PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Review: Wojtowicz, Wargaming Experiences

Review: Natalia Wojtowicz, Wargaming Experiences: Soldiers, Scientists and Civilians (Amazon Fulfillment, 2020). 162+13pp. USD$39.00 pb.

In this interesting volume, Natalia Wojtowicz surveys the value of wagaming, key definitions, its application as a method of analysis and teaching, and the challenges of gaming non-kinetic issues and operations. Following this, the bulk of the volume discusses a series of wargames she designed and facilitated while working at the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation Center of Excellence.

All of these are political-military games, so those looking for insight as to how to wargame combat operations are best advised to look to works by Peter Perla and Phil Sabin. The issues addressed include Russian hybrid warfare challenges to the Baltic republics; civil-military liaison; tactical cooperation to address critical infrastructure vulnerabilities; the Battle of Mosul; a targeted assassination attempt using chemical weapons; and the Faroe Islands. In each case Wojtowicz discusses the purpose of the game, the problem to which it was responding, the approach and method adopted, game mechanics, and finally the game results.

The most useful part of this volume is the author’s well-structured explanation of why each game was designed and run the way it was. Assessment of the effectiveness of the games is largely anecdotal. Tighter editing would have strengthened the clarity and precision of her analysis. Overall, however, the volume provides useful insight into these sorts of games—and plenty of ideas from which aspiring serious game designers might borrow.

Online Game Design Classes from MORS

Military Operations Research Society Logo

MORS is offering several game design classed in September and October:

8-10 Sept:  Gaming Disease Response will be a three day class with a full day on gaming pandemics:
https://www.mors.org/Events/Courses/Gaming-Emergency-Response-to-Disease-Course

21-25 Sept:  The Certificate in Cyber Wargaming is a certificate class offered with Virginia Tech and covers cyber gaming at all levels:
 https://www.mors.org/Events/Certificates/Certificate-in-Cyber-Wargaming

19-23 Oct:  The Certificate in Wargaming focuses on game design and building wargames:
https://www.mors.org/Events/Certificates/Certificate-in-Wargaming

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 August 2020

PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

Aaron Danis, Adam Elkus, Brant Guillory, Steven Sowards, James Sterrett, and Paul Strong suggested material for this latest edition.

According to the Financial Times, “UK defence chiefs are seeking to fast-track new virtual reality technology developed by a British gaming company to create a digital replica of the country, arguing this would help test resilience to future pandemics, natural disasters and attacks by hostile states.”

The Ministry of Defence has already spent more than £25m on contracts with software developer Improbable — which has pioneered the technology — to investigate its potential. Insiders say the government’s difficulties in co-ordinating national data and responses during the coronavirus crisis have persuaded ministers of the benefits of the system, known as a “single synthetic environment”, which is now likely to be accelerated in autumn’s integrated defence and security review.

The technology works by generating a virtual “twin” of any location by layering maps of geographical terrain and critical infrastructure with details of fuel, power and water supplies as well as telecoms networks, supermarket distribution systems and weather patterns. This can be combined with locations of where people are, based on phone signals, and what they’re thinking about, gleaned from social media.

The final product uses artificial intelligence to simulate future scenarios and allows operators to “war game” their responses. Herman Narula, chief executive of Improbable, has in the past jokingly compared this to “building the Matrix”, in reference to the science fiction film in which humans exist inside a simulated reality. Real-world uses could range from forecasting the damage from natural disasters such as floods to calculating the effect of a cyber attack against a power station or presenting simulated hostage rescue scenarios to the government’s Cobra emergency committee.

Despite the substantial advantages of data visualization and big data, and the potential contributions of AI, I’m a little dubious that all of this will necessarily deliver quicker or greater insight into issues like pandemic response than analogue wargame techniques (although it is certain to be more expensive).

You’ll find the Improbable website here.

Wired reports that an AI beat a fighter pilot in a recent simulated F-16 dogfight.

IN JULY 2015, two founders of  DeepMind, a division of Alphabet with a reputation for pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence, were among the first to sign an open letterurging the world’s governments to ban work on lethal AI weapons. Notable signatories included Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey.

Last week, a technique popularized by DeepMind was adapted to control an autonomous F-16 fighter plane in a Pentagon-funded contest to show off the capabilities of AI systems. In the final stage of the event, a similar algorithm went head-to-head with a real F-16 pilot using a VR headset and simulator controls. The AI pilot won, 5-0.

The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (IDC Herzliya) recent ran a conflict simulation on the current political and economic crisis in Lebanon.

On the backdrop of the spread of Covid-19 and the worsening economic crisis in Lebanon, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) conducted a unique four months unique simulation (see methodology herein below) which examined the possible ramifications of various deterioration scenarios in Lebanon. The simulation started in April 2020 and ended just days prior to the explosion at the Port of Beirut.

The simulation took place via an online a synchronic platform and had multiple participants, all experts in their fields,  that represented the Lebanese and international actors relevant to the scenarios discussed (see Appendix A for a list of the simulation’s participants). These experts chose the preferred strategies of the actors they had represented and by doing so affected the development of the scenarios played. In our opinion, this simulative process is the most appropriate predictor of future trends in Lebanon.

At the backdrop of the simulation were the following opening data items: Lebanon has been suffering from a large number of Covid-19 patients which made it difficult for the Lebanese healthcare system to treat all of them and in fact brought it to the brink of collapse. Further, Lebanon has been suffering from an acute economic crisis that has been rapidly deteriorating, accompanied by high unemployment, internal instability, mass and violent demonstrations. On this backdrop, there is an increasing internal criticism as well as protests against Hezbollah and Iran which are being accused inter alia of importing the virus into Lebanon and neglecting the state in its time of need.

In light of the above opening data items which led to the collapse of the Lebanese government at the outset of the simulation, three alternative opening scenarios have been examined, each of which posed a different challenge to internal Lebanese system, the regional arena and of course, Israel, as follows:

An emergency government is formed which imposes an austerity regime and devalues Hezbollah’s stature.

Hezbollah conducts a military coup and installs martial law attempting to recover Lebanon.

Lebanon deteriorates into a complete chaos on the verge of a civil war, when every faction tries to fend for itself and survive on its own.

Needless to say, in light of the explosion at the Port of Beirut and the resignation of the Lebanese government on August 10th, 2020 it seems that reality has reached a point where each of the above opening scenarios may happen in the upcoming weeks or months which renders the findings of the simulation even more relevant and valuable.

As a scholar who occasionally writes on Lebanon, I’m a little puzzled by the lack of attention given to the “Hezbollah conducts a military coup” action. Was this a coup by the Lebanese Army (not all of which supports Hezbollah)? Did it have the support of (Christian) President Aoun, a Hezbollah ally? How did military units respond, especially those that are not predominantly Shi’ite? Did Hezbollah use its own cadres as well? Under what authority would martial law be declared? There also doesn’t seem to be deep attention to the economic and fiscal issues involved—an “austerity regime” in and of itself won’t really solve the current economic crisis. Finally, I just don’t see what possible configuration of emergency government would take action against Hezbollah, given the distribution of parliamentary and political power in the country. However, there is always a trade-off in crisis games between breadth, playability, and fidelity.

Speaking of countries beset by economic crisis, public protests, and the widespread availability of small arms, the Shutdown DC activist project is running an online simulation of potential challenges to democracy during the upcoming US election in November.

This fall we are going to experience one of the most contentious – and most chaotic – elections in recent history. We have a sitting president who is consistently refusing to accept the outcome of the election, record numbers of voters relying on absentee balloting, and a federal government bent on attacking our democratic institutions. 

We don’t know exactly how things are going to play out this fall, but we do know that we need to be ready to take bold direct action to confront attacks on our democratic process and our communities. Join #ShutDownDC for Timeline to a Meltdown: 2020 Election Simulation. We’ll divide into teams, each representing different players in our social movement landscape. Then we’ll be introduced to a set of hypothetical (but entirely likely) scenarios that we may face during this election cycle. Each team will work to develop action plans to respond to the scenario, anticipate how other movement actors will respond, and build capacity for collective action to build the world we want to live in. 

The game starts at 6pm eastern on Friday, August 28th. All are welcome but please register before noon on August 28.

You will find details and registration here.

Feel the need to drive a robot around a maze remotely and punch cardboard Nazis? You can do that via Smartistein3D.

At Breaking Defense, Sydney Freeberg reports “US ‘Gets Its Ass Handed To It’ In Wargames: Here’s A $24 Billion Fix.”

The US keeps losing, hard, in simulated wars with Russia and China. Bases burn. Warships sink. But we could fix the problem for about $24 billion a year, one well-connected expert said, less than four percent of the Pentagon budget.

“In our games, when we fight Russia and China,” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said this afternoon, “blue gets its ass handed to it.” In other words, in RAND’s wargames, which are often sponsored by the Pentagon, the US forces — colored blue on wargame maps — suffer heavy losses in one scenario after another and still can’t stop Russia or China — red — from achieving their objectives, like overrunning US allies.

No, it’s not a Red Dawn nightmare scenario where the Commies conquer Colorado. But losing the Baltics or Taiwan would shatter American alliances, shock the global economy, and topple the world order the US has led since World War II.

The latest issue of the Journal of Defence Modeling and Simulation (17, 3 (July 2020) is a special issue devoted to forecasting in the social sciences for national security.

Also back in July, the BBC featured a lengthy article on “The people who imagine disasters.”

Entire teams of people spend their days imagining what might happen in a crisis to ensure we can be better prepared for when the worst really does happen.I

It was a gigantic explosion. The blast tore through buildings and machinery, lighting up a huge refinery complex in Denver, Colorado. Gasoline production at the facility shut down for weeks as a result, leading to fuel reserves in Colorado quickly being used up.

Pipelines from Wyoming, Texas and Kansas brought additional fuel to Colorado to make up for the fall in supply, but it meant fuel destined for other nearby states was curtailed. As it all unfolded, fuel prices across the region swelled.

The aftermath of the explosion was a troubling example of how a single event can ricochet through systems, supply chains and a country.

Except, none of this ever happened. It’s just a scenario played out in a series of calculations – a simulation – published in 2015 by Sandia National Laboratories in the US. The team that modelled the fuel pipeline flows in this make-believe disaster considered a number of other “disruptions” in their report, including an oil spill in Boston harbour, earthquakes in California and a Category 5 hurricane slamming into the Gulf Coast.

“Before something bad happens, we provide a better understanding of how to prevent those things or how to mitigate them when they do occur,” explains Kevin Stamber, who heads the critical infrastructure analysis team at Sandia. He’s spent 20 years working on a stark problem: what can we expect if the worst should happen?


PAXsims rece

In addition to our PAXsims report on the recent Connections Global professional wargaming conference, you can also read all about it at Armchair Dragoons.

Gamasutra discusses “How to usher more women into leadership roles within the game industry.” Many of the ideas are applicable to wargaming too.

On YouTube, Sarah Federman (University of Baltimore) offers some ideas on taking simulations online.

The Napoleon.org website offers a thoughtful interview with Antoine Bourguilleau.

Gaming has come of age in recent years. In France and across the rest of Europe, there has been an increase in symposia and seminars on the subject of role-playing games and the “gamification” of society. Games themselves are objects of curiosity and have become the topic of university research in the areas of history, sociology and literature.

Antoine Bourguilleau’s book, Jouer la Guerre [Playing at War], contributes to this research and focusses on a type of game at the frontier between the civil and military worlds. Bourguilleau studied under military historian Hervé Drevillon, and he retraces the history of war simulation games from their Germanic origin in the 18th century to the modern era. He provides us with an in-depth and scholarly study of these Kriegsspiele, German word for “wargames”, a sort of “serious playing” used in the 19th century for training Prussian officers, and the war games later used for projecting the potentially fatal outcome of the Cold War.

Antoine Bourguilleau explores these games in all their manifestations, from staff war games to commercial board games, as well as the scenario created by science fiction author H.G. Wells in his book War of the Worlds. He explores the (sometimes complex) rules of these games, which strive to reflect the reality of a warlike confrontation. This book is rich with insight and allows the reader to approach military history from an underappreciated and still relatively little-studied angle. The author has kindly answered a few questions for napoleon.org.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative has produced Hair Trigger, a mobile game on nuclear crisis and escalation.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union put their nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to retaliate against a surprise attack. Even now, decades later, the United States and Russia combined have about 1,700 missiles armed, aimed, and ready to fire in minutes.

What if a warning of an incoming attack turns out to be false—but a U.S. or Russian president doesn’t learn that until after ordering a retaliatory strike? What if a command-and-control system is hacked to spoof an incoming attack?

As President of the United States, you’ll navigate competing pressures to build domestic support and manage international relations, in a race against time to cooperate with Russia to remove all nuclear weapons from hair-trigger status. The game offers a fun and engaging challenge designed to generate curiosity, conversation, and action—but the risks couldn’t be more real.

To help sustain our ongoing work conflict simulation and serious games, become one of our Patreon supporters.

CFP: The history, state and future of professional and public (war)gaming in Europe

Riccardo Masini, Frédéric Serval, Jan Heinemann have issued a call for articles for a edited book project on The history, state and future of professional and public (war)gaming in Europe.

The perception of wargaming as a professional part of military training and scenario analysis on one hand, and the board and tabletop wargaming hobby on the other hand, are dominated by US-American approaches and communities of players and designers. Despite being crammed in a relatively small part of the world, European wargaming spheres and communities seem to have stayed somewhat isolated on a national basis due to language barriers and other reasons and little is known about the state of the profession and hobby from country to country.

This volume aims for closing this gap and provide a comprehensive overview of the history of the multiple dimensions of wargaming all over Europe. Thus, we want to encourage contribution of articles focussed on the history of wargaming (military conflict simulations, as well as hobby board, miniature tabletop and role playing games), the perception of wargaming as part of the national, trans-, and international gaming culture(s), the relations of wargaming and eurogaming in regard to perception, gaming communities, inter-European exchange, as well as to the history and future of approaches to wargame design.

You will find additional details, submission, and guidelines here.

RFP: Serious game application to enhance Protection of Civilians (POC) in conflict

The Center for Civilians in Conflict is seeking proposals to produce a serious game (playable on smartphones and laptop computers) aimed at soldiers and/or civilian law enforcement. The goal is to improve the behaviour of these forces towards civilians in conflict zones. Scenario content will be provided by CIVIC.

Project Information 

CIVIC seeks concise and tailored proposals to design and develop a serious game (playable on smartphones and laptop computers) aimed at soldiers and/or law enforcement members. The goal is to improve these forces’ behavior towards civilians when they encounter them in zones of armed conflict or other situations of violence.  

To achieve this goal, the serious game will first put armed actors in the shoes of civilians trapped in conflict and thereby sensitize them to the various protection needs and rights civilians have. Topics to be incorporated in the gaming content can include: stigmatization of civilians, consequences suffered from a lack of applied distinction (by armed actors) between combatants and civilians, disproportionate use of force, conflict-related sexual violence, extortion, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced displacement, and suffering caused by excessive use of force by security forces in law enforcement contexts.  

The game will then permit the armed actors to practice modifications to their behaviors and actions so that they better respect the rights of civilians, such as when operating checkpoints, calling in for close air support or plan for civilian evacuations. The content for storyboard(s) and connected decision-making trees for the players to navigate through will be provided by CIVIC.  

CIVIC is a nonprofit organization. We welcome creative, effective and cost-sensitive proposals that take a Good/Better/Best approach.  

Project Description 

The serious game app in this project will support and strengthen the pedagogical teaching by CIVIC’s Nigeria team when engaging with the Nigerian military and other security forces to instill a Protection of Civilians (POC) mindset and practical POC reflexes towards civilians when they encounter them before, during, and after their operations. The serious game app will support and complement face-to-face analog or ‘face-to-face’ virtual training sessions (including scenario-based exercises) that CIVIC has been undertaking with the Nigerian security forces at various institutional levels. This serious game app will be the first for CIVIC. It should be developed with a view to potentially expand upon with ease, so as to include more protection issues and different storylines and avatars.      

By realistically immersing the player in Nigeria’s conflict contexts, the game seeks to sensitize Nigerian security forces to the protection challenges civilians face. The game will test the players’ understanding and recognition of the various dilemmas and vulnerabilities that different civilians face when trapped in conflict (e.g., children, women, the disabled, and the elderly). As a subsequent step, the game will instill different protection reflexes amongst the players to adapt their specific behavior as a security force member to avoid and/or mitigate civilian harm. The contractor will be expected to creatively think through how to provide interesting formats, including with engaging audio and visual support to meet the deliverables above. 

The game may be displayed on our website, shared with our donors, and used in presentations by staff to illustrate the variety of approaches CIVIC uses to influence the mindset and behavior of armed actors towards civilians. The selected contractor will be expected to work closely with CIVIC’s Senior Protection Advisor based out of Washington D.C as well as CIVIC’s Nigeria program team, particularly the Nigeria Country Director and Senior Military Advisor.  

You will find full details here. The deadline for proposals in 25 August 2020.

Pellegrino: Distributed gaming taxonomy

Fortunately for all of us, Pete Pellegrino recorded his excellent presentation on distributed wargaming to the recent Connections Global 2020 conference—so here it is.

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

How do we move beyond just making statements of support for diversity and inclusion?

Peter Perla raised an excellent question in the chat during the Connections North round up at Connections 2020: how do we move beyond just making statements of support for diversity and inclusion?

First recognise the challenge:

On a homogenous team, people readily understand each other and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive.

But [a]mong groups where all three original members didn’t already know the correct answer, adding an outsider versus an insider actually doubled their chance of arriving at the correct solution, from 29% to 60%. The work felt harder, but the outcomes were better.

In fact, working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it’s harder.

2009 study on how diversity improves success solving a murder mystery

It takes active work to live the Derby House Principles, and that work is on everybody:

Honest consideration of our privilege. Not in an accusatory way, but to recognise the bigger patterns at work: if you don’t “see” colour you also don’t see the systemic biases faced by non-white people. You’re really saying you’re choosing to see them as white—which denies their identity, lived-experience, and gives you all the power to police what’s white-enough. It makes the topic uncomfortable for people to bring up at all. The same goes for gender, sexual orientation, and disability.

Engaging in acts of empathy towards others: shifting to a mindset of womens’/black/LGBT/disability rights and history are everybody’s rights and history too, not a niche interest. Women and minorities are expected to root for straight white male interests all the time, it’s time straight white men returned the favour. We’re a culture of red-teamers, what are we doing not searching out perspectives other-than-our-own? The diversity card deck is a good place to start.

Being ok with feeling uncomfortable. Women and minorities are expected to do all the emotional labour of keeping straight white men comfortable, that needs to stop. Step out of defensiveness when folks talk about the problem—expressing your discomfort by shutting down the conversation or protesting your personal innocence is cheering for the wrong side. Regardless of intention it’s keeping straight-white-male comfort front and centre in a conversation about the very real harms being done to women and minorities. Women and minorities aren’t the problem, it’s on everyone else to do the work of change.

Stop and think before saying or doing something potentially insensitive, or ask if or how you should proceed. Of course, awareness of what might be insensitive only comes from having engaged with minority interests and history to understand life from their perspective, and the humility to accept feedback about your unknown unknowns.

If you make a mistake, apologise, do better, move on. Be ok with admitting vulnerability, “I don’t know how to do this right, but I want to learn.”

You can read the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Successful professional wargames: The Movie

Graham Longley-Brown had the foresight to record his recent presentation at the Connections Global conference, in which he highlighted some of the key points from his book Successful Professional Wargames: A Practitioners Guide (2019). Here it is, via YouTube, for those who might have missed it.

Connections Global 2020 professional wargaming conference report

This past week was the first ever Connections Global conference—that is, the annual Connections US professional wargaming conference, but organized as a virtual, online event because of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The conference ran for five full days, and featured over fifty presentations, panels and keynotes (split between two virtual rooms), plus associated online gaming and social events. I don’t know how many people registered in total, but keynotes typically had in excess of two hundred participants. The event was cosponsored by CNA, which also provided technical expertise to make it all work.

From a technical point of view, I thought it went really well. Zoom proved easy to use and reliable. There were few hitches. I enjoyed the ability to listen to a speaker, ask questions (using the Q&A function) through the moderator, and have discussions with other participants via the text chat. I did find that if a presentation was less interesting to me, I tended to multitask, answering email or doing other work while semi-listening to the conference. Unlike previous conferences, moreover, I didn’t take detailed notes for this report–I was either too engaged with the presentation via questions or discussions, or doing something else in the background.

I found the social events were less effective, with the exception of the one meeting of the Women’s Wargaming Network I attended (having asked to attend, lest anyone think I was crashing their space).

This question of how well the conference format worked will be important for other conferences that are going virtual because of the pandemic, including Connections North in February 2021. I was very pleased. Some others I know, however, found it a little unengaging to watch a speaker via Zoom from the privacy of their own home. The organizers have asked attendees to complete a survey and we will see what that indicates. Attendees are also welcomed/encouraged to leave thoughts in the comments below.

Connections US is one of the cosponsors of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. On the plus side the Principles were referred to frequently in presentations or discussions, badges and icons made appearances, and they were referred to in the rotating intermission slides. On the negative side, a little under 15% of the participants were female (by my rough count), and only 10% of the panelists and presenters were. Visible minorities were also underrepresented. Digital conferences, because of their ability to bring in speakers from anywhere in the world, ought to have an easier time being more inclusive. This point was brought up several times, and the organizers took it on board. I think we’ll see even greater efforts in this direction in future both here and elsewhere.

Although I attended the entire conference, the two-room format meant that I only saw and heard half the presentations. No one should feel slighted, therefore, if a pick a few personal favourites:

  • On Monday, I was especially impressed with the lively panel discission on building capacity in the university. In an earlier talk, ED McGrady also had some very interesting things to say about on adjudication.
  • On Tuesday, Graham Longley-Brown‘s talk about his practitioners guide to wargaming (which you can see here) covered a lot of fertile ground. Hank Brightman‘s presentation on Urban Outbreak 2019 and pandemic gaming was timely and useful.
  • On Wednesday,the keynote by Phil Sabin was outstanding, highlighting the ways in which many of wargaming challenges of today are rather different than the sorts of issues grappled with by the women and men of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WW2. Sawyer Judge‘s very articulate presentation on wargaming as an art and science won widespread plaudits. I actually disagree with some of what she argued: I’m not sure debating the art vs science is very useful, and instead think that wargaming should be thought of a humble methodological tool much the same as other research techniques in the social sciences. However, it it was a excellent example of a talk that stimulated a great deal of valuable discussion.
  • On Wednesday, Pete Pellegrino’s presentation on distributed gaming was excellent, to the point that I had colleagues discussing it in emails even before he had finished speaking. (He recorded it too.) He (and, the previous day, Sawyer) also set the standard for clear and effective presentations at the conference, so I am officially proposing the Pellegrino-Judge Unit (PJU) to be the official measure of visual, verbal and overall information clarity in PowerPoint wargaming presentations. It should be noted that PJU scores are not only inversely correlated with the amount of text and logos crammed on a slide but also the number of military acronyms. In any sort of global conference, 98% of the latter should be banned. Half of your fellow national services DKWTDASF (Don’t Know What The Damned Acronym Stands For), let alone your foreign or non-military colleagues. Those receiving low PJU scores are strongly recommended to go and watch this. Chad Briggs also had a number of insightful things to say about the design and execution of wargames during COVID-19.
  • On Friday, in addition to Tom Mouat’s pithy comments on AI and expensive new toys, I very much enjoyed Jeffrey Sugden’s presentation on course of action generation with machine learning and Andrew Reddie’s talk about the SIGNAL project on nuclear signalling, use, and escalation. I took part in “Connections international” panel discussion together with Matt Caffrey (Connections US) and Colin Marston (Connections UK). In addition to summarizing past and future Connections North events, I also updated everyone on the status of the Derby House Principles. However, I will address the latter in a future PAXsims post, since there is a lot going on.

There was a lot of other valuable material at the conference which I haven’t mentioned—this is just a list of my personal favourites from among the presentations I attended.

Overall, I think it was a very successful event. Kudos to the organizers, who adjusted well to the challenges of a once-in-a-century global pandemic and adapting the conference to the digital realm.

G4C: Games as essential tools for pandemic planning and response

Games for Change have posted a video of their recent online panel on Winning Against Pandemics: Games as Essential Tools for Planning and Response, featuring Francesco Cavallari (Video Games Without Borders), Noah Falstein (The Inspiracy), Seth Cooper (Northeastern University), Rhiju Das (Stanford University), chaired by Russell Schilling.

For other resources, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious game resource page.

Ludogogy

The following item was written by Sarah Le-Fevre, editor of Ludogogy.


Ludogogy is a monthly online magazine that looks at theory and practice in games-based learning, gamification, and gameful and playful design in general.  Our writers and readers are the same people, and we welcome submissions from anyone who has an interest in the magazine’s topic area, as a creator or consumer. Ludogogy aspires to open a conversation between those who design and make playful experiences and those who utilise them to effect change, personally or in their organisations. The magazine offers inspiration, practical how-tos and exposure to new ideas, helping our readers to create and achieve value from gameful design and delivery.

We publish work from recognised experts in the field, but equally welcome submissions from those early in their careers, or from those who simply want to find out more. Ludogogy is definitely a magazine and not a journal, so although we do publish writing from academics, please aim more for a style that is accessible to the general reader.

Currently we do not offer payment for submissions, but this may change in the future. Contributors may however promote their own work or products, so long as this does not occur within the article itself. For details see ‘Promotion’ below.

The editor reserves the right to make changes to submissions before publication, but will share the amended copy with authors for approval before publishing.

Acceptable content

We can accept:

  1. Text articles with images (between 300 -2000 words)
  2. Video files (less than 10 minutes in length)
  3. Audio files (less than 10 minutes in length)
  4. PDFs for items such as downloadable game materials

We accept pitches and drafts for articles.  Video and audio files can be submitted to be embedded in the magazine site (preferred), or via a link to YouTube etc.

Promotion

Although content needs to be kept promotion-free, you have two places where you can talk about yourself and your work.

  • Author Bio: at the end of each article there is space for a short bio. Please note, that unless you indicate otherwise, your by-line will be your name. You may include any or all of the following for inclusion
    • Author photo – portrait 3:4 aspect ratio e.g 300px x 400px
    • Details of qualifications
    • Brief details of current employment (and up to two previous)
    • Brief details of current business (and up to two previous)
    • Achievements e.g awards
  • Contributors page:  A longer piece where you can include details of and links to your work and products and services. You may include any or all of the following for inclusion
    • Company logo
    • Text – up to 250 words containing….
    • Links to products, services, projects or similar you want to promote
    • One testimonial quote or similar

Both pitches and completed articles can be sent to info@ludogogy.co.uk.

Please note that this is a short summary of the submission guidelines and you should read those carefully as the contain important details about formats, inclusion of images and so on.

The following are upcoming themes for which we are currently accepting submissions, along with some suggestions for article ideas:

  • Issue 7 (September) ‘For the Players’ – deadline 23 Aug – Inspiration gained as a player / how it informs practice etc. You might want to look at how you have used a particular mechanic from a favourite commercial game, the game that made you want to be a designer, your first experience of a serious game etc.
  • Issue 8 (October) ‘The Wargames Issue’ – deadline 27 Sep – In the broadest sense, how wargames (or their design principles) can be used both for defense applications, and for civilian / business applications too.
  • Issue 9 (November) ‘Systems Thinking’ – deadline 25 October – How can games be used for systems learning? In what ways can games be seen, and designed, as systems? What does systems thinking bring to the practice of learning, and games, design? etc.
  • Issue 10 (December) ‘Futurism’ – deadline 22 November – Designing games to look to the future? What does the future of games-based learning hold? How can games help us to practise foresight? etc.
  • Issue 11 (January) ‘Changes’ – deadline 20 December – How can games help to drive behaviour change? The ethics of using gamification to influence the actions of others? Games used for self-help or self-improvement? etc.

Diversity card deck

The diversity survey results are in and have been compiled into a handy deck of cards. Instructions are included for a group activity, but in these socially-distant times they work just as well for solo reflection. No plans for hardcopy just yet, but feel free to print your own.

The featured vignettes are just a snapshot of the real things actually happening to women and minority professional wargamers and analysts that have been sent to me through the diversity survey. It makes for some sobering reading.

A few thoughts on the survey itself:

1. It’s bad for women. But there aren’t even double-figures when it comes to non-white wargamers.

Yuna Wong joked when she was asked about her experience and the interviewer caveated that he wasn’t expecting her to speak for all non-white wargamers, “It’s fine, the other one is ok with me speaking for him.”

I think it would be easy to focus on misogynism only, because there are more women to complain about it. Wargaming really needs to ask uncomfortable questions about what’s keeping it so white.

2. A flavour of responses that didn’t feature in the card deck:

“Please note that you can use quotes but I insist on remaining anonymous. I don’t fancy the vitriol and trolling.”

“My husband points out [the fact] that being female makes me diverse is damning.”

“The Connections Community looks very non-diverse, but actually they are quite inclusive.”

3. Men might be shocked to learn that women wargamers have to think about keeping themselves safe from sexual assault.

4. Things that are good:

  • Representation! At games and in games
  • Groups that are vocal about being inclusive
  • Supportive (male) colleagues who make space at the table
  • Being seen as a player not someone with a disability (or other minority)
  • Bad Squiddo miniatures!
  • Anti-harassment policies
  • Allies who don’t tolerate bad behaviour
  • Connections’ wonderful culture of sharing ideas
  • University wargaming is very welcoming

5. Barriers to wargaming for diverse gamers include:

  • Stereotyping of minorities
  • Childcare (an issue for men and women)
  • Being presumed ignorant, incompetent, or subordinate for being a woman and seeing men treated the opposite
  • Fewer opportunities, less support
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical intimidation
  • Getting started in professional wargaming involves roles that are not welcoming for women
  • Porn
  • Jokes that are not funny
  • Demeaning and belittling of women
  • Trolls, particularly in the hobby wargaming community
  • People who say gender/sexuality is irrelevant to wargaming but really mean straight white male sexuality is irrelevant and everything else is not appropriate

6. Things people would like to see change:

  • Act quicker to challenge bad behaviour, it shouldn’t have to escalate before people speak up. 
  • Allies need to speak out instead of staying quiet
  • Enough with the objectification of women in artwork (chain mail bikinis, sexualised poses, etc)
  • Better diversity/cultural representation in game design feedback
  • Engage with schools to showcase range and accessibility of wargames, it’s not all Warhammer
  • Women should not be a minority !
  • Political wargames should include representation of minorities since these are real political issues
  • Role models: want to see diversity in senior positions please
  • Clearer pathways for people wanting to get into professional wargaming and better signposting of existing opportunities to participate
  • More gender neutral pronouns when referring to roles/pieces that are not a specific person (e.g. “this pilot, they” rather than “this pilot, he“)

You can read the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Nature: Two decades of pandemic war games failed to account for Donald Trump

Before the current COVID-19 pandemic, American pandemic preparedness had been the subject of numerous serious policy games. At Nature this month, Amy Maxmen and Jeff Tollefson ask why the US response has been much worse than those games anticipated.

Event 201 was one of dozens of simulations and evaluations over the past two decades that have highlighted the risks of a pandemic and identified gaps in the ability of governments and organizations around the world to respond.

The exercises anticipated several failures that have played out in the management of COVID-19, including leaky travel bans, medical-equipment shortages, massive disorganization, misinformation and a scramble for vaccines. But the scenarios didn’t anticipate some of the problems that have plagued the pandemic response, such as a shortfall of diagnostic tests, and world leaders who reject the advice of public-health specialists.

Most strikingly, biosecurity researchers didn’t predict that the United States would be among the hardest-hit countries. On the contrary, last year, leaders in the field ranked the United States top in the Global Health Security Index, which graded 195 countries in terms of how well prepared they were to fight outbreaks, on the basis of more than 100 factors. President Donald Trump even held up a copy of the report during a White House briefing on 27 February, declaring: “We’re rated number one.” As he spoke, SARS-CoV-2 was already spreading undetected across the country.

Now, as COVID-19 cases in the United States surpass 4 million, with more than 150,000 deaths, the country has proved itself to be one of the most dysfunctional. Morhard and other biosecurity specialists are asking what went wrong — why did dozens of simulations, evaluations and white papers fail to predict or defend against the colossal missteps taken in the world’s wealthiest nation? By contrast, some countries that hadn’t ranked nearly so high in evaluations, such as Vietnam, executed swift, cohesive responses.

The scenarios still hold lessons for how to curb this pandemic, and for how to respond better next time. Deadly pandemics are inevitable, says Tom Frieden, a former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “What’s not inevitable is that we will continue to be so underprepared.”

Part of the answer, as the title of their article suggests, is Donald Trump:

Confusion emerged in most pandemic simulations, but none explored the consequences of a White House sidelining its own public-health agency. Perhaps they should have, suggests a scientist who has worked in the US public-health system for decades and asked to remain anonymous because they did not have permission to speak to the press. “You need gas in the engine and the brakes to work, but if the driver doesn’t want to use the car, you’re not going anywhere,” the scientist says.

However, they also note that—regardless of who occupies the presidency—institutions also failed to respond to insights and warnings that emerged from many of these games.

Perhaps the biggest limitation of simulation exercises was that they didn’t actually drive policymakers to prioritize and fund improvements to the public-health system. Morrison now questions whether it’s even possible to do that through simulations alone, or whether people must experience an epidemic at first hand.

The vulnerability of games (and, by extension, policy response) to idiosyncratic player/policymaker effects, and the difficult of translating game results into real world consequences, is something that was debated in a classic 1964 internal RAND discussion between Robert Levine, Thomas Schelling, and William Jones—which every policy gamer should read. I’ve also addressed the challenge of gaming unpredictable and unreliable decision-makers in the specific context of the Trump Administration, while Devin Ellis has commented on the problems that arise when game insights are not translated into policy or preparedness.

For more on pandemic, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

After The Apex – The Dilemma Game

PAXsims has previously reported the development of a matrix game entitled After The Apex by Ben Taylor and Ben Williams. The game allows players to explore the challenges faced by the fictional country of Bretonia as it seeks to chart a course to toward the new normal once the first wave of COVID-19 infections had passed.

The developers have now been working with Anja van der Hulst of TNO to build a dilemma game based upon the same scenario. The dilemma game is implemented in software and allows the solo player to make a series of policy decisions based upon dilemmas faced but the Bretonian government. A range of advisors will offer perspectives on the issue and provide different rationales for accepting, or not, the proposed policy. The player is left with the decisions as to what to do.

The dilemma game plays much more quickly than the matrix game and so allows some of the same issues to be explored in a shorter time, but without the rich interpersonal interaction. This may be a better design choice for some applications. Those attending next week’s Connections professional wargaming conference will have two opportunities to play the dilemma game and to meet with the developers. A fuller write up will follow on PAXSims after the conference.

Pellegrino: Better visual communications with PowerPoint

This latest video by Pete Pellegrino isn’t primarily about wargaming, but instead about how to more effectively communicate game findings (or any other information) using PowerPoint.

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies.

Others in this series can be viewed at the PAXsims YouTube channel.

Pete kindly provided PAXsims with permission to share this video. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

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