Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 07/05/2020

Recent simulation and gaming publications, April 2020


libraryalexandria.jpgPAXsims 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.


Itai Brun and Anat Ben Haim, “Are We Really on the Brink of Escalation on the Northern Front? Insights from a War Game,” Institute for National Security Studies Insight 1263 (2020).

The possibility that the northern arena is on the brink of escalation and liable to deteriorate into war was raised on several recent occasions, including: the annual intelligence assessment of the Military Intelligence Directorate that was presented to military reporters; a speech by the Chief of Staff on December 29, 2019 at a conference in Herzliya; and the INSS annual strategic assessment published at the start of 2020. In contrast with these assessments, the war game held as part of the INSS annual international conference in late January 2020 saw a different result. Despite an escalation scenario that could have led to a large-scale conflict in several arenas (resulting in “the first northern war”), during the game, all of the players – Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, Russia, and the United States – made significant efforts to prevent a deterioration to such a war. The scenario in the game was of several days of high-intensity combat, which all of the players sought to end quickly. This outcome could stem from the limitations of the game, but it also raises the possibility that the weight of restraining factors is more extensive than recently assessed, thus enabling Israel greater freedom of operation that could indeed lead to escalation, but not necessarily to a large-scale war.

Rex Brynen, “Virtual paradox: How digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming,” Digital War (online first March 2020).

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

John Curry, “The Utility of Narrative Matrix Games: A Baltic Example,” Naval War College Review 73, 2 (Spring 2020).

The focus of professional gaming has shifted over time from the kinetic so as to include wider aspects of confrontations beyond war fighting, such as national will, social media, economics, and the laws of war. While traditional wargame models have struggled to represent these factors adequately, the matrix game narrative method offers utility for gaming current political crises.

John Curry, “Professional Wargaming: A Flawed But Useful Tool,” Simulation & Gaming (online first April 2020).

Rationale for the Article. Professional wargames have long been an integral part of the tool set used by the military. The literature includes many examples of wargames that have been successful in terms of training, military education, procurement, operational analysis and planning for war. However, retrospective examination demonstrates that many of these professional wargames also had major errors in them and by implication current games about future confrontations are similarly flawed. Nevertheless, the academic evidence is clear that such games are still invaluable tools.

Methodology. Ten years of research into the development of wargames undertaken by the History of Wargaming Project has analysed and made generally available more professional wargames than ever before. Retrospective examination of a sample of these declassified games, from the British War Office Rules (1896) to more recent games about the Ukraine, shows significant errors.

Value. Demonstrating that professional games had errors in the past opens challenges the overconfidence in the predictive capacity of games. It also raises the possibility for future research to identify game design bias and to develop better games in the future. Understanding the value of better games, even with their inherent issues, raise the possibility of better preparing decision makers for the future.

Notes. The words wargame and game are used interchangeably in this article. Whilst the techniques used in professional gaming evolved from modelling the battlefield, modern professional gaming is increasingly focussed on other situations that are not war, such as state level confrontations, trade wars, politics, cyber conflict, banking crisis etc. Using the term wargame seems inappropriate when for example, gaming a shipping dispute. All the games referred to this article, unless otherwise noted, are professional wargames, used by military, government, public sector bodies and other parties directly involved in real world issues. The prefix professional has been omitted for brevity in most places.

Benjamin Davies, Kaitlin Rainwater, Lovett Brittany Card, David Polatty, Urban Outbreak 2019 Pandemic Response: Select Research & Game Findings (US Naval War College, 2020).

This document is a summary of 16 key research and game findings focused specifically on the characteristics of civil-military response to a pandemic
scenario. The numbered bullets below correspond to more detailed explanations of findings presented later in the document. While these findings are in no way definitive or complete, they are a sampling of relevant guidance based on research, gaming and expert opinion. It is our hope that these 16 findings will contribute to improving civilian and military effectiveness in humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.

Note on Urban Outbreak 2019

The document references “Urban Outbreak 2019,” which was an analytic war game designed, delivered and analyzed by NWC’s Humanitarian Response Program in collaboration with Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) – National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health (NCDMPH) and Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab. In September 2019, Urban Outbreak brought together 50 experts from five different sectors who averaged 10 years of humanitarian response experience. Over two days they gamed an infectious disease outbreak response in a notional but realistic city with a population of 21 million people. As part of the game, players individually voted for up to five essential organizations to which they needed access in order to complete the activities they deemed essential for success in the response. Histograms of those votes are offered in appendix I & II. The scenario-based aspects of the game that focused specifically on the unique characteristics of urban response in a widespread outbreak are also listed in appendix III.

Stephen Hart, Andrea Margheri, Federica Paci, and Vladimiro Sassone, “Riskio: A Serious Game for Cyber Security Awareness and Education,” Computers & Security (online first, 29 April 2020)

Cyber attacks are increasing in number and sophistication, causing organisations to continuously adapt management strategies for cyber security risks. As a key risk mitigation policy, organisations are investing in professional training courses for their employees to raise awareness on cyber attacks and related defences. Serious games have emerged as a new approach that can complement instruction-led or computer-based security training by providing a fun environment where players learn and practice cyber security concepts through the game. In this paper we propose Riskio, a tabletop game to increase cyber security awareness for people with no-technical background working in organisations. Riskio provides an active learning environment where players build knowledge on cyber security attacks and defences by playing both the role of the attacker and the defender of critical assets in a fictitious organisation.

Tim Koller, Hugh Courtney, and Dan Lovallo, “Bias busters: War games? Here’s what they’re good for,” The McKinsey Quarterly, 16 April 2020.

Despite their best intentions, executives fall prey to cognitive and organizational biases that get in the way of good decision making. In this series, we highlight some of them and offer a few effective ways to address them.

Our topic this time? War games: Here’s what they’re good for.

There’s usually a steep price to pay when you fail to anticipate competitors’ actions and reactions, or who the competitors even are. France, for instance, spent ten years and billions of francs to erect a collection of concrete forts, obstacles, and weapons installations—called the Maginot Line—to stop German forces from invading with tanks. But French military leaders didn’t anticipate that, in the period between World War I and World War II, Germany would change course and adopt a blitzkrieg strategy, increasing its use of air strikes and invading through neutral countries like Belgium. French out­posts and citizens were left open to attack (exhibit).

The fate of a nation was not at stake, but a maker of medical equipment similarly faltered because of competitive blind spots. It was first to market in the 1970s with groundbreaking computed-tomography (CT) scanning technology, but it didn’t anticipate how many other innovators would enter the market, find new uses for its technology, and build high-level sales and product-marketing capabilities around the applications. The medical-equipment manufacturer eventually ended up exiting the business because it couldn’t keep up with the specialized competitors.

The research

Whether in the military or in business, strategy decisions are interdependent decisions most of the time. So why do executives so often fail to anticipate competitors’ moves when making their own? Competitor neglect is a manifestation of the inside view, in which decision makers lend more weight…

Kurt Matzler, “Crowd Innovation: The Philosopher’s Stone, a Silver Bullet, or Pandora’s Box?” NIM Marketing Intelligence Review 12, 1 (2020)

Not all innovation problems are suitable for open innovation, but crowdsourcing can have remarkable success if applied wisely to the right challenges.

Peter J. Schwartz et al, “AI-enabled wargaming in the military decision making process,”  SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing Proceedings Volume 11413, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Multi-Domain Operations Applications II; 114130H (2020).

During the Course of Action (COA) Analysis stage of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), staff members wargame the options of both friendly and enemy forces in an action-reaction-counteraction cycle to expose and address potential issues. This is currently a manual, subjective process, so many assumptions often go untested and only a very small number of alternative COAs may be considered. The final COA that is produced might miss opportunities or overlook risks. This challenge will only be exacerbated during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), in which larger numbers of entities are expected to coordinate across domains to achieve converged effects within compressed timelines. This paper describes a prototype wargaming software support tool that leverages Artificial Intelligence (AI) to recommend COA improvements to commanders and staff. The tool’s design accounts for operational realities including a lack of available AI training data, limited tactical computing resources, and a need for end user interaction throughout the COA Analysis process. Given initial COAs for friendly and enemy forces, the tool searches for improvements by repeatedly proposing changes to the friendly COA and running the Data Analysis and Visualization INfrastructure for C4ISR (DAVINCI) combat simulation to evaluate them. Runtime is managed by carefully restricting the search space of the AI to only consider doctrinally relevant changes to the COA. The system architecture is designed to separate the AI, the simulation, and the user interface, simplifying continued experimentation and enhancements. The design of the AIenabled wargaming tool is presented along with initial results.

Andoni Zamora Txakartegi, “A piece of land that only exists while the fiction is played,” Sandburg Instituut (2020?)

I write about the architecture of simulation. I explore replicas of urban landscapes in which various types of interventions are staged, from rescue missions, to police and military exercises. In this specific context, buildings, structures, and scenographies are designed in order to provide a specific fictional space for the representation and the drills to be performed as realistically and efficiently as possible. The services and forces of professionals and trainees are given a space to test and train the efficacy of exercising control or fighting speculative scenarios. Similarly, this space allows them to fully demonstrate the destructive potential of their armor and weaponry.

As soon as I started digging into these spaces of ​training and rehearsing fiction​, the more I began to apprehend a vast hidden and twisted scenario where the practices of power and control are literally translated into space. The opaque cloud of mystery around the actual politics and purposes at stake within these camps suggests that these places are not only intended for ‘training’, but that a larger scheme of offensive and defensive speculation is developed within these simulated territories.

But, overall, a more structural approach is what I intend to approach with this work. The text is a reflection on the limits of representation in this particular context of production: Not only about the kind of content that is played in there – from accidents to terrorist attacks – but the choices around how it is played. What kind of decor is designed for it? What is the extent of the training that the professionals need in order to learn how to face a specific threat? Which is the model of reality that is followed or copied in the staging, and how is it translated into a fiction? In all of these choices which shape the reality in these camps, there is implicit an unavoidable relation to modern societies.

Ying Zhao, “Modeling multi-segment war game leveraging machine intelligence with EVE structures,” SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing Proceedings Volume 11413, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Multi-Domain Operations Applications II; 114130H (2020).

The paper depicts a generic representation of a multi-segment war game leveraging machine intelligence with two opposing asymmetrical players. We show an innovative Event-Verb-Event (EVE) structure that is used to represent small pieces of knowledge, actions, and tactics. We show machine learning algorithms that can modify, link, and combine the EVE rules to optimize the likelihood to win or lose a game in the end. We also show the war game paradigm and related machine intelligence techniques, including data mining, machine learning, and reasoning AI which have a natural linkage to causal learning.

Registration open for 2020 Games for Change (virtual) festival


The 2020 Games for Change Festival (14-16 July 2020) will be online this year—and free.

We are excited to announce that registration for the 2020 Games for Change Virtual Festival (July 14-16) is now open! For the first time, registration will be free to all (though RSVP is required). Festival participants will experience three days full of content around four programming tracks — Games for Learning, Civics & Social Issues, Health & Wellness, and XR for Change. Speakers and participants will explore how video games and immersive media foster resilience, connectedness, and well-being during these changing times.

Participants Will Have Access To:  

  • Festival Live Stream: Watch and respond live to talks and panels from leaders in the games for good community

  • XR for Change: Interactive sessions that showcase the positive influence of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality

  • Workshops: A series of roundtables and workshops geared toward professional knowledge sharing

  • Networking: Opportunities to connect and collaborate with mentors, funders, and fellow attendees

  • Marketplace: An interactive virtual marketplace showcasing new games, tech, products, and services

  • The Games for Change Awards: New and exciting format that celebrates the best Games and XR for Change experiences of the year

More information and registration here.

%d bloggers like this: