Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 19/01/2016

Simulation miscellany, 19 January 2016


PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.


The US Naval Institute Proceedings (January 2016) has an article by Peter Perla on improving wargaming in the US Department of Defense:

Over the past year, the Department of Defense has experienced a high-level reawakening of interest in wargaming. The Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense triggered this rebirth in a series  of memos and meetings starting in November 2014. They called for the DOD “to reinvigorate, institutionalize, and systematize wargaming across the Department.” Although this sudden interest may be new for the DOD, serious, professional wargaming has been practiced around the world for nearly 200 years. Sometimes it has pointed the way toward success. Too often it has been oversold by charlatans, abused by the cynical, and ignored by those who most need to learn from the insights it can offer. Today we face a critical historic inflection point. We can’t afford to miss this important opportunity. It’s time to get wargaming right.

Read the rest of his thoughts here.


At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory discusses the uses for (professional) wargaming:

GHLogoTextThe professionals talk about wargaming in very different terms than the casual hobbyists do. Don’t get me wrong, the professionals know the difference between a hobby or game and their jobs. Most of them also wargame for fun, and have a huge knowledge of the hobby. But for casual wargamers the professional uses of wargames mainly seem like two cases, and an occasional third.

The first are those games played to learn something. Those are used when introducing new material to help maintain interest in participation on the part of the learners, and help with recall of important information learned through ‘gameifying” the content.

The second paradigm envisioned by the hobbyists are those used for training. These are primarily used to practice existing skills, so as command post training.  Many times, these training events take place with participants who understand their roles and responsibilities, but have not ever executed them under the time- and event-pressures of a simulated military operation.  With the unit turnover that’s present every year, it only makes sense that units would avail themselves of every opportunity to put wargames to use training their new members.

The final usage may be familiar to some hobbyists, but not widely so. Many professionals will use for gaming in a decision-making process test an idea for compare different courses of action.  This step is explicitly called out in the Military Decision-Making Process taught in the Army, and similar ones exist in other services.  Whenever preparing multiple courses of action, planners are instructed to “wargame” those courses of action to compare them against each other along certain specified criteria.  Some hobbyists are familiar with this process.

There is a fourth way that they are used. It’s one that I only became aware of about 5 years ago, even with my own experience as a professional in the wargaming world. Some wargames are used in a curriculum in order to build interest in the material, as well as serving as a baseline for the instructors to establish students body of knowledge. This sort of working makes for a very interactive introduction into the new material, it gives all of the participants a shared experience going forward, that the instructors can readily reference as a common basis of comparison during subsequent instruction….



Registration for the 84th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society is now open. The conference will be held on 20-23 June 2016 in Quantico, VA.

The submission deadline for abstracts is 17 March. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll be able to attend this year.


Power & Revolution, the latest version of the digital game Geo-Political Simulator, will be released in February or March:

Power & Revolution, Geo-Political Simulator 4, incorporates many new features including a new game experience that allows players to play as legal or illegal opposition, manage the budget of the party or illegal organization, media interventions, political manipulation, elections campaign (now including a specific scenario for the 2016 US elections), launch protest movements, raise an army…

The game also boasts tactical wargame phases in cities during popular uprisings or armed conflicts, with the ability to control all types of elements (protesters, hooligans, armed extremists, police forces, police vans, helicopters, snipers, armored vehicles…).

The major conflicts in the world are simulated (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Nigeria, Yemen…) with the finest details: front lines, occupied territories, besieged cities, locations of military units, international military bases, personnel and equipment of terrorist groups…

PAXsims previously reviewed Geo-Political Simulator 3 in 2013.


In the Huffington Post, Omar Sayfo reflects on how the online digital game Clash of Clans reflects some of the dynamics of the Syrian civil war:

Being a 33-year-old academic, I found it hard to rationalize to my friends and family my infatuation with Clash of Clans, a childish but rather addictive online strategy game, until I met Hosam. While waiting for his refugee application to be accepted, the 24-year-old man from eastern Aleppo spent much of his time online through his Samsung phone, browsing news, chatting on Whatsapp, and playing Clash of Clans. As Hosam explained, fighting in a clan from his Syrian hometown and coordinating battles against clans they were randomly matched with around the globe was one of the ways he maintained spiritual ties with the land and community he had left behind.

Hosam’s experience piqued my personal and academic curiosity, and eventually prompted me to explore how Syria’s conflict is reflected in the virtual reality of a game, highly popular among Syrian youth.

After some browsing, I joined the “Idleb Heroes,” a clan of forty players from my family’s province in the northern part of Syria, a region that since March 2015 has come under the complete control of the Islamist opposition.

The clan I found is a strong community of young males between 16 and 24 living in various parts of the Sunni-majority province, playing on cheap smartphones charged by external batteries to keep the game on even during the daily blackouts. However, lack of electricity was not the main obstacle: when the Internet was cut off in the middle of a clan war, many of our carefully devised strategies went to waste. For the clan, Clash of Clans seemed to be more than a simple game, as the chat function was eventually used for reporting on the Assad regime’s air strikes, and also to check whether all the members were alive….

It’s a fascinating piece, and well worth reading in its entirety.


James Sterrett recently reviewed AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at BoardGameGeeks. You’ll find the review here.



Georgetown University in Qatar recently completed a simulation exercise about a fictional crisis in the South Caucasus, focusing on rising tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan Over Nagorno-Karabakh:

This year, the annual training event engaged teams of students representing Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, Russia, the United States, and Turkey, actual parties to the real conflict on which it’s based, in intensive, bilateral and multilateral negotiations that reconstruct real-world diplomatic processes. GU-Q’s prestigious flagship event, unparalleled by any other program in Qatar or the region, is organized in collaboration with Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) in Washington D.C.

“The crisis simulation is a tremendous learning opportunity for our students regardless of which major they are pursuing,” said Dr. Christine Schiwietz, assistant dean for academic affairs at GU-Q and program organizer. “The critical thinking skills and negotiation tactics they learn in the process of resolving the diplomatic crisis will empower our students in both a personal and professional capacity, not just for those pursuing careers in Foreign Service.”…


At the Active Learning in Political Science blog, Simon Usherwood discusses the importance and challenges of assessing student learning in simulations:

I’ve seen a wide range of sims that claim to have a wide range of effects, and I can’t saw that I can spot the common theme or mechanism. Maybe there isn’t one, but only a flexibly-constructed set of mechanisms. But then I’ve also yet to see a clear example of a sim that didn’t achieve anything: there has always been something that could be dragged from the wreckage, intentional or not.

Perhaps this is the secret: that in creating such open and flexible spaces for learning, we also create a failsafe for learning: simulations are explicitly about creating a meta-cognition of the learning processes, in their creation of a world-within-the-world. Maybe we can never truly fail.

On this very last point, I’m somewhat less optimistic: I’ve certainly seen simulations with what I felt were adverse learning or analytical outcomes.


Oxford’s Bodleian Library is currently featuring Playing with History, an exhibit featuring some of the 1,500 games donated to the library by collector and historian Richard Ballam:

Playing with History celebrates Richard Ballam’s donation to the Bodleian of his rich and varied collection of games and pastimes. This small selection gives us insights into the presentation of history to children, and the ways in which they were encouraged to engage with contemporary issues, such as War and Empire through game play.

You’ll find a BBC report on the exhibit here. The exhibit runs until March 6, and admission is free.


Middle East Monitor has put together a simple browser game entitled A Refugee’s Journey:

You know of people who managed to escape to Europe, some neighbours and an aunt made it to northern Europe and are now starting to rebuild their lives. The idea of being far away from the war in Syria and in a country which has more prospects for jobs and education is something you have been thinking about for a while. The harder it gets in Raqqa, the more promising life in Europe sounds.

How will you get there?

PAXsims has previously covered a somewhat similar educational game by the BBC, Syrian Journey (as well as some of the reaction it sparked).


According to the British Psychological Society, a simulation-based experiment has explored how personality affects crisis management:

The most effective crisis managers show strong preferences for variety at work and keep their cool when operating outside of their comfort zones says a study presented today at the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology in Nottingham. It also found those who demonstrate more self-discipline and stick to the rules are considered less effective at dealing with a crisis.

82 participants took part in disaster simulation exercises and were asked to complete a series of personality questionnaires. Then they were assessed on their performance by experts.

The results from the study confirm that personality assessment can make a useful contribution to identifying and training crisis management personnel. The key areas to assess are leadership, extraversion and emotional stability. Furthermore, specific predictor scales, including those assessing ‘variety seeking’, ‘self-discipline’ and ‘need for rules’ enhance prognosis.


According to a recent paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 58, 3 (January 2016), individuals who play play fantasy and science fiction role-playing games,”scored significantly higher than the comparison group on the IRI scale of empathy, confirming the hypothesis that fantasy role-players report experiencing higher levels of empathic involvement with others,” suggesting that”fantasy role-players have a uniquely empathically-imaginative style.”

h/t Geek & Sundry


— Photo courtesy Google Play store

Clearly, however, empathy was in short supply in the (government) Punjab IT board, which recently released Pakistan Army Retribution, a first person shooter set based on the Peshawar Army Public School attack of December 2014. According to a review in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn:

Whether or not a game should have been designed around the Army Public School massacre is a different debate altogether. No one, especially families of the victims, would ever want to re-live that dark day. But oddly enough, the developers decided to recreate those moments for a gaming experience.

The game, which begins with the Pakistan national anthem, depicts events that took place on the dreadful day as terrorists breached the school’s security.

The player’s task is to lead soldiers into the main building and eliminate the heavily armed terrorists scattered throughout the premises.

As much as some would argue, the desire to tackle an attacker visiting the school in this virtual manner is in poor taste. The Peshawar attack was a tragedy that holds national significance since it sent the entire nation into trauma. Any recreation of the carnage that day seems insensitive.

The game provoked heated reaction on Pakistani social media, and was subsequently removed from the Google Play store. You’ll find further reporting by the BBC here.


Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was prohibited from possessing tanks. It therefore created fake tanks for military exercises. You’ll find more on this piece of (simulated) panzer history at War is Boring.


According to data released by Kickstarter, “more than 978,000 backers pledged over $144.4 million to games projects” in 2015. Almost twice as much was pledged to boardgames, compared to digital games.

According to an analysis in SiliconAngle:

One possible explanation for the popularity of physical games over digital games on Kickstarter is the greatly reduced development time and lower chance of overall failure compared to video games.

Unlike video games, tabletop games are generally not constrained by technological limitations or negatively affected by feature creep (the tendency for crowdfunded video games to tack on more and more features as more money is raised, increasing the complexity and dev time).

Perhaps one of the most interesting statistics to come Kickstarter’s report is the fact while tabletop games raised twice as much money as video games and were nearly three times as likely to be funded, the total number of backers was not significantly different between the two. Tabletop campaigns were backed by 522,061 people, whereas video game campaigns were backed by 480,382 people, a difference of only around 8 percent.


Montreal-area libraries will be holding the 4th annual Festival Montréal joue from 20 February to 6 March 2016.

Le Festival Montréal joue et ses quelque 60 partenaires prévoient offrir plus de 300 activités et rendez-vous gratuits permettant de s’initier et de plonger dans l’univers du jeu sous toutes ses formes : jeux vidéo, jeux de société, jeux de rôle et plus encore! Les organisateurs visent à investir les 45 bibliothèques de Montréal et une vingtaine de sites.


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