PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: November 2019

Recent simulation and gaming publications, November 2019

image.png

PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.


Leila Demarest and Róisín Smith, “Managing Expectations? The Opportunities and Limitations of e-Learning Applications in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Training,” Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, 14, 3 (December 2019).

In recent decades, governmental and non-governmental organisations have increased the number and scale of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (CPPB) activities in conflict-affected countries. This development has also led to an increase in personnel in these organisations, posing challenges for staff training. In response, many organisations are looking at e-learning applications to provide cost-effective training at a broad geographical scale. Online courses and “serious games” have in particular received interest in recent years. In this article, we discuss the opportunities and limitations of such applications for CPPB training. We argue that they face challenges in contributing to skills and knowledge development but emphasise nevertheless that these challenges are similar to those faced by current classroom training initiatives. The potential of technology should not be exaggerated, yet digital applications can broaden the scope of participation and professionalization in CPPB activities to a wider range of (non-Western) actors.


Emanuel Deutschmann, Jan Lorenz, Luis G. Nardin, Davide Natalini, and Adalbert F. X. Wilhelm, eds, Computational Conflict Research (SpringerOpen, 2019).

Conflict, from small-scale verbal disputes to large-scale violent war between nations, is one of the most fundamental elements of social life and a central topic in social science research. The main argument of this book is that computational approaches have enormous potential to advance conflict research, e.g., by making use of the ever-growing computer processing power to model complex conflict dynamics, by drawing on innovative methods from simulation to machine learning, and by building on vast quantities of conflict-related data that emerge at unprecedented scale in the digital age. Our goal is (a) to demonstrate how such computational approaches can be used to improve our understanding of conflict at any scale and (b) to call for the consolidation of computational conflict research as a unified field of research that collectively aims to gather such insights. We first give an overview of how various computational approaches have already impacted on conflict research and then guide through the different chapters that form part of this book. Finally, we propose to map the field of computational conflict research by positioning studies in a two-dimensional space depending on the intensity of the analyzed conflict and the chosen computational approach.


Yong Hwan Kim, Yong Seung Song, Chang Ouk Kim, “A Study on the Interoperability of ROK Air Force Virtual and Constructive Simulation,” Journal of the Korea Society for Simulation 28, 2 (2019).

LVC (Live-Virtual-Constructive) training system is drawing attention due to changes in battlefield situation and the development of advanced information and communication technologies. The ROKAF(Republic of Korea Air Force) plans to construct LVC training system capable of scientific training. This paper analyzes the results of V-C interoperability test with three fighter simulators as virtual systems and a theater-level wargame model as a constructive system. The F-15K, KF-16, and FA-50 fighter simulators, which have different interoperable methods, were converted into a standard for simulation interoperability. Using the integrated field environment simulator, the fighter simulators established a mutually interoperable environment. In addition, the Changgong model, which is the representative training model of the Air Force, was converted to the standard for simulation interoperability, and the integrated model was implemented with optimized interoperability performance. Throughput experiments, It was confirmed that the fighter simulators and the war game model of the ROKAF could be interoperable with each other. The results of this study are expected to be a good reference for the future study of the ROKAF LVC training system.


Lawrence D. Johnson, Assessment of Learning Styles, Perceptions of Experiential Learning, and Satisfaction of Adults regarding a Learning Game, PhD thesis, Johnson & Wales University, August 2019.

Tradition holds the mission of higher education to be three-fold: teaching, research, and service, with overarching emphasis on learning (O’Banion, 2010). Increasingly, institutions of higher education are searching for ways to improve the delivery of knowledge to students and, as a delivery mechanism, learning games are currently in vogue (Sabin, 2012; Ulicsak & Wright, 2010). Because half of college students are adult learners (NCES, 2018), higher education institutions must acknowledge this fact and seek ways to support and encourage adult students. The confluence in higher education of learning games with adult learners was the context for the study. Give that most learning game studies have examined learning outcomes (Sitzmann, 2011; Weigel, 2013), this study focused on adult game-based learning by exploring if relationships existed between and among learning styles and demographics, and experiential aspects of and satisfaction with a game.

This mixed-methods, sequential, explanatory, dominantly quantitative study assessed adults’ learning styles and perceptions of experiential aspects of a game, based on Kolb’s theory (1984, 2015), and the characteristics and satisfaction of adults who participated in a learning game. The sample was drawn from adult learners at a U.S. military graduate education institution. Data were collected from game-playing adults who completed a learning style inventory (N = 48), an experiential aspects and satisfaction questionnaire (N = 41), and interviews with volunteers (N = 11). Data analyses used appropriate statistical and theme- identifying methods, and the results were converged supporting comparison and contrast.

The study found alignment among learning styles, experiential aspects, and satisfaction, with Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation (Kolb, 2015) emerging as the preferred learning styles. For demographic characteristics, only age was significantly related to learning styles. Utility of the game surfaced as the most important component of satisfaction, whereas immersion was a key requirement for satisfaction regarding the game experience.

The findings resulted in recommendations that are potentially useful to higher education leaders responsible for curriculum policy-making and practice, to designers of learning games for adults, and to institutional leaders concerned with the attraction and retention of adult students.


Anique Kuijpers, Heide Lukosch, Alexander Verbraeck, “Exploring a Mixed Method Approach: Simulation Games and Q Methodology,” International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance, November 2019.

In this paper we explore the possibilities to combine two research methods we regard as being very useful when interacting with stakeholders in complex systems. We discuss a mixed research methods approach, based on the Q methodology and a simulation game. In a game design process, translating the real or reference system into the game design is an intricate process and rather challenging due to the complexity of today’s societal systems. As shown by various studies, different data techniques are proposed in order to translate reality aspects. One of the proposed data gathering techniques in combination with simulation games is Q methodology. Q methodology is a suitable method to retrieve social perspectives of stakeholders on a particular topic. Yet it is still elusive how the results of a Q methodology can be used in a game design process. In this paper, we explore the possibilities how to combine the two methods and how to translate the results of the Q analysis into a game design concept. In the context of a case within the domain of transport and logistics, we discuss how such mixed research methods approach could look like. We conclude with a future outlook on our research.


Roni Linser, “The Player-Role Nexus and Student Engagement in Higher Education Online Role Play Simulation Games.” In S. Carliner (ed.), Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (2019). 

While there is no lack of Literature on role-play, there is a lack of empirical based studies. Further, what it is about role plays that makes them engaging educational tools is far from clear. The present paper argues that the structural properties of roles, and the players’ preferences/assessments are two contributing factors in explaining student engagement. The paper is part of a larger exploratory study on the structural components of role plays and their properties in relation to motivation and engagement. This paper focuses on the structural properties of roles (i.e. the way roles are constructed) in role plays, the players preferences and evaluation of these roles and their correlation to student engagement in different higher education institutions and in different areas of study. It uses both student perceptions and preferences gathered by questionnaire and quantitative data analytics to examine a limited number of structural properties in relation to student engagement with Multi Player Online Role Play Simulation Games (MORPSGs) for learning in higher education.


Mauricio Meschoulam,  Andrea Muhech,  Tania Naanous,  Sofía Quintanilla,  Renata Aguilar, Jorge Ochoa,  Cristobal Rodas, “The Complexity of Multilateral Negotiations: Problem or Opportunity? A Qualitative Study of Five Simulations with Mexican Students,” International Studies Perspectives 20, 3 (August 2019).

Education in International Relations requires continual evolution. One approach is the use of negotiation simulations for complex issues. Despite the extensive literature on the subject, there is a lack of qualitative research on this approach, particularly in Latin America and Mexico. This paper presents the findings of a qualitative research on five simulations with Mexican students. The five exercises were characterized by the application of elements that are not usually included in traditional simulations, such as a multiweek phase of prior negotiations, the use of Twitter, the introduction of nonstate actors, a gala dinner, and a continuous feed of real world news. We investigated 118 participants through 30 in depth interviews analyzed with NVivo, a systematized analysis of 118 reports, documents and tweets, and a pre-post questionnaire applied to the fifth group. The results in the five simulations were highly positive. The students reported a greater awareness of the complexity of international negotiations. Such awareness can present both a risk and an opportunity: a risk because those circumstances caused discouragement and frustration in many participants, and an opportunity because those same circumstances, properly channeled, triggered parallel skills, and creative thinking. Therefore, the role of the facilitation team was fundamental.


Paul Schuurman, “A Game of Contexts: Prussian-German Professional Wargames and the Leadership Concept of Mission Tactics 1870–1880,” War in History (online first November 2019).

Professional wargames (Kriegsspiele) had been adopted by the Prussian army at the start of the nineteenth century. They received a major boost after the Prussian successes during the German Wars of Unifications (1864–70) and were subsequently introduced by the armies of other European powers, the United States and Japan. They continued to play a vital role in the twentieth century, and all major German campaigns during the First and Second World Wars were prepared by wargames. I provide a descriptive analysis of the main forms of Prussian-German wargames during the key decade between 1870 and 1880. I then argue that the success of German wargames can be understood in the context of the military concept of mission tactics (Auftragstaktik). I will show how both wargames and mission tactics were driven in their turn by the even wider context of technological revolution in the fields of firearms and railway transport. I will argue that these contexts ushered forth professional wargames along an initially tenuous trajectory, before they became a key instrument in training and planning for war in the hands of the Great General Staff of the Prussian and hence the German army.

Michael A Stoto, Normand LeBlanc, Nellie Darling, Julia Gasior, Mikaela Harmsen, Casey Zipfel, “A Century of Influenza: Is the World Prepared for the Next Pandemic?” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs 20 (Fall 2019).

…In order to apply findings from research and to gain further insight into possible responses to a global pandemic in the 21st century, we conducted a simulation exercise of a hypothetical, but realistic, pandemic influenza today. Approximately thirty Georgetown medical, graduate, and undergraduate students played the roles of global, national, and local officials as well as medical advisors responding to a pandemic. The exercise included two phases, each of which ended with a presentation by the student participants to a panel of “decision-makers” from public health and other sectors. The simulation highlighted several areas that were key to the simulation, that would likely also arise in the case of an influenza pandemic today: identifying epidemiological characteristics of the novel pandemic strain, coordinating globally in accord with the International Health Regulations, implementing a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, applying non-pharmaceutical interventions, assessing availability and distribution of medical countermeasures, maintaining standards of care in a crisis, and communicating risk information locally.


Marcin Wardaszko, ed, Simulation & Gaming: Through and Across Disciplines, ISAGA 50th annual conference proceedings (Kozminski University, 2019).

[A collection of 76 papers accepted for the ISAGA 2019 conference.]


Woo-Sup Yoon and Jeong-Cheon Seo, “A Study on Effective Discussion Based Training Applying to Army War-game Process in Disaster Response Safety Korea Training,” Journal of the Society of Disaster Information 15, 3 (2019).

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to present a method for effectively conducting discussion-based training in disaster response safety training. Method: To this end, we analyzed the disaster response training of developed countries and suggested the training scenarios by applying the war-game process that is currently applied in the operation planning of our military. Result: In one disaster situation, several contingencies could be identified, and supplementary requirements for the manual could be derived. Conclusion: Therefore, in conclusion, if the military war-game process is applied to the discussion-based training in disaster response safety training, effective training can be carried out.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

 

Russian “multimedia combined arms training”

The following item has been provided to PAXsims by our roving correspondent, Tim Price.


 

image002.jpg

I was sent a fascinating insight into Russian training methods, shown on the Russian MOD Website, as well as: https://sdelanounas.ru/blogs/127374 The Commentary reads: “A unique multimedia training complex has been created in the Far Eastern VOKU”

In the Far Eastern Higher Combined Arms Command School, a unique training complex for managing units in modern combined arms combat has been created. It is made in the form of a multimedia layout of the area, turning into a three-dimensional image, on which cadets practice situational tasks.

c2RlbGFub3VuYXMucnUvdXBsb2Fkcy84LzUvODUwMTU3NDY5ODg5NF9vcmlnLmpwZWc_X19pZD0xMjczNzQ=.jpg

Classes are organized as part of platoons, where each cadet, in the role of commander, makes a decision in the current situation depicted on the display and, giving instructions to subordinates and attached forces in the position of other cadets, manages the battle. Moreover, each cadet is in a mobile isolated simulator, receives commands through a radio station and independently acts as a specific official of a motorized rifle company.

c2RlbGFub3VuYXMucnUvdXBsb2Fkcy82LzkvNjk0MTU3NDY5ODk4N19vcmlnLmpwZWc_X19pZD0xMjczNzQ=.jpg

The complex allows future commanders in the class to work out all the main types of tactical actions using unmanned aircraft, the latest reconnaissance, communications, artillery and other forces, and the means used in modern combat.

c2RlbGFub3VuYXMucnUvdXBsb2Fkcy80LzcvNDcxMTU3NDY5ODk3NF9vcmlnLmpwZWc_X19pZD0xMjczNzQ=.jpg

The creation of the complex and situational tasks was carried out by the best teachers in the framework of rationalization work. It embodied the analysis of modern military conflicts and some issues of the development of military tactics of the future.”

Translation courtesy of Google Translate. Additional photographs and details are contained here. The rather odd looking red curved shapes in the foreground of the terrain map are cut-outs of the Russian map symbols for a tank platoon deployed in the advance. There is a rough guide to Soviet map marking from The Nugget:

image015.jpg

In the comments section several commentators said “All that is new, is that which is old, forgotten

 

Historical research and wargaming (Part 2): Applying the framework to the Third Battle of Gaza (1917)

The following piece has been contributed to PAXsims by James Halstead.


 

Part Two: Applying the Framework

In Part 2, the framework introduced in Part 1 will be used to study debates around a historical battle: the 1917 Third Battle of Gaza. The ‘Gaza School’ counterfactual has been a recurring element of the battle’s historiography since its inception in the immediate aftermath of the battle and was brought to greater prominence in the 1930s with Clive Garsia’s book A Key To Victory which continues to be an influential source for studies on Palestine. The Gaza School therefore remains an intriguing counterfactual possibility amidst continuing debate within the historiography

The Third Battle of Gaza

The ‘Gaza School’ debate revolves around the strategy employed by Edmund Allenby to eject Ottoman forces from their defensive line between the towns of Gaza and Beersheba in southern Palestine through October and November, 1917. Historically Allenby launched attacks on either flank of the Ottoman line between Gaza and Beersheba, drawing Ottoman reserves to both flanks before breaking through the weakly held centre. The inland flank was attacked first with the Desert Mounted Corps (DMC) and XX Corps outflanking, surrounding and capturing Beersheba. Meanwhile XXI Corps diverted Ottoman reserves with a holding attack on Gaza while the formations in Beersheba built up water stockpiles then broke through the Ottoman centre, forcing a full-scale Ottoman retreat.

Halstead1.png

Garsia champions the ‘Gaza School’ counterfactual in his book, A Key To Victory, which posits Allenby should have eschewed the attack on Beersheba and focussed all resources upon breaking through at Gaza then exploiting with cavalry rather than outflanking the Ottoman line on the more logistically precarious inland flank.[1] This article will use the wargaming research framework laid out in the first part to explore the feasibility of Garsia’s alternative plan. Indeed, the suggestion to use a wargame to model this came as early as the early 1930s in Cyril Falls Official History.[2]

Geography

A study of the terrain reveals the difficulty of attacking Gaza with several hills, traditional fieldworks and thick cactus hedges all significant obstacles and made the town difficult to take.[3] Two attacks at the beginning of 1917 had already failed while XXI Corp’s holding attack during Third Gaza did poorly, failing to achieve the modest objectives set.[4]While Garsia argues Gaza could have been masked by XXI Corps while the DMC broke through along the beach even this argument is difficult to qualify. High sand dunes near the coast made the ground unsuitable for wheeled vehicles and would make the movement of three cavalry divisions burdensome.[5] Force to space ratios are also often forgotten and a study of a map reveals the beach route offered a frontage less than a mile wide, through which three cavalry divisions would have to ride. This would necessitate a limited, single Brigade front to overcome the Ottoman positions codenamed Lion, Tiger and Dog positions and then further redeployments and fighting across the Wadi Hesi before the cavalry could cut Gaza’s supply, while a long spread-out column of cavalry might prove vulnerable to artillery fire and Ottoman counterattacks regaining the beach defences.

Halstead2.png

Adherents to the Gaza School maintain the coast road would have made movement and supply much easier, there are a number of factors which discount this. This road moves directly through Gaza; where the heaviest held part of the entire Ottoman line was located so use of the road would have necessitated decisively shattering the heaviest part of the Ottoman defences, before pushing three cavalry divisions across heavily fortified ground, through a major urban area, across the heavily held Wadi Hesi and all along a single-track road.

Exploitation along the coast would also be harder than supposed with XXI Corps advance following Gaza’s evacuation requiring tractors to move supplies along the coast even with road access.[6] Heavier sand also exhausted the cavalry’s horses and bogged down wheeled transport making rapid movement difficult.[7] There were therefore significant obstacles to cavalry exploitation as a serious study of the terrain demonstrates.

Order of Battle and Generic Capabilities of Formations

Study of the order of battle reveals several insights. Firstly, that while the strength of Ottoman formations was highly variable, and the specifics of the numbers employed still remain unknown, they appear to have concentrated their best divisions on the coast behind Gaza. The historical attack on Beersheba pulled these troops away from the coast, to reinforce the inland flank, although even then there were still sufficient reserves to reinforce Gaza against the holding attack by XXI Corps. To focus the offensive on Gaza would, very likely, have meant that Ottoman forces could have concentrated upon holding Gaza and the terrain behind it even more rather than being split between two axis of advance as they were historically.

Third Gaza also provides an example of how order of battle research can reveal sources ignored by military historians in the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry (ISC) Brigade. Cyril Falls omits the Brigade from the Official History’s Order of Battle, a mistake which future historians have copied and while the absence of a lone Brigade may not seem especially significant the existence of 15 ISC is significant because the brigade’s performance during the battle provides direct evidence of how effectively larger bodies of cavalry would have operated on the coastal flank. [8]  Garsia argues it would have been sufficient to simply mask Gaza with XXI Corps and then slip the cavalry along the beach to cut Ottoman communications.[9] 15 ISC’s war diary, however, makes it clear that opening up a gap, and breaking through, would be no simple matter. The Brigade did actually form up behind the XXI Corps infantry assault but were unable to exploit through as Ottoman counterattacks recaptured the beach defences.[10] Additionally, as discovered in the survey of the terrain the heavier sand on the coast would have exhausted the cavalry. Cavalry tactics also heavily relied upon infantry, artillery and air support. Any unsupported cavalry penetration behind Gaza would struggle against renewed Ottoman defences and counterattacks as shown by EEF cavalry actions at Huj on November 8, Beit Hanun and in the (attempted) crossing of the Nahr el Auja.[11] In all of these cases unsupported cavalry on the advance struggled to overcome what were often weakly held defensive positions and indicates that the cavalry might not even have been able to achieve their objectives even had they broken through.

The EEF’s Decision Making Environment

While the creation of the physical model demonstrates the difficulties with the Gaza Camp approach further analysis of the decision-making environment in the EEF in autumn 1917 further supports a case that the Gaza School approach simply did not align with EEF strategic priorities. Philip Chetwode wrote in October: ‘it is desired to get the enemy on the move from his strongly entrenched positions with as few casualties as possible, relying on our preponderance in cavalry to do the execution.’[12] It is also worth bearing in mind the directive given to Allenby before the battle to capture Jerusalem and ‘occupy the Jaffa-Jerusalem line’ as cheaply as possible.[13] Preponderance in cavalry, and the advantage this gave, was a clear motivation for seeking the open, inland flank. While the EEF had three cavalry divisions, and three independent cavalry brigades the Ottoman cavalry only consisted of one division, barely stronger than a British cavalry brigade. Turning a weakly held flank would also likely be much cheaper than a head-on assault against the most strongly held part of the Ottoman line. The more indirect inland route via Beersheba was chosen because it maximised the EEF’s advantage in cavalry while helping to keep casualties as low as possible. XXI Corps losses in just their holding attack on Gaza were double those of the assault on Beersheba; and for little tangible gain with even the single Brigade of cavalry present unable to exploit.[14][15]

Allenby’s decision to risk the inland attack on Beersheba therefore is as much to do with wider strategic priorities as it is to do with the practicalities of the terrain and force composition.

Integrating wargaming within military historical research, not just within the context of counterfactuals, offers a number of important tools that military historians continue to underutilise. By creating an analytical model of events that aims to conform with the course of historical events military historians can analyse individual factors based on under-utilised (but commonly available) evidence while the successful creation of an accurate model encourages historians to explore the full range of evidence. If the model doesn’t work for whatever reason, then this simply encourages further research to understand why the model doesn’t conform. Extra playtesting and refining of the model is something that can introduce previously unknown or unconsidered factors that suddenly appear more decisive for their effect on the accuracy of the model.[16]

Wargaming military history therefore, while still a tool for support of a wider analytical goal (and as such should be employed appropriately), fills in a number of crucial gaps within a military historian’s toolkit. Design of a wargame encourages rigorous analysis of under-utilised sources in a wider framework and, most importantly, incorporates these into a wider model which must be adapted to fit the historical result. When an initial model doesn’t conform then this just encourages further exploration of why your rigorously researched model hasn’t conformed. Much like wargaming mechanics this creates an important feedback loop, and encourages the researcher to go back and check their sources again: something that the dominant research methodology within history fails to do. Indeed, much of the time in traditional military history contradictory, and inconvenient, sources are often seemingly explained away, ignored or subsumed into wider arguments. Wargaming encourages a more involved research process right from the beginning of a project and, furthermore, relies upon sources that very often can be easily obtained without endless days in the archive. Meanwhile testing the design, especially with a third party, can often lead to fundamental reevaluations of either sides decision space: ‘what constitutes ‘victory’ for either side and what are they willing to risk to attain it?’ are just two questions that applying a gaming approach can encourage. Designing a wargame for a battle at the outset of a project can often produce new priorities on archival research and when new evidence is discovered allows it to be reincorporated into the model: often improving the pursuit of a historically accurate result. While military history is increasingly moving to incorporate more qualitative, and innovative methodologies there are still ways that military historians can integrate more traditionally social science approaches like modelling, and wargaming, to the benefit of their research.[17]

[1] Clive Garsia, A Key To Victory: A Study in War Planning (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1940)

[2] Cyril Falls, Military Operations Egypt and Palestine: From June 1917 to the end of the War Part I (London, 1930), p. 32

[3] SHEA 6/2, The Liddell Hart Centre for Military Studies and JONES, CF, The Liddell Hart Centre for Military Studies

[4] Cyril Falls, Military Operations Egypt and Palestine: From June 1917 to the end of the War Part I (London, 1930)

[5] Lieutenant Colonel, The Honorable, R.M.O, Preston, The Desert Mounted Corps: An Account of the Cavalry Operations in Palestine and Syria 1917-1918 (Boston, 1920), p. 6

[6] Falls, Official History p. 142 and Marquess of Anglesey, A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume 5, Egypt, Palestine and Syria (London: 1994) p. 188

[7] Anon. History of the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry, p. 17

[8] Garsia, Key To Victory, p. 206

[9] Garsia, Key To Victory, p. 206

[10] Anon. History of the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry, p. 16

[11] Falls, Official History p. 123, 215 and Anon, History of the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry, p. 16

[12] IWM, P183/1: Chetwode Papers, 1st October Letter: ‘Appreciation of the Situation on the 14th October’

[13] Falls, Official History, p. 67

[14] Wavell, Allenby: Soldier and Statesman p. 178

[15] John Ericksen, Ottoman Army Effectiveness in World War I: A Comparative Study p. 123

[16] Phil Sabin, The Future of Wargaming to Innovate and Educate, Public Lecture at Kings College, 22.11.2019

[17] Jonathan Fennel, Fighting the People’s War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019); Ben Wheatley, A Visual Examination of the Battle of Prokhorovka (Journal of Intelligence History,), Volume 18, 2019


James Halstead is a military historian who is primarily interested in the two world wars of the 20th century. He studied for his Masters at Kings College London (including Professor Phil Sabin’s Conflict Simulation module) and is currently studying for his PhD on Information Management in the British and Commonwealth Armies at Brunel University, London. James has delivered lectures on the Royal Flying Corps and Air Force in the Palestine Campaign at the RAF Museum, Hendon and will do so again at Wolverhampton in 2020. James can be found either on twitter at @JamesTTHalstead or you can read his research blog at:  youstupidboy.wordpress.com

Historical research and wargaming (Part 1): Constructing the framework

The following piece has been contributed to PAXsims by James Halstead. Part 2 can be found here.


Fire_and_movement.png

Historical research and wargaming (Part 1): Constructing the framework 

Wargaming offers a unique methodological toolset to study historical conflicts and while there has been interest in using wargames as an educational tool, there is little focus on what wargaming can offer analytical, military history research.[1] The first part of this article will outline how the structured, and exhaustive, research necessary to design historical simulations can provide unique insights for historical research. Since wargame design needs to account for player decisions that diverge from history there is a need to comprehensively research not just the historical record but counterfactuals too. This analysis is carried out in a structured framework which helps the designer to understand both the environment the battle is fought in, but also the military makeup and performance of both sides and how best to incentivise historical play.[2]

The research for a wargame therefore requires the creation of a very different and, in some ways, more rigorous and encompassing model than many traditional military histories. While there is a strong element of the counterfactual to wargaming this still presents ‘a highly useful way of exploring cause and effect.’ Developing a rigorous and thoroughly analytical representational model of historical conflicts can be of huge value in giving greater prominence to underutilised sources and in understanding contemporary opinions and priorities.[3]

Wargames research utilizes a framework that studies the geographical environment, the orders of battle of the opposing sides, generic capabilities of the formations involved and opposing decision environments.[4] This first section will study these factors individually, exploring exactly why they are important and the consequences that proper examination and integration of these factors can have for understanding of military history.

Geography

Studying the ground over which a battle is fought is vital for any study of a battle. Along with the Order of Battle, it is one of the most obvious research benefits of war gaming. Properly modelling a battle’s geographic environment can lead to interesting insights. For example, the German Operation Michael Offensive in March, 1918, against the British Fifth Army and elements of Third Army is often seen as being so successful (at least initially) because of the favourable force to space ratios in favour of the Imperial German Army, better tactics and weak British defences. What is often not considered is the nature of the terrain itself with the British defences lying on a wide, flat plain, with higher ground to the north and south. Approaching Operation Michael as a wargame reveals the nature of the terrain acted against the British defenders and they were forced to give up so much ground, falling back on river lines such as the Somme, partly because of the dearth of defensible features behind Fifth Army’s front line. In turn, these river lines were often only given up when outflanked; meaning that the British Army simply was not able to fall back on terrain favourable to a defence across the entire width of their front line. The German assault against the southern portion of Third Army units to the north of Fifth Army was less successful during Operation Michael and the follow-up, Operation Mars, partly because the British defenders were fighting in much more favourable terrain for defence. Because terrain is such an integral part of the wider model wargames encourage far more engagement than is usual with the characteristics of the terrain on which the historical conflict was fought. With most traditional military histories lacking good-quality maps this can encourage the wider use of easily available sources with a corresponding increase in the level to which terrain is considered as a factor in the historical result.

Order of Battle

Alongside the creation of a proper map, researching an order of battle and the generic capabilities of formations are the basic building blocks in the creation of a rigorously analytical model. This is important to the creation of a wargame because, unlike traditional military history, missing key formations out or incorrectly modelling their capabilities in combat can have important consequences.

The research of an accurate Order of Battle is often nothing much more than a necessary task that doesn’t reveal anything particularly exciting; however, it is still an important step to creating a viable model and therefore something that needs to be properly addressed. Again, like maps, many traditional historical works often give the order of battle only the most cursory of attention. Although orders of battle often do not provide anything particularly revelatory, they undoubtedly contribute a great deal to the wider framework. Knowing exactly which troops were where is an important part of creating a valid simulation and, again, creates a valuable, if incremental contribution to the wider wargame model and can lead to some important, if seemingly minor revelations regarding force to space ratios and the true strength of formations often represented on maps as abstract unit symbols.

However, in some cases the value of proper orders of battle created through commercial wargames have provided interesting revisions to historical works. Dave Parham’s research on the Battle of Stalingrad in the 1980s points out the 76th Infantry Division did not fight at Stalingrad: the assault on the city centre consisting of only two divisions rather than the three that many histories have commonly asserted.[5] Similarly Orders of Battle for Austria-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia in 1914, are obscure and hard to come by, with the most modern, and easily accessible, order of battle found in a commercially published wargame.[6]

Generic Capabilities of Formations

Understanding the generic capabilities of formations which took part in the conflict is really the full marriage of the geographical study and order of battle into a fully realized model simulating the physical capabilities of the military formations involved. Studying the combat record of formations provides a wider appreciation of the generic capabilities of both side’s formations while understanding how the terrain affected the ability of the units collected in the Order of Battle to move and carry out combat introduces completes the basic physical model. The final step is to understand the contemporary military objectives, doctrines and politico-social priorities of participants.

Decision Making Environments

In order to produce an accurate simulation, designers must understand why commanders behaved as they did historically, which requires the priorities and motivations for both sides to be incorporated into the wider model. Historical actors often do not behave rationally to modern perspectives, and what good wargame and historical research does is uncover the reasons that made their choices made appear rational. It is necessary to study the strategic priorities and objectives of both sides to understand why they behaved as they did, and to introduce incentives into the design, to encourage players behave in this way.

For example, in a simulation of the German invasion of France in World War Two, it might seem obvious to the player that they need to attack on either side of any German breakthroughs, neatly cutting off and isolating the Wehrmacht Panzer formations. However, in any accurate simulation of the battle, there will be rules simulating command and control confusion in order to prevent the Allied player from doing precisely this. Similarly, accurately depicting the decision-making environment can also help bridge the gap between military and cultural or social history. A simulation of British and Commonwealth forces in Western Europe in 1944 and 1945 would not just require the accurate modelling of their capabilities but also consideration of the specific style in which they fought battles; to avoid casualties and maintain morale. A successful simulation might, for example, impose heavy penalties on the Commonwealth player for taking infantry casualties and encourage them to use heavy artillery support and set-piece attacks.

Studying the decision environments and the factor’s which the opposing commanders took into account when making their plans can provide very different perspectives from the logical assumptions modern audiences can make when analysing history. This is, of course, something that all good historians should be doing in the first place but the clear analytical framework process that war game design necessitates can often make those perspectives much clearer and assist insight into the wider battle.

Wargames, while utilizing the same skills as traditional military history, research within a framework that provides much more technical and specific understanding of conflicts which can, in turn, challenge many assumptions made by existing histories. It is not so much a radically new way of approaching research but of framing the evidence and creating an emphasis on underutilized, but very accessible, sources such as Orders of Battle or maps. In the second part of this article, this framework will be applied to studying the ‘Gaza School Counterfactual’ that was developed in the 1930s about the Third Battle of Gaza, as an example of the way that this wargaming research framework can benefit historical research by framing underutilized, but easily accessible evidence.

[1] Phil Sabin, Simulating War (London, 2012) and Robert Citino, ‘Lessons from the Hexagon’ in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming

[2] Phil Sabin, Simulating War (London, 2012) p. 47

[3] Paul Cartledge, The Spartans: An Epic History , (New York, 2013), p. 126

[4] Phil Sabin, Simulating War (London, 2012) p. 47-48

[5] John Hill, Battle for Stalingrad Main Rule Book, (Simulation Publications Incorporated: New York, 1980), p. 19

[6] Serbien Muβ Sterberien, (GMT, 2013)


James Halstead is a military historian who is primarily interested in the two world wars of the 20th century. He studied for his Masters at Kings College London (including Professor Phil Sabin’s Conflict Simulation module) and is currently studying for his PhD on Information Management in the British and Commonwealth Armies at Brunel University, London. James has delivered lectures on the Royal Flying Corps and Air Force in the Palestine Campaign at the RAF Museum, Hendon and will do so again at Wolverhampton in 2020. James can be found either on twitter at @JamesTTHalstead or you can read his research blog at:  youstupidboy.wordpress.com

How wargames work and their importance by Paul Vebber

Listen to Paul Vebber, assistant director of wargaming and future warfare research at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Headquarters, discussing how wargames work and their importance to the Warfare Centers, Naval Sea Systems Command and the Navy:

How an opponent wargames is an intelligence collection requirement

In June of this year Mercyhurst University’s Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences held its first “Intelligence Community Forum” focused on Intelligence support for decision makers (https://mercyhurst.edu/icf). At that conference I presented the argument that “How an opponent wargames is an intelligence collection requirement” available online.

The abstract reads:

The answer to “How does an opponent wargame?” supports decision makers when deterring, preempting or reacting to conflict. How opponent decision makers wargame during peacetime, i.e. the methods, techniques and styles of gaming used and the beliefs and psychological biases of the players, gives us insight into how opponent decision makers might operate during conflict. This is in addition to the scenarios, systems and concepts they game which one can credibly infer from the political, economic and military environments. Since studying the performance of individual decision makers during real life planning and conflict tells us something about how those decision makers might behave in future conflicts, then how they behave during wargames might tell us something about how they would perform during the future conflict that they are currently wargaming. Therefore studying the wargaming approaches of an opponent or ally and the wargame performance of selected military and political leaders should be an intelligence collection requirement. In this presentation I propose an analytic framework for answering the wargame intelligence question based on the Purpose of the Wargame and the Characteristics of the Wargamers for each identified opponent group, and propose methods for avoiding such collection on oneself.

Let’s see more wargamers at next year’s Intelligence Community Forum  on June 16–18, 2020, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA!


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

A Game Of Birds And Wolves

9780316492089.jpgSimon Parkin’s new book on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, A Game of Bird and Wolveswas published in the UK last week by Sceptre.

The triumphant story of a group of young women who helped devised a winning strategy to defeat the Nazi U-boats and deliver a decisive victory in the Battle of the Atlantic

By 1941, Winston Churchill had come to believe that the outcome of World War II rested on the battle for the Atlantic. A grand strategy game was devised by Captain Gilbert Roberts and a group of ten Wrens (members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) assigned to his team in an attempt to reveal the tactics behind the vicious success of the German U-boats. Played on a linoleum floor divided into painted squares, it required model ships to be moved across a make-believe ocean in a manner reminiscent of the childhood game, Battleship. Through play, the designers developed “Operation Raspberry,” a countermaneuver that helped turn the tide of World War II.

Combining vibrant novelistic storytelling with extensive research, interviews, and previously unpublished accounts, Simon Parkin describes for the first time the role that women played in developing the Allied strategy that, in the words of one admiral, “contributed in no small measure to the final defeat of Germany.” Rich with unforgettable cinematic detail and larger-than-life characters, A Game of Birds and Wolves is a heart-wrenching tale of ingenuity, dedication, perseverance, and love, bringing to life the imagination and sacrifice required to defeat the Nazis at se

The book will be released in North America in January by Little, Brown.

In the meantime, you can read Paul Strong’s excellent analytical paper, “Wargaming the Atlantic War: Captain Gilbert Roberts and the Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit” (2017). See also last year’s recreation of a WATU wargame at the Western Approaches museum by staff from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and PAXsims.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

 

New wargaming book hits the shelves

It’s been a good year for wargaming books.

First was Matt Caffrey’s On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future available as a free download from the US Navy College Press

Now we have from the other side of the Atlantic Graham Longley-Brown’s”Successful Professional Wargames; A Practitioner’s Handbook, published by the History of Wargaming Project. There is also a Kindle version available from Amazon.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

 

Low-Tech War Games Inform High-Tech Decisions

Interesting program using wargaming to educate engineers, scientists, and logisticians in the realities of operational planning to increase their ability to meet the US Navy’s strategic goals. See the report here.

Rolling dice and moving game pieces might not seem relevant to 21st century warfare, but Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is finding this low-tech means of war gaming has the potential to provide increased agility in the high stakes competition of high technology.

War games have been used throughout history to help operational and logistical leaders develop critical thinking and planning skills, determine possible outcomes and keep warfighters proficient in the use of their weapons systems.

The current battle raging across the Pacific Ocean on the tabletop map set up at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport is not being run by admirals. Instead, engineers, logisticians and even Navy Acquisition Development Program (NADP) entry-level employees are fighting the game in order to expose them to the operational and logistical requirements of the warfighters who will be on the front lines in a real conflict.

Undeniably Victorious: Refighting the Iran-Iraq War

72315761_2508324572621671_2659927109597659136_o.jpg

The battlefield.

On October 5, the Ottawa Megagames group took advantage of the presence of Ben Moores at a nearby NATO operations research and analysis conference to run his game of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Undeniable Victory. Ben has previously discussed the design of the game back in 2017 here at PAXsims. This time, two PAXsims editors—myself and Tom Fisher—would assume the roles of Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein respectively. About three dozen people participated in the event. How did it all go?

72091134_2508326535954808_7418217374202986496_o.jpeg

Ben Moores (right) briefs Saddam/Tom Fisher (left).

Well, from the Iranian point of view, very well indeed.

In Undeniable Victory, the role of a Supreme Leader is as much a Control team function as a player role—you are there to keep your team informed and engaged, and make sure everyone is participating effectively in the game. Undeniable Victory has internal factionalism built into it (in the Iranian case, we were subdivided into radical, conservatives, and moderates), and that certainly played a role. However, in Tehran we generally agreed that defence of the Islamic Revolution and victory over Iraq was more important than factional infighting, so it tended to be rather muted —with the exception of one notable plot within military ranks that resulted in a few executions.

71582552_2508322852621843_5052379354105905152_o.jpeg

Saddam Hussein strikes a defiant pose.

Our strategy was a two pronged one: an offensive in the south (designed to hamper Iraqi oil exports and try to safeguard our own), a simultaneous offensive in the north (aimed at interrupting Iraqi oil production and exports from its northern oilfields), while simply holding and delaying in the centre. In support of our southern strategy our navy was to maintain a tight blockade against Iraqi shipping in the Gulf. In support of the northern campaign, we provided support to the restive Iraqi Kurds, and focused diplomatic efforts on Syria in an effort to block Iraqi oil exports via that country.

71382998_2508323822621746_8764656769294139392_o.jpeg

Fighting is intense on the Southern front.

In the south, the fighting was intense—we made only limited headway, and suffered heavy losses, but it was enough. Our navy generally did very well, although it did sink a Saudi tanker by mistake. A bigger failure came when Iraqi forces were able to launch a daring amphibious raid against Iran’s Kharg Island export facilities. The cabinet had warned the General Staff of this possibility, and ordered that appropriate precautions be taken. When it was clear they had not, heads had to roll: there was a shake-up of both the cabinet and the upper ranks of the military.

71660685_2508330729287722_7726962799082995712_o.jpeg

The Central Sector early in the game.

In the Central sector, Iraqi forces made substantial progress, and might eventually threaten key infrastructure and Tehran itself. We were confident, however, that a combination of Revolutionary Guard militia and strategic depth could blunt their attack.

72295892_2508323179288477_6707457229391396864_o.jpeg

The Iranian cabinet at work.

In the north, our Kurdish strategy and military campaign went far better than expected, in part due to impressive military performance by the Kurdish peshmerga. (The Kurds would later get a little too ambitious and start making demands of us too, but nothing we felt we couldn’t handle.) When General James Devine, commander of the northern front (and an Iran expert in real life), reported that he had captured Mosul and “there is nothing between me and Baghdad” we were first incredulous. Surely it was a trap? But he assured us it wasn’t, and we authorized a major thrust towards the Iraqi capital.

71582320_2508329772621151_3502512921848578048_o.jpeg

Iranian commanders (left), Chief of Staff (centre), and Minister of Defence (right) discuss strategy. The latter two would later be demoted and sent to the front.

Meanwhile, cities on both sides had suffered from missile and air attacks, and our economy and oil sector was beginning to suffer serious attrition too. Things were far worse for the Iraq, however, since we had cut off almost all their oil export routes. War is indeed the conduct of political economy by other means.

72048408_2508326989288096_6327848348820701184_o.jpeg

General Devine (left) chortles as he sees an open road to Baghdad.

With the Kurds in full revolt, Iranian troops bearing down on Baghdad, and the Iraqi budget in shambles, elements with the Iraqi cabinet secretly asked our price to end hostilities. We were clear: a full withdrawal from Iranian territory and substantial war reparations. Not long after, a coup took place, Saddam Hussein was executed, and Iraq sued for peace.

71953496_2508328975954564_2581390557393715200_o.jpg

The Iraqi cabinet discusses the deteriorating situation.

There would be no “drinking poison” this time around (the phrase Khomeini used to describe the stalemated end of the actual war, in which up a million people may have died). Instead, the Revolution had achieved a historic, if costly, victory.

72103143_2508323135955148_8413776830477107200_o.jpeg

More Iranian cabinet discussions.

As for the game itself, it was extremely well organized by Ottawa megagames. With the exception of some hiccups in the military procurement and foreign loan procedures, everything flowed smoothly. Only a few of the participants were experienced wargamers, yet Undeniable Victory successfully delivered a realistic strategic replay of the conflict.

The next Ottawa megagame will be Apocalypse North on 7 March 2020:

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can Canada survive the murderous zombie menace from the south? Can municipal, provincial and federal governments overcome their differences in time?

Approximately fifty participants will assume the roles of federal and provincial politicians, military commanders, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, public health officials, scientists, community leaders, the media, and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain in this MegaGame of zombie armageddon and Canadian politics.

APOCALYPSE NORTH is a non-profit activity organized by PAXsims in conjuction with Ottawa MegaGames and the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

Gaming news, making news

The follow report has been written for PAXsims by Tristian Martinez. Picture credits:  Tristian Martinez (Jakarta Peacegame) and Dr. Lindsay Grace (others).


 

Scores of immigrants begin a thousand-mile trek from Mexico City to the Texas border.  A fantasy adventuring party is wiped after resolving to use plurality voting to guide combat decisions.  An anthropomorphized uterus rafts down a river of blood to a heavy metal soundtrack, lifting taboos against menstruation.  In 24 hours, these games and more were designed at the Newsjam, held jointly at the American University Game Lab and the University of Miami School of Communication.

Newsjams iterate on hackathons and gamejams, promoting games with calls for social impact as viable journalism.  Topics are left to the participant’s discretion, and digital toys, scripted interactables, and games are all encouraged.  Organizers Lindsay Grace, Andy Phelps, Lien Tran, and Clay Ewing are all veteran game designers with a talent for creating serious games that drive positive change.  Their participants are young (mostly undergrad and graduate students), socially conscious, and diverse.  Together, they represent a part of the future of serious games.

The Newsjam gathered nearly 30 designers to explore the “intersection of news, games, and community,” by “connecting people with the news and empowering citizen reporters.”  Issues of local concern like decaying Washington DC infrastructure and rolled back promises of Canadian electoral reform lept from experiences to interactive media as Dr. Ben Stoke, co-founder of Games for Change, encouraged participants to draw inspiration from innovations and subjects in local news.  Dr. Lindsay Grace followed with a crash course in rapid prototyping, advising participants to

  • Use small concepts driven by big ideas
  • Take risks and not aim for perfection
  • Tack on 30% more time to estimates
  • Discard broken elements
  • Focus on core gameplay/experience first
  • Focus on efforts with high impact/low investment
  • Use the development cycle
  • Efficiently use time by taking breaks, commenting on work, saving frequently, creating multiple versions, and reusing assets
  • Reward themselves afterward
  • Remember the 24-hour time period
  • Choose a topic that won’t lose relevance
  • Ensure that the project playfully engages audiences

Dr. Andy Phelps of the American University Game Lab delivered finishing remarks, encouraging experiential learning, engagement, and warning participants against using text-based information delivery.

Throughout the night, participants worked to design and test prototypes of their games.  Tension filled the morning; one team ran through 7 failed prototypes before splitting into mutually supportive groups at 3:00 AM to pursue related designs.  Another team started off strong and worked through the night, only to be interrupted by a game-ending bug that took 2 hours to identify and undid 4 hours of effort.  A third team, consisting of a single programmer, finished their code with only an hour to spare.

Many participants at the DC location expressed satisfaction with their product, and multiple projects were proudly published online and added to portfolios.  Unfortunately, the facilities and organizers were heavily geared to digital design, with little support for analog games.  Additionally, at the DC location, AU students were not integrated with unaffiliated participants, creating a university/town divide.  However, the demonstration of design skills and opportunity for development indicate a strong future for serious gaming, and a potential new audience for the readers and community of PAXsims.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

McGill: Gaming humanitarian crisis

74599599_526942124819900_7404360113194008576_o.jpg

On Wednesday, November 20 I’ll be speaking to the Games and Gamification for Human Development and Well-being (GHDW) working group at McGill University on “Gaming Humanitarian Crisis” (17h30-18h00). This will be followed by a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game (18h00-20h30).

The event will take place on the 1st floor of the Education Building (3700 McTavish).


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

 

Gender and overconfidence in wargames

armymenwomen.png

This isn’t a new piece of research, but I just came across it and thought it might be of interest to PAXsims readers: a 2006 article by Dominic Johnson et al on “Overconfidence in Wargames: Experimental Evidence on Expectations, Aggression, Gender and Testosterone,” in Proceedings. Biological sciences  273, 1600 (2006).

Overconfidence has long been noted by historians and political scientists as a major cause of war. However, the origins of such overconfidence, and sources of variation, remain poorly understood. Mounting empirical studies now show that mentally healthy people tend to exhibit psychological biases that encourage optimism, collectively known as ‘positive illusions’. Positive illusions are thought to have been adaptive in our evolutionary past because they served to cope with adversity, harden resolve, or bluff opponents. Today, however, positive illusions may contribute to costly conflicts and wars. Testosterone has been proposed as a proximate mediator of positive illusions, given its role in promoting dominance and challenge behaviour, particularly in men. To date, no studies have attempted to link overconfidence, decisions about war, gender, and testosterone. Here we report that, in experimental wargames: (i) people are overconfident about their expectations of success; (ii) those who are more overconfident are more likely to attack; (iii) overconfidence and attacks are more pronounced among males than females; and (iv) testosterone is related to expectations of success, but not within gender, so its influence on overconfidence cannot be distinguished from any other gender specific factor. Overall, these results constitute the first empirical support of recent theoretical work linking overconfidence and war.

The full article (at the link above) also includes this experimental finding too:

Finally, in probing the characteristics of individuals that were prone to overconfidence and launching wars, we found that levels of narcissism (as measured by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Raskin & Terry 1988) were significantly related to pre-game self-rankings. Males (but not females) with high narcissistic qualities tended to expect to do better (all data, Spearman’s ρ=−0.21, N=185, p=0.005; males only, ρ=−0.25, N=106, p=0.012; females only, ρ=−0.20, N=79, p=0.074). Moreover, those males (and again not females) who launched unprovoked attacks on their opponents had significantly higher narcissism scores than those who did not (Mann–Whitney U-test: all data, Z=2.23, N=46,137, p=0.025; males, Z=2.09, N=33,72, p=0.037; females, Z=0.92, N=13,65, p=0.36; see figure 3).

In short, “narcissism scores predicted both overconfidence and unprovoked attacks among males”—but not females.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

Connections NL 2019 AAR

Connections NL 2019 AAR.png

The most recent Connections Netherlands wargaming conference was held on 28 October, with some fifty or so participants. You’ll find a report on the conference here.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

 

Room to game (or, the Battle of Winterfell explained)

 

where-is-everyone-during-the-great-battle-of-winterfell.jpeg

Course of action wargaming for the Battle of Winterfell. Might the room be responsible for the defenders’ military missteps?

 

The Battle of Winterfell was the final battle of the Great War against the Night King and Army of the Dead. While ultimately successful, the human defenders adopted a notoriously weak defensive strategy, involving poorly-defended ditches, misplaced archers and artillery, and a suicidal frontal cavalry charge.

Scholars and historians have suggested that weak scriptwriting was responsible for this. However, recent scientific research suggests that the real culprit might be the room selected for pre-battle course of action wargaming.

Everyone who has ever conducted a serious game knows that the room matters. How early can you get access? Are the tables big enough? Can they be moved (and are they all the same height)? Will the audiovisual and IT systems work on the day—and what’s your fallback if they don’t? Are there breakout/team/control rooms nearby? If so, will their location enhance gameplay (by fostering the rights sorts of interaction and immersion), or undermine it? Where will coffee and lunch be served?

There is also, however, considerable evidence that room quality affects player performance in more fundamental ways. A recent study by M. Nakamura in Simulation & Gaming found that the size and layout of the room had significant effects on how players assessed the gaming experience in their debriefings:

Results from the current study demonstrate that the difference in room condition was influential. In HACONORI, participants felt more satisfaction in the small room than in the large room, while in BLOCK WORK, participants felt less usefulness in the small room than in the large room, but only when asked about the degree of usefulness before being asked about their degree of satisfaction. The effect of room condition seems to trend in the opposite direction in the two gaming sessions. This difference is because the amount of space has a different meaning in HACONORI and BLOCK WORK; for example, in HACONORI, group members can successfully work together by providing quick and responsive communication with each other. The small room must have encouraged such speedy communication. Conversely, in BLOCK WORK, participants can successfully work when they have more personal space since the task is more individualized; however, this may be affected by the order of questions. When participants were asked about the degree of usefulness after being asked about their degree of satisfaction, their attitude tone was fixed and the degree of usefulness was not affected by room condition. When asked about the degree of usefulness before being asked about their degree of satisfaction, they recognized the usefulness of the BLOCK WORK session in the large room more than in the small room.

We should take into consideration the movability of the desks as an essential factor in improving room function as this must have affected the results. In HACONORI, participants felt more satisfaction in the small room than in the large room. This is because the movability of the desks was high in the small room but low in the large room. In other words, the small room functioned well because of the movable desks.

Both studies reflect the powerful effect of room condition, which depends on the game attributes. They also demonstrate that the effect of the debriefing form is not as powerful as the effect of room condition, although as noted above, it is advisable to consider the order of the questions.

Perhaps even more striking are the results of a 2016 study by Joseph Allen et al in Environmental Health Perspectives on the impact of room ventilation on cognitive performance. They established three experimental room conditions (“Conventional,” “Green,” and “Green +”) with varying concentrations of volatile organic compounds and C02. The study found that “cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day [and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day].”

In other studies, lighting has also been shown to affect recall, problem solving, and other cognitive tasks (with some gender variation too). Room temperature has demonstrable effects on productivity, with 21-22C the ideal temperature—although this likely also varies with age, gender, and other factors.

Taken together, the existing research on environmental conditions suggests that wargame participants in an appropriately lit, well-ventilated room will perform complex cognitive tasks roughly three times “better” than those in one that is too hot or cold, poorly lit, and poorly ventilated. I suspect that even my PAXsims colleague Stephen Downes-Martin—who could quite rightly quibble quibble how I’ve rather breezily aggregated different measures of task performance here—would agree that the room matters a lot.

Back to Winterfell. Course of action wargaming of the battle took in a cold and dimly-lit chamber of the castle (above). The tallow candles and open braziers used to illuminate the space undoubtedly produced high levels of CO, CO2, and particulate pollution of various toxic sorts. Moreover, few of the participants had bathed in weeks.

dany-and-tyrion-in-thechamber-of-the-painted-table-on-dragonstone.png.jpeg

Was it the dragon or the room? Use of a well-ventilated war room (with natural lighting and healthy sea air) may have been an important factor in planning the very successful Battle of the Goldroad.

 

By contrast, planning for the very successful Battle of the Goldroad took place in the war room at Dragonstone. Unlike the dark and frozen chamber used at Winterfell, the room here is extremely well ventilated, has natural lighting, and is situated in a much more amenable climate. While many commentators suggest that the deployment of a giant fire-breathing dragon was key to the success of Daenerys Targaryen’s forces, we clearly cannot ignore the contribution made by an appropriate wargaming space during the critical planning phase.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

%d bloggers like this: