Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Nikola Adamus, Ryan Kuhns, Christian Palmer, and Swen Stoop contributed items to this latest edition.
The current (September 2015) issue of Phalanx—the journal of the Military Operations Research Society—has an article by Virginia “Robbin” Beall (Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations) on “Defense innovation through wargaming.” Highlighting the recent US DoD emphasis on reinvigorating wargaming, she warns that “some of the wargaming in the Department of Defense is not done well and has no or little lasting impact.” She goes on to highlight three areas for improvement: game design, game adjudication, and appropriate application of analytic techniques. I’ve excerpted some of her key comments below.
Many games appear to depend upon the notion that if you just get the right players together in a room, you will achieve the desired intellectual breakthroughs. This approach underestimates the importance of game design and does the players a disservice.
If the objectives of the game are too broad or ill defined, the likely game outcomes are either vague generalities or obvious solutions, no matter how talented the players may be. It may not be apparent to players or stakeholders that the game was poorly designed until it is too late to recover.
Rigorous attention to game design in a manner that forces the players to confront one or two essential dilemmas can focus that talent on specific areas of deficiency that may lead to innovative strategic or operational approaches or technological solutions.
Some form of adjudication is often necessary to keep games progressing, and a game timeline is generally not compatible with the real-time use of rigorous quantitative modeling and simulation. For that reason, most games are adjudicated either through simpler quantitative methods or by BOGSAT (bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table). Both of those approaches, like any other analytic endeavor, need to begin with the basic tenets of good research:
- a review best performed by reaching out to an extensive network of analysts to understand what previous work has been conducted; and
- unyielding technical rigor in fully understanding the technical capabilities of assets or technologies examined.
Too often these basic research steps are shortchanged.
I would suggest that an overarching principle for adjudication is, as with the Hippocratic Oath, to above all else, do no harm. Players may be taking a single day away from commanding the same units that are represented in the game. Decision makers may be formulating the arguments for or against an investment. Poorly conducted adjudication creates a risk of leaving players with a fundamentally mistaken belief in the viability of a CONOPS, tactic, system, or technology and in doing so, fails to advance the state-of-the-art of our knowledge base or support good decisions.
Appropriate Application of Analytic Techniques
It will be tempting in an environment where there is an intense focus on wargaming to assume that it is always the analytic technique of choice.
However, as analysts we should realize that no single technique is suited to addressing all problems or questions. As the members of the defense community with the most comprehensive training and knowledge in analytic techniques, it is up to us to lead the discussion on what the appropriate analytic technique should be for a given application.
Although PAXsims wasn’t able to attend the recent Connections Netherlands interdisciplinary wargaming conference last month, Swen Stoop has kindly passed on a summary prepared by the organizers (as well as some artistic impressions by Yuen Yen).
You’ll find further details at the Connections NL website, including a few of the conference presentations.
My PAXsims coeditor Devin Ellis quite literally posted a report on JadedAid while I was typing this, so go see what he said. You’ll find more on the game at Foreign Policy, The Guardian, and WhyDev. Via YouTube you can also hear co-creater Jessica Heinzelman talk about the genesis of the game at Nerd Night Phnom Penh.
At Nautilus, Jonathon Keats asks “Could war games replace the real thing?” His starting point is Buckminster Fuller’s proposal for a global peace game as a tool for conflict resolution and international cooperation:
As the Vietnam conflict spiraled out of control, Fuller had a solution. His idea was simple: Instead of playing secret war games deep inside the Pentagon, the United States should host a world peace game out in the open. The concept was an elaboration on his proposal to build a geoscope inside the U.S. Pavilion of the 1964 World’s Fair. An animated Dymaxion world map would show all the resources on the planet, as well as all human and natural activity, from troop deployment to ocean currents. On this map, the world’s leaders and citizens of all nations would be invited to publicly wage peace. He cast the world game as a political system, a completely democratic alternative to voting in which people collectively played out potential solutions to shared problems.
“The objective of the game would be to explore for ways to make it possible for anybody and everybody in the human family to enjoy the total earth without any human interfering with any other human and without any human gaining advantage at the expense of another,” Fuller wrote. “To win the World Game everybody must be made physically successful. Everybody must win.”
He then offers a broader overview of the development of modern wargaming, ultimately suggesting that modern synthetic and digital worlds might now make Fuller’s dream possible:
Crucially, these virtual worlds would not be neutral backdrops in the vein of Second Life. Like SimCity and war games, they’d be logically rigorous and internally consistent. There’d be causality and consequences, and there’d be tension, drawn out by constraints such as limited resources and time pressure. Also like SimCity and war games, these virtual worlds would be simplified, model worlds with deliberate and explicit compromises tailored to the topics being gamed. There could be many permutations, so that none inadvertently becomes authoritative. The only real guideline for setting variables would be to adjust them to breed what Wright has described as “life at the edge of chaos.”
Within these worlds, scenarios could be played out by the massive multiplicity of globally networked gamers. Players wouldn’t need to be designated red or blue, but could simply be themselves, self-organizing into larger factions as happens in many MMOs. Scenarios could be crises and opportunities. Imagine a global financial meltdown that destroys the value of all government-issued currencies, provoking the United Nations to issue a “globo” as an emergency unit of exchange. Would the globo be adopted, or would private currencies quash it? And what would be the consequences as the economy got rebuilt? A single universal currency might be a stabilizing force, binding the economic interests of people and nations, or it could be destabilizing on account of its scale and complexity. It could promote peace or provoke war. Games allowing players to collaborate and compete their way out of crisis would serve as crowdsourced simulations, each different, none decisive, all informative.
As the number of players increased through the evolution of world gaming, the outcomes of these games would inform an increasingly large proportion of the planet. At a certain stage, if the numbers became great enough, gameplay would verge on reality—and even merge into reality—because players would collectively accumulate sufficient anticipatory experience to play their part in the real world more wisely. Whole aspects of game-generated infrastructure—such as in-game non-governmental organizations and businesses—could be readily exported since the essential relationships would have already been built. Games would also serve as richly informative polls, revealing public opinion to politicians.
Or they could play a more direct goal in governance. One of Fuller’s ideas—that gaming could serve as an alternative to voting—could potentially be realized with a plurality of people gaming national and global eventualities. For any given issue, different proposals could be gamed in parallel. As some games collapsed, gamers would be able to join more viable games until the most gameable proposal was played through by all. That game would be a surrogate ballot, the majority position within the game serving as a legislatively or diplomatically binding decision. Provided that citizens consented from the start, it would be fully compatible with democratic principles—and could break the gridlock undermining modern democracies.
When Fuller presented the world game as a method of reckoning how to achieve world peace, he wasn’t ambitious enough. The act of gaming must make peace in its own right. Operating at the scale of reality, the game that everybody wins must build our future world.
One of the challenges we encountered when publishing AFTERSHOCK was finding images for the game that weren’t restricted by copyright or the need to pay royalties. In our case the folks at the UN photo archives, United Nations Development Programme, and World Food Programme helped us out by making photographs available.
Another new and useful source for game images would be Konflictkam:
Konflictcam is a free and independent new media site dedicated to curating and archiving images related to human conflict and presenting them to the public in a transparent and accessible manner. We were founded in the summer of 2014 by a group of young professionals passionate about history, politics, human rights and conflict resolution. Recognizing the absence of a platform dedicated to the systematic curation of global conflict imagery, past and present, the Konflictcam platform was developed with the aim of filling that void. In our capacity as a non-profit, apolitical public archive, we hope to build awareness of the critical events shaping our world and encourage users to gain a broader understanding of human conflict.
Many of the images are covered by a Creative Commons license, and are available for reuse within the terms specified by the original image owner.
This is the Police is a game being developed by Weappy Studio in which you try to survive as a corrupt chief of police amid a morass of crime and seedy local politics.
This Is the Police is a strategy/adventure game set in a city spiraling the drain. You’ll come face to face with the ugly underbelly of Freeburg, taking the role of gritty Police Chief Jack Boyd (portrayed by Jon St. John, the voice of Duke Nukem).
Immerse yourself in a controversial tale of corruption, crime, and political intrigue. Manage your staff, respond to emergencies, and investigate crimes in a city on the brink of chaos. The mafia underworld maneuvers behind the scenes, sinking their claws ever deeper into the city, even as the mayor is ready to exploit every situation to his political advantage — even if it means hanging his police chief out to dry, or plunging the city into riots and protest. Choose your approach to each situation as it unfolds. Sometimes you’ll be responding to a developing crisis at a crime scene, or negotiating with Freeburg’s crime bosses. Sometimes you’ll find yourself dodging questions in the press room, or even the occasional cross-examination in the witness box. Can you keep this pressure cooker from exploding, at least for long enough to stash away a nice retirement nest egg? Or will you land yourself behind bars — or worse?
It seems to be intended more as a (Sim City-meets Tropico-meets Grand Theft Auto) game than social commentary, but it is an unusual project nonetheless.
Meanwhile in the yet-another-mainstream-media-article-on-the-renaissance-of-boardgaming department, The Economist (3 October 2015) features an article on, well, the renaissance of boardgaming:
The market for such “hobby games” is booming. ICv2, a consulting firm, reckons it is worth $880m a year in America and Canada alone. “We’ve seen double-digit annual growth for the past half-decade,” says Milton Griepp, ICv2’s boss. Some of the games at Spiel will be aimed at children, but grown-ups are doing most of the buying. There is something for every taste, from “Fluxx”, a lighthearted card game whose rules change with every card played, to “Power Grid”, a fiendishly tricky business game featuring aspiring electricity tycoons, to all-day chin-scratchers such as “Twilight Imperium” (pictured), a game of galactic civilisation-building.
Steve Buckmaster of Esdevium Games, a British distributor, says that far from diverting people, video games—especially ones on smartphones—have brought gaming to a larger audience. App versions of popular games often boost sales of their physical counterparts. The internet has helped fans organise get-togethers, tournaments and the like, while crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter have made life easier for aspiring designers. They, in turn, are integrating computers into their games. “X-COM”, a board-game tie-in to a popular video-game series, uses a smartphone app that takes the role of the incoming aliens which players must battle on the table top.
Meanwhile bricks-and-mortar game stores have adapted, running tournaments and providing the face-to-face sociability that online gaming lacks. And with “Game of Thrones” on TVs everywhere and cinemas packed with superhero films, the general triumph of what used to be mocked as “nerd culture” has made the fantasy and sci-fi themes featured in many games less of a turn-off. Not every analogue pastime is suffering in the digital age.
In a not entirely dissimilar vein, Wired magazine thinks the media still owes Dungeons & Dragons an apology:
TODAY DUNGEONS & Dragons is flying high, gushed over by movie stars like Vin Diesel and Wil Wheaton. Dan Harmon plays D&D live onstage, and popular podcasts like Nerd Poker, Critical Hit, and The Adventure Zone take listeners on regular D&D adventures.
But David Ewalt
, author of the recent book Of Dice and Men, remembers when things were different. When he first started gaming, back in the early ’80s, the very idea of fantasy role-playing terrified parents and teachers.
Want to know what Brian Train is working on? It’s not all counterinsurgency! Check out his summary of forthcoming wargame designs at Ludic Futurism.