PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 May 2016

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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 provided material for this latest edition.

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The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (GMT Games, 2010).

The Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies 8, 1 (April 2016) contains an article by Juan Luis Gonzalo Iglesia (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) “Simulating history in contemporary board games: The case of the Spanish Civil War.”

This article examines the structure of simulation of two recently published analogic war games on the Spanish Civil War in order to analyse the ways in which they represent the history of the Spanish conflict. The study places the board games as an object of analysis within the field of Game Studies and then undertakes a search of which elements used in the study of video games can be used to approach the analysis of historical board games. The analysis of the ludic structure of these games shows a Civil War initially focused on the chaos on the Republican side, followed by the progression towards the professionalization and militarization of the conflict as the only path to victory. The study shows that the elements of the ludic macrostructure become the means used by the game to delimit the simulation of history, before going on to reflect on the theoretical and cultural implications of this condition.

More specifically, we will analyse two war games created by Spanish designers that have been recently published by two American companies that specialize in war games and games of historic simulation. The games are The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939 (TSCW) designed by Javier Romero and published by GMT Games in 2010 (Romero 2010) and Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (C&R), designed by David Gómez Relloso and published by Compass Games in 2013 (Gómez Relloso 2013): this product is based on World War I game Paths of Glory, published in 1999.

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Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (Compass Games, 2013).

As to the author’s conclusions, I will quote these at lengths for readers who are unable to access the (paywalled) article:

This study belongs to the body of literature that analyses the construction of the narrative contained within games, in particular within board games. We have shown that the theory and methodology of Games Studies can also be used to analyse board games. We have used the analysis of analogue games as a ludofictional world made up of the elements of ludic simulation. The study shows that two contemporary board games have a ludofictional world with very strict rules, which aim to justify a high level of historical represen- tation and decrease the players’ capacity for significant decision-making that would modify the limits of the possible world.

In summary, even though both sides can win the game and therefore modify history in case of a Republican victory, the structure of the game delim- its these possibilities. Indeed, it is easier in these games to change the final outcome of the war (what happened) than it is to find ways to achieve that result (how it happened). The main narrative shows a Republic with severe problems of internal division and lack of coordination that pushes the player towards the reorganization of the Popular Army as the only possible way of defeating the enemy. And while the National side takes the initiative, it must initially focus on political objectives over and above the military goals, and must eventually also restructure its forces in order to achieve victory. In the game, this is illustrated by the categorical rules that restrict the players’ actions (particularly the Republican players), and the lifting of these rules in the more advanced phases of the war.

We should emphasize that this assessment is not meant as a criticism, since the explicit intention of the designers of these two games was precisely to highlight these issues. However, it brings into question the extent to which the game experience generates a sense of freedom in the players. On the other hand, and to break through the rigidity of the simulation, both games offer an alternative set of rules (What if?) that should be analysed in depth to see which other simulation paths they offer. Also, some aspects of these games would require further study – for instance, how the design of the different mechanics on which they are based (in particular the Card Driven of C&R) influence their gameplay.

We could also question the intentionality of these specific constructions of the Spanish Civil War. The rule booklets and the game books contain some clues about the vision of the authors, but this aspect could be further inves- tigated by means of direct interviews with the designers: we could ask, for instance, to what extent the rules and mechanics intend to simulate an event or whether they offer balanced mechanics that give options to both sides. Another topic of study would be the direct game experience of the players.

Which narrative of the Civil War emerges from the experience of dealing with the games’ rules and from overcoming the challenges that these rules pose? It is interesting to note that the whole structure of rules, mechanics and objec- tives can be dismantled by skilful players able to foresee their options, thus deconstructing the narrative built by the game contents, ultimately to gener- ate a different history. Indeed, this is what most players aim for. The vision of the players and their different approaches to the game refer to a particular aspect of the world of games that should in reality be a field of study in its own right.

Finally, we have analysed board games to claim their place as artefacts that warrant study. Further studies should address the differences between analogue and digital simulation of the Spanish Civil War by comparing our games with video games currently found in the marketplace. It would also be necessary to undertake a deeper study of the specific methodologies that allow the study of analogue games.

Beyond the specific aspects of games as cultural artefacts, the implications of games on the recovery of memory need to be taken into account. There are many challenging questions on the specific possibilities that games offer to the workings of memory. Besides the predetermination of some (though not many) narratives about History in the game design, it is undeniable that games promote debate about the interpretation of the past. Predetermination contrasts the equidistance claimed by the ludic simulation – within a genre of games, which define themselves as serious and based on documentation – which constitutes at the same time both a problem and an opportunity to break with the ‘official history’ and create new ways of approaching trauma. There is a whole area of analysis on how games, digital or analogue, can serve as a reflexive tool to dispute the rigidity of institutional history and to recover partial, alternative and personal memories. This is especially relevant in national contexts, as in the case of Spain, where there is a strong social claim to uncover long-standing historical offences.

h/t Javier Romero

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At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck explores the challenges of wargaming cyberwarfare:

Faced with a variety of new threats, from hypersonic ship-killing missiles to anti-satellite weapons and terrorist attacks, top Pentagon leaders are pushing for more analytical wargaming to devise strategies to counter such threats.

But in an era where information can be an instrument of war, the question of how to effectively wargame cyber attacks is a critical issue for military planners.

Modeling cyberwarfare resembles the philosophical question of whether a tree actually fell in a forest if no one heard it fall. How does a wargame designer realistically depict a stealth weapon like a computer virus, whose very effectiveness depends on the victim not knowing that the virus exists or how it works?

“We have been trying to integrate stuff like that [cyberwarfare] into operational games, but the weapons themselves are so highly classified and tightly held that we don’t really know what capabilities exist,” says Peter Perla, a defense wargaming expert and senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses.

Perla calls cyber the “holy grail” of wargaming. “We have some general ideas of what might exist but we tend not to be able to cross those barriers. So we kind of give people generic capabilities and ask them to find something that they’d like to have. Then we assess whether it is a one-shot deal, or it might be persistent for a while,” he said. “But the parameters are very difficult to get a handle on because we have no experience with them.”

John Curry is quoted as highlighting two key issues:

John Curry, author of “Dark Guest: Training Games For Cyber Warfare,” sees two issues with simulating cyberwarfare. The first is that there is little real-world experience of cyberwarfare on which to base a game. While cyberattacks do occur, we have not yet seen the kind of intensive cyber warfare that might take place between sophisticated cyber powers at war. “Google, Microsoft, HP and our universities have not been mobilized in an all-out effort to hit the other side,” Curry says. “Despite protestations that we have had cyber war, we have only had skirmishes on the fringe of conflicts.”

The second is the incredibly rapid fluctuations endemic to cyberwarfare. “One of the issues of cyber weapons is they are largely untested and can be rendered ineffective by the next software patch,” Curry says. “You build a tool, the other side builds a patch and then your tool has to be re-engineered.”

Peck concludes with some useful observations:

So how should cyberwarfare be simulated in defense wargames? Experts say there are two ways to approach this. One is to simulate cyberweapons in detail, such as distinguishing between different types of viruses and their effects. This would help teach players something about how these weapons work and how they could be employed in conflict.

But Perla and others suggest the alternative solution is better: It’s a “black box” approach in which players only see the basic effects of cyberwarfare and don’t get caught up in the details about how something is done. It’s the same approach wargames use for electronic warfare, where players are simply told that jamming has disrupted their communications.

“I would focus on potential effects rather than specific weapons,” Perla says. “For example, one type of attack might reduce command and control capacity, making it difficult to issue or change orders. This could be characterized on a ‘Cyber Card’ the player has available. When played, the game controllers would implement the effects as they see fit. Possibly, the effect is either bigger or smaller than expected. Possibly, the opponent is aware of the attack and able to negate it, or even turn it against the original user,” he said.

Perla also notes that depicting cyber depends on the level of warfare being simulated. “Cyber at the strategic level is likely to use different tools against different targets than cyber at the tactical level,” he said. “Big surprise. For example, at the tactical level, one side may try to tap into the cyber networks of their opponent after capturing a headquarters. But the opponent may run a deception op, feeding false info through the captured node.”

Simulating cyberwarfare also depends on the audience. If the goal is to create a training simulation for cyberwarfare operators, then it makes sense to delve into the nitty-gritty of specific forms of attack and defense, or the characteristics and vulnerabilities of various types of software or computer networks. But if the audience is a slate of senior generals and admirals wargaming a North Korean invasion of South Korea, then there is no reason for the game to simulate the differences between a malware attack and a denial-of-service cyberattack.

“The operational reality is that cyber is integrated with the other domains of warfare,” Curry says. “Cyber is just a means and is rarely the end.”

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At e-International Relations, Daniela Irrera (University of Catania) discusses a classroom NGO simulation she has developed:

I involved my students of Global Civil Society in something I called ‘NGO simulation’. I have split them into smaller groups and asked to ‘build’ an NGO profile (in terms of identity, geographical location, objectives and tools). Then, I presented to all groups a call for projects to be submitted to international donors (the European Commission, or various UN agencies). They had basically to prepare a project (including the rationale, the selected partners and the budget), in order to fulfil a given request (usually something to be built or developed in a troubled country, affected by war, natural disaster, economic and social deprivation, etc.).  I organised two different sessions, for allowing students to get familiar with their group and plan the activities. A collective public session was held based on groups leaders, presenting their projects and trying to get funds from donors. Finally, a debriefing assembly gave to students the chance to express their appreciation or concern and to me the possibility of assessing the activity within the course.

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Early registration is now open for the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference, which will be held this year on 26-29 October in Bloomington, IN.

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At Punk Rock Operations Research, Laura Albert McLay quotes David Banks (Duke) as recently proposing “three levels for modeling that applies to research in statistics, operations research, and optimization” which I thought were quite useful:

  • LEVEL 1: You solve the problem.
  • LEVEL 2: You solve the problem in a cost-effective manner (e.g., using heuristics to get a quick solution that is “good enough”)
  • LEVEL 3: You solve the problem in a cost-effective manner that a decision-maker will implement

There’s some wisdom here for serious game designers and for wargame outputs/analysis too.

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The folks at Active Learning in Political Science have put together a podcast discussing their impressions of the Political Studies Association-sponsored Workshop on New Pedagogies at the University of Sussex. You’ll find a link to it here.

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None of these people is Brian Train.

As Iraqi troops and militias  (backed by Iran and the US) fight to recapture the city of Fallujah from the so-called “Islamic State,” Brian Train offers a chance to simulate the battle. Specifically he has created a variant scenario for Joe Miranda’s game Fallujah 2004: City Fighting in Iraq, which appeared in Modern War magazine #23. You’ll find it at Ludic Futurism.

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Dstl Portsdown West.

I’ll be in the UK at the end of June, to deliver a week of wargaming lectures and workshops at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (Dstl) Portsdown West. If you’re a member of the UK defence, security, or foreign policy establishment and would be interested in attending one or more of the sessions, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with my Dstl point-of-contact.

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One response to “Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 May 2016

  1. brtrain 29/05/2016 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for the link Rex! No Brian Trains were harmed in the making of this scenario.

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