Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: May 2020

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 May 2020


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, greatpower 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…..


WotRAlso 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 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.

Matrix Games in Shadis Magazine #06 (dragged)

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.


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.


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, with explanation and video playthrough. A preliminary demonstration game is also available (upon request to 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.”


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.


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 

Hoover Institution: International Crisis War Game, 27 May 2020


The war game explores the relationship between new technologies, domestic politics, conventional military capabilities, and nuclear threats. Players simulate decision-making roles in a National Security cabinet and come to the war game as leaders in private industry, government, academia, and the military. The aim is to better understand the role that emerging technologies play in crisis decision-making and how Cold War paradigms of deterrence and crisis escalation apply in a world with new capabilities and vulnerabilities.

The International Crisis Virtual War Game at the Hoover Institution is the first ever iteration of the game played completely virtually using the Zoom platform, but it is a part of a larger set of in person games that have been run all over the world over the last 2 years to compare behaviors across countries and cultures within crises.

As a player in this virtual game, the group of participants will first be given two hypothetical crisis scenarios and a briefing on capabilities and threats. Players will then be placed in teams and asked to represent a National Security cabinet that generates priority objectives and debates courses of action. The war game culminates in the development of a whole of government response plan to the crisis. Finally, the event concludes with a plenary session back in a large group in which players will share lessons learned from the war game and suggest potential recommendations for policies on emerging threats and crisis dynamics.

Full details of the game here.

If you wish to participate register at this link by May 25th.

Please note that as an attendee at this event, you will be a participant in a Stanford research protocol.


Simulation & Gaming (June 2020)


The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 51, 3 (June 2020) is now available.


  • Embedded and Guiding Cues: The Role of the Designer and Facilitator in Simulation and Gaming
    • Timothy C. Clapper


  • Developing a Model of Video Game Play: Motivations, Satisfactions, and Continuance Intentions
    • Brady Patzer, Barbara Chaparro, and Joseph R. Keebler
  • Exploring the Relationships Among Middle School Students’ Peer Interactions, Task Efficiency, and Learning Engagement in Game-Based Learning
    • Jewoong Moon and Fengfeng Ke
  • The Acquisition of 21st-Century Skills Through Video Games: Minecraft Design Process Models and Their Web of Class Roles
    • Katherine J. E. Hewett, Guang Zeng, and Bethanie C. Pletcher
  • Side Effects May Include Fun: Pre- and Post-Market Surveillance of the GridlockED Serious Game
    • Stephen J. Hale, Sonja Wakeling, J. Bruce Blain, Alim Pardhan, Shawn Mondoux, and Teresa M. Chan
  • Supporting Dialogue and Analysis on Trade-Offs in Climate Adaptation Research With the Maladaptation Game
    • Tina-Simone Neset, Sirkku Juhola, Lotten Wiréhn, Janina Käyhkö, Carlo Navarra, Therese Asplund, Erik Glaas, Victoria Wibeck, and Björn-Ola Linnér

Serious games – Humanitarian User Research


In December, PaxSims’ own Tom Fisher (Imaginetic), and Matthew Stevens (LLST) were contracted by Save the Children UK to develop a research project on the potential use of serious games in humanitarian aid training.

With the help of their team: Johanna Reynolds (LLST), Bianna Proceviat (Imaginetic), Catherine Benedict (Imaginetic), Sterling Perkins (Imaginetic) and Alejandra Espinosa (Imaginetic), the research delved into existing academic literature on the subject and held several workshops in Amman, Jordan; Nairobi, Kenya; and Montreal, Canada.

The workshops in Amman and Nairobi focused on humanitarian aid workers, from various backgrounds with direct experience in humanitarian aid. Montreal’s workshop served to provide contrast with a population of students, with comparatively little to no direct humanitarian aid experience.

The workshops consisted exclusively of game playing sessions with debrief, both digital and analog formats, without specific course materials or lessons. Simply the lessons learned from the gameplay and short debrief were used to impart knowledge.

Participants from 11 countries participated in the live workshops and from 21 countries in online surveys. 68% of the participants identified as female, while 32% identified as male. Most participants (90%) had at least a Bachelor’s degree, and education played no significant role in the perception of the learning experience or the tools used.

The culmination of the project was a report and webinar delivered on April 24 to Save the Children UK staff.

Some Key Findings

  • 96% of participants demonstrated an ability to learn from games in the humanitarian context
  • Participants were able to retain many lessons learned even up to 45 days post workshop (with no repeat play)
  • Participants were significantly more able to clearly identify lessons learned from analog games than digital games
  • Participants significantly more likely to retain information learned from analog games than digital games
  • Good debrief was identified as an important part of the learning process
  • Neither gender nor culture played little to no role in participants’ ability to learn from games
  • 85% of participants identified games as being more effective than powerpoint presentations or lectures*
  • Language ability is, however, a driver in the ability to identify and retain lessons
  • Technological challenges are an impediment to distribution and implementation of digital games-based learning in the field


In the context of Save the Children UK’s needs, and this project, we came to a number of conclusions regarding the use of serious games in the humanitarian context. Feedback from participants, as well as observed data was absolutely fundamental in pinpointing focus moving forward.

  • Serious games are an educational tool, not the only tool:
    • Games are not necessarily better than other educational tools used to impart knowledge*, despite participants’ evaluations of games as being more effective
  • In order to be most effective learning game must identify and promote specific learning outcomes
  • In most circumstances, specific learning outcomes should be unlocked or revealed as quickly as possible
    • In the case of digital games, unsupported by debrief, this is fundamental, lest the player abandon the game without achieving the desired purpose
  • Proper implementation of the User eXperience (UX) through good User Interface (UI) design is fundamental to the game experience
  • Learning games are more effective when they are smaller in scope, clear in intent, and aim to teach a limited number of learning outcomes
    • The new KISSS principle: Keep it Simple in Scope and Small
  • Humanitarian learning games must be built around sound data and real-life realities, rather than convenient assumptions
    • It is important to explore mistakes
    • It is important to confront difficult issues
  • Reflecting the point above: learning games should provide a safe-to-fail environment, both in the game context (ability to learn and try again) and an organizational one (failure is an opportunity to teach, not scold)
  • In the novel context of serious humanitarian games, a crawl ⇒ walk ⇒ run approach must be used:
    • start small, and work up to larger initiatives
    • shinier is not always better (but can be devastatingly expensive)

*No credible research exists that identifies games-based learning as being a uniquely better conveyor of information than other, well-delivered, learning methods. 

Further detail can be found in the webinar, and report.

Tom Fisher of Imaginetic (tfisher@imaginetic), and Matthew Stevens of Lessons Learned Simulations and Training ( can be contacted for any additional information.

Webinar and Q&A link: webinar video

PowerPoint: SHARE COPY Serious Games Webiner Consolidated

Serious Games – Humanitarian User Research report (Screen PDF): Save the Children UK Serious Games Humanitarian User Research_Interactive Screen Display

NYMAS: Perla, Herman, and Dunnigan on wargaming

The New York Military Affairs Symposium has posted the full audio from an October 2018 conference on wargaming, featuring Jeremy Paulson with wargaming greats Peter Perla, Mark Herman, and Jim Dunnigan.


The mp3 can be accessed directly here.

h/t Peter Perla 

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.

“Survive COVID-19” browser game


I’ve seen a few online educational and awareness games about the current COVID-19 pandemic, but Survive COVID-19 is the best so far. Developed by Yein Udaan and XR Labs in India, it presents a series of choices about how to spend dwindling savings to keep your family well, while at the same time minimizing exposure.


Unlike some less-well designed games of this genre, there are no easy or obvious options. The scenario is all too real for hundreds of millions in South Asia and around the world. The presentation is appropriately minimalist, and the music and sound effects contribute to the appropriate mood without being distracting. As one recent research report has found, keeping things focused and simple can really pay off in educational games.

h/t Sarah Jameel  

GUWS: Wong on wargaming and design thinking


The Georgetown University Wargaming Society will be hosting a virtual presentation by Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) on “Wargaming and design thinking” on 14 July 2020.

RAND Corporation is about to launch its first commercially available boardgame, Hedgemony, a version of the wargame that it developed to support the Pentagon write the 2018 National Defense Strategy. This presentation will go over the design thinking approach we used to develop the game.

Speaker Bio: Yuna Huh Wong is a policy researcher who works on a number of defense and national security topics.

Projects that she has led or co-led includes:

  • A look at the way artificial intelligence and autonomous systems could affect deterrence and escalation. This project used wargamed a future conflict involving the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea where all but the latter had widespread AI and autonomous systems.
  • Wargaming methods, tools, best practices, and recommendations for developing U.S. Marine Corps wargaming capabilities.
  • Development of the game that stress tested the first ever NATO Military Strategy in 2019.
  • Development of the wargame that supported the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
    Recommendations for wargaming operations in the information environment.
    Options for human-machine teaming in a littoral environment.
  • She was the co-chair for the 2016 and 2017 Military Operations Research Society (MORS) special meetings on wargaming. She also keynoted at the Connections North wargaming conference in Montreal in February 2020.

She holds a Ph.D. in policy analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School, where her dissertation was on non-combatants in urban operations and in military models and simulations. She has a M.A. in political science from Columbia University and a B.S. in economics and a B.S. political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Registration is via Eventbrite.

PAXsims welcomes Brianna Proceviat as associate editor

Proceviat2.pngPAXsims is pleased to announce that Brianna Proceviat has joined our team of associate editors.

Brianna is a junior wargame designer and analyst for the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre. She previously worked as a researcher with Lessons Learned Simulations and Training and Imaginetic during their recent study on serious games for humanitarian training (2020). She holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science from McGill University, where she was once nearly assassinated as President of Brynania and served as Prime Minister during a zombie apocalypse. Her fields of interest include conflict, security, and democracy.

KWN: Caffrey on “Wargaming in a post-pandemic world” (June 23)


On June 23, the King’s Wargaming Network will host a virtual lecture by Matt Caffrey on “Wargaming in a Post-Pandemic World: Adapting Institutions to Out-Think and Out-Partner”

We now know we live in a world where a novel illness can take lives, livelihoods and liberties worldwide with rapid speed. At the same time, the character of war is evolving in novel and dangerous ways that are not fully known. Wargaming can help decision makers better understand and address new challenges in a complex and uncertain environment, but reaping these benefits requires the right organisational structures and processes.

For almost 40 years Matt Caffrey has been building organisations to help adapt wargaming to meet evolving threats and opportunities. He will address the following questions:

  • How have wargaming structures adapted in the past to respond to changes in the strategic environment?
  • What institutional adaptations are currently underway in the United States and NATO?
  • What more can and should be done to increase the utility of wargaming to address the full set of threats facing NATO allies?

Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. provides wargame support to the United State’s Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Material Command, Air Staff and to NATO. In 1993 he helped found the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference.

Further details and registration are via Eventbrite.

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