PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Reflections on a megagame

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On February 20 more than one hundred participants gathered at McGill University for Montréal’s first ever megagame: New World Order 2035, designed by Jim Wallman. NWO2035 wasn’t a serious game, to be sure: during almost seven hours of play, this particular future involved—among many other things—a nuclear attack by terrorists against New York, aided by a rogue Turkish defence minister; a multinational corporation willing to threaten the world with space-based bioweapons; a secret Brazilian hunter-killer satellite programme based in Antarctica; genetically reengineered dinosaurs; an Australian plot to influence the UN Security Council with mind-control drugs; a global warming treaty; a hyperactive Vatican, solving major global problems; the launch of the USS Trump, one of two American orbital battlestations; and Japan’s creation of a sentient artificial intelligence. The latter, known as Mycroft, promptly hacked the world’s high-tech militaries in an effort to end war, and/or possibly enslave humanity.

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Setting up at 8am.

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Jim gives the pre-game briefing.

Overall I thought it went very well indeed, and I certainly had a great time. Feedback from most participants has been very positive too.

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The game underway.

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Science!

NWO2035 also provided some insight into the challenges of running mass-participation games:

  • The Control team was key. Ours was outstanding, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Many thanks are due to Kaitlyn Bowman (UN), Claire Sinofsky (Americas/Pacific), Karen Holstead (Europe/Central), Ruth Gopin (Africa), Isabelle Dufresne-Lienert (Media), Merouan Mekouar (Corporate), Vince Carpini (Science), and Tom Fisher (Economic).
  • Megagames are chaotic by nature, the rules are flexible, and player creativity is encouraged. We saw that at NWO 2035 too. However, I think we might have done a slightly better job of adapting the game to the audience. Most megagames have a very high proportion of hobby gamers (who are perhaps more inclined to study the rules and briefings in depth before the game), and a significant proportion of veteran megagamers who know what to expect. By contrast, fewer of the participants were hobbyists, most were students, and almost none had played in a megagame before. Consequently when we next run a  game like this for a similar audience, it would be worth spending more time orienting players, and streamlining some game mechanisms to make them easier or more intuitive.
  • Turn length will shape not only game pace, but the entire atmosphere of the event. We deliberately ran a quite fast clock, with turns taking a maximum of 40 minutes, and the various phases usually lasting 5-10 minutes. Had we made the turns longer we would have had more thoughtful and coordinated actions, perhaps—but at the cost of the frenetic buzz that characterized almost all of the game. Personally I rather liked the hectic nature of it all.
  • The media role is an essential one, but presents particular challenges too. In NWO2035 I thought that the Global News Network did an outstanding job, reporting simulation news via blog, tweets, and live announcements. However, some of the media team felt that they weren’t full participants, but instead were largely limited to rebroadcasting press statements provided to them by the players. We should have been clearer that they were under no obligation to report everything, and that they were free to set their own journalistic agenda. We might have also explained more fully the various investigatory tools they had available to them to uncover the many secrets and conspiracies in the game. I also know from more than a decade of running the equally large Brynania civil war simulation that the press role is one that isn’t for everyone: some participants love breaking an important story, while others would prefer to do the sorts of things that states and other overtly political-military actors do.
  • Be prepared for technical problems. We encountered dodgy VGA cables, a data projector that would randomly shut down, and a wireless mic that ran out of batteries part way through the game. Fortunately spare cables, a flip chart, and shouting allowed us to overcome those problems. I forgot to properly charge my GoPro too, which was annoying.
  • The staff at New Residence Hall were extremely helpful throughout. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue.

I’ll encourage other members of the “Control Illuminati” to post their own reflections. If we run another McGill megagame next year we’ll also be sure to announce it first here at PAXsims.

You’ll find further reflections here:

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GNN at work.

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Post-game debrief.

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4 responses to “Reflections on a megagame

  1. Robert Cordery 26/02/2016 at 5:34 am

    Megagames can be a steep learning curve for everyone involved … and not everyone can keep up and hence problems can arise. I have taken part in several, and on one occasion I was part of the Luftwaffe HQ team (chief-of-staff) during a re-fight of Operation Sealion. We controlled several smaller subordinate teams, one of which just refused to communicate with us. The team was a group of wargamers from a club, and they were just playing it as a wargame. They ignored the briefing they had been given, and carried on as if they were not part of a command structure. The situation got so bad (there was a danger that they were going to ruin the megagame for everyone else) that I was sent to the team, ‘sacked’ the team leader (who was sent to HQ), and took his place. The rest of the team refused to talk to me until they realised that they had to if they wanted the umpires to listen to them. Within an hour they were acting as they should have been from the start and I returned to HQ and their former leader came back.

    I learned a valuable lesson from this; having megagame teams that are drawn from pre-existing groups can create problems. You need people who can work together but who also understand concepts like command structures, obeying orders when they are given, and giving regular situation reports. I know that Jim Wallman and Tom Mouat do a certain amount of ‘casting’ when if comes to some roles in the megagames that they have run, and this can set the right atmosphere and provided a disciplined and knowledgeable structure of experienced players in crucial roles who can ‘bring on’ less experienced ones.

  2. Tom Fennewald 26/02/2016 at 12:14 pm

    This was so much fun! Props to the game organizers for a great day!

  3. Jon terry 26/02/2016 at 12:18 pm

    Regarding the press it is possible to have a press game that has competition between different media outlets.
    I was press in the last Southampton megagame and we were competing with different outlets with very different agendas.

    The more in depth the story and the more control verified evidence we had the better and that altered our viewership and respectability.

    There was a feedback for other players as well as the things we reported on influenced how effective different factions were.

  4. Rex Brynen 26/02/2016 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve tried competing media teams in the past with the Brynania series of games. Sometimes it has worked well, other times not (largely because each rival media team is smaller than it might have been, and so more overwhelmed by the pace of news).

    I think it is key to have media players who enjoy being the media, and enjoy the intrinsic reward of breaking a story. Interestingly, the one request we had from players who had megagamed elsewhere was “please don’t assign me to the media.” Clearly some people just like to be able to blow things up!

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