PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 March 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that might be of interest to our readers. This issue contains a few items from earlier in the year that we forgot to include in previous editions.

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The US Naval War College reports that its students have been participating in beta-testing of an educational wargame of the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf, developed by NWC staff.

“This game provided students with a chance to play as two teams in each of the two seminars, facing off as U.S. and Japanese commanders in the culminating naval battle of Leyte Gulf which took place during World War II,” said Johnson. “The goal of the game was to provide an opportunity for experiential learning regarding the fundamental concepts of operational art supporting operational warfare.”

The game was setup to be a two-sided, closed-intelligence or “two-room” game, where neither side could see the other’s battle force line up and must determine through the course of play where and what the opposing side was executing with its forces.

During the game, the students maneuvered air, sea and land forces against each other in accordance with an operational idea that they generated based on their studies of the historical battle. The other reason behind the learning game beta test is to see if JMO will include this in the curriculum for all NWC intermediate course students next year.

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In another example of in-house educational wargame design, staff at the US Army Command and General Staff College are testing out their own manual wargame:

The hex-style, map-based simulation, titled “Landpower: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey (GAAT)” was developed last year by Lt. Col. Patrick Schoof, an Army Simulations officer, and Shane Perkins, team leader of four classes, both instructing at the staff college. “Landpower” builds upon a scenario the students have worked through continually during the course, putting their strategies against one another to expose potential gaps and shortfalls they had previously not accounted for.

“We put this through multiple tests, labs, and changes before bringing it to the classroom, as well as spending months collaborating with the Director of Simulation Education to ensure we were bringing a quality product that had the potential to meet our learning objectives,” said Perkins.

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They certainly seem to be honing their essential pointing skills.

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According to Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy,  director of the Army Combined Arms Center, US Army wargaming remains significantly under-resourced with regard to conceptual experimentation:

Lundy stressed it is important to wear concepts out to better define requirements so that program managers can build better solutions. “I need battle labs to get good requirements,” he said.

Without the experimentation process, requirements can spiral out of control or be unrealistic.

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Back in January, President Donald Trump lauded the sale of “F-52s” to Norway. However, as the Washington Post reported, there’s no such plane—except in the video game Call of Duty.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not return a request to comment on the issue and did not respond to a question asking whether Trump was a Call of Duty fan.

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Underscoring the growing success of tabletop gaming as a hobby, the Atlantic published a piece in January that described the rise of Eurogames and their impact on the hobby.

In a development that would have been hard to imagine a generation ago, when video games were poised to take over living rooms, board games are thriving. Overall, the latest available data shows that U.S. sales grew by 28 percent between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2017. Revenues are expected to rise at a similar rate into the early 2020s—largely, says one analyst, because the target audience “has changed from children to adults,” particularly younger ones.

Growth has also been particularly swift in the category of “hobby” board games, which comprises more sophisticated titles that are oriented toward older players—think Settlers of Catan. These games, compared to ones like Monopoly and Cards Against Humanity, represent a niche segment, but that segment is becoming something more than a niche: According to ICv2, a trade publication that covers board games, comic books, and other hobbyist products, sales of hobby board games in the U.S. and Canada increased from an estimated $75 million to $305 million between 2013 and 2016, the latest year for which data is available.

Hobby-game fanaticism is still very much a subculture, to be sure, but it is a growing one. At the 2017 iteration of Gen Con—North America’s largest hobby-gaming convention, in Indianapolis—turnstile attendance topped 200,000. For the first time in the event’s history, all the attendee badges were purchased before the event began. Whether they knew it or not, the many thousands of people carpeting the field level of Lucas Oil Stadium wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for a small group of obsessives on the other side of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, at the Wall Street Journal they suggest some political and military-themed board games worth trying out (paywall).

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Saudi Arabia will be holding first ever card playing competition last month. As al-Jazeera reported, the prohibition on gambling in Islamic law, and the strict Sunni fundamentalism of many Saudis, made the decision controversial. You’ll find additional reporting at Arab News.

This sensitivity is one that serious game designers need to take into account too: one NGO recently told me that they had been unable to use card-based training materials with Saudi participants, because some objected on religious grounds.

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Can gaming help to improve forecasting ability? A recent study suggests that (video) gamers are better able to assess the probability of future events:

The debate over video gaming’s potential benefits is a divisive one. Yet despite the concerns of many, a significant body of research proves a correlation between playing video games and improved attention resources, problem solving, and response speed. Additionally, a recent study determined that playing action-based video games can positively affect a player’s probability categorizing skills.

In order to assess and understand gamers’ probabilistic skills, a group of researchers studied 15 participants who played action-based video games 15 or more hours a week and 15 participants who played less than 15 hours a week. The subjects participated in a Weather Prediction Task (WPT), where they were asked to identify a series of weather cue card combinations and make predictions based on probabilities they detected. The WPT contained a variety of prediction tasks, which required subjects to make educated guesses on outcomes where probability ranged anywhere from 80/20% to 60/40%. While the WPT was being performed, subjects were scanned in an MRI scanner to determine which parts of their brain were activated and in order to understand the types of memory processes at work.

The researchers found that gamers were notably better at making predictions, especially under conditions characterized by stronger uncertainty. For example while the gap between correct predictions in gamers and non-gamers was smaller in 80/20% conditions, the gap was much larger in 60/40% conditions. Additionally, brain imaging data showed there was a higher level of activity in the regions of gamers’ brains that relate to and strengthen memory, attentional processes, and cognitive control. A post-experiment questionnaire also showed that the video gamers had an increased ability to draw conclusions, despite existing uncertainties, because during the WPT they had retained more declarative knowledge about the card combinations and related weather outcomes.

You’ll find an overview of the research at New Learning Times, and the full study by Sabrina Schenk, Robert K. Lech, and Boris Suchan in Behavioural Brain Research 335 (September 2017).

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dwtcoincover.gifThe remarkably prolific History of Wargaming Project has released another publication, this time a volume on Small Wars: New Perspectives on Wargaming Counter-Insurgency on the Tabletop by David Wayne Thomas. It features an introduction by renowned counterinsurgency wargame designer Brian Train, followed by six short sets of rules. These address tactical, but more so operational/campaign-level games, in contexts ranging from the colonial French Sahara, Ireland, and Vietnam to contemporary company-level counter-insurgency operations.

The volume is likely to be of more interest to hobby gamers looking for relatively simple rules with some innovative approaches and game mechanisms, rather than those using such games for professional (educational or analytical) purposes.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is devoted to the topic of “Model-Driven Paradigms for Integrated Approaches to Cyber Defense.”

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The International Organization for Migration recently conducted a crisis simulation in Niger, involving more than eight hundred members of local communities, authorities, civil society and security forces, as part of a broader capacity-building project.

Using a real-life scenario, the simulation exercise tested local and regional authorities’ abilities to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger precipitated by a crisis at the border. Based on the results of the exercise, a regional crisis contingency plan will be drafted in conjunction with authorities in Agadez.

Agadez is located in northern Niger, a region regularly affected by migration flows both in and out of the country. Over the last few decades, the movement of goods and persons has increased considerably in Niger, requiring improved structures for immigration and border management (IBM) to more effectively manage cross-border movements. As a result, the state has been confronted with the challenge of better facilitating these legitimate movements while maintaining secure borders.

IOM’s IBM unit has been active in Niger since 2015 and is implementing projects aiming to reinforce border management in the country and the Sahel region. Since then, more than 15,000 people have been reached through awareness-raising activities aimed at improving the dialogue between communities and authorities.

Through the creation of prevention committees along Niger’s borders, and the inclusion of local populations in simulation exercises and awareness campaigns, IOM includes border communities as full actors in border management.

Within this context, the simulation exercise sought to enhance community involvement in crisis management. Communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and welcoming community. The exercise incorporated a strong community engagement component to foster communication between local communities and authorities. As communities are the first to directly encounter signs of a crisis, communication with local authorities is crucial both in ensuring a quick and effective crisis response, as well as in preventing future crises.

At the end of the exercise, IOM distributed over 400 hygiene kits to participating community members, and will deliver six tents to be used in crisis management to the Agadez Governorate.

The simulation was part of the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the third exercise of its kind organized by IOM in Niger, which had held two exercises in the Zinder region in 2017. The simulation was planned in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management and the Ministry of Health of Niger.

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Students at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and at fifteen other universities, recently addressed the challenges of epidemic response in a simulation. the simulation was organized by the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming.

Students on each three- to five-member team were assigned roles: prime minister, minister of public health, minister of finance, World Health Organization representative and a head of communications.

As a game clock ticked down on a computer screen in front of them, students were required to quickly process information.

Where was the virus spreading? How many fatalities were occurring?

If it was within their country’s budget, the students could purchase vaccinations. If it wasn’t, they could raise taxes in order to do so – though that would have an effect on their approval rating.

Everything was a giant balancing act.

And, with six months of global activity being compressed into four, one-hour rounds, everything was moving at warp speed.

“It was a good reminder that, in the heat of the moment, policy is complicated,” said Babbin, a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. “When we’re sitting in the classroom, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, this is obviously the right choice.’ But when you’re sitting there and you have all of these things coming at you and you’re watching the number of infections rise, you really have to make snap decisions when you don’t always have all of the information that you wish you did.

“Sometimes you just have to make an educated decision.”

You’ll find more here.

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Kennesaw State University conducted a simulation on the European mass migration crisis entitled “Refugees, Religions, and Resistance.”

The simulation placed graduate students, Ph.D. students, an undergraduate student and alumni in the shoes of real-world people that have a direct role in handling the refugee crisis.

“The intention in all of this is to help students both, one, learn information and, two, practice skills they will need in their professional lives,” said Dr. Sherrill Hayes, a professor of conflict management. “In the case of the Refugee Crisis in Europe simulation, it was important for students to understand the content of what is happening in Europe with migration and refugees since migration is one of the front and center issues in international conflict and peacebuilding.”

It was placed in the context of the fictional town of Waldbach, Germany, in the state of Saxony. Participants were given roles as a principal at the town’s school, mayoral candidates for competing parties, the local factory owner and refugees, among other roles — in total, 14 people participated.

The purpose of the simulation is “to develop an understanding of the complexities of global migration and, more specifically, the current refugee crisis in Europe.”

A series of sub-scenarios challenged the participants to strategically work together to achieve goals that were outlined in the descriptions of each “character.” Some scenarios included: finding a resolution to educating Syrian refugee children, a proposal to build a mosque, violence against the refugees and a food shortage in the refugee camp.

The “townspeople” and “refugees” were physically separated in different buildings at the Cherokee Outdoor YMCA, where the simulation was held, to add to the realistic element of separation.

You’ll find further information at The Sentinel.

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The Reacting to the Past Consortium will be holding their Eighteenth Annual Faculty Institute on June 14-17 at Barnard College.

This year the Institute offers intensive workshops on twelve different games, as well as plenary and concurrent sessions that explore issues related to teaching and learning, faculty development, and the future of higher education more generally.

You’ll find more information at their website. The Consortium also has its usual series of regional conferences planned.

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GridlockED is a boardgame of hospital emergency room management developed by Dr. Teresa Chan and a team at McMaster University.

Co-designed learning platform.

This game was co-designed with emergency medicine faculty and medical students. The goal was to create a game that could allow future doctors to learn systems approaches to patient management in a safe, low stakes environment.

Play together to save patients.

In GridlockED, players work together to treat and prioritize patients. This fosters collaboration and communication skills.

Make low stakes mistakes

This game allows players to grasp what a real emergency department (ED) is like, without the life-or-death stakes.

We were fortunate to work with Teresa early on in the development process during the Simnovate 2016 conference at McGill university, where Vince Carpini and myself ran a workshop on serious game design.

The Hamilton Spectator has further details, and their Facebook page is here. The game goes on sale on March 27.

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