Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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.”

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