PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Dorn: Peacekeeping games, anyone?

The following has been contributed to PAXsims by Walter Dorn. Dr. Dorn is a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College and the Canadian Forces College. He also serves as a consultant on technological innovation at the United Nations.The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.


 

So many people play online as warfighters but, in stark contrast, no one plays as peacekeepers. The immediate explanation is simple: there are no such games. But that is a mystery to me. Peacekeeping is more intellectually and ethically challenging, more deeply meaningful, more emotionally rewarding (saving people), and still includes the challenges (and excitement) of combat. So I began to explore the possibilities of peacekeeping gaming which led to publishing of a detailed paper recently: “From Wargaming to Peacekeeping: Digital Simulations with Peacekeeper Roles Needed” (pdf) in the journal International Peacekeeping.

DigitalPKOs

I first asked myself and my research assistants, avid gamers who became my co-authors: what existing games come close to peacekeeping? A search online for “peacekeeping” games yielded some ridiculous results at first. For instance, the game Peacekeeper – Trench Defense describes itself this way:

Fight epic battles, slay endless waves of enemy hordes, and restore the peace! You’re the Peacekeeper, one of the world’s toughest elite soldiers. A relentless onslaught of enemy troops is invading your land. It’s up to you to restore the peace, and what better way to do that than with your huge arsenal of guns?!

Not exactly what we had in mind.

I took heart from PAXsims, which has the best reviews and descriptions of games involving realistic peace processes. Furthermore, the journal-Simulation & Gaming had a whole issue on peacebuilding in 2013, guest edited by Rex Brynen. So I felt that at least I was not alone; others were thinking about similar possibilities.  Rex’s Brynania game, in his eponymous territory, considers peacekeeping as part of the toolbox for conflict resolution. And, his survey shows that his student gamers strongly supported UN-led peacekeeping and mediation over all the other peace process options. But there are no games online to actually practice UN peacekeeping.

I have yet to find a commercial game, on a gameboard or digitally, where UN-style peacekeeping is the focus. Some militaries have experimented with peacekeeping training by reskinning warfighting games, like Arma3 and its more expensive (professional) platform Virtual Battlespace (now at VBS4 from Bohemia Interactive). But with a license fee of thousands per computer per year, VBS4 is beyond the reach of most individuals and peacekeeping training institutions. Besides, a wargame modified into a peacekeeping game will look like just that, not a product built from the ground up to realistically simulate peace operations.

There are a few relevant and exciting games for counter-terrorism and stability operations. But these are mostly US-style operations – think Iraq and Afghanistan, which have hardly proven to be successful models for creating peace. These operations are quite different from UN peace operations, which are based on a trinity of principles that are not usually present in US/NATO stability operations: consent of the main parties to the conflict for the UN deployment; impartiality so that the mission is guided by international law and any peace agreements between the conflicting parties (i.e., the UN should not side with one party and treat the other as the enemy); and the defensive use of force, unlike the frequently offensive character of most stability operations. Still, peace operations can require the use of force if an armed group poses an imminent threat to UN personnel or local civilians. And some elements can definitely be transferred from counter-insurgency (COIN) games like Rebel Inc: Escalation, e.g., learning about power-brokers, civ-mil relations, working with humanitarian actors (while giving them “humanitarian space”), using media coverage as leverage, etc.

We can also learn from the table-top exercises (TTX) that militaries so often play. However, in Canada and its NATO allies, the simulations are centered on a NATO-like alliance. These forces do not have the composition, spirit or integrated nature of the United Nations, where troops from the developed and developing world work alongside police and civilians, all under civilian international control. More importantly, the goal is to win the peace not to win the war. There are a few exercises with strong peacekeeping components, like the Viking multinational exercises held annually by the Swedish armed forces and the Folke Bernadotte Academy. In its day, the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre (1994–2013) in Canada also developed multiple exercises involving UN-led multidisciplinary peacekeeping missions, mostly based in the land of Fontinalis.

PeacekeeperGameProj_OpeningScene_withTitle

Screenshot from the Peacekeeper Game Project.

After searching, researching and writing about the idea of digital peacekeeping games, I wanted to start practicing what I was preaching. But moving from the general idea to even a demonstration game (proof of concept) necessitated a skilled game developer, who was generously provided by M7 Database Services. One game concept is now being developed – see www.peacekeepersgame.com, with explanation and video playthrough. A preliminary demonstration game is also available (upon request to walter.dorn@rmc.ca). This design and development work showed me the great power of agile object-based game development using assets from the Unity store – for more, see the peacekeeping gaming paper (pdf), specifically the section on “New and Emerging Methods of Game Design and Development.”

Slide2_OpeningScene-wCaptions

Screenshot from the Peacekeeper Game Project.

With this and similar initiatives in progress, it seems that peacekeeping gaming might be moving from vision to reality. Hopefully, game design companies will explore the field and the options. And I also urge the United Nations to explore them, not only for the training but also public education. Digital simulations allow for the easy production of videos to illustrate peacekeeping principles and practices. From my UN experience, I learned why “disruptive technologies” are given that name. Many UN officials recognized the exciting potential for peacekeeping simulation but did not want to disrupt their current work plans, overloaded as they were. Still, there is hope for UN digital innovation, especially as the COVID-affected world seeks to do more online, including peacekeeping training, during and after the crisis.

Your-Decision_Peacekeeper-Game_Brochure_Dorn_2019-10-13

Screenshot from the Peacekeeper Game Project.

I know the Canadian and international officers I teach at the Canadian Forces College, especially those in my peace operations class, are enthusiastic to engage in peacekeeping simulations. Now would be the time to develop the games or encourage others to develop them. There are options to foster a new gaming genre: work with the gaming industry or with emerging game designers at colleges and universities in their gaming and design programmes.

Peacekeeping games, anyone?

And if the options to develop new games are few, and the development work with the United Nations proves too slow, then there’s more time to do the next best thing: producing more academic papers!

 

Walter Dorn 

8 responses to “Dorn: Peacekeeping games, anyone?

  1. Walter Dorn 18/07/2020 at 8:15 pm

    I just finished playing my first (and the first) peacekeeping game: “Gaming for Peace” (https://gap-project.eu/). You make dialogue choices for a UN peacekeeper: first, a Finnish CIMIC officer; and, second, a Portuguese police officer. The game is rather basic: pretty linear gameplay through dialogue only; a 2D, static environment, where the only sounds are background chatter; and there is little on the roles and options of peacekeepers (beyond dialogue). You choose the dialogue responses from a menu (typically three choices) that makes you think about cultural, gender, and human sensitivity. All the characters that behave badly are males and the game plays on stereotypes. The game does make you read a couple of UN-type mission documents that are needed for a few responses so there is an additional learning opportunity there. The evaluation of your responses is through reports, with a neat link to the internet to compare your game answers to others before you and the correct (i.e., politically correct) answers. The game offers useful insights into inter-personal communication while in the field, not just for peacekeeping. An important step in the evolution of peacekeeping gaming!

  2. Walter Dorn 18/07/2020 at 7:20 pm

    Precisely because peacekeepers need special training, beyond that of regular soldiering, simulations are particularly important to develop.To be successful, peacekeepers need specialized skills, going beyond (but including) the appropriate use of force. Simulations can help this.

    Again, for a look at peacekeeping success/failure, which shows more success than failure in UN peacekeeping history, see this recent paper pdf: https://www.walterdorn.net/pdf/Peacekeeping-Works_Dorn-Collins_IJ_DOI0020702020917167_15May2020.pdf.

  3. Andrew Burtch 20/05/2020 at 2:58 pm

    Walter very kindly gave me access to a demo of the game in development. Once upon a time when developing an exhibition about the Cyprus conflict I had hoped to include an interactive element that would help visitors understand what sort of choices could be made to respond to ceasefire violations, but could not proceed due to development costs. The interactive here helps to present problems, offer possible courses of action, and may help to model appropriate responses to provocation, use of force escalation, and atrocity. The playthrough left me wanting more, in any event, so I look forward to its future iterations.

  4. Walter Dorn 18/05/2020 at 6:38 pm

    More up-to-date and in-depth studies of UN peacekeeping show a higher success rate than 50/50. I just published a paper on peacekeeping success/failure at
    (pdf: https://www.walterdorn.net/pdf/Peacekeeping-Works_Dorn-Collins_IJ_DOI0020702020917167_15May2020.pdf). But even some of those considered “disasters” have saved many lives. The UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda – led by Canadian general Roméo Dallaire – saved over 20,000 people during the genocide, despite peacekeeper numbers being reduced to fewer than 300 personnel on the ground.

    The challenge is not to accept/reject peacekeeping but to find ways to make it work BETTER so it save more people and alleviate human suffering. On this PAXsims website and comments page, it would be good to explore how simulations & games can help that cause.

  5. brtrain 14/05/2020 at 11:25 pm

    I agree with DR’s concluding paragraph, and think this is an important reason why many PKOs do fail. Not all fail, of course, and ones where they succeed are cases where the military deployed was professional, trained, prepared, had a clear mission and the support of its contributing governments. The same goes for PKOs that deploy police forces instead of standing military units.
    Another important factor is whether the antagonists themselves want to carry on fighting earnestly; when they don’t you get Cyprus or the Golan Heights and when they decide they want to have a go at it again you get Rwanda or Croatia.
    Perhaps a passable PKO game would teach its players what things are and are not under their control, and what to do when things do go wrong. There’s a great variety of moral and ethical dilemmas that could be injected into such games, which would give it some individual training value as well as allowing subunits to at least verbally rehearse some situations.

  6. D R 14/05/2020 at 2:26 pm

    Does Peacekeeping Keep Peace? International Intervention and the Duration of Peace after Civil War
    Virginia Page Fortna

    International Studies Quarterly
    Vol. 48, No. 2 (Jun., 2004)

    Best count up I had read when doing some research back in the day for the MOD, she did the research and found it was at best 50 /50, but it was changing even as she did it, usual messy places that never really stabilized Israel, Africa ..still a problem for any military unit sent there, ,”walk quietly with a big stick …”

  7. Rex Brynen 14/05/2020 at 10:12 am

    I think you are underestimating the effectiveness of peacekeeping. Certainly there are failures (Rwanda) and cases where the outcome is imperfect, but the research suggests that PKOs are associated with a higher probability of peace. In Africa alone, PKOs have contributed to the cessation of major violence in Namibia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the DRC. Even in cases where stable peace has not been achieved (CAR, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan), peacekeepers have arguably stopped things from getting worse. Since most militaries are more likely to deploy on PKOs than conventional military operations, it makes sense to train for them.

  8. D R 14/05/2020 at 4:54 am

    I think the real problem is that Peacekeeping as a military mission has actually not historically been very successful across the globe. This may be useful to game or not…. most Peacekeeping missions have either been superseded by events so that the providers pull out because it becomes untenable – Somalia, Libya, almost everywhere in Africa, and that for most military officers the problem is not during the Peacekeeping mission, but when it actually breaks down – Bosnia, Rwanda, Mali. Then the problem is more a game of either evacuation, hunting of insurgents (much like any COIN scenario) or a game of survival if you simply cannot shoot or bomb enough of the ‘baddies’, who of course can change within a time frame from one faction to another….
    I applaud the attempt to tackle this, and I anticipate that students will be looking for a game that represents this dichotomy, and would do well to refer to Rupert Smith as a starter – see (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Utility_of_Force) who states it well enough.
    I suspect any really good peacekeeping game will come to his conclusion: don’t use your military for police activities, as it is not really what they are either trained, armed or paid to do… and if you do, make sure they are prepared, authorised and have the political backing to kill the enemy and deal with the consequences.

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