Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 20 November 2015


PAXsims is pleased to present its latest round-up of recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.



The latest—and long delayed—issue of Battles magazine finally arrived in my mailbox last week. In addition to all of its regular wargaming goodness, it contains several items that address the political and social diomensions of (simulated) warfare:

  • Matthew Kirschenbaum discusses gaming nuclear armageddon in “Let’s Play Global Thermonuclear War.”
  • Marc Guenette discusses the GMT COIN series in “You’ve Been Coined!” (previously reviewed at PAXsims here and here and here and here).
  • In “Among the People,” Joel Tappen discussed how his professional life has influenced, and been influenced by, the design of his game Navajo Wars.
  • John Burtt reviews BCT Command Kandahar (previously reviewed at PAXsims here).

Regarding game mechanics, Philip Sabin’s defence of “Igo-Ugo” systems is well worth reading too.



The Journal of the Philosophy of Games is a new open-access journal that will “explore philosophical issues raised by the study of games, with a particular emphasis on computer games.” You’ll find their call for papers for the inaugural issue here.


Wargames are often about exploring alternative histories, and using counterfactuals to examine conflict dynamics and test possible causal relationships. Philip Sabin has written about this extensively in Simulating War, and we’ve explored the issue a little at PAXsims too.

Given that, those interested in the analytical gaming will find much of interest in a recent issue of Security Studies 24, 4 (2015), which has a symposium devoted to counterfactual analysis. While none of the articles address gaming per se, they do tackle some of the bigger epistemological, methodological, and other issues at stake:

  • Symposium on Counterfactual Analysis: Note to Readers
    • Andrew BennettColin Elman and John M. Owen
  • Counterfactuals, Causal Inference, and Historical Analysis
    • Jack S. Levy
  • Counterfactuals and Security Studies
    • Richard Ned Lebow
  • “What If” History Matters? Comparative Counterfactual Analysis and Policy Relevance
    • Frank Harvey
  • What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual
    • Francis J. Gavin


The FBI was planning to roll-out a gamified website intended to counter violent extremism among youth this month. They’ve delayed this, however, amid a backlash within the Muslim community. According to the Washington Post:

The FBI has designed an unusual game-style Web site about extremism meant to be used by teachers and students to help the agency spot and prevent radicalization of youth, say Muslim and Arab advocacy groups who were briefed by the FBI on the program and fear it will foment discrimination against Muslims.

The law enforcement agency characterized the program, which appears to be the first aimed at the nation’s schools, as one that will keep youth from falling prey to online recruiting by terrorists. But some members of the Muslim and Arab advocacy groups invited to preview the effort complained that despite being described as combatting “violent extremism,” it frames the topic heavily through the lens of Islam and will lead to profiling of Muslim youth.

You’ll also find coverage of the issue in the New York Times and International Business Times.

Getting this right is difficult—games can risk stereotyping, appearing far too preachy, failing to connect with the target audience, or might even have negative and unintended consequences.

PAXsimsAlso on the issue of terrorism, the recent terrorist attackers in Paris generated much speculation that the attackers had plotted using the chat functionality of the PS4 game console:

[Belgian federal home affairs minister Jan] Jambon also reportedly warned of the growing use by terror networks of the PlayStation 4 gaming console, which allows terrorists to communicate with each other and is difficult for the authorities to monitor. “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp,” he said.

The gaming console also was implicated in ISIL’s plans back in June, when an Austrian teen was arrested for downloading bomb plans to his PS4.

Whether or not this turns out to be the case remains to be seen—initial reports like this often turn out to be inaccurate. However, concerns about game systems being used for nefarious purposes are not new—see, for example, the discussions here and here.


I’ll be travelling for the next several weeks, in part to attend the Connections Australia interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Melbourne on December 14-15. PAXsims updates may be a little less frequent during that time.


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