PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers.
Patrick Ruestchmann suggested material for this latest edition. Do you now of anything we might include? Pass it on!
At Inkstick, Christopher Dougherty suggests that “It’s Time to Rethink Our Wargames.”
National security practitioners held several high-profile pandemic wargames and exercises in the years prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Often, these games eerily predicted events in the current pandemic, along with the policy hurdles the government has faced. Instead of serving as a clarion call for preparedness or guiding the response, however, these games have become an ironic historical footnote.
What lessons should the wargaming and policy communities take from this experience? Games have a proven record of helping people think through “wicked problems” such as counterinsurgencies, major wars, great–power competition, or pandemics. But this beneficial effect only occurs if policymakers and organizations can access, absorb, and act on the insights and lessons they provide.
I’ve been on multiple sides of this problem, as a wargamer, player, analyst, advisor, and strategist. This hybrid experience has given me multiple lenses to examine wargaming’s role in policymaking. It also forced me to grapple with the tensions between achieving research objectives, respecting wargaming’s strengths and limitations, and informing policy.
I want to emphasize that this is not a critique of the pandemic games or their designers. I use them as an example of how even well-designed games on crucial topics may not have the desired policy impact if their insights fail to reach key policymakers or influence their thinking.
The purpose is to start a conversation on how the wargaming community can ensure that our oft-prescient work has the policy impact we desire. Informing policy requires embracing what makes wargaming unique: people and the stories we tell.
He makes several excellent points, among them:
Wargamers need to increase participation by making games more accessible. We need to shorten them, even if that requires greater abstraction in game design. Exceptional players are exceptional personnel, which means their time is in demand. A full day of gaming is difficult, and three days is virtually impossible. We need to maximize engagement during play and create flexibility to get work done during breaks. We need to increase our ability to run remote games, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It reduces travel costs, thereby increasing participation.
We need to increase the diversity of players and make sure all players are heard. Wargaming has a reputation as being dominated by the male (hence the origin of the phrase BOGSAT), and the pale. For example, women have been central in building RAND’s wargaming practice and fostering a new generation of women gamers, but this remains an exception. Wargaming should be a welcoming community that prioritizes the thought over the thinker, but games often fail to attract women or people of color. My experience further suggests that some of these players struggle to be heard amidst defense leaders more accustomed to executing plans than encouraging deliberation among diverse viewpoints.
We also need to increase the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives at our games. Most wargames exist within the defense ecosystem, but warfare tends to escape organizational shackles.
There’s much more beside. Go read it!
RAND Review features a Q&A with Yuna Wong on serious games.
Policy researcher Yuna Wong is serious about games. Recently named codirector of the Center for Gaming, she has designed and run wargames to study national defense policy, Marine Corps operations, and the dangers of putting too much trust in artificial intelligence. She wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at the Pardee RAND Graduate School on how to better model the behaviors of noncombatants when simulating urban military operations.
She didn’t expect to make gaming a focus of her career. She studied political science, then worked as an operations research analyst for the Marines. She was at a conference when she saw what she describes as BOGGSATs—a Bunch of Guys and Gals Sitting Around Tables —playing a wargame. “They were a particular type of geek that I felt very comfortable with,” she says.
Back on March 16, Robert Richbourg, June Rodriguez, David M. Gohlich, and James N. Bexfield wrote about “Supporting Joint Warfighting With Mission-Level Simulations” in War on the Rocks.
Simulations are one of the few secure, cost-effective resources for realistically testing U.S. military operations that are needed to deter its competitors. The United States has access to many computer simulation capabilities. However, when it comes to planning multi-service operations, multiple simulations are rarely integrated. Instead, simulations are exercised individually. Output of one simulation becomes, to the extent possible, input to the next.
Finding the right mix of simulation tools for campaign-level and mission-level operations is paramount for defense planners. One size will not suffice. Too much detail can be as unhelpful as too little. Combining simulations that differ by the level of forces they represent is analogous to using road maps of differing scale: long-distance road trip planning calls for a wide-area map with major highways, but eventually higher-resolution maps are necessary to navigate to a precise address. Both sets of maps together present a viable, end-to-end route.
How can the Defense Department make the most of campaign- and mission-level simulations? Since the military doesn’t have much experience or data from large-scale operations to simulate multi-domain operations, defense professionals should integrate system models from all of the services andthe intelligence community into a highly detailed representation of a complete joint environment. Given security concerns, it’s not surprising that live exercise opportunities to explore existing multi-domain operations are limited. However, while using simulations to explore difficult problems is a viable alternative, it is also more easily said than done.
Simulation remains America’s best approach to examine future military operations. It not only offers a risk-free venue for testing new concepts, but also enables exploring large-scale defensive or offensive operations with advantages like maintaining secrecy and not provoking adversaries. Three important lessons from past simulation program failures, seemingly obvious in hindsight, could help the military going forward…..
Also in War on the Rocks in March, Jennifer Mcardle, Thomas Kehr, and Gene Colabatistto discussed “Pandemics And The Future Of Military Training.” Part of the answer? Video games.
One simple remedy may be to double down on what the troops already know, love, and likely will be doing anyway during the pandemic — video gaming. Indeed, the military has a long history of leveraging the gaming proclivities of warfighters to its advantage. From the Marine Corps’ 1996 modification of Doom, to the Army’s creation of first-person shooter game America’s Army, and more recent use of an Army esports competition team, video games have emerged as a key avenue for military recruitment, community engagement, and training. As the coronavirus deepens its global reach, the military can deploy training virtually at the point-of-need to help maintain troop readiness.
In March, the Center for a New American Security ran a wargame examining looking at airpower in the context of a China-Taiwan war in 2030. Christopher Dougherty (CNAS) tweeted about what happened.
You’ll find a detailed account on his Twitter feed.
Voting is now open for the 2019 Charles S. Roberts wargaming awards.
The Australian Crisis Simulation Summit will take place (virtually) in September 2020.
In September 2020, sixty of Australia’s future national security leaders will gather for a 5 day national security Summit. The program will include three intense, realistic and challenging crisis simulations, a national security careers and networking day, and live, interactive panel discussions with the people and institutions who play a key role in shaping national security discourse in Australia.
In an effort to mitigate the risk posed to students by COVID-19, the Summit will be headquartered at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and via the latest virtual conference technologies, delegates will be able to participate in the Summit from the comfort of their homes. The nation’s capital provides unique access to leading figures in Australia’s national security space. We’re working closely with leading academics at the ANU, our Patron, Admiral (Ret.) Chris Barrie, AC, Former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, and the Department of Defence to deliver the Summit.
Students will develop the skills the next generation of Australian leaders need to tackle the inevitable challenges of the 21st Century. Students will leave with a greater understanding of the intricacies of Australia’s foreign and defence policy challenges, a network of potential employers and connections to people with similar passions and career ambitions.
You’ll find an interview with the law students behind it here in Lawyers’ Weekly.
Earlier this month, James Batchelor of Gamesindustry.biz asked “Can video games depict war responsibly?”
Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Victory in Europe, the day we celebrate the end of World War 2.
It’s a conflict that continues to be explored through video games, but as the medium matures, its depiction of war — any war — and the way it allows players to engage with it come under further scrutiny.
The likes of Medal of Honor, Battlefield, and Call of Duty have long since established that video games can recreate the Hollywood version of military conflict, with an emphasis on spectacle and action, but do these and other titles treat war as respectfully as they should?
“What is ‘respectful’ is subjective,” says Joe Brammer, CEO of Battalion 1944 developer Bulkhead Interactive. “I’d argue most World War 2 games that are released aren’t doing it to be respectful, they’re generally marketed in the same way: ‘honour, glory, heroes.’
“It’s kind of a nod [of respect], but none of these games are trying to be respectful or proactively trying to be an ‘anti-war’ game like The Hurt Locker, an anti-war movie that still delivered the same action experience as a war movie… Since the ’40s, we’ve all had it embedded into us in the UK and United States that this was a glorious moment. We’re trained to think that.”
Here’s a blast from the past–a 1991 article in Shadis Magazine by none other than Chris Engle on role-playing with matrix games.