Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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.

2 responses to “PAXsims reader survey results

  1. Rex Brynen 05/03/2016 at 12:59 pm

    I hadn’t thought about asking an ethnicity question–or, for that matter, where survey respondents are from. We do know that around 46% of readers overall are from the US, and most of the rest from Canada, Australia, and Europe, but we do get them from just about everywhere (even North Korea!)

    On the gender issue I’ll post some thoughts on that shortly.

  2. Robert Cordery 05/03/2016 at 5:04 am

    I suppose that one could argue that women are less likely to answer online surveys than men … but that would be a rather stupid assertion to make. It is difficult to assess how representative the 99/1 split is unless one has figures for the number of females involved in wargaming as a whole. Certainly when I started out as a hobby wargamer in the late 1960s I don’t remember seeing any, but I know that they now form 6% of the (small) membership of Wargame Developments, and that most of them attend our annual conference regularly. From my observations of the number of female students who have attended sessions of the post-grad course run by Phil Sabin at KCL, there seems to be a 50/50 split between male and female students.

    Perhaps the current ‘snapshot’ reflects the number of females who have reached a certain level within the community, and that if the same survey were to be done in two and four year’s time, the number of female responders would gradually rise. I certainly hope that it would.

    One thing that the survey did not ask was how the responders thought of themselves in terms of ethnicity. Certainly in the UK a snapshot of the ethnicity of the responders would be regarded as normal … and I wonder if it had been included, what the response might have been. In some ways knowing the gender and ethnicity of a group might help to put the results into some sort of context, and might go some way to showing whether or not the community is in fact dominated by middle-aged, white males.

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