Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: June 2020

Latest endorsements of the Derby House Principles

We are pleased to report that four more organizations and companies have endorsed the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming:

If your organization would like to join us in making serious gaming more tolerant and inclusive, drop us a line.

Imaginetic Announces the Imaginetic Diversity in Gaming Bursary

Imaginetic and I, its founder Thomas Fisher, proudly endorse the Derby House Principles of diversity and inclusion in professional, serious games.

Imaginetic is determined and focused on inclusivity, while cultivating the best talent across the spectrum of humankind. As such, beyond thoroughly endorsing the Derby House Principles, we would like to put our money where our mouth is:

Imaginetic is announcing the $1000CAD Imaginetic Diversity in Gaming (IDIG) Bursary, in the spirit of the Derby House Principles, to encourage a more diverse gamescape in the field of serious games and wargames. Focused on the development of serious games talent, the bursary will be awarded to a student drawn from historically underrepresented groups in serious gaming: women, sexual and gender minorities, disabled persons, and persons of colour, who is pursuing post-secondary studies pertaining to serious games, their design, facilitation, and research.

We at Imaginetic are proud to play whatever part we can in broadening the spectrum of opportunities, viewpoints, and experiences in the current and future serious gamescape.

Deadlines for applications is September 30, with the Bursary to be awarded to one candidate in January 2021.

As an applicant, you should be a student from a historically underrepresented group in serious games, enrolled in a recognized (accredited) post-secondary educational institution, pursuing an educational path that includes the development, design or research or serious games (tabletop or digital).

Apply here:

Derby House Principles update

We are pleased to announce the latest groups and organizations that have chosen to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming:

If your organization would like to join, let us know.

Soviet cold war era military dictionaries

“Soviet Style Wargames”

“Soviet Style Wargames”, prepared by John Sloan, Ali Jalali, Gouhlam Wardak, Fred Giessler in 1986

This is a preliminary discussion of what the Soviets taught at the Voroshilov and Frunze academies about the nature of and the methods for conducting wargames. Working with Colonels Jalali and Wardak US analysts of Soviet military issues have been reviewing this subject to see how wargaming in the USSR compares with that in the US. It is clear that the two former colonels in the Afghan army know a great deal about wargaming, more from practical experience in participating in wargames than from formal study of the subject at Soviet schools. This is an attempt to outline their knowledge and start to do comparisons. It may lead to a capability to conduct a full scale Soviet style wargame here in the US. In this way DOD experts and decision makers might learn both the form and style of Soviet wargaming as well as the content of a Soviet style assessment. This could lead to identifying implications of US actions and capabilities based upon conducting Soviet style wargames.

The purpose for conducting a Soviet style wargame is to demonstrate Soviet planning, research, and gaming techniques in action. It is to illustrate Soviet style analysis techniques of the subject used in the game. In addition, it will provide some insight into the likely content of the analysis Soviet war game users might derive from a similar game on the same topic.

In addition to the formal training at the senior military schools, wargaming was one of the activities the Soviets introduced into Afghanistan during their advisory period (1962 – 1979). The purposes of these games were for training, planning, and research. This paper focuses on the role of wargames in support of scientific military study, how the Soviets use wargames, who plays and who controls, where they play them and how they conduct them.

This paper focuses on the development of the role of wargaming in Afghanistan under Soviet advisors, supplemented by information on the theory of wargaming as discussed in Soviet senior military schools. Colonel Wardak attended the Frunze Military Academy and completed the Voroshilov Academy in 1977. Colonel Jalali completed the Frunze Academy in 1980.

From the Introduction

“Soviet Threat Series” US Army FM 100-2

“These field manuals serve as the definitive source of unclassified information on Soviet ground forces and their interaction with other services in combined arms warfare.”

FM 100-2-1

FM 100-2-1: The Soviet Army: Operations and Tactics (Jul ‘84)

FM 100-2-2: The Soviet Army: Specialized Warfare and Rear Area Support (Jul ‘84)

FM 100-2-3: The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization, and Equipment (Jul ‘91)

Announcing the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

We are very pleased to announce that several of the world’s major professional (war)gaming organizations have come together to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in serious gaming.


We believe that promoting diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. 

Diversity and inclusion are more than just words for us. They are the hard-and-fast principles guiding how we will build our teams, cultivate leaders and create a community that supports everyone in it. No one should ever feel excluded or less welcome because of gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, or background. Experience and social science has shown that diversity can generate better results, in analysis, insight, and professional decision-making.

As professional gamers we are committed to the Derby House Principles:

1)   Promoting inclusion and diversity in professional wargaming, through the standards we set, the opportunities we offer, and access to activities we organise.

2)   Making clear our opposition to sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination across the board, as well as in wargaming.

3)   Encouraging a greater role and higher profile for colleagues from underrepresented groups in our professional activities.

4)   Seeking out and listening to the concerns and suggestions of our colleagues as to how our commitment to diversity and inclusion could be enhanced.

5)   Demonstrating our commitment to diversity and inclusion through ongoing assessment of progress made and discussion of future steps.  


Connections North (Canada)

Connections UK

Connections (US)

Serious Games Network—France

*Derby House in Liverpool was the location of Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WWII. 

WATU conducted some of the most consequential wargaming in the history of armed conflict. It was staffed by women from all walks of life, and men considered unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury. Between them was the breadth of tactical, technical, social and cultural knowledge necessary to train naval officers from every Allied nation.

This initiative has been underway since February, when Connections North hosted a panel on diversity and inclusion at its annual conference in Montréal. Thereafter, confronted with examples of misogyny and racism directed at wargaming professionals on social media, a working group was established in mid-May consisting of Kiera Bentley (Connections UK), Rex Brynen (PAXsims/Connections North/McGill University), Sally Davis (PAXsims/Dstl), Tom Mouat (PAXsims/Connections UK/Defence Academy of the UK), Briana Proceviat (PAXsims/Canadian Joint Warfare Centre) and Yuna Wong (RAND) to develop a common vision and language.

These efforts were given new urgency by the killing of George Floyd on May 25 and the subsequent protests in the United States and around the world calling for an end to systemic racial and other discrimination.

We are currently working with the cosponsors and other groups to address these issues in conferences, workshops, and other activities. At PAXsims, you can complete our survey on diversity in wargaming or read some of the various articles we have published on diversity, inclusion, and representation. We also strongly recommend Becca Wasser’s September 2019 piece on women and wargaming in the New York Times Magazine, as well as reading up on the history of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit at Derby House.

We also look to widen the conversation and broaden the coalition for change. If your organization would like to endorse the Derby House Principles, email us to let us know. While we are not accepting individual endorsements, we would encourage readers to promote the statement and the values it represent. If you have ideas, we want to hear them!

Utrecht Institute for Crisis and Conflict Simulation

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Tim Goudriaan.

The COVID-19 pandemic inspired Dutch academics, students, and gamers to create the Utrecht Institute for Crisis and Conflict Simulation (UICCS). In March 2020, when the Netherlands went into lockdown and universities moved their classes online, nearly 30 Utrecht University students reorganised themselves into an online think tank. They subsequently created and played various war- and matrix games on the impact of (governments’ responses to) the pandemic and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in East and South Asia, whilst also publishing a 100-page report on the same. Around 100 students from different classes and departments were eventually involved or otherwise participated in this experiment, playing games, collecting as well as analysing data, forecasting events, and writing reports. 

The think tank was created and executed upon almost wholly by students at University College Utrecht, conceived by university lecturer Tim Goudriaan, and made a reality with the help of (war)game designer and forecasting expert Diederik Stolk. The story continues: a group of 20 students will spend their summer break of 2020 formalizing the institute and developing various games. In this blogpost, Tim explains why UICCS was created, and shares his experiences and insights so as to show what students can achieve when organised around creative, common goals – in online environments.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Many of us have had to find unconventional ways to deal with these unconventional times. But while this is the first pandemic of our lifetimes, it may well not be the last. We need to come to grips with other current and upcoming conflicts and crises, such as those evolving around the increasing synthesis between warfare, intelligence, and politics on the one hand, and (nano)technology, big data and A.I. on the other. And our challenges are hardly confined to this planet. Humanity is on its way to becoming a multiplanetary species, and the merging of man and machine is hardly science fiction anymore – not to mention the potential realization of the Singularity and/or the Great Filter. Going back to ‘business as usual’, therefore, would be a disservice to this and future generations. It’ll also be less fun.

Games & Simulations in a (post-)Pandemic World

This is why and when UICCS came into existence. We (increasingly) need people who can think on their feet, handle complexity without being overwhelmed, and who can communicate effectively and professionally across disciplines. Sound familiar much? In the increasingly online environments that characterize work, life and studies, they will have to engage in strategic planning and decision-making through team and information management, coalition building, negotiation and diplomacy. 

Games and simulation-based learning can instil the creativity and adaptability in students and professionals that we need in the playful future that we want. The newly-founded Utrecht Institute for Crisis and Conflict Simulation therefore aims to (re)shape academia through (serious) games, skills-based education, and big data.

In this post, I elaborate on three things: 1) why we created UICCS; 2) how we did it (so you can too), and; 3) what we are doing now.

Wait but why (not)?

As we were halfway through teaching a new course on (war)games and simulations at University College Utrecht, the impact of the pandemic forced me to come up with a way to teach students practical skills in an online environment. Since January, we had engaged in a variety of mostly real-life games and activities surrounding war and conflict that many of you who read this article are surely familiar with. Here’s what happened: we reorganised the class of nearly thirty students into a simulation posing as an interdisciplinary think tank focused on crisis and conflict simulation, run by the students themselves.

This was to become a two-month long simulacrum producing, playing and analysing simulations. Other than learning practical experiences and skills, it also seemed important to tackle current events. Because I also teach on (East) Asia and the Middle East, I combined classes and students in a way that our simulations and research activities as a whole focused on the impact of this 2020 pandemic on China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Asia and the Middle East. 

Hyperreality: making students’ life difficult but interesting (or at least ‘different’)

The think tank, like many simulations, was an illustration of the idea that anarchy supposedly is what states make of it. It was certainly difficult and confusing, and the ‘Control Team’ (consisting of Regional, Research and Gaming Coordinators), Unit Heads and all Representatives really had to dig in to get their bearings.

Overall, students have done a fantastic job with some pretty amazing results that they can be proud of – truly exploring the borders of what Baudrillard coined ‘hyperreality’. In any case, the think tank illustrates the interdisciplinary value and potential of liberal arts and sciences colleges: we have a legal unit ((wo)manned by legal majors, of course)), a civil-military unit (manned by strategists and riot-gear fetishists), a mapping unit (mapping geeks), a timeline unit (history reps) and even a pandemic unit (run by medical and a politics students). We even had PR & Fundraising and Graphic Design Departments. 

Map made by our mapping unit.

Students have created, facilitated, and analysed two online matrix games on future scenarios in the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal that we have played over a two-week period. The format of matrix games was specifically chosen for the purpose of converting it to online use, and to gather data to analyse and forecast trends and events. Students, as part of their assessment, analysed various datasets and came to some remarkably insightful and accurate conclusions – some of which can be found on reports on our website.

Map made by our mapping unit.

Students have also written country profiles and interdisciplinary op-eds that, together with analyses and forecasting from our games and research reports by students from my Middle East course, have been put together into two huge research reports on the consequences of the pandemic with regard to the BRI in Asia and the Middle East (the Asia-report including Executive Summary can be found here). Although the first few weeks were somewhat tough and confusing, students eventually really got into it: they have created (music) videos (like this analysis of the regional and geopolitical consequences of COVID-19 in Syria), podcasts, medical and legal quizzes, and arguably even the seeds of a new musical genre I’d like to dub ‘mappingwave’ (as part of a broader genre tentatively called ‘methodwave’).

“The Rise/Decline of Asia in (post-)pandemic world” created by students can be found here.

The Red Pill: UICCS in a (post-)pandemic world

The desire to continue on this path even after the course has come to an end, has led to the creation of the Utrecht Institute for Crisis and Conflict Simulation. With class coming to an end, students allowed their materials to be used to launch the institute, thereby simultaneously proding a platform for their work. We at UICCS aim to (re)shape academia through (serious) games, skills-based education and Big Data. Our organisation is largely run by students with the assistance of a focused group of experts on (war)gaming, military strategy, and forecasting.  

As such, we create, facilitate, play and analyse games and simulations that evolve around geostrategic issues, crises and conflicts. Our games and simulations have found their way into fields as diverse as history, politics, secret intelligence, military studies, grand strategy, and business consultancy. Are you interested in our work, are you looking for interdepartmental, interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration? Why not drop us a line.

Tim Goudriaan is a university lecturer and (serious) game designer. His work revolves around (war)gaming, intelligence, international security, the Middle East and (East) Asia.

Calling all diverse wargamers!

Are you BAME, POC, LGBT, disabled, a woman, or otherwise diverse?

I want to know more about your experiences in wargaming.

Please take a few minutes to fill in this survey. Thanks!

For the purposes of this survey, diverse means anyone who identifies as outside the majority in terms of backround, life-experience, class, as well as the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act.

1960’s War Gaming Symposia query

In the early 60’s the Washington Operations Research Council ran and published proceedings of at least two War Gaming Symposia. A few of these survive as hard copies in libraries, for example see

Does anyone know of any online electronic copies? And, how many symposia were run? Thanks.

Two recent wargaming podcasts

A couple of recent podcasts may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

At Controversy and Clarity (the official podcast of the Warfighting Society), Eric Walters discusses the value of wargaming:

• Wargames and the different ways to define them
• The trouble with the term “games”
• How Eric got into wargaming
• How wargaming led Eric to study all kinds of military history
• Eric’s thoughts on wargames as teaching tools for grade schoolers
• The many benefits of wargaming
• How wargames and reading helped Eric understand “the why” of doctrine, enemy tactics and organizations, and maneuver warfare
• How we should be wary of using games as a means of evaluating Marines as combat leaders
• Eric’s reaction to the explosion of interest in and acceptance of wargames in the Department of Defense
• Some recent wargame developments in the Army and Marine Corps
• Eric’s thoughts on General Berger’s focus on wargaming
• Eric’s experiences running wargames in the fleet as a company-grade officer
• How well the Marine Corps taught decision-making during Eric’s time as a young officer
• On the power of being supported by your superiors
• Eric’s thoughts on professional military education (PME) and what “professional” means to him
• What good PME looks like
• The need for one-on-one coaching in PME with accomplished masters
• The dangers of self-directed PME
• The need for study in the absence of experience
• The role formal schools should play in PME
• Eric’s thoughts on “lifelong learning”
• The coaches Eric has had over his career and life
• The value of belonging to a community of practice
• American Military University’s influence on Eric
• How decision games help build trust
• Eric’s approach to building PME programs while on active duty and the results of those programs
• What is critical thinking?
• Some critical thinking models and resources that Eric uses
• The relationship between decision games and critical thinking
• Eric’s admonition to Marines to remain relevant and take a long view of future threats

Meanwhile, at the CNA Talks podcast (episode 63), Samantha Hay and Cate Lea discuss wargaming too.

On this episode of CNA Talks Samantha Hay, CNA’s newest wargamer, sits down with Cate Lea, CNA’s most experienced wargamer. They discuss the process of designing a wargame and CNA’s role in the broader wargaming community. 

Catherine Lea directs CNA gaming efforts on Asia-Pacific operations and U.S. installation support. She is an expert on Japanese security policy and U.S. base politics in Japan. Her field work at CNA includes assignments at Amphibious Group Two, U.S. Fleet Forces, and three years in Yokohama, Japan, providing analytical support to U.S. Navy commands.

Samantha Hay is a research analyst with CNA’s Operational Warfighting Division. Prior to joining CNA, Samantha served as a senior research analyst with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), where she analyzed US security assistance efforts in Afghanistan.

Opponent Immersion Game webinar

PAXsims is pleased to share the following invitation from TNO. Many thanks to Rudy Boonekam and Anja van der Hulst for passing it on to our readers.

We are organizing a playthrough of the Opponent Immersion Game in the form of a webinar.

The Opponent Immersion Game (OIG)  is a game that may turn a law abiding citizen into a violent conflict actor. OIG is a game environment that immerses participants in a path to violence through visual storytelling1. Participants progress by making action choices and engaging in dialogue. While playing out their roles and responding to radicalization triggers, behavior, mental state, and cognitions are measured. This approach has shown its added-value and has been well received in the NATO analysis community.

We hope to inspire you for themes such as research and data capture by (war)gaming and look forward to your feedback on the game as domain experts. See the Opponent Immersion Game flyer below) for more details.

Date: 2 July 2020 (change of date)


  • 9:00 PDT (Pacific Daylight Time)
  • 12:00 EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
  • 18:00 CEST (Central European Time)

Duration: approx. two hours

Details on how to participate in the webinar will follow. If you want to join, please mail me (Rudy Boonekamp) at

Looking forward to seeing you there!


The Opponent Immersion Team

UK Fight Club

The following article was written for PAXsims by Captain Oli Elliot (British Army). Capt Elliot has served as a rifle and reconnaissance platoon commander, as a trainer at the Infantry Training Centre, and most recently as the Adjutant of 2 MERCIAN, based out in Cyprus as the Regional Stand-by Battalion.

All but War Is Simulation. Using simulation for military training is certainly not a new concept; warriors have always trained with wooden weapons to simulate metal tipped weapons, the Prussian Military were using the wargame Kriegsspiel in the 1820s and computer simulation has been used for decades in weapons development, play testing doctrinal concepts and for training. The UK Fight Club is yet another way for the British Armed Forces to simulate warfare, but it is taking a unique approach. It is not only intending to make gaming far more accessible to every level of the Armed Forces, it seeks to change culture and make gaming a more common approach to improve thinking and fighting across all dimensions of conflict and competition. 

This is a bottom-up initiative to use Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer games and other gaming modalities to drive change in military thinking and mimic realistic scenarios for its members. It is a flat and lateral organisation where rank and trade are not important, but your ability to think and make decisions are what is valued. Ideas have no rank and they are judged on their own merit. All members of the British Armed Forces are familiar with using computer simulations for training. Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3), currently also Defence’s Virtual Simulation (DVS), is operated at training establishments and available to units via the Unit Based Virtual Training (UBVT) contractual mechanism. Other virtual simulations are used at the Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (CATT) which most units will use as part of their formal training cycle. The BattleGroup Command Control Trainer (BC2T) and ABACUS are the Army’s constructive simulations found at JCSC(L) and CAST. However, most members of the Armed Forces see simulation training as an inaccessible tool, delivered once or twice a year which takes hours to set-up and can only be organised months in advance. Fight Club challenges this mentality and argues that you can use computer-based simulation right now, at little to no expense, amongst a community of likeminded peers who can aid and collaborate with you to achieve specific results. Fight Club wants people gaming in a ‘safe to fail’ environment, conducting many ‘reps and sets’, and sharing their learning amongst the wider community. 

Fight Club was founded in March 2020 as a way of bringing together serving members of the armed forces, civil servants, computer simulation designers and many other members who work in the defence sector. The date of the founding may have coincided with the MOD (and the rest of the UK) starting to work from home, but it was a plan that has been in the pipeline for a number of months and it will continue after the lock down is lifted. 

The Fight Club Association Model.

Fight Club seeks to use COTS computer games to provide its members with an opportunity to hone their tactical acumen and decision-making ability against an enemy that is seeking to outsmart them (whether this be the game AI or another human player). Military professionals must be conditioned to out think, out manoeuvre and adapt faster than any adversary prior to the final audit of battle or crisis. The question, accordingly, is not whether the military has people who can think this way already but whether we have a culture of process that conditions this type of thinking. Fight Club seeks to fill what is arguably the greatest deficiency in the training and education of leaders: repeated practice in decision making against a think enemy.[1]In the few months that Fight Club has existed it has pursued these aims along a number of routes. In April some of its members formed the red team for a COVID-19 Grey Zone Competition Wargame with Special Operations Command – Europe. Since April the club has been playing through a campaign called: ‘Operation Rising Moon’ on the COTS computer game Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 (CMSF2), where club members complete the missions, post their results in a group chat and then discuss how they would tackle the missions differently in the future. A member of the fight club has also used CMSF2 to conduct professional military education for platoon commanders in a sub-unit in 2nd Battalion, The MERCIAN Regiment, an infantry regiment currently based out in Cyprus as the Regional Stand-by Battalion, by hosting a Fight Night where platoon commanders fought each other after they had conducted an estimate on the situation they were presented with.

The Fight Club slack chat group (a social networking forum) is already full of doctrinal and tactical discussions sparked by Operation Rising Moon. The discussions have ranged from the destructive effects of Offensive Support compared to direct fire assets to the most effective staff tools for planning a course of action.

As news of Fight Club spreads, more members of the Armed Forces are realising how they could already be using computer simulations for training. Members of Reservist and Regular units have been getting in touch with the Fight Club to ask for advice on how to deliver computer-based training in their own units. The Fight Club is committed to this type of collaborative working; there is no value in junior commanders all over the armed forces duplicating the same work. Fight Club is becoming like a “Git Hub” platform for planning and fighting solutions.

The Fight Club is still recruiting, still battling through Operation Rising Moon and still providing a forum for military professionals to discuss gaming, but it has ambitious plans for the future. It will host competitions, providing an opportunity for participants and participating teams to test their skills against greater, non-simulated opponents and provide objective feedback on their quality and competence. It will host conferences allowing club members to take advantage of commercial and academic events to improve gaming, thinking and collaboration. And the Fight Club will host concentrations, these will be bespoke events that will allow all members of the Fight Club Association to come together with industry and academic leaders in the field to learn from best practices and cutting-edge developments.

The big success of this nascent Fight Club effort is the expansive human network which continues to grow stronger by the day. There are already participants across all services, government, industry, academia, and most recently, Fight Club has formed an innovative partnership with a Hollywood film company to prototype a new VR simulation in human domain engagement. In less than three months, a small group of military professionals have ignited a fire which is spreading fast and positively changing military culture for the better.  

If you want to join the UK Fight Club you can get in touch with us on twitter:

Oli Elliot

[1] US Marine Corps 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance, CPG, 17 July 2019.

Dstl’s Defence Wargaming Centre & Slitherine celebrate one year anniversary of wargaming collaboration

The following item was provided to PAXsims by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Dstl’s Defence Wargaming Centre, which opened earlier this year, is celebrating the first anniversary of a collaboration with commercial publisher Slitherine to adapt Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) games for the military. More details can be found in this YouTube video (below). These games complement existing Dstl capabilities and are realistic, interactive, insightful and cost-effective.

Combat Mission forms part of the Dstl analytical wargaming capability along with a suite of other tools used in wargaming in order to investigate and provide insights on a broad range of military questions. As a commercial game it has substantial utility in its ease of use, clear visuals and robust software. However, models such as these need to be treated with caution to make sure that the insights we find are credible and useful.

During Connections UK 2019, Dstl gave a presentation on how the Evidence Framework Approach can be applied to help alleviate these concerns through the application of constructive discussions. Combat Mission was used as a practical example. A brief description of how the Evidence Framework Approach works and how it was applied to Combat Mission can be found at the following links:

By following this process, we are able to ensure that Combat Mission is used appropriately within in the wargaming process to inform decision-making.

Combat Mission will be employed by wargaming staff at the Defence Wargaming Centre. This is a dedicated space specially set up to enable the highest quality of UK wargaming across military and government. Combat Mission joins other commercial digital wargames such as Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations and Flashpoint Campaigns and a number of bespoke Dstl made simulations such as the Close Action Environment (CAEn) and the Wargame Infrastructure and Simulation Environment (WISE). The Defence Wargaming Centre is also used to design and deliver other gaming techniques and approaches, including the use of physical manual games such as RCAT and STRIKE.

If you’re interested in implementing or hearing more about wargaming tools such as Combat Mission, please contact


The personalities of miniature wargame players

Robert Körner, Jana Kammerhoff, and Astrid Schütz (Otto-Friedrich-University of Bamberg) have just published a fascinating article in the Journal of Individual Differences (2020) entitled “Who Commands the Little Soldiers? A Comparison of the Personality Traits of Miniature Wargame Players With Other Gamers and Non-Gamers.” The article is pay-walled, so you will need an individual or institutional subscription to access the full text.

The popularity of miniature wargames (MWGs) has recently been on the rise. We aimed to identify the personality characteristics of people who play MWGs. Whereas the popular media have suspected that fantasy role-playing and war-related games cause antisocial behavior, past research on tabletop role-playing has shown that gamers are creative and empathetic individuals. Previous studies have investigated pen-and-paper tabletop games, which require imagination and cooperation between players. Tabletop MWGs are somewhat different because players compete against each other, and there is a strong focus on war-related actions. Thus, people have voiced the suspicion that players of this type of game may be rather aggressive. In the present study, 250 male MWG players completed questionnaires on the Big Five, authoritarianism, risk-orientation, and motives as well as an intelligence test. The same measures were administered to non-gamers, tabletop role-playing gamers, and first-person shooter gamers.

Their findings? Tabletop wargamers are a lot like other gamers* and don’t fit the anti-social stereotype very well:

In the present study, we analyzed differences in intelligence, risk-orientation, authoritarianism, as well as other motives and personality traits between players of MWGs and comparison samples comprised of people who played other types of games and the general population. When compared with the GP, MWG players reported higher openness, higher extraversion, and lower conscientiousness. The same pattern was found when comparing tabletop RPG players with the GP, suggesting that MWG players and RPG players resemble each other. Both types of gamers also reported more openness than FPS gamers. MWG players and RPG players also reported lower conscientiousness than the GP, which may be surprising as painting little soldiers or familiarizing oneself with complex rule-sets are activities that require exactness and a focus on detail. It is possible that the gamers do not view themselves as conscientious in everyday life, but when they engage in gaming activities, they may be rather thorough. Hence, follow-up studies could compare how gamers describe themselves with respect to their everyday activities and their gaming behavior.

No differences between the groups were found for neuroticism and agreeableness. Thus, gamers cannot be regarded as emotionally unstable or disagreeable

individuals – as some stereotypes claim. With regard to rea- soning ability, all players scored higher than participants from the GP. Results also indicated significant differences with respect to conventionalism, authoritarian submission, and authoritarian aggression such that all three groups of gamers described themselves as less authoritarian than participants from the GP did. Of the groups of gamers, RPG players reported the least authoritarian attitude.

With respect to everyday risk-orientation, MWG players’ self-reports were similar to those of RPG players, and both types of gamers reported less risk-orientation than non- gamers. FPS gamers reported a similar risk-orientation as the GP. Interestingly, MWG (and RPG and FPS) players described themselves as acting in a significantly more risk-oriented way during gaming than in their everyday lives. Apparently, gaming behavior does not transfer to everyday behavior. Alternatively, gaming could actually compensate for everyday behavior (i.e., cautious people might like to take risks in a context where no real danger exists).

Regarding motives, MWG players had higher affiliation values than individuals from the GP and the RPG sample. No differences between MWG players and others were found on the power, achievement, and fear motives. With respect to intimacy motives, MWG players scored higher than RPG players did. Apparently, MWG players appreciate close interpersonal relationships.

To summarize, in line with our second hypothesis, MWG players may be seen as open-minded, empathetic, non authoritarian individuals. The competing hypothesis that described MWG players as war-loving, power-oriented, and irreconcilable was not supported by players’ self- reports.

Further, people will only engage in these games during their leisure time if they experience MWG activities as pleasant. The sample of MWG players was high in openness, intelligence, and affiliation. This suggests that the ludological concept of enjoying a pastime may well describe the background of MWGs. Only people who perceive these complex and sociable games that require strategic thinking as a pleasant pastime will be attracted by these games.

Overall, the stereotypes that gamers are antisocial (DeRenard & Kline, 1990) as claimed by the media from the 1980s and 1990s to the present day (Curran, 2011) were not supported. Instead, the present results fit into the RPG literature that portrays RPG gamers as empathetic and socially skilled (Curran, 2011; Meriläinen, 2012). However, the stereotype of gamers as nerdy and sharp-minded does seem to have a kernel of truth, and because reasoning scores were high in all three samples of gamers. And as reasoning ability is a key predictor of academic and occupational success (Kramer, 2009), MWG players cannot easily be dismissed as acting in a dysfunctional manner.

You’ll notice, however, that all of the subject sample (n=250) is male—underscoring the lack of diversity in hobby wargaming.

The sample group is also German-speaking, leaving open the possibility that their are differences across national gaming communities. Almost one-third of the sample were Warhammer 40K players. While the Warhammer community harbours a significant racist and misogynist subcommunity attracted by the dark dystopian militarism of the 40K game universe, other parts of it are also extremely diverse and open.

In terms of future research, the authors note:

This study provides initial insights into personality differences between MWG players and others. In future investi- gations, it will be fruitful to use experimental or longitudinal designs to draw conclusions about causality and answer questions such as: Can MWGs improve participants’ social skills? Can creativity and intelligence be enhanced by engaging in MWGs? Furthermore, observer ratings or infor- mant reports could be included to provide information beyond self-reports. Another interesting question would be whether personality traits predict certain motives to play MWGs (see Graham & Gosling, 2013). All in all, further psychological and transdisciplinary research in the field of MWGs may help us understand the roles of games and playing in forming psychological attitudes and abilities.

As we showed, MWG players are a distinct sample that has a specific personality pattern. Commanding little soldiers and fighting other gamers with the help of these soldiers seems to be an activity that is preferred by open, unconventional people with a high affiliation motive – and it is even possible that the activity may be suitable for developing social skills such as negotiating. Why not engage in MWGs?

*MWG: miniature wargame(rs) FPS: first-person shooters RPG: role-playing game(rs) GP: general population

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