PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 9 December 2018

wordle091218.pngPAXsims 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.

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On December 4 the King’s College London Wargaming Network held its inaugural event, a lecture by Peter Perla on “The Art and Science of Wargaming in an Era of Strategic Competition.” You can listen to a recording of here lecture here.

For updates, follow the KCL Wargaming Network on Twitter,

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Slitherine’s counterinsurgency/stabilization game Afghanistan ’11 was removed from the Apple Store last week for reportedly violating the a prohibition on depicting “a specific government or other real entity as the enemies.”

This is not the first time Apple’s ban on real-world conflicts has been controversial. As discussed previously at PAXsims, a Syria-themed game was removed in 2013.

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A report by the US Naval War College discusses a recent cyber wargame:

More than 70 academics, students and military thinkers gathered at U.S. Naval War College on Nov. 16 to participate in the first war game put on by the college’s new Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute.

It was unique for a cyber event. The game was less about how operations occur in cyberspace and more about examining how people react in a crisis that includes cyberspace threats, organizers said.

Also, the contents were at an unclassified level, rare for a cyber war game, and the event included a wide variety of players, including members of the Naval War College Foundation and students from Newport’s Salve Regina University.

“This game is really designed to understand the link between cyber, conventional and nuclear military operations,” said retired Adm. Scott Swift, the event’s keynote speaker.

“It’s not about cyber operations and how those operations affect cyberspace, but instead why and when cyber operations matter to strategic choices that are made outside of the cyber domain,” said Swift, a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander who is now a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The players were given a fictional scenario in which a neighboring country invaded a contested border region.

Cyberattacks played a role, and nuclear weapons were a factor. Participants in the breakout groups were assigned to act as cabinet members.

Jacquelyn Schneider, assistant professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department, was the lead organizer. Her work at the college focuses on political psychology and how technology affects the human dimension of decision-making.

“This is the very beginning of a project that explores not just decisions in crises but experiments with different types of war games,” Schneider said.

“This looks at how does cyberspace interact with the really high-end levers of national power, and then how does that affect, on the macro level, the chance that states end up going to war and the types of war they fight,” she said.

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2018-11-08 18.14.47.jpgOn November 8, staff from the US Naval War College staged a refight of the Battle of Jutland (1916) at the National Maritime Museum in London. You’ll find the US NWC report on the event here.

You’ll also find much fuller reports on the event by Bob Cordery at the Wargaming Miscellany blog, and by David Manley at his blog Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me (from which we’ve stolen the photograph on the left).

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On September 28, staff at RAND’s Pittsburgh office held an “education policy game night,” in which community members were asked how they would cut the budget of a hypothetical high school:

How would a group of community leaders choose to cut a high school’s budget by 4 percent? And what would happen if parents or teachers held the red pen instead?

The RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office held a game night to find out. The game at hand was “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!,” an education policy exercise designed to help researchers understand how interested parties with different perspectives might tackle school improvement challenges—and help them learn about what drives those decisions.

RAND has a long history of using games to better understand human decisionmaking in relation to public policy. Since the 1950s, RAND has developed and conducted tabletop wargames with policymakers and others to help improve national security decisionmaking, but its gaming repertoire has been recently expanded to social economic policy. “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!” is the first RAND game to focus on education policy, and it made its public debut on Sept. 28.

Participants were grouped by their real-life roles—parents, teachers, school leaders, business leaders, and community leaders.

Darleen Opfer, a RAND vice president and director of its Education and Labor research division, explained the game’s premise. Celia Gomez, an associate policy researcher, and Brian Stecher, an adjunct senior social scientist, led the teams through the game.

Two rounds were played, with a different scenario affecting the fictional Tanner High School each time. In an interview, Gomez said “this is not a game with pieces or a board—there aren’t a lot of visuals—the game is really about ideas and dialogue.”

In the first round, each group was asked how they would accommodate a 4 percent cut in funding. During the 15 minutes the teams had to come up with a plan, the room filled with the sound of shuffling paper and muffled conversation as players read through the school’s current budget, demographic information, academic performance, and other data. When the time came to announce their decisions, no two solutions were the same.

Some suggested external partnerships to provide services that would be lost due to staff cuts. Others proposed non-traditional ways the school could make additional money such as selling education facilities to a developer or asking community leaders to voluntarily advise and mentor students.

During the “spotlight” step, teams were asked to refine their ideas and consider how they might overcome the biggest obstacles to their plans. “In this round, we like to encourage interactions,” Stecher said while inviting participants to share their thoughts with the room.

Once the five groups had announced their final plans, it was time to vote. Participants each had two plastic-chip game pieces to award to any team except their own. The team with the most chips won. Gomez instructed players to base their votes on which teams had the best idea, the best discussion point, or the most helpful feedback.

The school leaders won the first round. They had proposed reducing professional services staff by $255,939 and shifting those responsibilities to existing staff. The rest of the needed cuts would come from eliminating four paraprofessional educator positions.

In the second challenge, teams were given a scenario in which students planned a walkout after a teacher allegedly made a racially charged remark to a student. The groups were asked to come up with an immediate plan while an ongoing investigation is taking place.

The school leaders won this round, too, with a solution that engaged each group represented in the room. The plan involved providing language for homeroom teachers so they could acknowledge the situation and give students a constructive way to be heard. Boycotting class would not be allowed for student safety reasons. And the school would host a meeting to inform parents and the community at large about the situation.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 14, 4 (2018) contains a couple of pieces of possible interest to those who design and use educational games.

An article by Joseph Brown (University of Massachusetts) addresses “Efficient, Adaptable Simulations: A Case Study of a Climate Negotiation Game.”

Instructors may be reluctant to adopt simulations because of time, labor, or material constraints, or perceived incompatibility with large classes. In fact, simple games can cover multiple key concepts with minimal time and effort by the instructor. Simple games are also adaptable to other topics and classes, including large lectures. This article presents a simulation in which students negotiate a global greenhouse gas reduction agreement. Three scenarios model basic climate change mitigation, follow-on agreements for climate stabilization, and the surprise withdrawal of signatories after a domestic leadership turnover (e.g., the 2016 U.S. presidential election). The simulation teaches key concepts such as anarchy, collective action, preference divergence, and commitment problems. Concepts such as institutions, identity, and levels of analysis arise organically from game play. The exercise has extremely low cost and setup time. It can be run in 15 minutes or extended for a full class period. The game may also be repurposed to simulate other bargaining or collective action issues. This case study shows that simulations can be efficient and adaptable. Instructors can create their own simple games to enhance comprehension of key concepts.

Carolyn Shaw (Wichita State University) and Bob Switky (Sonoma State University) look at “Designing and Using Simulations in the International Relations Classroom.”

The value of simulations in the classroom is well established, and there are numerous publications that feature specific role-play exercises that can readily be introduced into the classroom. Frequently, however, instructors would like to design their own simulations to fit their specific learning objectives for a class, but don’t know where to start. This article lays out a series of structural and design questions for instructors to consider in order to craft their own simulations. We recognize that there is no singularly “best” way to design simulations, so this article focuses on the key components of simulations and explores different possibilities for each of these components depending on the desired goals of the instructor. We begin with the basics of class size, topic selection, learning objectives, length, and timing. Next, we discuss the design parameters—including the nature of student interaction, desired output, background information, role-specific instructions, and a timeline for the phases of the simulation. We move on to considerations about the actual running of the simulation, and wrap up with reflections on debriefing, grading, and assessment. By stepping through the design questions that are summarized in the Appendix, any instructor, experienced or new to role-playing, can develop a custom simulation to help meet the learning objectives for their courses.

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An article by Ralph Clem at the Texas National Security Review last month examines “Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability.” While exercises are usually quite highly scripted and hence are one rarely proper wargames, it makes for interesting reading.

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Image credit: Edward Castronova.

Could you use a modified version of Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss (GMT Games) to depict a future civil war in the United States? Why, I suppose you could.

The U.S. midterm election next week feels like one of the most important in a generation. We need to get out and vote. And after it’s over, we need to accept the election result. If we do not, then we could sink into a civil war that so many people are talking about. And that is what Edward “Ted” Castronova fears.

Castronova is a video game professor at Indiana University, and he became famous for writing about synthetic worlds and the economies in online games like EverQuest. Worried about the polarization of American politics, Castronova has created 2040 American Abyss: A Simulation of America’s Next Civil War. He tested it with his students and made it as realistic as possible. Rather than thinking of this as cool game about a miserable topic, he sees it as preventive, or teaching people about such a war would be devastating and have no winners. It is not a partisan game.

Should you? I’m not so sure. It’s hard to see, in this case, what the game would deliver that couldn’t be better (and more seriously) delivered through lectures and class discussion. After all, while political polarization in US politics is a very real thing, collapse into full-scale civil war seems implausible in the extreme.

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In early November, British Conservative Party members of the European Parliament tweeted a picture of themselves laughing as they played a Brexit game. They soon deleted the tweet when the political backlash rolled in.

Now, with Prime Minister Theresa May facing an impending defeat of her Brexit plan in the House of Commons, ministerial resignations and a possible split in the Conservative Party, and the very real possibility of a catastrophic “hard” Brexit departure from the European Union (or, possibly, elections or a second referendum), it must all seem even less amusing.

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The Winter 2019 conference of the Reacting to the Past consortium will be held on 18-19 January 2019 at the University of Georgia on the theme of “Reacting to the Past and Gaming: Revolutionizing Higher Education.” Other forthcoming conferences are:

  • January 15-16, 2019: Regional  Conference at University of Maine, Farmington
  • March 2019: Regional Conference at California State University, Northridge
  • March 29-30, 2019: Regional Conference at High Point University 
  • July 10-12, 2019: Regional Conference at Texas Lutheran University

For more information, consult their website.

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The 2019 Games for Change Festival will be held in New York on June 17-19. G4C is currently soliciting proposals for panels, sessions, and demonstrations.

Details can be found on the G4C2019 website.

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According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “women are taking on the world of Dungeons and Dragons.”

The 44-year-old Dungeons and Dragons brand had its best year in 2017, and 2018 is poised to be even better. Between 10 and 15 million people play the game globally, according to publisher Wizards of the Coast. While much of that growth stems from the prominence of DnD in shows like Stranger Things and a growing group of A-list stars – like Vin Diesel – who love to role play, at least part of that surge can be attributed to women. Today, one in three, or 39 per cent, of players are female, up from 20 per cent in 2012.

Part of that growth comes from the visibility of female players in online streaming services like Twitch and YouTube, says Benjamin Woo, assistant professor in the school of journalism and communications at Carleton University, and author of Get a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture.

As it becomes more common to watch campaigns unfold online (on camera, the host — called the dungeon master — builds out the story narrative and the players think up how to respond, rolling 20-sided die to determine their success or failure), channels like Girls Guts Glory or MissClicks put women front and centre, and showcase that the game can be welcoming to ladies. “(As a woman) it used to be you had to be invited in by someone and there was this secret society, a boy’s club aura (to the game),” Woo says. “Now, there’s representation on screen.”

Wizards has also tried to make the game more inclusive by ditching the stereotypical scantily clad female depictions….

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

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While on the subject of D&D, a report by KQED notes that the role-playing game “cultivates a range of social-emotional skills, which can lay the foundation for improved learning.”

David Simkins, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is an expert on games and learning. His research indicates that role-playing games (RPGs) can boost learning and stimulate intellectual curiosity and growth.

Dungeons & Dragons, and other narrative role playing games of its kind, provide many opportunities for learning,” said Simkins. “Participation in narrative role play can open up interests in topics such as mathematics, science, history, culture, ethics, critical reading, and media production. When D&D and its cousins are played in an inviting, encouraging, compassionate, and intellectually engaged environment, play opens the door to truly amazing possibilities for learning.”

 

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A few weeks ago, I posted my account of the recent workshop I taught on “Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building” at Carleton University in Ottawa. One of the participants, Matt Stevens of Lessons Learned Simulation and Training, has now posted his own review. He has nice things to say!

The course was rich in history, provided extensive examples of modern applications of simulations and wargaming to multiple contexts, and supplied practical tools for building and applying simulations and serious games in the “complex, uncertain environments” to which they are suited.

Rex brought together a wide range of best practices for design and delivery, collected and collated from across the industry and heavily supported by his own practical experience—I would strongly recommend taking a look at his slides, as there are few opportunities to find such a wealth of practical resources on professional simulations in one place. In the coming weeks I expect to highlight a few take-aways and taxonomies raised during the course.

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The Armchair Dragoons website features an interview with Justin Williamson and MAJ David Clayton, two student at the US Army Command & General Staff College, on their recent wargame design experiences at CGSC.

The US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC) recently launched a new program for students there to pursue an interest in game and sims for training purposes, and end up with a Masters Degree at the end of it all.  We’ve got a more detailed conversation coming up with Dr James Sterrett, who oversees the program, but for now, we thought we’d have a chat with a few of the students who recently completed their degrees and are now back in circulation in the Army, equipped with a wider toolbox of gaming experience.

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Students at Georgetown University in Qatar recent took part in a crisis simulation on the Syrian conflict.

“This is an unparalleled hands-on experiential learning activity for our students, giving them an understanding of what it takes to bring people with very different views to the table to resolve a conflict. These are critical life skills no matter which career path they pursue,” explained Dr. Christine Schiwietz, GU-Q assistant dean for academic affairs. Schiwietz co-organizes the simulation with James Seevers, director of studies at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.

During the course of one week, 28 GU-Q students attended a series of preparatory workshops including modules on the introduction to diplomacy and negotiation theory in advance of the simulation, which culminated in a day of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Working in teams, they sought to resolve key issues around the fate of the current regime and the opposition, the future of the Kurds, and the presence of foreign military troops.

“We’ve done a series of simulations with students here in Doha over the years. I thought this was one of the very best ones in terms of their level of preparation and their engagement with the issues,” commented Seevers. “The diverse nationalities and background of the student body at GU-Q brings different perspectives to the negotiations.”

Further details can be found at al-Bawaba.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, The National reports that “the inaugural Abu Dhabi Diplomacy Conference, known as Diplocon, will feature talks, workshops and a “future diplomats peacegame” — a crisis simulation designed to test the readiness of diplomats in the field.” Diplocon was held on November 1-15, and the conference website can be found here.

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The forthcoming Civilization 6 expansion Gathering Storm will address the challenge of climate change—not as a political statement, but because it’s real.

“No, I don’t think that’s about making a political statement,” said lead producer, Dennis Shirk. “We just like to have our gameplay reflect current science.”

“We did do our background research on trying to figure out where the global temperature has been over the last 150 years and what types of factors influence it,” continued lead designer Ed Beach. “So we feel like we don’t have to make a political statement, but we can take the common wisdom of the vast majority of the science community and embed that in the game and that becomes something really interesting for players to be able to engage with.”

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