PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 February 2016

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious games that might be of interest to PAXsims readers. Ryan Kuhns and Christian Palmer contributed material to this latest edition.

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In Foreign Policy magazine last week, Derek Caelin asked “Can Your PlayStation Stop a War?

He’s cautiously hopeful about the transformative peacebuilding potential of games:

As this newer generation of the genre has evolved, it has shown that it also has the ability to change attitudes: Role-playing and self-persuasion can have profound and long-lasting effects on attitudes and behavior. In PeaceMaker, an influential social-impact game from 2007, the player acts as the head of state for one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tries to achieve a peaceful resolution. The player must respond to conflicting pressures from opposing parties and react to shifting political circumstances in order to accomplish this goal. One 2012 study of the title found that the experience had a significant impact on the audience’s perceptions of the parties of the conflict. When 68 participants played as the Palestinian leader, their perceptions of both parties shifted dramatically, causing many to reevaluate, at least in the short term, their opinions of the challenges faced by leaders in this conflict.

It is this element that is the most promising aspect of games for peacebuilders: that cleverly designed games have the potential to shift the way a player reacts to and behaves in the world.

But despite the potential obstacles and skepticism, the idea of using video games to make peace is worthwhile. Their suggestive reach is already being used to help fuel wars and spur recruitment into fighting forces. Whether it is Hezbollah creating games to allow players to digitally participate in the 2006 war with Israel, Islamic State supporters modifying Grand Theft Auto, or even the U.S. military recruiting youth with America’s Army, games are already being employed to allow their audience to participate in a conflict. And if they can be harnessed to serve war, games should and must be used to power peace.

We at PAXsims like peace, and we like game and simulations. It’s certainly good that Caelin is highlighting some of the possible connections. Unfortunately the piece suffers a bit from a  jumble of related (and somewhat trendy) ideas—games are popular, games shape attitudes, some peace games have been made, crowdfunding is cool, some games have been modestly effective in particular contexts—and doesn’t necessarily advance the art, science, and associated debates a great deal.

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The American Political Science Association’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference recently concluded in Portland Oregon. The Active Learning in Political Science blog has plenty of reporting from the event:

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Released on Steam last year are two political simulations: President for a Day: Corruption and President for a day: Floodings.

President for a Day- Corruption gives you the opportunity to assume the role of an African president. As such, you must make controversial decisions revolving around topics such as: democratic evolution, corruption, development aid- and cooperation.

President for A Day: Floodings is a turn-based strategy game where YOU are the President of Pakistan. With two weeks to Election Day, the monsoon could not come at a worse time. And in its wake comes famine, cholera, rebels, and much more. Can you save the nation in its hour of need?

Reviews have been mixed to mildly positive. Both games were developed by Serious Games Interactive—yes, the same company responsible for last year’s slave-trading simulation/debacle.

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Business Insider reports on a refugee simulation held at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

I did the simulation. It was not even 1% of what a refugee actually experiences, but it was enough to provide a jolt to my senses. It was by far the most illuminating thing I’ve experienced here. It was much better than a talk about what’s happening with refugees.

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The Harvard Crimson reports on a new course at Harvard University on “Global Response to Disasters and Refugee Crises” that incorporates the annual Harvard Humanitarian Initiative field simulation.

The new course culminates in an optional crisis simulation in which students can apply what they’ve learned in a more realistic setting. Students will spend three days in a forest by North Andover, experiencing “the discomfort of being in the field,” according to VanRooyen.

The students in GHHP 70 will play the role of refugees, while graduate students, humanitarian professionals, and members of the U.S. military will act as aid workers.

“They have to work in teams,” VanRooyen said. “They work with U.N. agencies and military and NGOs and child soldiers and rebel militias and news media and all of those things to really understand the feeling of the field and to perform within it.”

The simulation, which has run for more than 10 years, has grown “in complexity and nuance” since its first iteration, VanRooyen said. Prior to this semester, the simulation run by the course heads was only available to graduate students and professionals in the field of humanitarian aid.

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The Memorial Student Center Student Conference on National Affairs at Texas A&M University is cosponsoring a two day international relations/crisis simulation this week:

The MSC Student Conference on National Affairs, SCONA, and the U.S. Army War College will host a simulated “real world” crisis involving students representing multiple nations from around the world. Students will have the opportunity to negotiate through a crisis in an international conflict zone.

The International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise, ISCNE, will be held in the Memorial Student Center on Feb. 16 to Feb. 17 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The exercise is a closed event only open to registered delegates.

The event is a scenario driven, two-day exercise put on by the U.S. Army War College and is usually reserved for graduate schools, said Felix Perez, public relations director for ISCNE. However, Texas A&M is one of the few undergraduate institutions that has been given the opportunity to participate in this event. Each year there is a crisis that has to be resolved. Within the exercise there will be seven represented nations with about 60 participants who will have to solve the crisis.

“Each nation is briefed by their respective country’s foreign minister who in actuality is a representative from the U.S. army War College and will be given a list of criteria that their country has to highlight and take into consideration throughout the negotiations,” Perez said.

The countries that will be represented in this exercise range from Armenia, Turkey, the United States, Iran and more.

Further details can be found on their Facebook page.

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