Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Recent simulation and gaming publications, December 2019


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.

Shahar Avin, Ross Gruetzemacher, and James Fox, “Exploring AI Futures Through Role Play,” Proceedings of the 2020 AAAI/ACM Conference on AI, Ethics, and Society (AIES ’20), Feb. 7-8, 2020.

We present an innovative methodology for studying and teaching the impacts of AI through a role-play game. The game serves two primary purposes: 1) training AI developers and AI policy professionals to reflect on and prepare for future social and ethical challenges related to AI and 2) exploring possible futures involving AI technology development, deployment, social impacts, and governance. While the game currently focuses on the inter-relations between short-, mid- and long- term impacts of AI, it has potential to be adapted for a broad range of scenarios, exploring in greater depths issues of AI policy research and affording training within organizations. The game presented here has undergone two years of development and has been tested through over 30 events involving between 3 and 70 participants. The game is under active development, but preliminary findings suggest that role-play is a promising methodology for both exploring AI futures and training individuals and organizations in thinking about, and reflecting on, the impacts of AI and strategic mistakes that can be avoided today.

Agostino G. Bruzzone and Robert Sottile, eds., The 9th International Defence and Homeland Security Simulation Workshop (2019).

[conference proceedings]

Christian Dayé, “Negotiating Rules for the Game: Political Games at RAND, 1954–1956,” in  Experts, Social Scientists, and Techniques of Prognosis in Cold War America (Springer, 2019).

This chapter describes the second approach to expert prognosis developed at RAND, political gaming. Conceived by members of RAND’s Social Science Division, among them Herbert Goldhamer, Hans Speier, and Paul Kecskemeti, political gaming had experts form groups to represent political decision-makers. These groups had to react to a pregiven scenario, and their reactions were aggregated by the game leaders to form the basis for the next round.

At RAND, this approach to gaming formed both an addition and an alternative to a more dominant approach of strategy analysis, game theory, and game-theoretic modeling. The chapter thus first briefly sketches the development of game theory and then proceeds to describe the four rounds of political gaming that were carried out by RAND’s Social Science Division.

Ralph “Dinz” Dinsley and Christopher J. Newman, “Focusing the Space Law Games: Overcoming Operational and Legal Barriers to Space Situational Awareness,” Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference (2019).

Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the orbital population. The licensing of a number of large constellations means that this is set to increase dramatically. A significant number of technical advances have facilitated this and, this has been matched by an increased policy focus on the need for increased space surveillance and tracking, culminating in 2018 for the USA, in Space Presidential Directive 3. The rise of mega- constellations and other innovations, such as active debris removal or on-orbit servicing procedures means ever more data of space is going to be needed to keep track of the increasing burden placed on the orbital environment. The provision of corroborated information which removes as much ambiguity as possible about the position of objects in orbit is crucial to both safe and sustainable satellite operations. Yet, despite this pressing need, there are considerable barriers that exist to obtaining a more complete picture of this information.

This paper will outline these problems in detail. It will be proposed that what is required is both codification of the norms for safe sustainable satellite operations and clarity on protocols for evidence gathering in cases where a collision has resulted in damage to a space asset and fault may be an issue. This discussion will identify that a way in which this could be achieved is by the use of “space law games”, which will utilize established military wargaming methodology whereby complex fictional scenarios could highlight some of the key operational and legal issues that might need to be dealt with. Perla (1990: p.23) suggests the integration of realism and playability in a delicate balancing act designed to achieve a well-understood and well-chosen objective is a key. The paper will outline some of the ways in which the space law games might work and pose questions as to what data and other considerations will be needed to make such simulations meaningful. By identifying the data gaps in the fictional ‘law game’ scenario will help locate possible areas of enhancement in space surveillance and tracking capacity to support future SSA.

Per-Idar Evensen, Marius Halsør, Svein Erlend Martinussen, Dan Helge Bentsen, “Wargaming Evolved: Methodology and Best Practices for Simulation-Supported Wargaming,” Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), 2019.

When developing and assessing future force structures, wargaming is a key activity for better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the force structures. Today simulation systems let us create synthetic environments that to a high degree replicate the physical properties of the real world for these wargames. Furthermore, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and behavior modeling has given us more realistic computer-generated forces (CGF) that can execute battle drills and lower level tactics with a fairly high degree of realism. However, at the higher levels of the chain of command, AI has not yet replaced human leadership, and planning and conducting simulated operations require participation of officers.

For more than a decade, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) has supported the Norwegian Army with conducting wargames for capability planning, with varying degree of simulation support. Throughout this period, the wargames have evolved from what can be described as computer-assisted wargames towards more realistic simulation-supported wargames. Moreover, to get a closer understanding of the deterrent effect of the force structures, which may not be observable when monitoring the actual gameplay, our emphasis has also shifted towards replicating the planning process more properly, and especially on monitoring the planning process of the opposing force. For example, it has been important to find out to what extent specific structure elements discourage the opposing force from taking certain actions.

In this paper, we describe our evolved methodology for simulation-supported wargaming, which includes a preparation phase, a gaming and execution phase, including a planning process, and an analysis phase. Furthermore, we discuss what type of data and results we are able to extract from the wargaming sessions, and present a set of best practices for how to conduct successful simulation-supported wargames.

Andreas Haggman, “Cyber Wargaming: Finding, Designing, and Playing Wargames for Cyber Security Education,” PhD thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London (February 2019).

This thesis investigates, and contributes to, the use of wargaming in cyber security education. Wargaming has a rich history of pedagogic use, but little work exists that addresses the critically important subject of cyber security. Cyber security is a global problem that frequently makes news headlines, yet the field is dogged with a reputation as a domain only for technologists, when in fact cyber security requires a whole gamut of approaches to be properly understood.

The thesis is broadly divided into three parts. The first part is a comprehensive literature review of wargaming scholarship, analysing the benefits and drawbacks of wargaming, and some of the justifications for why a tabletop boardgame may be more effective than a game enhanced by technology. Following on from this, the thesis provides an outline of current work in cyber wargaming by analysing existing games, evaluating their contributions as educational tools, and identifying successful game mechanics and components.

The second part of the thesis outlines the design process of an original wargame created for cyber security education and awareness training. The analysis outlines what the game design intends to achieve in terms of pedagogical outcomes and how the design evolved through the development process. In this part some methodological considerations around the research are also analysed, including how the thesis uses grounded theory and ethnography as academic underpinnings, and issues around the researcher’s positionality during fieldwork.

The final part of the thesis reports on the deployment of the original game to a wide variety of organisations. Both quantitative and qualitative data is analysed to ascertain what players learned from playing the game and evaluates the effectiveness of the game by comparing it to previous theoretical findings. Finally, the researcher’s experiences of conducting the thesis are evaluated with close reference to the identified methodological considerations.

Philip Hammond and Holger Pötzsch, eds., War Games: Memory, Militarism and the Subject of Play (Bloomsbury, 2019).

Many of today’s most commercially successful videogames, from Call of Duty to Company of Heroes, are war-themed titles that play out in what are framed as authentic real-world settings inspired by recent news headlines or drawn from history. While such games are marketed as authentic representations of war, they often provide a selective form of realism that eschews problematic, yet salient aspects of war. In addition, changes in the way Western states wage and frame actual wars makes contemporary conflicts increasingly resemble videogames when perceived from the vantage point of Western audiences.

This interdisciplinary volume brings together scholars from games studies, media and cultural studies, politics and international relations, and related fields to examine the complex relationships between military-themed videogames and real-world conflict, and to consider how videogames might deal with history, memory, and conflict in alternative ways. It asks: What is the role of videogames in the formation and negotiation of cultural memory of past wars? How do game narratives and designs position the gaming subject in relation to history, war and militarism? And how far do critical, anti-war/peace games offer an alternative or challenge to mainstream commercial titles?

Glennn Moy and Slava Shekh, “The Application of AlphaZero to Wargaming,” AI 2019: Advances in Artificial Intelligence (2019).

In this paper, we explore the process of automatically learning to play wargames using AlphaZero deep reinforcement learning. We consider a simple wargame, Coral Sea, which is a turn-based game played on a hexagonal grid between two players. We explore the differences between Coral Sea and traditional board games, where the successful use of AlphaZero has been demonstrated. Key differences include: problem representation, wargame asymmetry, limited strategic depth, and the requirement for significant hardware resources. We demonstrate how bootstrapping AlphaZero with supervised learning can overcome these challenges. In the context of Coral Sea, this enables AlphaZero to learn optimal play and outperform the supervised examples on which it was trained.

Dan Öberg, “Exercising war: How tactical and operational modelling shape and reify military practice,” Security Dialogue, first published 19 December 2019.

This article analyzes how contemporary military training and exercises shape and reify specific modalities of war. Historically, military training has shifted from being individual- and experience-oriented, towards becoming modelled into exercise environments and practices. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with military officers, exercise controllers, and war-game designers, the article distinguishes between tactical training, characterized by military functions embodied through weapon platforms in a demarcated battlespace, and operational training, characterized by administrative and organizational processes embodied through self-referential staff routines. As military exercises integrate the tactical and operational dimensions into a model for warfare, they serve as blueprints for today’s battles at the same time as they perpetuate a martial viewpoint of the world. As a result, preparations for potential future conflicts constitute a fertile ground for apprehending the becoming of war.

Jon Saklofske, Alyssa Arbuckle, Jon Bath, Feminist War Games?: Mechanisms of War, Feminist Values, and Interventional Games (Routledge, 2019).

Feminist War Games? explores the critical intersections and collisions between feminist values and perceptions of war, by asking whether feminist values can be asserted as interventional approaches to the design, play, and analysis of games that focus on armed conflict and economies of violence.

Focusing on the ways that games, both digital and table-top, can function as narratives, arguments, methods, and instruments of research, the volume demonstrates the impact of computing technologies on our perceptions, ideologies, and actions. Exploring the compatibility between feminist values and systems of war through games is a unique way to pose destabilizing questions, solutions, and approaches; to prototype alternative narratives; and to challenge current idealizations and assumptions. Positing that feminist values can be asserted as a critical method of design, as an ideological design influence, and as a lens that determines how designers and players interact with and within arenas of war, the book addresses the persistence and brutality of war and issues surrounding violence in games, whilst also considering the place and purpose of video games in our cultural moment.

Feminist War Games? is a timely volume that questions the often-toxic nature of online and gaming cultures. As such, the book will appeal to a broad variety of disciplinary interests, including sociology, education, psychology, literature, history, politics, game studies, digital humanities, media and cultural studies, and gender studies, as well as those interested in playing, or designing, socially engaged games.

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