Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Twas the night before PAXmas…


The PAXsims team of gaming and simulation elves is pleased to present our latest compilation of items on conflict simulation and serious games. Ryan Kuhns and Corinne Goldberger contributed to this latest edition.

Happy holidays!


According to an article in The Independent, China has decided to use gamification to help monitor and encourage political compliance:

As Extra Credits explains on YouTube: “If you post pictures of Tiananmen Square or share a link about the recent stock market collapse, your Sesame Credit goes down.

“Share a link from the state-sponsored news agency about how good the economy is doing and your score goes up.”

Similarly, Sesame Credit can analyse data from online purchases.

“If you’re making purchases the state deems valuable, like work shoes or local agricultural products, your score goes up.

“If you import anime from Japan though, down the score goes.”

Most insidious of all, the app will have real world consequences. According to Extra Credits, high scores will grant users benefits: “Like making it easier to get the paperwork you need to travel or making it easier to get a loan.

Although the ratings are currently optional, the social tool will become mandatory by 2020.

There have even been rumours about implementing penalties for low scores: “Like slower internet speeds, or restricting jobs a low scoring person is allowed to hold.”

The system could also become a powerful tool for social conditioning, as users could lose points for having friends with low obedience scores.

An earlier report by the BBC in October paints a slightly different picture, noting that Sesame Credit is being developed by Alibaba, the Chinese e-Commerce company as both a product linked to their online shopping portals. However, these seems little doubt that Beijing is monitoring such experiments, and hoping to use its own fusion of “big data” from scores of government and other databases as a mechanism of social control.


The latest issue of Infnity Journal 5, 1 (Fall 2015) contains a valuable article by Adam Elkus on “Strategic Logic and the Logical of Computational Modelling:

Computational theories, models, and simulations are revolutionizing countless areas of research.[i] Could they do the same for strategy? Yes, but only if strategic theory’s core concepts and questions can be captured within the logic of computational modeling. This article justifies this argument by exploring why previous attempts at modeling strategy have failed and why different assumptions about modeling could yield more positive results. The article investigates this debate by first examining challenges in strategic theory and why mathematics and models have not been attractive to strategic researchers. Next, it is explained how computational modeling may be of assistance to inquiries in strategic theory. Finally, the theoretical insights of the prior section are practically outlined by a comparative analysis of how research concerns in strategy can be best matched with different styles of computer program design.


Two recent discussions of the GMT COIN wargames have appeared in interesting places: Michael Peck reviews Fire in the Lake (Vietnam) at Small Wars Journal, while on the GrogCast podcast, James Sterret of (Simulations and Exercise Division, Digital Leader Development Center, US Army Command and General Staff College) discusses the COIN system and a number of other wargaming topics.


The folks at Decisive Point have been contracted by the US Army to produce a new game intended to crowdsource the testing and evaluation of future Army combat systems and doctrine:

Decisive-Point was awarded a contract to develop a computer wargame for the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC). The purpose of this wargame is to provide an Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP) environment for the exploration and assessment of future doctrinal concepts and potential organizational and material solutions. While playing the game, users will role-play tactical unit commanders of future combat units at the brigade level and below. They will have the opportunity to explore future operating capabilities as they conduct simulated offensive and defensive operations during a hypothetical future conflict. The potential effects of next generation weapon systems including robotics, electromagnetic rail gun and laser technologies can be explored. The game system will facilitate the collection of combat development data generated by soldiers, analysts, and researchers as they play various user-created scenarios. The game data and player feedback will provide concept developers quick insights into the feasibility, acceptability, and supportability of future combat systems.

h/t Jim Lunsford


JDMS header

An article by Ruibiao Guo and Kevin Sprague on Replication of human operators’ situation assessment and decision making for simulated area reconnaissance in wargames appears in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (online first 2015).


At ExPatt (the Patterson School magazine of foreign affairs), Maddie Higdon and Lee Clark and discuss diplomatic strategy according to the videogame Mass Effect.

…Welcome to the world of intergalactic relations. This is just one example of the countless nuanced situations that the Mass Effect games ask players to navigate. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and it has intellectual value for developing diplomatic abilities. Think of Mass Effect as a really creative training simulation for negotiators.

The Mass Effect franchise is made up of widely successful video games, books, and comics. A feature film is rumored for the near future.  The franchise explores an incredible universe in which countless alien species interact, negotiate, and wage war with one another. The Mass Effect universe is based on the premise that as alien and human societies develop and begin to explore space, they eventually discover technology left behind by a long-extinct race of all-knowing beings that allows faster-than-light travel. By using this technology, the various species are able to conduct large-scale economic, social, and military relations with one another.

The series focuses on Commander Shepard, a space captain fighting to save humanity from a myriad of existential threats by negotiating alliances with amenable alien organizations. The video games in the franchise gained widespread popularity in large part due to the freedom of choice offered to players. Players can customize everything about the hero, from appearance, gender, and abilities, to personality and diplomatic approach. By customizing the character, the player creates a unique gaming experience because every decision in the game affects the events that unfold.

Shepard must navigate a nuanced and interconnected world where NGOs, representative bodies, militaries, corporations, and militant groups all compete for conflicting goals. Every species has a representative at an intergalactic Council, tasked with making and enforcing galactic law. But beyond this, every species has splinter groups and diverging interests that make cohesive negotiation difficult. Bioware, the game’s developers, really went for the gold in creating a complex diplomatic world to navigate….


On 3-5 March 2016, the Mellon Foundation Project on Civilian-Military Educational Cooperation and the US Air Force Academy conducted a crisis simulation on implementation of an Iran nuclear deal. You’ll find some details here.


At the blog Stohasmoi: What do we Know about IR?, Konstantinos Travlos discusses the use of the classic game Diplomacy in teaching international relations.


Don’t forget that AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is on sale until December 31. Order now, and save $10!

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