PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, Valentine’s Day 2020 edition

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No one loves conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games more than us here at PAXsims, so here is a selection of recent items that may be of interest to our readers.

We have been a bit slow in posting recently because some of us have been busy preparing for the Connections North conference tomorrow and the ATLANTIC RIM McGill megagame on Sunday. Full reports will follow, of course!

Scott Cooper, Aaron Danis, and Mark Jones Jr. suggested material for this latest edition. We often repost stuff we first see on Brian Train’s Ludic Futurism blog too. See something interesting we might include in future miscellany? Let us know!

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RED HORIZON: Force and Diplomacy in Eurasia is an immersive global crisis exercise incubated at the Negotiation Task Force of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University. It will take place 4-6 December 2020.

RED HORIZON provides seasoned and emerging leaders from national security, academia, and industry with a unique training space to push their negotiation and decision-making skills to the next level.

You will be assigned to a team (U.S., China, Russia, or NATO) and receive a confidential briefing that outlines your objectives. Your realistic actor profile is created from data-driven research, informed by political trends across the Eurasian sphere and the Indo-Pacific. You conclude the exercise with a scenario debrief led by Negotiation Task Force experts.

​Upon completion of the three-day workshop, you will receive an official Certificate of Completion issued by the Negotiation Task Force of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

Registration is not yet open, but you can find additional details at their website.

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The US Naval War College website features an interview with Shawn Burns on their “war-gaming fundamentals” course.

For the sixth year, the U.S. Naval War College is holding a war game fundamentals course to teach the war-gaming skills that the college uses to help decision-makers shape the future Navy.

War-gaming is a time-honored role of the college, founded in 1884 as a place of teaching and research on naval issues. Currently, the college’s War Gaming Department, under the umbrella of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, will conduct as many as eight major war games this fiscal year on behalf of the Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Professor Shawn Burns sat down to discuss the Jan. 13-17 war-gaming fundamentals course, one of the rare War Gaming Department activities in the year that is unclassified. A retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot, Burns is director of the course. He also literally wrote the book on war-gaming, a slim volume called “War Gamers’ Handbook, A Guide for Professional War Gamers.”

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In Time magazine, Simon Parkin discusses the important work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during World War II.

Using the floor as a giant board, the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, or WATU, would design a game that approximated a wolfpack attack on a convoy in the Atlantic. One team would play as the escort commanders, the other as the U-boat captains. They would take turns to make their moves, firing torpedoes, dropping depth charges, the U-boats diving and surfacing to make their attacks, the escort ships wheeling around in great arcs as each side hunted the other.

These games would be based on real battles that occurred at sea to allow participants to see why the escort commanders acted the way that they did, and whether they might have lost fewer convoy ships and sunk more U-boats had they done things differently….

His book A Game of Birds and Wolves went on sale in the US last month.

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ABC News reports that three months before the current 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, researchers simulated a global pandemic:

It began in healthy looking pigs: a new coronavirus, spreading insidiously within herds.

Farmers were the first to fall victim, succumbing to respiratory illnesses, ranging from mild, flu-like symptoms to severe pneumonia.

Flights were cancelled as the world’s sharpest minds searched in vain for a vaccine.

But it was too late. Within six months, the virus had spread around the globe. A year later, 65 million people were dead.

Unlike the most recent coronavirus outbreak, however, you probably haven’t heard of this pandemic.

That’s because it was all a simulation — developed some three months before Wuhan, China became the epicentre of a global crisis.

You can out more about the Event 201 pandemic crisis simulation at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security website.

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The Marine Corps offers an update on its “invigorated approach to wargaming” in the Marine Corps Gazette:

…the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) is aggressively leaning into modernizing its wargaming tools, enhancing near-term capabilities, and working with Marine Corps Systems Command to develop the future Wargaming Center capabilities. This will be a multi-year effort.

In the near term, our wargaming efforts are focused on meeting assessment requirements associated with the Commandant’s new force design. The fiscal year 2020 wargame program was adjusted to orient completely on force design within the context of specified scenarios….

To support these multiple wargaming efforts, MCWL is developing a set of new tools to apply to both wargaming and analysis. It is important to note, given wargaming’s emphasis on human decision making, there remains a role for table-top wargames that enable rapid player orientation and situational awareness, flexible execution, swift adjudication, and immersive matrixed discussions. In the past, the Wargaming Division lacked a standard table-top wargaming system. During this past year, a new system called the Operation- al Wargame System was developed and was used to support the General Officer Warfighting Program and the Pacific Surprise wargame executed in October 2019….

Table-top wargames by themselves are insufficient to meet analytic require- ments. Computer-based wargames and M&S tools capitalize on computing power and databases to deliver greater wargaming rigor and quantitative analysis. Flexible and adaptable wargames that leverage the latest technology and populated with authoritative data are needed. In the near term, both the Wargaming Division and Krulak Center are leveraging the commercial wargame Command Professional Edition as a computer-based wargame tool to enhance the rigor behind testing player decisions and to deliver quantitative outputs….

These tools are available today. However, the Marine Corps has its sights set on making a revolutionary step forward in wargaming tools and analysis capabilities. In his planning guidance, the Commandant put a stake in the ground on building a new Marine Corps Wargaming Center…. This Wargaming Center will dra-matically expand the Marine Corps’ wargaming staff from around 20 to over 150. It will also merge wargaming and operations analysis associated with future force development and operations plan assessment into one organization.

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Red Powell—who, in addition to being a Captain and currently attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, is an avid and very successful Warhammer 40K player—discusses serious wargaming with the folks at the Armchair Dragoon.

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At the Conversations with Tyler podcast, Reid Hoffman discusses how wargames helped develop his appreciation for strategy and tactics more broadly.

When Reid Hoffman creates a handle for some new network or system, his usual choice is “Quixotic.” At an early age, his love of tabletop games inspired him to think of life as a heroic journey, where people come together in order to accomplish lofty things. This framing also prompted him to consider the rules and systems that guide society — and how you might improve them by identifying key points of leverage.

At first, he thought he’d become an academic and work with ideas as one of those Archimedean levers. But he ended up focusing on technology instead, helping to build PayPal, LinkedIn, and now many other ventures as an investor at Greylock Partners. But he still thinks ideas are important and tries to employ a “full toolset” when trying to shift systems.

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At the end of last year, wargame designer Harold Buchanan posted a list of the 11 most influential wargame designs of the past decade. Here it is.

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At the Conducttr blog, Robert Pratten suggests that you “ditch crisis exercises with PowerPoint.” He makes a short but terrific analogy, so I’m going to post the entire thing (emphasis added):

Crisis management exercises with PowerPoint will only get you so far. Let me explain.

Watch out for pedestrians. It’s an obvious precaution but illustrates there’s more to driving a car than physical mastery of the pedals.

I was late 16 when dad taught me to drive in Asda’s car park in Beckton. It was always late at night – no cars, no people – and always no ice and no rain.

By the time I took my first lesson on a proper road, I could already control the car but developing a road sense has taken a lifetime of driving on real roads in real conditions. That’s why insurance for young drivers is so high and why crisis exercises with PowerPoint won’t prepare you for real-world conditions.

Driving with an instructor is not like driving in real life. Especially when you’re a teenager in East Ham and driving means your first taste of freedom: laughing so hard with mates that you’re fighting to see through tears, changing cassette tapes on the move and shouting out the window to people on the pavement you recognise. All these real-world, real-life distractions and stresses have everything to do with being a safe pair of hands behind the wheel and very little to do with passing the driving test.

Think about this when you prepare for your next crisis exercise with Powerpoint. If you want to build a team you can trust then your exercises need to be realistic – you need to inject adventure and you need to be simulating real-world conditions. Simulation stimulates deep learning whereas crisis management exercises with PowerPoint can only muster surface learning at best.

If you’re still doing crisis exercises using only PowerPoint then you’re still in Asda’s car park. 

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Playing Oppression is a forthcoming book by Mary Flanagan and Mikael Jakobsson, to be published by MIT Press.

What does the history of colonialism-themed board games look like, and what can it tell us about the situation today? What does it mean to present these historical moments in such a lavish form and then let these artifacts serve as centerpieces to gather around for social interaction at board game cafes, meetups, and conventions? By bringing in the history and materiality of the playing activity into critical readings of these games, the authors offer a new perspective on the narratives that are being simulated and reenacted and the casting of player into colonialist roles.

Orderly Adventures

In service to the forthcoming book, Playing Oppression, we have been playing various board games which use colonialist themes. As of April 2019, we have played over 150 titles and our collection has grown to over 250 board games, card games, party games, and war games that depict colonialist themes. The title for this project comes from an idea that euro games offer some of the excitement of the periods they depict (sails, discovery, heroism, fame, and fortune) but not too much through their gameplay and physical pieces, by hiding the bloody end of the sword and only engaging with foreign cultures as passive representations that can be neatly sorted into a box between plays.

Creating Counter-Colonial Games

As part of our research, we have engaged in workshops with people from the lands in which these colonial games take place, as a means to unpack the colonialist endeavor and place it in context to games’ representation of these cultures and issues of importance to modern members of these cultures. Workshops follow action research and participatory design methodologies. The focus of these workshops is to encourage participants game design practices, provide methods they can take away for use in their own work, and to inform our understanding of issues resulting from colonialist practices.

You will find more on the project at the MIT Game Lab.

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On a somewhat similar subject, at Vice Matthew Gault discusses How Tabletop RPGs Are Being Reclaimed From Bigots and Jerks.

When tabletop role-playing game developer Evil Hat Productions announced it had included a content warning on page six of its recently released Fate of Cthulhu game. Many folks praised Evil Hat, but there was also the now predictable tide of hateful bullshit.

Fate of Cthulhu is an RPG where players take on the role of time travelers trying to stop a Cthulhu-style apocalypse. It’s inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who was racist and anti-semitic—vehemently racist and anti-semitic. Because of that, Evil Hat Productions is publishing a content warning on page six of Fate of Cthulhu that calls out the author, and highlights the work of writers of color who’ve reexamined and reinterpreted the author’s work.

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Mission 1.5 is a “mobile game” developed by the United Nations Development Programme to heighten awareness on climate change. According to UN News:

Mission 1.5 takes its name from the collective effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed by world leaders meeting in Paris in 2015.

Described as the world’s biggest survey of public opinion on climate change, it aims to give 20 million people a chance to have their say. A previous survey ahead of the Paris talks canvassed 10,000 people in 76 countries.

Players will take on the role of climate policymakers who make decisions to meet the 1.5 degree goal.

Afterwards, they will vote on key climate actions that they would like to see adopted. The data will be analyzed and delivered to Governments.

As the description suggests, it isn’t really a game at all, but rather a glorified online poll. Moreover, the better choices are all a bit too simplistic and obvious as you can see below.

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Yes, sure, let’s build buildings right along the coastline.

I’m not really a fan of this sort of “gamewashing” of an advocacy campaign (or “gamepaign”)—and I think UNDP missed a chance to encourage public engagement with some of the complexities and challenging trade-offs of climate change mitigation policy.

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Remember that the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference will be held in Montréal on 21-24 October 2020.

I’ll be delivering a keynote presentation on gaming the (former) Middle East peace process.

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The deadline to submit an abstract/proposal for the Military Operations Research Society 88th annual symposium is March 2. The conference will  be held 15-18 June 2020 at the US Coast Guard Academy. Additional details here.

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This one from the Institute for World Politics should have been posted some months ago: IWP intern summer gaming workshop results in conference presentation (at the Connections US conference). Better late than never!

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