Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 13/04/2016

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 13 April 2016


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. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.


JDMS header

The April 2016 issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology features an article by Nathaniel D Bastian, Louis Boguchwal, Zachary Langhans, and Daniel Evans on “A multi-criteria, network analytic approach to war game participant selection.”

A critical component of the military war game planning process is selecting who should participate, as these participants heavily influence war game outcomes. These outcomes directly impact both strategic and operational decision-making and defense planning, shaping both future defense policy and budget. In this paper, we propose a novel team selection algorithm and decision-support tool combining methods from multiple criteria decision analysis and network analytics to select and visualize a group of war game participants. This method accounts for the diverse requirements of the decision-maker. The results are not only applicable to war games, but also to any team selection domain, such as employee hiring and college admissions.



Red Team Journal recently undertook an informal survey of red teaming jobs:


You’ll find the full results here.




At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory offers his no-holds-barred take on the recent debate over women and (war)gaming. It’s an excellent piece, and well worth a read.


On a somewhat similar topic, the popular online survival game Rust now randomly assigns players to be male or female, and doesn’t allow them to change either their gender or physical appearance. This has generated complaints from some male gamers, who seem to be uncomfortable playing as women.

Read more about it at  Motherboard, Quartzand Polygon.


The US Army has introduced a new training videogame that “will put company, battalion and brigade commanders in the hot seat to deal with sexual assault and harassment in their ranks.”


According to the Army’s press release:

The ELITE-SHARP CTT takes advantage of the successes of the ELITE Lite counseling tool in that it provides a standardized avatar for students to interact with and gives everyone the same experience every time. Additionally, Pavlichko said, like with the counseling tool, the ELITE-SHARP CTT diverges from the “old paradigm” of training, which involves a prepackaged slide deck, videos and classroom discussion, and instead provides younger officers with something they are more familiar with — gaming.

“So, we’re getting away from non-professional role players and just getting beaten to death with slide shows, and making it more engaging,” Pavlichko said. “Plus, for a lot of younger people, gaming is kind of innate and organic to them, so they understand it right away. The predominance of Soldiers coming into the Army at this point have a pretty robust gaming experience behind them.”

The game will be available on the Army’s MILGAMING website at


At his blog, David Eaves reflects on how player strategy in the game Werewolf “can teach us about trust, security and rational choices in communities that are, or are at risk of, being infiltrated by a threat.”

There are, however, a number of interesting lessons that come out of Werewolf that make it a fun tool for thinking about trust, organization and cooperation. And many strategies – including some that are quite ruthless – are quite rational under these conditions….

You can read more here.

h/t James Sterrett


Killbox is a 2015 game/project designed to provoke critical reflection about armed drones and the “war on terror.”

Killbox is a two player online game and interactive installation that critically explores the nature of drone warfare, its complexities and consequences. It is an experience which explores the use of technology to transform and extend political and military power, and the abstraction of killing through virtualisation. Killbox, involves audiences in a fictionalized interactive experience in virtual environments based on documented drones strikes in Northern Pakistan. The work is an international collaboration between U.S. based artist/activist, Joseph DeLappe and Scotland-based artists and game developers, Malath Abbas, Tom Demajo and Albert Elwin.

At GamerTrouble, Amanda Philips offers some thoughts, which largely focus on the gameplay experience.

As for me, I was rather underwhelmed: part of the game seems largely predicated on the notion that drones are rendering war more remote and anonymous, desensitizing operators to the killing they undertake. In fact, because UAV operators often closely follow targets with high-resolution sensors to determine “pattern of life” and make identifications, they’re arguably as close to the consequences of their actions as many military personnel (and indeed, appear to suffer from post-traumatic stress at much the same rate as aircraft pilots flying conventional combat missions).


Wargame_[space] is a blog about games, game design, and history. We’ve added it to our blogroll.



We really should link to the Defence Linguistics blog more often, because it has some excellent material. Recent posts address various conflict simulation design issues, as well as a brief summary of Brian Train’s Kandahar.



Last week we posted Peter Perla’s account of the recent wargaming workshop at the US Army War College—including a session on how the ancient game of Go might illuminate aspects of Chinese strategic behaviour.

Since then the blog of the American Go Association has offered more on the subject, summarizing an earlier seminar at the US AWC:

The seminar was the idea of Colonel Jack Pritchard, Chief of the Strategic Wargaming Division of the War College. Colonel Pritchard, who had never played go, became intrigued by references to the game in literature on military and political strategy, including a monograph written by Dr. Lai titled “Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi” as well as Lai’s recent article “China’s Moves and Countermoves in the Asia Pacific,” Parameters, Spring 2015. Col. Pritchard
asked a member of his staff, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Travis, to organize a seminar that would introduce the game to other officers and civilians closely associated with the War College and affiliated programs.

LTC Travis, who has played go with the Carlisle Go Club, planned the event in consultation with Lai and two other Carlisle go players, Dr. Howard Warshaw and Dr. Fred Baldwin (above, right). The result was a four-hour session, divided between lectures and actual play.  Dr. Baldwin opened with a brief history of go from its Chinese origins to the present, emphasizing its appeal to strategic thinkers. Then, Dr. Lai applied go concepts more specifically to Chinese geopolitical aims. Dr. Warshaw followed this up with an explanation of the rules of go and fielded questions on go basics, including capturing, life-and-death, and scoring.

During the second half of the seminar, the officers and other go neophytes played against each other on 9×9 and 13×13 boards, during which Warshaw, Baldwin, Lai and four other frequent Carlisle-area players were available to answer questions.  Warshaw and Baldwin noted that the officers grasped the basics quickly, especially considering that none of them had ever played the game before.



A digital version of the highly-rated boardgame Twilight Struggle has (finally) been released today on Steam in beta version for both PCs and Macs. I’m looking forward to trying it out!

Also, an article at AV Club examines Cold War-themed games.



A recent debate at the American Museum of Natural History asked “are we living in a computer simulation?” As Scientific American reports:

If you, me and every person and thing in the cosmos were actually characters in some giant computer game, we would not necessarily know it. The idea that the universe is a simulation sounds more like the plot of “The Matrix,” but it is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Researchers pondered the controversial notion Tuesday at the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate here at the American Museum of Natural History.

Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. He noted the gap between human and chimpanzee intelligence, despite the fact that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”

Such existential-sounding hypotheses often tend to be essentially untestable, but some researchers think they could find experimental evidence that we are living in a computer game. One idea is that the programmers might cut corners to make the simulation easier to run. “If there is an underlying simulation of the universe that has the problem of finite computational resources, just as we do, then the laws of physics have to be put on a finite set of points in a finite volume,” said Zohreh Davoudi, a physicist at MIT. “Then we go back and see what kind of signatures we find that tell us we started from non-continuous spacetime.” That evidence might come, for example, in the form of an unusual distribution of energies among the cosmic rays hitting Earth that suggests spacetime is not continuous, but made of discrete points. “That’s the kind of evidence that would convince me as a physicist,” Gates said. Yet proving the opposite—that the universe is real—might be harder. “You’re not going to get proof that we’re not in a simulation, because any evidence that we get could be simulated,” Chalmers said.


Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is encouraging the use of digital games to teach civic literacy. According to the New York Times:

Justice O’Connor is behind an animated civics education game called Win the White House, whose latest edition was recently released. The game has been played by more than 250,000 students just this month and is barnstorming its way through middle schools across the United States.

In the game — timed to this election cycle — students take on the role of imaginary presidential candidates who must learn how to compete civilly against opponents with divergent views on issues like immigration and gun control.

That Justice O’Connor would become an interactive game enthusiast may seem unexpected. Until a few years ago, she had never watched a video game — let alone played one.

“I was one of the uneducated adults,” she joked in a recent telephone interview from her home in Phoenix. Speaking of the learning objective of Win the White House, she explained, “We have to have a system that allows young people to approach problem solving from many different viewpoints.”

Justice O’Connor became involved in digital games after retiring from the Supreme Court in 2006. She started iCivics, a nonprofit civics education group, in 2009.

The group has since released 19 free online games, along with accompanying lesson plans, with the idea of making civics education less about rote learning and more about giving middle school students an animated glimpse into how different branches of government and the Constitution work. About 3.2 million students played iCivics games last year, the group said.

One rather hopes, however, that the game doesn’t mirror this year’s US presidential race too closely…


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