airport. The video shows LNR militants inspecting what looks like a weapons cache, with close-up shots of the various arms and storage boxes with English-language inscriptions on them.
Except not all is as it appears: as the article notes, the weapons are fakes and the images are actually modelled on those from the video game Battlefield 3.
At Foreign Policy, Aki Peretz asks “What Whac-A-Mole Can Teach Us About How to Fight Terrorism.” Not only does he ask it, but he actually asks the game’s inventor for insights.
At The Atlantic, Karl does something similar with his very own ISIS boardgame, which only confirms how difficult the problem is:
A detailed analysis of the situation by the Institute of Internet Diagrams has led to a surprising discovery: It appears that all the players confronting ISIS are competing to see who can devise the largest number of steps, and most convoluted strategy, to overcome the Islamic State. We at the Institute are not sure why they are doing this, but our simulation suggests that they are secretly playing some sort of game. Few other explanations have been judged credible.