Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: March 2016

US NWC seeks Chair of Wargaming Department


The US Naval War College is looking for a Chair of its Wargaming Department:


The United States Naval War College (NWC) anticipates a full-time faculty opening in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS) in Newport, RI, and invites applications for the position of Chair, Wargaming Department.

The Naval War College (NWC) is a Professional Military Education (PME) institution serving the nation, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy. The College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and offers a Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies and a MA in Defense and Strategic Studies.

The position operates under the direction of the Dean, CNWS. CNWS serves as the nexus for broad-based, advanced research on the naval contribution to a national strategy. The Center produces scholarship and original research and fosters critical and innovative thinking on current and evolving operational challenges of importance for the Navy and the nation. The Center links the Naval War College to the fleet and policymakers in Washington by serving as a focal point for strategic and operational thought.

Wargaming Department: War gaming is an integral component of the Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) program at the NWC. The Wargaming Department contributes to this by conducting high quality gaming, research, analysis and education to support the broader missions of the College. As a recognized center of excellence for wargaming coupled with the renewed emphasis on gaming throughout the Department of Defense and the US Navy, the Wargaming Department is continually innovating and adapting to the changing security environment, developments in military and commercial technology, and to the needs of the DoD and the Navy—while simultaneously leading and leveraging advances in gaming and analytical practices and tools.

Responsibilities: As the prospective head of the Wargaming Department the Chair: (1) oversees a dynamic group of faculty, staff, military and contractor personnel in the effective execution of the wargaming schedule and assures the quality and timeliness of the resultant analytical products; (2) leads the adaptive change necessary to resourcefully capitalize on the established core attributes of the department to strengthen critical thinking, speed up the learning cycle and create opportunities to advance the art of wargaming; (3) in conjunction with the Dean, CNWS, develops a wargaming research program that will meet these needs of the Navy, supports the goals of the College and when directed supports other stakeholders though wargames and related activities consistent with the resources available; (4) works collaboratively across CNWS, the Naval War College and to external staff and stakeholders to carry out the College’s research, educational and outreach missions; (5) manages the Wargaming Department budget to include funding for information systems and other material resources and the funding for contractor support to the department and various other entities within the College; (6) maintains a far-reaching network of contacts within the naval and defense, academic, international, and commercial sectors.

Qualifications and Competencies: The College seeks candidates recognized as experts in the field of defense and military research and analysis with an understanding of and experience in wargaming. Qualified candidates must have an advanced degree from an accredited university; a Ph.D. is preferred though other candidates demonstrating an exceptionally high level of accomplishment and experience will be considered. As this a key leadership position at the College, experience serving in senior leadership positions in complex organizations, preferably in the national security or military arena and/or academia, is required. Expertise in a national security field, military operations or in research and analysis is required. Candidates’ accomplishments must merit appointment as a full professor at the College. The successful candidate must demonstrate an in-depth understanding and knowledge of current strategic and operational challenges facing Navy leadership in the international and regional security environments. Candidates must demonstrate evidence of their expertise through a combination of education, research and practical experience. This position requires that candidates must be capable of obtaining a Department of Defense TOP SECRET/SCI security clearance. The selected candidate will be subject to a pre-employment drug screening test and to random drug testing thereafter.

Salary Considerations: Rank and salary commensurate with experience and credentials in accordance with the Department of the Navy Faculty Schedule.

Application Process: Candidates desiring to apply for this position should reference VA#NWC-16-15 and submit their application electronically to The application package should include an application cover letter, curriculum vitae, and the names and contact information for three references. Any current or prior military service should be described including assignments, positions held, highest rank attained, and dates of service in the CV or resume. Applications will be accepted until May 7, 2016. Questions should be directed to the Chair of the Selection Committee, Dr. Andrew Winner at The Naval War College is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

h/t Stephen Downes-Martin 

PAXsims reaches 1,000 posts


Well, it rather crept up on us—apparently our previous post was the 1,000th item posted to PAXsims since we first established the website six years ago.

I guess it’s on to the next one thousand now…

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 March 2015


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. PAXsims research associate Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest report.



Larry Bond and Chris Carlson—whose credits include best-selling fiction, the influential naval wargame series Harpoon, and more recently Persian Incursion—are interviewed at the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) blog:

There has been a fair amount of recent commentary on some of the challenges with wargaming, and where it should go. What are your opinions on this?

Commercial wargaming is a recreational activity, and fashions come and go in any industry. There’s a constant demand for innovative products, which can create not just new games but entire new genres. Miniatures games go back well before H.G. Wells’ book Little Wars, and board games to Kriegspiel in the 1870s, but in recent times we’ve added role-playing, computer games, collectible card games, and LARPing. Grabbing the players’ interest (and his dollar) will be a constant struggle.

From our own personal experiences, wargaming has a fantastic training and education capability. We’ve watched more “light bulbs” go on when players start to understand and appreciate a particular historical situation. A good game brings history to life and is far more instructive than just reading a dusty textbook about a particular battle. Wargaming, done properly, can be very useful for basic familiarization, looking at alternative courses of action, even analysis. The concept of wargaming is currently on the upswing, but we’ll have to see if this new appreciation is a true change in perception, or just a fad.

Read the full interview at the link above.



ExPatt, the magazine of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky, discusses their most recent crisis and negotiation simulation:

Students of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, joined by students of the School of Journalism, participated in their spring crisis simulation on February 26-27. The topic this year: the European Union’s migrant crisis and the division of Belgium. This was the 11th crisis simulation for Patterson and fit well with the turn of events unfolding in the fall within the EU.

Students were divided into five teams representing the U.S., France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany; and leaders for each team were strategically picked by the Simulation Control (or ‘Sim Control’). Additionally, the school brought in Dr. Nick Clark of Susquehanna University to act as European Commissioner and to give background on EU history to the participants.

Among the challenges addresses were mass migration, terrorism, and intra-EU relations.



Russia has banned the Polish-made boardgame Kolejka (“Queue”) because of its depiction of communist-era shopping. According to Quartz:

The fraught relationship between Russia and Poland is playing out in an unexpected way: in a conflict over a board game. Russian authorities have decided that a popular Polish game that has been dubbed “Communist Monopoly” disseminates anti-Soviet content, and thus should not be sold in Russia’s stores.

The Russian version of the “Queue,” which simulates the experience of shopping in the empty stores of communist-era Poland, was released in Russia in November 2015. Several months later, the country’s consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor informed the game’s Polish producer TREFL that if it does not change the historical content of the game, it would have to take all of its products that are on the Russian market out of circulation, according to IPN, the Polish historical institute behind the game. IPN says that Russians have been allegedly filing complaints to authorities, outraged by a negative description of the communist system, and by the information that the Soviet Union had forcibly installed a communist regime in another country. For Poles, who lived under a Soviet-backed communist regime for nearly five decades, the historical irony is palpable.

IPN refuses to make the changes, and so “Queue” is no longer available in stores in Russia. The head of IPN’s education department, Andrzej Zawistowski, said that the charges were “absurd” and a result of Russia’s so-called “politics of memory.”

“When Russia takes the Soviet Union’s history as its own, it leads to some Russians thinking that criticizing the Soviet Union as a totalitarian regime is the same as attacking contemporary Russia,” Zawistowski told IAR, a Polish radio agency.

“Queue” was released in Poland in 2011, with translations into five languages. It aims to show a younger generation of Poles the exasperation of everyday life in communist-era Poland. Players have to buy all the products on their shopping lists in the five stores in the neighborhood–or on the black market. They have to wait for the products to be re-stocked, and in order to advance in the line, they can use cards such as “mother with child.” The game quickly became a hit, drawing long lines to get one, ironically.

You’ll find more about the game at BoardGameGeek.




The family of the late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi were unhappy about his depiction in the videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops II—so they sued the game’s maker, Activision.

As the BBC reported earlier this week, they lost:

A French court has rejected a case in which the family of late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi sued the makers of Call of Duty over his depiction in the best-selling video game.

Three of Savimbi’s children accused Activision Blizzard of defamation by representing him as a “barbarian”.

Magistrates said the lawsuit contained procedural flaws and that they had no jurisdiction in the case.


The family was seeking €1m ($1.1m; £0.75m) in damages.

“We are disappointed,” Savimbi’s son Cheya was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.



At The Verge, they discuss whether virtual (or augmented) reality headsets might transform table-top gaming:

Not so long ago, I would have mistook the augmented reality headset CastAR for magic or martian technology. In my demo at last week’s Game Developers Conference, the glasses made a real coffee table look like an animated game of Battleship, in which the ocean floor dipped through the wood and mortars arced inches above the surface. In another mode, toy army men fought one another, firing their plastic machine guns behind cover of a tiny car. Then two battalions of tanks traded artillery on a European countryside. While it’s far from the spectacular press images, above, CastAR’s augmented reality is no less an unforgettable experience.

There are certainly many exciting potential applications of  VR to gaming beyond its obvious use to expand traditional videogames. However, there are a few issues that the report does not address.

One of these is the continuing problem of virtual reality sickness, whereby many users report nausea after extended play. While this can be minimized by both technical means (for example, higher frame rates) and game design (fewer nausea-inducing perspectives and movements), it remains a significant barrier.

Another issue is tangibility: for many tabletop gamers, the physicality of game pieces is a key part of the gaming experience. For more on this aspect, see (VR researcher) Marcus Carter‘s excellent 2015 DiGRA paper on the role of physical dice-rolling for Warhammer 40K players, as well as some of my own reflections on the resonance of physical components.

h/t Adam Elkus 



The latest in the Tom Clancy videogame series, The Division, has been getting generally positive reviews. (Ubisoft’s promotion for the game also included an epidemic outbreak simulation that can be customized for your own location.)

However, at Wired Daniel Starkey worries about the implicit message of the game:

…Here you slaughter looters and riot-leaders en masse. And while farcical levels of violence are common in many games, The Division is also a Tom Clancy game, which brings with it an assumed air of realism.

That’s supported by the fact that Ubisoft painstakingly recreated Manhattan for the game. The accuracy is even a major piece of its promotional campaign.

When we start to factor in this presentation of ruffians and common thieves as heavily-armed, unreasonable monster-analogues, that starts becoming a critical problem. At the very least it comes off as tone-deaf at a time when the U.S. faces a lot of questions about how it responds to questions about government overreach and police brutality.

Common street punks are shown with military-grade hardware—machine guns, bombs, grenades, etc. They cannot be reasoned with or placated. At best you’ll get a few terse lines and a battle cry before they charge you. It’s a narrative throughline that’s eerily similar to the worst perceptions of the men, women and children at the end of our police’s gun barrels. This, we’re told, is New York, and these are its people: Recklessly violent to the point of being suicidal, and armed to teeth with the world’s most lethal war machines.

The Division wears the trappings of every other AAA game, save for the fact that its villains aren’t monsters. They’re desperate people. And while The Division claims again and again that you’re helping, that you’re the last bastion of goodness and Manhattan’s only hope for survival, you’re killing people who, not that long ago, were your friends and neighbors.

By my tenth hour, I’d lost track of how many people I’d killed. Every firefight in this militaristic dystopia wore me down. It was numbing. The Division muddles the line of realism and veers dangerously close to presenting actual, real-world problems as a simple binary.

I can accept games as escapism. I can accept them as a means to “unwind.” I can tolerate even extreme violence. But the time when we could let juvenile, reductive cynicism guide the themes of games is past. There’s a reason most opt for orcs or cyborgs as foes—we don’t have to deal with their reality. When I turn off the television after hearing about yet another mass shooting, or yet another black man’s life snuffed out by an overzealous cop, I don’t want to turn on the Xbox to play a law enforcement official mowing down wave after wave of hapless thieves.


An recent article in Newsweek explores how the depiction of Muslims in videogames perpetuates the terrorist stereotype:

An uneasy, dark humor pervaded the hourlong talk about Muslim representation in video games at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Thursday. The panel was made up of Muslims who work in the video game industry. As one panelist said, laughter is the only coping mechanism left.

Over the past two decades, Muslims have been one of the major video game villains, along with Russians and South Americans—whatever the “flavor of month” may be, according to Romana Khan Ramzan, a game design lecturer at the Glasgow Caledonian University in the United Kingdom. Popular games like Call of Duty franchise only help reinforce the mainstream stereotype that Muslims, regardless of nationality, are terrorists that need to be killed, argues Rami Ismail, a Dutch-Egyptian video game developer.

“Muslim blood is the cheapest on Earth right now,” says Ismail. “American blood is the most expensive. That’s all you are doing in Call of Duty: Just shoot the Arab.”

The panel discussed many examples of basic mistakes and misunderstandings by the predominantly white video game developing community—a 2005 study found 85 percent of developers were white—about the Muslim world, which is composed of 1.6 billion people, whether it be how Muslim prayers are held or how a terrorist leader from the Caucasus should not have a Arabic name.

A recent paper, presented at the 2016 ISA conference by  Brandon Valeriano and Philip Habel, found that Middle Easterners are the third most common identifiable foes in first-person shooter (FPS) videogames, behind aliens/monsters and Russians.


Source: Valeriano and Habel, 2016.



More evidence of the boardgame renassance? Vice offers a list of “Groundbreaking Board Games You Should Be Playing Right Now.”

Using a matrix game as an intelligence training tool


The following report has been written for PAXsims by Christopher Davis, a Captain in the United States Army Reserve with a passionate interest in games.


In early March, my Army reserve unit, a military intelligence battalion, conducted an internal simulation using the “matrix game” format. We intended to encourage intelligence analysts to think about a problem-set in a consequence-free environment and to hone structured analytical skills. The exercise proved extremely successful in both inviting active learning by the participants and reinforcing analytical skills.

The scenario selected centered on North Korea – the road to war specifically involved a nuclear test by the DPRK in April 2016. The analysts were randomly assigned to the following country teams: North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and the United Nations. Each country team received two vital interests assigned to them; i.e. ‘preserve the Kim regime’ (DPRK) or ‘firmly follow the path of a peace-loving nation’ (Japan). Two wall projectors depicted a map of East Asia and the actions log. In addition to the basic framework of matrix games, the North Korean team received an immediate free turn for every double rolled with the dice. Before each turn, players were given ten minutes to negotiate and plan their actions. Because of the casual nature of this simulation, the participants and moderators focused more on constructing logical arguments than maintain any strict sense of realism.

Turn 1

North Korea opened the first turn with a successful attempt to evade sanctions and cash out $10 billion. Needless to say, this raised immediate alarm as to the intended purpose of the cash. South Korea opened with an effort to initiate peace talks. The United States followed by adding denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a condition to any talks. The Chinese team surprisingly cut all material relations with DPRK, citing a need to deter North Korea from further escalation. Japan moved to quickly integrate its self-defense forces with future American-South Korean military exercises. Russia, in a bid to undercut the United States and China, and to assert itself as a Pacific power, invested $1 billion in the DPRK in exchange for a military base in the northern mountain ranges. The United Nations closed the turn with a speech on the need for calm.

Turn 2

The DPRK initiated the second turn by petitioning to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization, alarming all the other country teams. South Korea attempted to remove the U.S. condition of Korean denuclearization, but this failed, sparking protests in Seoul against a ‘weak’ Park administration. A move by the Obama administration to place further sanctions on North Korea and Russia was blocked by a Republican-controlled Congress. Recognizing that it was losing influence over North Korea, China reached an agreement to deploy an infantry brigade for a joint Russian-Chinese base in the country. The Japanese government responded by conducting joint U.S.-Japanese maritime patrols in the Sea of Japan, leading to +1 to all future Japanese and American maritime actions. Due to a lack of coordination, Russia failed to organize joint Russian-DPRK military exercises. The Secretary General of the United Nations ended the turn by summoning all heads of state to Geneva to de-escalate the situation, resulting in -1 to all future military actions on the Korean Peninsula.

Turn 3

The DPRK unsurprisingly directed its cash gifts into improving its military capabilities, specifically its ballistic missiles; leading to +1 for all missile actions but also +2 for all political and economic actions for the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. At this point, the DPRK received a free turn, which it used to conduct a test of said ballistic missiles, only to have the rocket explode on the launch pad. Alarmed, South Korea responded by requesting 100,000 U.S. troops in addition to theater ballistic missile defense. The U.S. initiated a covert intelligence program to infiltrate agents into the North to incite unrest and possibly rebellion. In response, China sold its available intelligence on the U.S. to North Korea. Japan’s attempt to modify its status of forces agreement with the U.S. to also increase troop levels and missile defense was blocked by pacifists in parliament. Russia expanded its military infrastructure in North Korea. The Secretary General attempted to mobilize the United Nations to pursue sanctions against North Korea but this failed in the Security Council.

Lessons Learned and Feedback

I was personally surprised by how quickly the soldiers immersed themselves in the scenario. They were quick to cut deals, promote their own interests, and to respond to perceived threats. The analysts observed a number of things:

  • There are multiplayer layers to decision-making; within the country-team, among countries, and so forth, such as the disagreement between the U.S. and South Korea on denuclearization. This impacted the decisions that were made.
  • Life isn’t fair. Some teams were better positioned than others; i.e. the United Nations team felt helpless as the scenario continued to escalate.
  • In regards to escalation, the players found themselves trapped in a cycle of brinkmanship from which it was difficult to disengage. The U.S. and South Korea did not take up the Secretary General’s call for peace talks because they did not want to legitimize the Kim regime.
  • Many players were surprised by the actions of the other teams. Even though they were all in the same room engaging in open conversations that could be easily overheard, critical information about the intentions and actions of others were missed. This reinforced the constant challenge of maintaining an accurate threat picture in intelligence problems.

The analysts were unanimous in the view that this simulation was very effective in encouraging critical thinking and demonstrating some of the basic challenges in national security.

Christopher Davis
US Army Reserve 

ISA update #2


Today at the International Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta started off for me this morning with a panel on Strategic analysis in support of international policy-making . This had nothing to do with simulation/gaming—rather, I was there to deliver a paper on “Here (very likely) Be Dragons? The Challenges of Policy‐Relevant Prediction.” I’m not just a  simulations guy, you know.

The afternoon, however, was taken up with a very stimulating four hour workshop session on Simulations and Games in International Relations, organized by Victor Asal (NYU) and Amanda Rosen (Webster).

Victor started us off with a series of quick classroom games designed to illustrate key conceptual and theoretical issues in international relations. Live or Die is a modified rock-paper-scissors game. He highlighted how the game’s outcome illustrated the problems of cooperation under conditions of Hobbesian anarchy. While everyone could win the game if no one challenged anyone else, typically a competitive dynamic soon emerges. That led into a broader discussion of whether the game highlighted the inevitability of social conflict, or whether the outcome was a function of the game setting and procedures. Subsequent games with modified rules introduced issues of capability, alliance behavior, and negotiation. In another game we  examined single-round and iterative prisoner’s dilemma, with modified pay-off structures and rules.

Amanda stressed the need to focus such games on learning objectives, and to link game behavior with course content.


The flag of our beloved Kubian homeland. Black represents the oil wealth under our noble soil; green indicates our verdant fields and forests, as well as the colour of the dollars we hope to earn by selling our newly-controlled natural resources; blue depicts the No-Fly-Zone imposed over our Ancaram oppressors by Hudson; red recalls the blood of our valiant martyrs; and the white star indicates the bonus points we all lost by failing to agree on a peace treaty.

The Ancaram civil war simulation followed. The group was formed into four main teams: the Ancaram government, the break-away Kubese rebels, the regional power of Potomic, and the global superpower of Hudson. A fifth group represented the media. Our collective task was to negotiate a peace agreement. Individual provisions in the agreement needed the support of the three of the four political teams, while the overall agreement needed unanimous support for the final treaty to be approved.

As a member of the Kubian team, we agreed to demand independence (and build state-like institutions), but we were willing to settle for regional autonomy if that included self-rule, cultural autonomy, control over natural resources, and continued command over our military forces (reconfigured as a “national guard”)—in other words, a model much like the current Kurdish Regional Government. Our strategy to achieve this involved fostering good relations with both Hudson and Potomic, while trying to isolate the Ancaram government. This was relatively successful, in that we obtained support from the two external powers for our goals. Increasing external pressure was placed on the government, including military intervention by Hudson. However our failure to effectively engage the Anacram government meant that they vetoed the proposed peace deal—and, under the terms of the simulation, everyone lost.

Ah well, at least I was able to retire from the Kubian Revolutionary Leadership Council to take up a faculty position in the newly-established University of Kubia.

After this came a distribution game, in which each round saw a diminishing number of resources (poker chips) being distributed among the participants using different decision rules (majority vote, resource-weighted voting, and so forth). This could be used in a classroom setting to spark discussion of international political economy or decision rules in international organizations, for example.

Victor then presented a series of ethical vignettes in which small groups discussed several use-of-force scenarios: searching for terrorists in a village, interrogating a captured suicide bomber, and assassinating a senior member of an authoritarian regime with a high risk of civilian casualties. While these certainly sparked discussion, I was a little worried that, unless handled carefully, they potentially legitimized actions that were in clear violation of the laws of armed conflict.

Amanda reviewed a number of online games that could be used in an international relations course. Most of these were relatively straight-forward browser games, which could be played in class or as homework assignments.

Finally, we had a general discussion of simulation and gaming issue that addressed, among other issues, the challenge of large classes, the depth of briefing material in role-play negotiation games, student motivation and preparation, and other best practices.

It was a very enjoyable workshop with some great ideas and excellent facilitation. Some of the materials have appeared (or will appear) on the Active Learning in Political Science website, and I’ll upload here any others that Amanda and Victor send on.

ISA 2016 update #1


This week I’m attending the International Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta. Among the 1,280 panels and roundtables this year, several are devoted to the intersection of games and international relations.

Unfortunately, several of those panels are also scheduled in the same time slot. Consequently today I had to choose between panels on Videogames and World Politics, another on A Look to the Future of Intelligence Education (which included a simulation/gaming paper) and The Role of Simulations in Peace Education. In the end I attended the latter.

The first paper, by Hemda Ben-Yehuda (Bar-Ilan University) and Guy Zohar (Bar-Ilan University) examined “Lessons from Simulations of Regional Crises for the Study of Fanaticism and Peace.”

This study presents lessons from feedback surveys for designing simulations and highlighting the role of fanaticism in world politics. It focuses on nine face-to-face and online simulations of regional crises as an innovative tool to study fanaticism. During interactive exercises, participants confronted fanaticism in historical or current events, mostly on Middle-Eastern topics. Feedback questions guided students to revisit their learning experience covering: (1) Simulation and participant attributes. (2) Cognitive, affective, and behavioral gains in a gradual learning cycle, from preparation, via interactions to feedback. (3) Fanaticism in real and simulated environments. Results indicate that participants identify with their role and team, enjoy and learn but show limited awareness to fanaticism and its challenges. Students see the situation in less extreme terms than it is, regard themselves as moderates and label rivals as extremists. Yet, they view behaviors as a response to extremism, creating a dangerous escalation spiral. Fanaticism is associated with learning but not with accommodation. The way negotiations end appeared unrelated to research variables, with the exception of enjoyment and empathy. The implication for instructors is to employ fanaticism carefully to activate team behavior and advance learning but to remember the limits of control over how rivals conclude simulations.

I had some concerns about the ways in which fanaticism was conceptualized as the central variable here. ISIS certainly fits into that category. In the case of Nazi Germany “fanaticism” certainly drove the behavior of senior Nazi officials and the SS, but the rest of the German armed forces were fairly conventional military pragmatists. The three other examples that were cited—Hizbullah, Hamas, and Iran—strike me as ideological but often very pragmatic, with complex decision-making processes that embody a variety of determinants and orientations.

Michael J. Butler (Clark University) addressed “The Holy Trinity? Integrating and Synthesizing Topic, Debriefing, and Assessment in Classroom Simulations.”

Among the pedagogical challenges confronting instructors who design and employ classroom simulations, two of the most prominent and perennial are debriefing and assessment. While an extensive literature on both topics exists, and numerous useful approaches are available, the daunting task of designing appropriate instruments for debriefing and assessment often results in an ad-hoc approach to each. The proposed paper posits two distinct explanations for this persistent state of affairs, drawn in equal measure from the prevailing literature as well as the author’s own experiences designing and employing in-class simulations. First, debriefing and assessment are frequently and erroneously conceived of as discrete considerations—a fragmented approach which works to the detriment of each. Second, both enterprises are frequently designed and conducted without adequate attention to the structure and form of the simulation exercise itself, generating a ‘one size fits all’ approach to both debriefing and assessment that works against obtaining the desired level of precision and specificity. As a potential corrective to these problems, the paper proposes a two-pronged synthetic approach in which the elements of debriefing and assessment are integrated as well as closely calibrated to the simulation topic and setting.

I think his argument that debrief and assessment techniques need to be tailored to the particular design and purposes of a simulation is, I think, spot-on. With regard to the latter, he discusses the “scant evidence” problem that, until relatively recently, simulation users had little to show beyond gut-instinct that simulations worked. There has been greater attention to objective measurement of simulation impact, but doing so remains a challenge. Butler argued that one-size-fits-all methods (such as pre/post-tests, control groups, or multiple game iterations) may be of limited usefulness, and outlined an approach that uses student debriefing to assess the extent to which learning objectives have been achieved.

Daniela Irrera (University of Catania) delivered a paper on “Simulating EU Institutional Dynamics The TwinSim at the University of Catania.”

The paper discusses a negotiation model focused on EU institutional dynamics and designed for students enrolled in Global Politics and European Studies programs. It was experienced by a group of students from the University of Catania and from the University of Liège, as part of a seminar (Twin Seminar), jointly managed by both Universities. The TwinSim scenario was focused on the appointment of the President of the Commission with the largest and participated consensus. Students experienced the inter-institutional negotiation between the European Council and the European Parliament and had to balance the strategies and preferences of political parties and Member State governments. The TwinSim aimed not only at advancing negotiation skills but also abilities to represent a political strategy and develop long-term political agenda accordingly. The paper is divided into three main parts. The fist is focused on major roles played, the biggest political parties within the EP, member States within the European Council and the designated candidate. In the second, the phases of negotiations are described, including hearings and the election of the President by the EP. The third one reports on the debriefing results and debates major difficulties and frustrations as well as achieved results.

I was pleased to see that a key design feature of the simulation was uncertainty and even a degree of chaos. Real policy-making (and politics) is often a rather messy process.

Luba Levin-Banchik (Bar-Ilan University) discussed “Pop Quiz: Assessing Knowledge Retention in International Relations With and Without Simulations.”

In this paper I examine effectiveness of studying international relations with simulations, compared to active learning without simulations. I utilize a pop quiz on four topics, each taught with a different method: (1) simulation and in-class debriefing; (2) simulation only; (3) in-class discussions and an accompanying research essay; (4) in-class discussions only. I review simulation assessment in publications over the past sixteen years, and suggest pop quiz as a novel assessment tool for simulations. I then present the “Iranian Plane” simulation developed to teach decision-making in crisis situations to international relations undergraduates. I analyze empirical evidence on knowledge retention with and without simulations based on students’ performance in the pop quiz two months after the simulation. The analysis shows that learning with simulation and debriefing together not only attains teaching goals set in advance, but does so better than other methods used. Simulation with debriefing was the most effective teaching mode in terms of knowledge retention, simulation only was almost as successful, but learning without simulation was significantly less efficient.

Finally, Elizabeth Ann Mendenhall and Tarek Tutunji, two graduate students/teaching assistants at Johns Hopkins University, looked at “Ancient and Modern World War Simulations as Supplemental Teaching Tool.”

This paper will examine the benefits and challenges of integrating World Politics Simulation as a teaching tool into an International Politics introductory course. We will be conducting two such simulations designed to be completed in a single fifty minute class session, and which do not require any extra-class preparation from students. Students will be assigned to country-teams and given initial guidelines on which to expand. Half-way through the simulation we will intervene with a critical juncture that the students will need to react to. In one simulation the juncture will reflect an actual historical event, in the other it will be a counter-factual. The two simulations will be on World War One, and on the Peloponnesian War. These two simulations are selected in order to create variance in familiarity with the historical period, socialization time between students, effects of increasing class comfort level, and difference between historically accurate and counter-factual prompts. The simulations will also allow us to examine whether simulations encourage deeper reading of course material. The limited nature of these simulations should also provide comparative insight into the difference between simulations that take up multiple days and those which can be conducted in a single class session.

I’ve often highlighted the value of “quick and simple” classroom simulations that only take up a limited amount of time (two 50 minute classes in this case), and this was a very good example. The game also seemed to be linked very well to the course, reading materials, and learning objectives. The design was simple, used classroom space and student orientation in clever ways, and included some stochastic determination to represent risk and uncertainty (dice to determine the outcome of certain types of moves):

The game implementation for the most part followed our intended game design, however it became apparent that some changes would be necessary to make the game run more smoothly. A few days before section each student was assigned the role of a single actor within a team, such as Pericles or Kaiser Wilhelm.  Students were asked to do the readings with that actor in mind, taking note of the actor’s personality, position, and motivations.  The only assignment that they were asked for was to email the instructor a description of their character’s motivations, the second and third image constraints that they have to navigate, and a strategy for how they intend to behave in the simulation. As facilitators, our pre-class preparation was limited to planning a presentation of the rules, arranging the classroom, and assembling notes about the historical context that might be useful during game play. These notes would include role assignments, maps, the resources and positions of actors, and a list of possible interventions in case the simulation stalled.

Once advanced preparations were made the simulation could be confidently run in a single class session. Before the students showed up, instructors arranged the classroom into islands of tables, each having a placard indicating the political unit of a respective team. To that end having a classroom with movable furniture is advantageous. Students arrive to class without knowing exactly at what point in history the simulation will begin. This was done to prevent students from ignoring earlier parts of the conflict while still allowing alternate outcomes to emerge. In both cases the specific historical starting point was a key turning point that sparked or accelerated the conflict. The instructor begins the class by giving a brief explanation of the rules of the simulation. Following a brief pause for questions, the instructor lays out the historical scenario from which the simulation begins. At this point it may be helpful to call upon students from different teams to give a brief account of their situation at the beginning of the simulation as a collective refresher for the class. With the scenario laid out, the simulation can begin.

After the end of each 5-minute turn, the facilitator may need to restore order to the classroom as students may be spread out among different tables deep in negotiations, alliance making, or planning. A timer with an alarm that is only turned off once all students are back in their seats may be used for this purpose. Students then have a minute to decide on their moves. In the Peloponnesian War simulation moves were publicly declared by students, however because this ended up advantaging teams that went last we moved to the use of action forms in the WW1 simulation. After one minute, the action forms are collected and read aloud by the facilitator, and public moves are recorded on the board. It is helpful to keep track of history so to speak by dividing the board into a table with teams on one axis and turns on another. A public record of the progression of events helps students orient themselves to the developing situation. In parallel instructors keep track of secret orders and plans undertaken by each team on their own sheet of paper. Moves that required an outcome were assigned a likelihood of success and given a roll of the dice before the next team’s move was announced. For example an order to sneak a force of submarines into the Baltic Sea by Britain required a secret dice roll with a high likelihood of success. After all moves are declared and resolved, the instructor declares the start of the second turn and students return to the simulation. The game continues in this manner until the time allotted for the simulation ends.

Jonathan Wilkenfeld (University of Maryland) chaired the session, while Mary Jane C. Parmentier (Arizona State University) and Victor Asal (State University of New York at Albany) served as panel discussants. Following their observations, a more general discussion followed.

There was considerable focus on assessment issues, and the growing emphasis placed on quantitative assessment methods in some of the leading political science pedagogy journals. Victor also raised the issue of how simulation design might shape of bias participant behaviour, and tilt outcomes in certain (theoretical) directions. Was a war simulation, for example, inherently “realist” in its dynamics? I agree that this is a very important point. In my own comments I noted that if student debriefs extend beyond the game outcomes and learning materials to include student critique of the game design itself, there are two potential benefits. First, participants thereby have an opportunity to reflect on the extent to which their actions might be a function of the game design, thus helping to control for possible design bias effects. Second, such an approach encourages participants to think about game design and the modelling of complex phenomenon—something which may be even more effective than simulation itself in promoting concept learning. A third benefit (which I forgot to make at the time) is that such feedback also helps a designer in revising the game design for future use.

All-in-all, a very good session. I look forward to more simulation and gaming goodness at ISA again tomorrow.


Which games would you suggest to the US Navy?


PAXsims is pleased to post this request from Peter Perla for game suggestions.

A couple of weeks ago at a meeting at the Naval War College in Newport, a USN admiral asked me to take a shot at drafting a Chief of Naval Operations’ “Recommended Games” list. In my copious free time, as we are wont to say. I am going to seek suggestions from as broad a community as I can, including this group. So many of you may receive this request multiple times.

I am not talking only wargames here. The goal of the CNO’s current initiative to explore how gaming can help sailors learn better, faster, and (my addition) cheaper. Not only warfighting skills but also general critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as creativity. And though the unwashed will certainly expect most of the games to be digital, I will want to include boardgames, of course.

At this point I am keeping the aperture open wide. Please let me know if you have any recommendations. You can write to me directly at

Peter Perla

“Burning Shadows”: Toward matrix gaming as a tool for joint professional military education

PAXsims has been pleased to publish a variety of pieces on matrix games, including various iterations of ISIS Crisis, Ben Taylor’s analysis of serious matrix game techniques, and a report on the use of matrix games at the US Army War College.

This latest piece has been contributed by Luke Nicastro and Ian Platz from the Center for Advanced Strategic Learning, National Defense University.



At the National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL), we develop experiential learning materials in support of the university’s core academic mission of joint professional military education (JPME). Essentially, we support the component colleges here by providing course-relevant wargames and exercises, with a particular emphasis on current and future strategic-level security challenges.

In view of its importance to the curriculum here, much of our work is centered on examining unconventional or ‘gray’ conflict. For our purposes, gray conflicts are characterized by low to medium intensity fighting (which, though pervasive, stays below the threshold for conventional conflict), the substantial use of non-kinetic tools, and the extensive involvement of non-state actors. The complexity of gray conflict makes it difficult to model through traditional tabletop gaming, since formal rulesets tend both to obscure and restrict students’ understanding of precisely those dynamics most crucial to an understanding of gray conflict. In search of another way to ‘gameify’ gray conflict, we came across the work being done by other wargaming professionals with matrix gaming. With its lack of comprehensive rules, inclusion of abstract concepts, and emphasis on structured argumentation, matrix gaming struck us as a potentially valuable tool for national security practitioners to explore dynamics of unconventional conflict. To test its applicability at CASL, we created a matrix game focused on Libya, to which we’ve given the working title “Burning Shadows.”

Libya Map North

Libya was chosen as the focus of our game for a number of reasons. The current situation in the country exhibits all of the most salient characteristics of gray conflict – a multiplicity of ill-defined actors, endemic low to mid-intensity conflict, and the prevalence of unconventional/non-kinetic tools. Libya is also becoming increasingly important to U.S. interests and operations in the Middle East and North Africa, even as it remains understudied and ill-understood (especially compared to Iraq and the Levant). Centering a game on Libya thus creates an opportunity for national security professionals to focus on the country in an academic, JPME environment. Additionally, the setting allowed us to utilize many of the dynamics present in ISIS Crisis, which served as an invaluable guide for us as we developed “Burning Shadows”.

Though the game was developed in January 2016, it is intended to reflect whatever situation exists in Libya at the time of gameplay. A basic map of territorial control is included in the game materials, but facilitators are encouraged to update the setup based on changes in the geopolitical situation. There are four playable factions in “Burning Shadows”: the House of Representatives (HoR), based in Tobruk; the General National Congress (GNC), based in Tripoli; the Islamic State (IS), based in Sirte; and Western partner countries/NATO. These four factions represent the most important geopolitical actors in Libya, and are described in detail in the game materials. As in ISIS Crisis, there is also a one-page role sheet for each faction, giving players an overview of their position, objectives, relationship to other factions, and special conditions. In addition to these playable factions, several other state and non-state actors (e.g. neighboring governments, tribal militias) can be controlled either by a facilitator or subject matter expert.

Libya Map South

Gameplay is represented on two large maps of Libya – one depicting the country’s Mediterranean coastline and the other showing its vast interior. By splitting up the map into two separate sections, we hope to emphasize the drastic difference between the two regions’ operating environments. More than 85% of the Libyan population lives in urban settlements along the Mediterranean, and the majority of Libya’s oil production is also located in this region. Southern Libya, by contrast, is sparsely populated and lightly governed. The vast wastes of the Sahara render it difficult for Libya’s rival governments to project power, and it is often the region’s indigenous populations (e.g. the Tebu and Tuareg ethnic groups) that are best-placed to act.

Gameplay is turn-based, with players making their moves in a set sequence (HoR -> GNC -> IS -> NATO). Turns are divided into two phases – Diplomatic and Movement. During the Diplomatic phase (which should last no longer than four minutes), the current player undertakes whatever negotiations or communications he/she may wish to make with other players and factions. After these have been concluded, the Movement phase begins, in which the current player outlines the major action they intend to take and provides relevant supporting arguments, which are adjudicated and then resolved. Each player is allowed to undertake one major action on the northern board and one on the southern board.

We’ve run a few ‘playtests’ of “Burning Shadows”, mainly among others in our office. Overall, we’ve been satisfied with the way the game runs, particularly the quality (and intensity!) of the discussions it’s generated. However, there are two persistent challenges we’ve run into. The first is probably an inevitable consequence of the subject matter – the complexity of and participant unfamiliarity with the Libyan situation (even after background reading and an introductory briefing) tends to create uncertainty and paralysis among players during the first few moves. Unsure of what a reasonable or ‘typical’ move might look like, new players often spend inordinate amounts of time planning actions, slowing down gameplay and impeding the flow that is so crucial to matrix game success. Although there is no way to remedy this altogether, one solution we’ve adopted has been the use of “suggested move templates” for the first turn, along with robust suggestions from facilitators.

The second challenge is one that I believe to be common to matrix gaming as a whole – the question of victory. The participants that have been generous enough to ‘playtest’ this game have observed that it is difficult to coherently organize strategies without a clear idea of a) how you win; and b) how you know you’re winning (or losing). There is a general concept of victory – physical/strategic control of Libya – but nothing more specific, and few metrics along the way. While matrix gaming can absolutely create a valuable forum for discussion and analysis without clear victory conditions/pathways, we believe that it would be optimal, especially when dealing with an understudied environment like Libya, to have those incentive structures present. This is a problem we’re currently working on –we have no answers yet, and would welcome and all input on ways of integrating victory conditions and metrics into the matrix game format.

We see this game (and JPME-focused matrix gaming in general) as a way of extending the DoD’s call for “increased innovation through wargaming” from the analytic into the educational sphere. The uniquely free-flowing nature of matrix games, the lack of constraints on participant action, and the entirely player-driven scenario progression together create a unique opportunity to foster precisely the sort of innovation and creative thinking demanded of national security professionals.

The game materials for “Burning Shadows” – which include instructions, role descriptions, map boards, and tokens – are still in draft form, but we’d be more than happy to send the current drafts to those who are interested. For more information, questions, ideas, or just to talk shop, we can be reached at and

Luke Nicastro is a defense analyst at NDU’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning in Washington, D.C. Ian Platz is a defense consultant from Booz Allen Hamilton working in support of NDU’s wargaming capabilities.



Women and wargaming: the good, the bad, and the ugly

A few days ago—spurred by a recent PAXsims readers poll that showed that an astonishing 99% of our readers are men—I posted a few thoughts on gender and national security gaming. My argument, I thought, was fairly unremarkable: Women are underrepresented in professional national security gaming; this is due to a variety of reasons (gender socialization, male preponderance in the military, underrepresentation of women within hobby wargaming, and so forth); and increasing the number of women in this area was a good idea, since—among other things—it brings more brainpower and bodies and expertise to address important issues in serious gaming.

As part of that argument, I pointed to the massive gender imbalance within the wargaming hobby, which is probably 95% or more male too. Since hobby gaming can help to develop professionally-relevant skills, and thus be an asset for those who go on in national security analysis (or, for that matter, teaching), wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to encourage more women to participate here too?

I then suggested a few obvious things that might help.

The reaction to the discussion from within the professional wargaming community has been entirely positive. One defence analyst heavily involved in government wargaming wrote to thank me for the piece, noting that he himself was trying hard to promote women in the field, and underscoring that there was much work still to be done. Another senior wargamer involved in professional military education also wrote to note that he too saw it as a problem. A wargame designer and educator commented (as I have) that there’s no difficulty getting women engaged in conflict simulation in university settings, and we needed to think about how those lessons could be exported more widely.

So that was the good. What about the bad and the ugly?

This showed up when I cross-posted the piece to several general hobby wargaming forums. Certainly many, many comments were positive and encouraging, and in one forum the discussion was entirely and completely reasonable. Elsewhere, however, some male commentators suggested:

  • women prefer shopping for shoes
  • women prefer wine and manicures
  • I was trying to impose “quotas”
  • that encouraging more women to wargame was like demanding more male shop clerks at Victoria’s Secret
  • if women were interested they would form their own clubs
  • that it was good to include women, unless they were those pushy “social justice warrior” types
  • wives would just criticize our game moves
  • that wargaming, like war itself, is brutal and competitive and not suited for women (after all, who hasn’t been wounded by spilled beer or a sharpened pretzel?)
  • that men were hard-wired to be wargamers by a supreme creator, and we shouldn’t be tampering with intelligent design
  • that I was a “fag” for even suggesting such a thing

Now, as a researcher, it is important for me to mention an important methodological caveatcomments made in online fora are rarely representative of general views, since they tend to attract the most highly-motivated or aggrieved participants. They certainly aren’t representative at all of attitudes within my own gaming groups.



At the same time, reading some of these statements I’ll have to admit my reaction was: OMFG. Really? In 2016?

In one forum an articulate and highly-experienced female wargamer entered the fray, and rather forcefully articulated some of the problems she has encountered over the years. She finally left the discussion in frustration. In another forum, where the consensus seemed to be that women just weren’t interested in such things, a long-time female lurker on the website chimed in that she had always wanted to try wargaming, but had never found a shop or club or mentor that she found particularly encouraging. She commented (and I quote with her permission):

Not that many women are interested. True, but then those who are might not feel welcomed. I just wanted to share my personal experience and point of view. Putting it out there “I’m interested.” But the truth is I don’t feel welcomed. So I’m out.

PAXsims isn’t predominantly a blog about hobby wargaming, although we certainly address aspects of it. However for those of us who enjoy the hobby, all this suggests we need to think about providing a pathway for women and girls to learn more about conflict simulation that is welcoming, supportive, and reduces the various barriers to entry.

Some of that can occur in clubs and shops, although here one encounters the chicken-and-egg problem that neophytes may be reluctant to visit in the first place (especially if they get that “hey, there’s a girl in the store/club/competition!” look that will be familiar to many female players of Warhammer).

I think casting gaming wider than traditional hex-and-chit wargaming helps too: certainly we’ve seen political-military megagames grow from 10% to 20% or more women in recent years. At our own recent  New World Order 2035 megagame at McGill almost 40% of the approximately one hundred players were women (all of whom had paid to attend), as were 45% of the Control team.

I’m inclined to think (and I’m sure Phil Sabin will agree with me here, since half his conflict simulation class is typically female) that educational institutions are a good place to focus efforts. Quite apart from gamer-professors or gamer-teachers using games in the classroom, there’s probably scope for gaming clubs to partner with organizations or instructors. NWO 2035, for example, was for all intents and purposes a partnership between Jim Wallman (Megagame Makers), some folks from our local gaming group, and the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM).

Finally, the obligation to not be a sexist ass extends beyond behaving properly to making it clear that sexist comments by others are considered unacceptable. Indeed, that’s perhaps one of the key differences with gaming in a university (or, increasingly, professional) environment: casual reference to sexist stereotypes on campus will generally win you a room full of icy disapproving stares.

Further discussion is welcomed in the comments section.

Troubled Lands


Troubled Lands is a a simple but elegant cooperative, semi-cooperative, or competitive card game that explores the challenges of environmental sustainability. It has been designed by Tom Fennewald and Brent Kievit-Kylar, with artwork by Katherine Jameson.

The Troubled Lands website you’ll find more information, a downloadable print-and-play version of the game, a link to an online digital version, and articles on game development. A printed copy will be available through The Game Crafter later this year.



Gender and national security gaming


Yesterday we posted data from our first ever PAXsims readers survey. The results were pretty much what we expected—except that our readers are far more male (99%) than we ever expected to find. Today I thought I would offer a few additional thoughts on that, and what it means for serious peace, conflict, and national security gaming. My comments here, of course, should be read in conjunction with our 2014 symposium on women and professional wargaming which featured contributions from several prominent (if anonymous) female professional national security gamers.

The first thing to note—and I certainly hope that my comments here are rather self-evident—is that such a gender imbalance is not a good thing. For a start it might mean that certain perspectives are absent from game design, adjudication, or play. While most wargamers may never think about gender and conflict when gaming, for some of it us something we teach about, work on in actual conflicts where large number of actual people die, and design serious games about. There is strong research evidence that diversity in group membership can generate greater insight into future trends. Finally, if for some reason substantial numbers of women are not becoming engaged in, and contributing to, the design of serious games on these sorts of topics then the game design community is operating with less than its full intellectual and creative potential. After all, a 99% male demographic means that only 49% of the potential brainpower is being focused on such issues. Changing that should be, as they say, a no (or half) brainer.

Second, as I noted yesterday in PAXsims, our readers clearly skew more heavily male than do university students studying and using conflict simulations, gaming scholars, or even wargamers in the national security community (although based on Connections attendees the latter may still be 80% male, reflecting broader male preponderance in the armed forces and defence community). Much of the reason, I suspect, is that so many of our readers come to us from a hobby background.

Unlike the digital gaming community, and even boardgamers more generally, the hobby wargaming community is overwhelmingly male too (as well as also skewing white, middle-aged, and middle class).  One large online survey of wargamers, for example, found only 1.8% of respondents were female. There are some obvious historical reasons for this, mainly having to do with gender socialization and cultural associations between traditional masculinities, martial prowess, and war-fighting. Although one would hope that overt sexism is becoming increasingly rare, there are certainly behaviours by some gamers that potential new female entrants into the hobby would find off-putting (including the whole “look, its a female wargamer!” response).  Finally, there’s a problem of networks and recruitment: wargamers may tend to move in similar social circles that diminish the likelihood to recruiting dissimilar individuals into the hobby.

There is considerable discussion of this within the general gaming community, although the extensive and rich discussion among digital gamers (with regard to both participation and representation) contrasts sharply with the much, much more limited discussion among boardgamers. Amongst wargamers, some of the most thoughtful analysis has come from among a group that many grognard traditionalists wouldn’t even consider to be wargamers at all: players of Warhammer fantasy and 40K. This may not be surprising, though—such critiques (such as here, here, here, here, here, and here) are much more likely to be informed by the much wider debates on gender within the geek, genre, and digital gaming communities.

Why does it matter, though, if hobby (war)gamers are male? After all, although we’re all hobby gamers too,  PAXsims is generally about the application of gaming to serious tasks: strategy, peacebuilding, military operations, intelligence analysis, humanitarian response, development assistance, interagency coordination, and so forth. However, it is clear that hobby wargaming is often a gateway or enabler to working on these issues at a professional level, just as teachers who are gamers are more likely to use, and be able to use, games in the classroom. Indeed, if you ever watch the professionals at a Connections games lab or a MORS game workshop wrestle with a gaming problem you’ll see they do so in sentences strewn with analogies and game systems they have encountered during their hobby experience: this type of map and this type of combat resolution system and this type of card-driven mechanic and so forth. It’s all very Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

Breaking into that self-referential system can be daunting for those who are newly entering the field. Indeed, I know one outstanding female professional national security gamer and analyst who often speaks of having to hold game nights at her house to catch up on years of game experience she didn’t have as a hobby-gaming teen or young adult.

Our readers survey is thus measuring one part of the problem: we resonate particularly well among the manual, hobby wargaming community (as evidenced by the hits we get via BoardGameGeek or Consimworld), and such gaming is valuable as a gateway or capacity-builder for those working on serious peace and security gaming too, BUT this is a population that is highly under-representative of the broader population.

Yet embedded here is another set of problems too, namely that hobby gaming and gamers have not penetrated very far into other professional communities who might otherwise benefit from the interchange of ideas and approaches.

I’m thinking here of humanitarian training, conflict resolution, medical simulation, emergency preparedness, and so forth—all areas, incidentally, where women are better represented than they are within the military. The same is also true of academia, where the number of professors with a wargaming background is comparatively small. Indeed, Phil Sabin has spoken extensively about some of the biases against wargaming within academia, and while I think this is more true of his own field of history than my field of political science (where we are much more open to the idea of games as pedagogical or even research tools), it again points to the value of broadening the exchange and cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives.

Equally, perhaps Connections conferences and similar professional wargaming meetings have too many hobby gamers at them, creating a risk of group-think. Certainly I have found that bright non-gamers can bring a great deal to the table. One of the reasons I found Connections Australia so interesting last year was because—in contrast with the US, which has a comparatively huge professional wargaming and modelling/simulation community—interdisciplinarity and cross-sectoral learning was a necessity given the smaller community in Oz. Consequently presentations addressed everything from paramedic training to research on VR technology to modelling brushfires. Reaching out to related communities could also have the desirable secondary effect of reaching out to more women with overlapping professional interest in serious gaming.

What can we do about this? I can think of several things.

  • Recognize it is a problem. After all, there is an entire, well-reviewed serious book on wargaming by a respected military analyst that devotes page after page to bizarre gender stereotypes.
  • Actively encourage the presence of women gamers and analysts at professional gaming conferences, and try to minimize all male panel syndrome.
  • Address the issue directly in conference or workshop meetings. This should certainly be on the agenda for future Connections conferences.
  • Encourage published work by women gamers in this area. We’ll continue to do our bit at PAXsims (which should also be seen as an invitation for any female readers reading this to email me with proposals for blog posts)
  • Think about broadening professional meetings and the community of national security gamers to include more participation from a wider interdisciplinary groups (many of which are much less skewed in their demographics): serious games designers; games scholars; the humanitarian; aid, and diplomatic communities; and so forth.
  • Support the exposure of women to serious analytical and educational gaming at the university (and PME) level. Within most universities these days women now make up over 60% of all social science students.
  • Welcome women and girl gamers into your hobby gaming community. More positive role models and female wargamers will also help to reduce the barriers to entry to later generations of female and girl gamers.

Incidentally, grumpy-old-men snobbery about non-historical wargaming (whether its Warhammer or anything else) or games without hexes isn’t very helpful in this regard.

  • Finally, don’t make jokes about women and technology, or women and shopping, or use sexual imagery at conferences, or cluster around the young female gamer trying way too hard to be helpful (to just cite a few cases I’ve seen at professional wargaming meetings—rare cases to be sure, but hardly encouraging.)

PAXsims reader survey results

survey-clipart-1.jpgWe recently conducted an online reader survey at PAXsims. Most of the results are pretty much what we expected, some are surprising, and one is simply depressing. (Results might change, since the poll is still open.)

First of all, who are our readers? Almost one third (30%) work in the topical areas that PAXsims most commonly addresses: the military (20%, including active duty, reserve, and contractors), intelligence (4%), diplomacy (4%), or aid and humanitarian assistance (2%). A similar proportion are in education, either as teachers (20%) or current students (12%). The remainder fall into the category of “other occupations.”

Generally I’m pleased with those numbers, although I would like the proportion who work in diplomacy and development increased. Unlike the military, these are not communities with a strong professional gaming culture, nor are there are strong links to hobby (war)gaming. True, simulation-based teaching is increasingly common in humanitarian training, but it tends to derive from emergency preparedness exercises more than anything else. We’re also not making the connections I would like to see with the large and growing medical simulation community (although PAXsims will be discussing game design at the forthcoming Simnovate 2016 conference in Montreal).

In terms of age, some 70% of readers are in what might be termed the “established professional” category (ages 36-64), while 15% are younger professionals (26-35), or students and junior professionals (18-25). It would be nice to grow those latter categories, since those are exactly the folks who will have greater influence over simulation and gaming use in the years to come.

In terms of gaming experience, 63% of our readers are dedicated hobby gamers, while another 27% play games “sometimes,” and only 10% play games for fun only rarely or never. This isn’t surprising—I know from our analytics that a lot of people first come to to the website from BoardGameGeek, Consimworld, other wargaming sites and various game Reddits—but if serious peace and conflict gaming is to grow and prosper it is probably worth thinking about how best to reach out better to non-gaming communities.

A slight majority of readers (51%) like digital and manual games equally. Of those with a preference, however, that preference runs to manual (38%) over digital (11%) gaming by a wide margin. Again, this may point out the need to reach out beyond the grognard community.

Among digital game genres, simulators, real-time strategy games, 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) games, and first-person shooters top the list. Among manual game genres conflict simulations/wargames were the clear favourite, with RPGs and Eurogames some ways behind.

In terms of serious games, I was quite satisfied by the proportion of readers who apparently make use of these. Over half reported that they use games for education or training purposes often (25%) or sometimes (30%), while a slightly smaller proportion reported they use games for analytical or research purposes often (11%) or sometimes (34%). That seems a good mix of expert, intermittent, and newbie professional/serious gamers.

Most readers don’t attend gaming conferences regularly, but of those that do various hobby gaming conventions figured most prominently. That was followed by the Connections conferences (including the UK, Australian, Netherlands, and now Canadian versions), MORS, and I/ITSEC. As a political scientist, I woudl have liked to have seen a larger proportion attending the APSA or ISA conferences.

What would readers like to see more of in PAXsims? Here the distribution seemed to loosely reflect our current content:

professional wargaming 23%
teaching with games and simulations 23%
other professional serious games 14%
game reviews 13%
gaming hobby 12%
professional development 11%
not-so-serious gaming articles 4%

Finally—and here comes the bad news—fully 99% of our readers are male.

Yes, you read that right. It comes as a shock to me because much of my gaming takes place in a university setting where 40-65% of participants are typically female, even for most voluntary, non-graded activities. In 2015, 44% of digital gamers were female, according to the annual survey by the Entertainment Software Association. Some of the leading professional national security gamers out there are women, and the proportion of women at Connections conferences, while still far too low, has generally been increasing from year to year. In games studies more broadly women are not so dramatically underrepresented—by my rough count almost 40% of the 2015 contributors to Simulation & Gaming were women, for example.


Indeed, other than a washroom or changing room I can’t think of the last place I went that was 99% male.

PAXsims has addressed the issue of women and professional wargaming before, in an online symposium that is well worth rereading. In the next day or two I’ll post some more thoughts on the subject, the potential negative implications of gender inequality in the field, and what we might be done about it.

Connections Australia website

Australia-flagConnections Australia has a new website. And, as their very first post, they have feedback from the Connections Oz 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference (which PAXsims covered here).

If you’re an Australian wargamer, or might otherwise attend Connections Oz 2016, drop by and let them know what you would like to see at the next conference.

%d bloggers like this: