The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Clara Ruestchmann.
The second edition of the Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections series of wargaming conferences—was held on the 27th of January at the War College in Paris. Organized by Serious Games Network-France, the event gathered more than 250 attendees, hosted five conferences and six workshops packed in one day.
The conference was based on the same model as the first edition, with plenaries in the morning, games and workshops in the afternoon and a “gaming hackathon” during the day. Apart from the increasing number of attendees (+25%), more students (defence-security and management mostly) took part and there a larger proportion of women (27%). There was also all-day participation of journalists coming from Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Agence France Presse, a 4-star Army General, and new partners such as Air Force School, CASDEN bank, My-Serious-Game digital training companies.
After an introduction by Patrick Ruestchmann, president of Serious Games Network-France, who welcomed the many speakers coming from France as well as the UK, US, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Caroline Brandao (French Red Cross) and Colonel Sébastien de Peyret (Army) were invited on stage to launch the first conference regarding the opportunities resulting in the use of games. Defense journalist Meriadec Raffray helped run the morning plenaries.
The first panel started with Caroline Brandao, in charge of the humanitarian international law in the legal department of the French Red Cross, offered an overview of the use of serious games in her organization. The Red Cross developed several games in order to address the issues surrounding the violations of international humanitarian rights. Some games were coming from the gaming hackathon held during the first edition Forum. These games address both the internal training of the Red Cross organization and outsiders such as military corps or college / students. The Red Cross tends to include new technologies in serious games, creates partnership with the video game industry (e.g. Fortnite) and turns to the use of virtual reality. One of their latest projects aims to raise awareness regarding the reunification of families after a crisis (in case of armed conflicts as well as natural catastrophes) using VR to simulate situations and help prepare and train rescuers.
Colonel Sébastien de Peyret, responsible for the Army BattleLab is also the designer Urban Operations. For Sébastien, it is crucial that the player is placed in a position of decisions making in a restricted time scale/period. Only the player has a restricted knowledge of his action’s consequences as well as the unexpected hazards generated by a situation. It is essential to be facing an opponent in the game in order to oppose a real adversary’s intelligence and to gain experience. The goal isn’t to learn how to navigate the rules but to adapt to its opponents. Most importantly, Sébastien insisted on the After Action Review to analyze the game session afterwards in order to add critical views, identify the risks that have been taken and the mistakes committed in the safe environment of the game.
Both speakers pointed out this essential element: game mechanisms in serious games and wargaming are reflective supports of strategic and critical thinking of a given situation, still they are predictive tools.
The second conference introduced Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. (USAF Research Lab) who questioned how serious games can help comprehend the dynamics of conflicts. From the initial spark with the very first Connections US 26 years ago to his last book On Wargaming, Matthew developed the idea that wargaming helps make decisions more quickly and more effectively. It also helps identify the problems which should be paid attention to. If a computer program simulating a crisis can be run very fast and multiple times in order to see the different possible outcomes, in wargames the outcomes depend on the actions of others. Therefore, it can bring light to many different aspects of conflict dynamics, not only in terms of military efficiency but also in terms of economic, social or political outcomes. Matthew gave an introductory thank you to French audience, pointing out our long history as allies in time of despair.
The third panel questioned the perspectives in the future of wargaming with analysts Sarah Grand-Clement and James Black of RAND Europe. After giving an overview of their organization in the gaming community, the panelists pointed out that games can be used in a variety of ways : as analytical tool (to help think about possible futures), as stress-testing strategies (providing scenarios in a safe environment to try out situations), as policy decisions supervisors (to ensure that policy makers and decisions are adapter to the complexity of reality) or as an interactive experience (in order to allow people to educate, train and engage with the issues at hand).
RAND conducts a variety of different games, from strategic exercises for senior decisions makers (with a 3-years contract with the UK Royal College of Defense Studies), to regionally focused games to understand emerging treats and opportunities (with a game questioning threats to international cooperation and security in the Arctic) as well as table-top exercises to explore future scenarios for emergency situations (with for example the European Union CDP -capability development plan) and applications of gaming techniques to non-defense sectors (with the government of Estonia to help understand and prevent cybercrime).
According to Sarah and James, gaming remains relevant to address complex defense and security questions but needs to continue evolving, in terms of technology and application fields, in order to stay relevant. Finally, they mentioned that, beyond technologies issues, there are social issues about how to democratize gaming so that new generations will be able to take hold of it and adapt it to their problematics. Sarah and James suggest the need to expand gaming beyond the defense community, to encourage younger people to engage in gaming and to increase diversity in gaming
The fourth conference introduced Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud de Peretti, Pierre Razoux and Christophe Maresca around the question of how to talk about games in your organizations.
Pierre Razoux, research director at the IRSEM, suggested that serious games encourage a player to put him/herself in someone else’s head, thereby helping them to better understand their reasoning. He suggested games need to be as accessible as possible when introduced in a professional or educational context. The game must be fairly quickly explained for participants coming from different backgrounds and experiences.
Arnaud de Peretti, army officer currently analyzing operations in the Middle East, is also the game designer behind Normandy 1944 for iPad (Wars and Battles) and is working on a new game about The Hundred Years War with Asynchron. He postulated that wargames help to visualize and concretize tensions both inside the army (navy, army and air force) and with the opponent. He suggested that wargames have the potential to integrate a diplomatic component, even though diplomats are still most often missing from wargaming sessions.
Christophe Maresca, Gendarmerie Nationale Colonel and presently operation chief of the Region Île de France, co-edited the game Krise with Pytharec, on the problematics of public order in an urban environment. The game scenario reproduces the tragic events at the Arc de Triomphe with the Yellow Vests movement and Black Blocs violent protesters. Christophe brought focus on the danger of eurocentrism in the creation of games and what can be called the “cognitive distortion” which requires to bring to the light beforehand the possible distortions that exist with both the creator of the game and the players.
Ending the morning with a fifth session, Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College London) talked about the wargaming network started a year ago. Last year Professor Philip Sabin gave his insight, along the ones from Major Tom Mouat, regarding this soon-to-be initiative. Created in 2018 at KCL, the Wargaming Network aims to improve tools to address defence challenges and is representative of the UK’s efforts to reinvigorate wargaming. The network deploys convening functions (workshops, lectures), supports individual staff project, creates programs for analytical wargaming (in order to train students and experts), supports external partners and look for social networking evolutions by bringing communities together such as academics and policy makers. With her more academic background, Ivanka argued that moving wargaming more into the academic direction and bringing together the learning and pedagogical purpose and the innovations and research possibilities of wargaming is essential.
On to gaming
The afternoon gave the attendees opportunities to participate to 6 workshops :
- Gaming Antimicrobial Resistance, by RAND Europe
- Demos of Digital Training (ipad / PC), by My-Serious-Game
- Game Design, by Pascal Bernard (among many others, designer of Time of Legends: Joan of Arc
- Learning Strategy with games with Philippe Lepinard (University Paris-Est-Créteil, Economical Sciences) and some of his (quite) young students, Enguerrand Ducourtil with Krise by Pytharec (public order), Patrick Ruestchmannwith Resilience (public policies and crisis management), Sébastien de Peyret with Urban Operations by Nuts! and Pierre Razoux with FITNA by Nuts!
- CyberWar Megagame, designed by David Delbarre, putting into conflicts nations, GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), NGOs, and others.
- Cyber simulations of attacks against a bank network with Luc Mensah (ISE-Systems) and Hacklihood boardgame with David Noury.
Second Gaming Hackathon
Throughout the day, two teams of Pantheon-Sorbonne students were asked to produce a draft for a game regarding near-Space topics. Those games should address defense, environmental or economic issues. Antoine Bourguilleau, author of a soon-to-be release book on the history of wargaming, managed the two groups in order to get the best results in only a few hours. The jury of this Gaming Hackthon (Caroline Brandao, Matthew Caffrey, Christophe Mareseca) gave its appreciation of the projects the two teams came up with. Students presented their projects, prizes were given and this event slot led us to the end of the day.
Toward next year
For the closure of the Forum, General Jean-Christophe Cardamone (vice-director for the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale) gave a encouraging speech with emphasis on the increasing popularity of serious gaming / wargaming among various professional sectors as well as the recognition of efforts such as Decision Defense (a wide audience game for the new take on the National Service, by Pytharec) or Matrix-game like Paris 2024 (Olympics and Paralympics in Paris) with the General Secretary for National Defense.
Overall, first edition of this Connections-France was a test to assess the interest of French organizations toward serious gaming. Second edition gives us full green signal to continue and expand, with contacts in Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany. National press coverage is already very positive, which give Serious Games Network-France good exposure in order to prepare the next step.
Still on-going at this date (Feb 2nd), the results gathered about 29% replies with observations for the future edition :
- 36% rated the content as ‘excellent’ and 41% rated as ‘very good’, 14% as ‘good’, 9% as ‘average’
- 70% want more gaming time
- 60% suggest a 2-Days forum
- Topics suggestion for upcoming event loom toward economic warfare, AI, cybersecurity, education, social and humanitarian topics
- Most attendee’s suggestions ask for more meet and greet with participants / speakers.