Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 01/01/2020

Fielder: Reflections on teaching wargame design


At War on the Rocks today, James “Pigeon” fielder discusses how to teach wargame design, drawing on his experience at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

I founded my course on three pillars: defining wargames, objective-based design, and learning outcomes over winning. First, I took a blend of James Dunnigan, John Curry and Peter Perla, Phil Sabin, and my own caffeinated madness to define wargaming as “a synthetic decision making test under conditions of uncertainty against thinking opponents, which generates insights but not proven outcomes, engages multiple learning types, and builds team cohesion in a risk-free environment.” Second, I enshrined the primacy of the objective. Put bluntly, without objectives you don’t have a professional game. Although we briefly discussed creating sandbox environments for generating ideas in the absence of objectives, sandbox design at best strays into teaching group facilitation (albeit game refereeing itself is a form of facilitation), and at worst enshrining poorly structured and long-winded BOGSATs as legitimate analysis tools. Finally, neither the U.S. Strategic Command wargame nor the National Reconnaissance wargame included absolute and predetermined winners. Both U.S. Strategic Command and the National Reconnaissance Office faced unmitigated disaster every time they bellied up to the table. The best learning comes from understanding failure, correcting mistakes, and revising strategies, not from sponsors patting themselves on the back. Summoning Millennium Challenge 2002’s chained and howling ghost, gaming with the sole intent to win, prove, and prop up ideas is an exercise in false future bargaining with real lives and materiel.

He cleverly had his cadets design games for real sponsors:

I divided the class into two eight-cadet teams respectively for U.S. Strategic Command and the National Reconnaissance Office. The sponsors and I initiated dialogue, but from that point the games were entirely cadet driven. The teams interviewed the sponsors for objectives, determined how to measure the objectives, prototyped and play-tested their games, and ultimately delivered effective tools for addressing sponsor requirements. Meaning, of course, the games generated more questions than answers: better to ask the questions at the table before bargaining with a real opponent or launching a new military service.

There’s a lot more besides that, including a discussion of the wargame design literature, as well as material on psychological roots and sociological narratives of gaming. James also discusses the importance of learning-through-play.

Go read the entire piece at the link at the top of the page.

2019 PAXsims readers’ survey results


The results of our 2019 PAXsims reader’s survey are now in. Many thanks to those who took the time to answer our questions.

Half (51.2%) of respondents report that they visit PAXsims daily or weekly, while 52.5% report that they visit monthly. Only 6.3% visit less frequently.

Most of our readers are middle-aged and—overwhelmingly—male. We are only reaching a much smaller proportion of those in their teens or twenties who might be interested in, or entering, the field of serious gaming.

Age Percentage
1-17 0.6%
18-25 4.8%
26-35 14.3%
36-64 70.8%
65 or older 9.5%

Although the proportion of non-male readers has increased since our last survey a few years ago (when it was a mere 1%), there’s still much room for improvement. Women make up half of my POLI 452 (Conflict Simulation) course at McGill this term, so there’s no shortage of women interested in the topic. However, this demographic is not particularly accessible through the 98% male wargaming hobby, which has often been rather unwelcoming. Instead, an interest in gaming as social science or policy analysis might be the better hook to introduce a new and more diverse generation to the art and science of serious gaming.

Gender Percentage
Male 93.9%
Female 4.3%
Non-binary/other 1.8%

We wll be further discussing this issue of “expanding the community” at this year’s Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montréal on 15 February 2020.

In terms of occupation, about a quarter of our readers are in education (as teachers or students), and another quarter are in or directly support the military.

Occupation Percentage
Educator (post-secondary) 16.3%
Educator (K-12) 3.1%
Students (post-secondary) 3.6%
Students (K-12) 0.5%
Military (active/reserve) 11.7%
Military (contractor) 11.2%
Intelligence community 3.6%
Diplomacy 0.5%
Other government employees 8.2%
Humanitarian assistance/development 1.5%
Journalism 1.5%
Professional game designers 12.2%
Other 26.0%

A majority of out visitors seem to be hobby gamers, as well as serious gamers. Slightly more use serious games for education/training compared to analysis.

  Use serious games for education. Use serious games for analysis. Play games for fun.
Often 29.6% 20.0% 57.9%
Sometimes 36.5% 31.6% 33.3%
Rarely 19.5% 27.7% 8.8%
Never 14.5% 20.7% 0%

Slightly over half of respondents (51%) prefer manual games, 11% prefer digital games, and the remainder like both equally (38%).

Among gaming conference attended, hobby gaming conferences come first, followed by the various Connections professional wargaming conferences, and the Military Operations Research Society annual symposium. I/ITSEC and the major social science academic conferences place lower.

Finally, what our readers you like to see more of? Pretty much what we have been doing, it seems. In order of popularity:

  1. professional wargaming
  2. teaching with games and simulations
  3. other serious games
  4. professional development
  5. gaming hobby
  6. game reviews
  7. not-so-serious gaming articles

And so it is, onwards into 2020!

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McGill Library: Play On!

0.pngThis event has now been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of recent developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, including bans on travel and large assemblies, we regret to inform you that we are forced to postpone the PlayOn! colloquium until early October 2020. We understand that many of you have been preparing for this event for many months and the coordinators will be happy to assist with any inquiries you may have.

We will be sending further information within the coming weeks to propose a rescheduled date, and we hope that many of you will still be able to attend. Please expect that we will be able to extend the same offers for travel-related funding, and that the general organization and structure of the colloquium will remain intact.

McGill Library will be organizing a series of speakers and other events throughout 2020 on the topic of serious play. This includes a Play On! colloquium at McGill University on 13-15 May.

To meet the needs of students reared, nurtured, and cultivated by video games since childhood, as well as the needs of faculty instructing them, the McGill University Library seeks ways to support the increasing presence of Serious Play in higher education. Serious Play incorporates creativity, innovation and cooperation as the foundations of new forms of immersive, intellectual engagement. In addition, novel interactive strategies in education, information literacy, and instruction are emerging daily. As dynamic spaces that foster and reward intellectual curiosity, 21stcentury academic libraries can continue to be hubs of interdisciplinary collaborative experimentation by evolving to match the pedagogical demands of students educated in increasingly interactive and ‘playful’ environments.

Running throughout 2020, our program of events will bring together a cohort of interdisciplinary thinkers and industry leaders to convey best practices for academic research libraries in supporting Serious Play. Together, we will reach across disciplines to explore how play and games fit in the serious and goal-oriented adult world of the 21st century research library, and what services academic libraries can, could, and should offer.

You will find additional details and the full schedule here.

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