PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: March 2021

Inside James Bond’s gaming lair

We’re inside the UK’s Defence Academy. It’s where Bond would come if he lived in the real world. Today, Major Tom Mouat MBE a specialist in gaming, modelling and simulation is briefing his visitors the Guild of Entrepreneurs on the importance of gaming.

…so begins an article by David Dunkley Gyimah at Viewmagazine (Medium) on “How to be a global leader in leadership by simply playing games.”

PAXsims associate editor Tom Mouat is indeed an international man of mystery. He can pick locks (most of the time). He’s a private eye. He’s fought zombies. He has a pseudonym. He’s building a secret safe house in the Oxfordshire countryside. And he reports to a mysterious boss known only as “K.”

Read more about the value of serious gaming at the link above.

Gaming Disease Response

Ed McGrady just published his book on “Gaming Disease Response.” The book focuses on how to build games in support of public health professionals. It covers all types of subjects, from chronic conditions to mental health to infectious disease. The book focuses on the intersection of games and disease, with chapters detailing how to incorporate disease into games, and how the structure of the public health system in the US matters for game creation. Each chapter is followed by a game outline that takes you through the process of designing and executing a game on a particular disease response. Ed has been working on games in the public heath arena for many years, and has run them at literally every level of the government.

Published by the History of Wargaming Project (http://www.wargaming.co/serious/details/rolltosave.htm) and available on Amazon.

Connections UK 2021 update

Graham Longley-Brown has shared with us some information on the next Connections UK professional wargaming conference, which will be held virtually on 14 – 16 September 2021:

  • Learning by doing. We will run three days of hands-on virtual gaming, for all levels and numbers, and on a multitude of online platforms. Think our traditional ½-day Games Fair over three days! You will be able to run, play or just observe games. All will be ‘safe to fail’ environments, where you can experiment with different gaming approaches and formats, develop gaming ideas, see what others’ are doing – or just play to meet people and have fun!
  • Community building. This will include:
    • Occasional central plenaries designed to strengthen the community. Topics will include ‘bringing on the next generation’ and ‘diversity and inclusion’. These will be participative sessions.
    • Educational events.
    • Multiple, often intimate, break-out rooms where anyone can talk to anyone. Some will be pre-programmed; many will be spontaneous.
  • Deep dive workshops. Breakout rooms will be available to explore topics in depth.

There will be a small charge to cover administration and technical support, but also to encourage commitment.

Details will follow presently, but please save the dates 14 – 16 September.

Taiwan Strait matrix game

A Sea of Fire is a matrix game of the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, by Evan D’Alessandro. It includes an overview of matrix game rules, scenario briefings, map, counters and event cards, plus designer notes.

Krulak Center: Director of Wargaming wanted

The Krulak Centre at Marine Corps University is looking for a Director of Wargaming:

The Director of Wargaming serves as Marine Corps University’s Chief Wargaming Expert. The primary purpose of this position is to advance Marine Corps warfighting excellence through the employment of wargaming methodologies within an academic institution delivering world class education to military and government professionals. The incumbent will serve as the Director of Wargaming, located at the Krulak Center, and is responsible for identifying requirements and resources, providing input to and assisting faculty development, and devising innovative approaches to employing wargaming through all levels of the Marine Corps Professional Military Education (PME) system.

Full details can be found in the document below. The deadline to apply is April 15. Applicants must be US citizens able to obtain a TS/SCI clearance.

Review: Simulations and Student Learning

Matthew A. Schnurr and Anna MacLeod, eds., Simulations and Student Learning (University of Toronto Press, 2020). CAD$56.25 hc, CAD$22.46 pb or ebook.

This edited volume provides a vitally important basis that will enable colleagues and students to understand the role of simulations in their teaching and learning. I identify three central contributions of this book:

  • First, it tackles the transdisciplinary opportunities of using simulations in teaching and learning. The book is divided into three sections: social sciences, natural sciences, and health sciences. Each section explores approaches to how simulations can contribute to the teaching in these areas, however, readers can gain a lot of insights from reading the sections that they may consider to be outside ‘their’ disciplinary home. The accessible writing style makes doing this possible. 
  • Second, the book is honest about what simulations can and cannot achieve in educational contexts and the need for effective management, incorporation and evaluation of their contribution to achieving intended learning outcomes. 
  • Third, the book carefully considers that not all students are the same, all will react to and engage with experiential learning differently. As a result, there are many moving parts to getting the simulation type, the design, the objectives and the outcomes, right. 

The book itself promises a lot, especially in terms of its objective to cross-disciplinary lines and to fill a gap (p.2) identified by Ellett, Esperanza, and Phan (2014). From my reading this book makes an exceptional contribution to achieving this objective. Overall, the book treads a delicate line here between presenting the challenges but also the payoffs for teachers and students. I think a particular strength of this book is that the authors haven’t ‘advocated’ but instead adopted a highly practical and pragmatic approach to using simulations in the classroom.

As I am developing a training course on simulations as tools for assessments. To do this effectively, I need to engage with a range of disciplines and demonstrate the utility of simulations to them, rather than inviting them into my research space and asking them to adapt and apply the tools for themselves. This book provides me with a language to be able to start that conversation. The accessible and jargon free writing style is particularly helpful as it will enable me to assign this text as reading for the course participants especially those who have never used simulations before. 

A particularly well-considered element of the book is that it clearly acknowledges that games and simulations are not a “silver bullet” (p.32) and it is possible to identify unintended insights. Throughout the book I think there is a considered view that games and simulations are reflective activities, they require the teacher, student, observers and any teaching evaluators to reflect on how the game was designed, run, played, adjudicated and evaluated. I would argue that games reveal to teachers the gaps in their knowledge and show the ability of the decision-making and the adeptness of thinking, in a way that other forms of teaching do not. As a result, like all learning tools and opportunities they need to be well run and selected to match the intended learning outcome (p.89). This binding of the simulation within the course or module is also effectives demonstrated in other chapters. For example, chapter eight by Gentry (pp.135-6; and 138) clearly maps how the simulation activity combines with other homework to enable the students to achieve the intended outcomes. 

In considering how to build-in simulations into teaching chapters of the book fairly consider constraints and offer practical and pragmatic methods to manage these challenges. For example, in chapter three, Donohue and Forcese discuss “liberating 40 hours of teaching time” (p.52) and utilising the tools available more effectively. This requires teachers to identify what learning is passive and can be done away from the tutor and what learning is active and needs or is enhanced by tutor-student and student-student interaction. This in itself is demanding and requires more time from teachers, not only in terms of preparation of the simulation materials, but also the jiggling of other course contents to fit. 

In other sections of the book (for example by Chamberlain in chapter 7) authors also highlights the physical constraints and potential barriers to running simulations for students of chemistry. The chapter then clearly expresses the requirements for running a simulation for these students (p.117). Again, as in other chapters this exploration of the challenges is then matched with an articulation of potential solutions including some free resources (p.118). 

The chapters also consider and highlight how simulations and their assessment can augment and add-value to different programmes. For example, in the chapter on social work the author identifies a limitation in how students are observed in practice and how simulations can contribute to the assessment process, enabling a more holistic approach to evaluating the student’s performance. A central message throughout the book is to provide an awareness of challenges in building simulations into teaching and learning spaces and programmes but matching this with practical and pragmatic solutions to overcome any problems. From this approach, the reader is therefore prepared, and well equipped, to start to incorporate these ideas into their own work. 

The book should not be read as being solely a ‘how to guide’, nor a piece of advocacy to convert teachers and lecturers to add-in simulations wholesale to their course. The authors do highlight the strengths and problems of simulations, but they also tackle head-on some of the potential problems of whether the performance in a simulation affects the practice that follows (chapter 14 by Picketts and MacLeod, in particular p.238). The findings of the research indicate that in the simulation the students acted in a ritualised way but when applying the same methods in practice they flexibly adapted to the situation (p.240). 

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone considering how to add simulations to their learning environment, but I think it is always very useful for people who have used simulations for years as there are nuggets of gold within each chapter that may enable a different way to reflect on your own practice. The book has certainly given me some new approaches and ideas. 

Simulation & Gaming, April 2021

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 52, 2 (April 2021) is now available.

  • Wired to Exit: Exploring the Effects of Wayfinding Affordances in Underground Facilities Using Virtual Reality
    • Panos Kostakos, Paula Alavesa, Mikko Korkiakoski, Mario Monteiro Marques, Victor Lobo, and Filipe Duarte
  • Challenges in Serious Game Design and Development: Educators’ Experiences 
    • Anastasia Dimitriadou, Naza Djafarova, Ozgur Turetken, Margaret Verkuyl, and Alexander Ferworn
  • Designing Game-Based Writing Projects to Foster Critical Ethical Reasoning in the English Classroom: A Case Study Using Plague Inc: Evolved 
    • Matthew Kelly
  • A multi-site study examining the usability of a virtual reality game designed to improve retention of sterile catheterization skills in nursing students 
    • Karen R. Breitkreuz, Suzan Kardong-Edgren, Gregory E. Gilbert, Connie DeBlieck, Mariam Maske, Christy Hallock, Susan Lanzara, Kathryn Parrish, Kelly Rossler, Carman Turkelson, Anthony Ellertson, Kimberly N. Brown, Taylor Swetavage, Michael Werb, Elizabeth G. Kuchler, Lori S. Saiki, and Shelly R. Noe
  • Distributed Leadership in Collegiate Esports 
    • Evan Falkenthal and Andrew M. Byrne
  • Using Game-Based Virtual Classroom Simulation in Teacher Training: User Experience Research 
    • Özge Kelleci and Nuri Can Aksoy
  • Simulating Peace Operations: New Digital Possibilities for Training and Public Education 
    • A. Walter Dorn and Peter F. Dawson

Connections Online, April 2021

Connections Online will take place on 12-14 April 2021, with some extended events on 10-18 April. Additional details can be found at the conference cosponsors, Armchair Dragoons: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/connections/

Armchair Dragoons: Teaching game design

The latest edition of the Armchair Dragoons podcast features a discussion with Sebastian Bae, Jeff Tidball, myself, and host Brant Guillory on teaching game design.

We discuss some of the key points that they want students take away from their design courses, some of the process they use to introduce different game ideas and concepts to the students, and the toolkits (in some cases, literally) that the students use for their game designs.  As a nod to the current reality we’re in, they also discuss the challenges of teaching these classes during a global pandemic that necessitates distance learning.

There’s a lot of things discussed here, but among them are the Aftershock game(reviewed by us here), the White Box design kit, Stephen Downes-Martin’s (in)famous “Three Witches” speech/paper, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (whose forums are hosted by us and could use some more traffic), Jeff’s consulting work, the Brynania peacebuilding game, the diversity split in their classes, GUWS presentations for our digital conventions, and the constraints of trying to get a game design crammed into one semester.

KCL wargaming update

Ivanka Barzashka of the Wargaming Network, School of Security Studies, King’s College London has sent around an update on the news and activities at KCL:

King’s Wargaming Network aims to advance wargaming as an academic discipline. In support of this aim, we are pleased to introduce new staff and students focusing on wargaming-related research, and a new programme of educational activities funded by the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy’s Education Fund and the Department of War Studies.  

New Faculty and PhD Students  

Dr David Banks joined the Department of War Studies in Aug 2020 as Lecturer in Wargaming and Academic Director of the Wargaming Network. He has designed wargames for education and research on topics such as diplomacy, crises, terrorism, and cyber security. His current research investigates the linkage between theory and rules in game design. Dr Banks is the first faculty member at a civilian university to have wargaming in his title.  

Arnel David and Boukje Kistemaker started PhDs on wargaming topics in Jan 2021 at the Department of Defence Studies and the War Studies Department, respectively.   

Academic Promotions  

Dr Aggie Hirst has been promoted to Senior Lecturer at the Department of War Studies in recognition of her empirical research on the phenomena of play and immersion, and the US military’s use of wargames and simulations for teaching and training purposes. Her projects have been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy.  

Analyst Training for Strategic Analytical Wargaming  

The WN runs a co-curricular programme to train postgraduate students, research staff and faculty to support Principal Investigators in data collection and analysis of wargames used for research purposes. The 2020-2021 programme focuses on ensuring data quality and research ethics in the shift from in-person to online wargaming to support a Centre for Science and Security Studies research project. Ten new trainees were selected through a competitive 3-stage recruitment process.

Short Courses on Wargaming in Education and Research for PhD Students, Staff and Faculty 

The WN launched two new wargaming courses for faculty, staff and postgraduate research students across the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy. The courses respond to an increased demand for educational and analytical wargames beyond the School of Security Studies.  

Wargame Design and Analysis Module for Master’s Students 

The Department of War Studies approved a new module for master’s students, which will be co-convened by Dr Banks and Dr Hirst. This module enables the next generation of security and defence analysts to understand and apply wargames as part of their security studies toolkit. 

Public Lecture Series on Wargaming Scholarship The WN launched an online public lecture series that features authors of new and noteworthy scholarly publications on wargaming. The next speaker is Dr Jacquelin Schneider who will discuss on 1 Apr 2021 the use of wargames as experiments to understand cyber and nuclear stability.

Bae and Kearney: Wargaming to sharpen the tactical edge

At the US Army War College’s War Room, Sebastian Bae and Paul Kearney discuss using wargaming to sharpen the tactical edge.

Educational wargaming is increasingly prevalent in the pedagogical toolkit but remains concentrated at the higher levels of Professional Military Education (PME). Advanced PME institutions like the U.S. Army War College and the Marine Corps War College are admirably expanding game-based learning in their curricula. In contrast, educational wargaming remains generally underdeveloped and underutilized in the operational force. The majority of educational wargaming is confined to the classroom, far removed from frontline units. At the tactical edge, wargaming is generally limited to the military planning process and course of action analysis. The rare employment of educational wargaming within tactical units is episodic and limited in scope. Thus, to systemically reap the dividends of educational wargaming, the Joint Force should aim to reestablish the tradition of educational wargaming within tactical units. Success depends on senior leadership support in the form of institutional funding and enduring partnerships with wargaming organizations.

The use of wargames to teach both tactics and strategic thinking lies at the heart of professional wargaming. Wargames provide a dynamic environment to explore and examine a variety of challenges and concepts along the strategic, operational and tactical levels. As an educational tool, wargaming fosters critical thinking and innovation, but most of all, it helps prepare tactical leaders for future challenges.

Read the rest of what they have to say at the link above.

Rubel: Whispers from wargames about the “grey zone”

At War on the Rocks, Barney Rubel discuss how wargames can “whisper” things that are outside their intended focus or parameters. In particular, he suggests that US wargaming has long been focused on conventional military power rather than asymmetric conflict and hybrid warfare—but if one had been playing close enough attention, the importance of these latter issues was often evident in the way the games played out.

A key characteristic of the scenarios used in post-Cold War games run by the U.S. armed services is the asymmetry in conventional military strength between “blue” and “red” players. Blue was always the United States, with red normally being a “rogue” country like Iran or North Korea. In such games, the scenarios created a competitive dynamic of the weak against the strong. That dynamic resulted in difficulties for umpires who attempted to adjudicate game moves. While blue players couched their moves in terms of Army divisions, aircraft carrier battle groups and Air Force wings, red players focused on things like political operations and special operations forces, because that is what they had at their disposal that offered some glimmer of hope. In other words, blue was trying to resolve the dispute with conventional forces while red attempted to side-step such force and directly address the dispute at the political level. Normally, game objectives focused on the use of conventional military force at the operational level, so umpires had to somehow reconcile the asymmetric nature of red and blue player inputs. The result was usually that red stratagems were not allowed their intended effects so that game play could proceed, and umpire assessments were couched in operational terms blue players could interpret.

It is the nature of red moves and the way umpires dealt with the asymmetry with blue that produces the whisper. What it was saying is that red would avoid direct challenge to blue strategies and that blue, in terms of both players and umpires, would attempt to fit such asymmetry within its conventional force superiority paradigm. The reasons for this are important to understand because they have implications for the defense and security community. It is important to note that I observed this phenomenon across many games over a period of years and, to be honest, did not grasp its significance until recently, so the purpose here is not to assign fault but to alert the defense community to the nature of game whispers.

Blue players and umpires were responding directly to game objectives, which were generally oriented on issues connected to the application of conventional military power. This in itself constituted a set of blinders for game players, umpires, and analysts, but in a broader sense reflected the aggregate perceptual constraints of the defense community. Threats were and still are defined to a significant extent in terms of conventional military aggression, whether a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a North Korean invasion of South Korea, or a Russian invasion of the Baltic countries. In the post-Cold War environment, these scenarios — major contingency operations, as they are called — dominated U.S. military planning. Their purpose was not only to provide a basis for force structuring and development, logistics, and command and control arrangements, but also for assessing the potential utility and cost-effectiveness of proposed platforms, weapons, and systems. Even after the 9/11 attacks, when counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations emerged as the principal day-to-day focus of defense, conventional scenarios still guided force development and thus continued to maintain the perceptual constraints of the defense community. A combination of factors served to create such channeling of focus. First, conventional force development is where the money is, so there are powerful institutional incentives for the services to justify force structure, and that means conventional warfighting capabilities. Second, it is not only natural but prudent to base planning on worst-case scenarios, which throughout history have featured conventional military aggression. Third, the creation of strong conventional forces, in conjunction with nuclear forces, is thought to constitute a robust deterrent to aggression. All of these are compelling reasons to focus on conventional warfare in wargames.

He notes, however, that “Blue consistently misinterpreted red signalling, leading to escalation of the scenario crisis that might have been otherwise avoided.”

This was mystifying until I “heard the whisper.” Blue was defining the problem/dispute through the lens of conventional military superiority. It was very much a case of the old saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The effect not only shaped blue’s moves — it distorted its perceptions of red signaling. Red kept trying to signal how important to it the issues in the crisis were, but blue kept ignoring or misinterpreting those signals.

In other words, “The games were whispering that, as Carl von Clausewitz claimed, policy dominates warfare. The side with the biggest army does not always hold the strongest hand in a dispute in which a fight to the death is not an option.”

Dozens of military wargames conducted over the past four decades have all produced a similar whisper despite differences in objectives, designs, and players. There is a profound difference between the weak and the strong that most definitions of asymmetry in warfare fail to capture. While the games might not have precisely indicated the possibility of China’s island-building or a Russian seizure of Crimea, they tried to alert us to our own perceptual limitations and thus to our vulnerability to surprise. This is not to ascribe negligence on anyone’s part, individually or corporately, but to sensitize the defense community to the deeper and more subtle aspect of wargames. Forewarned about the incentive of the weak but hostile to find ways around U.S. military superiority, we might have been able to forestall or counter gray zone operations more effectively. Two-sided games of the kind I describe here set up arenas of human competition that can reveal “unknown unknowns.”

It’s an important point: we need to be sensitive to insights generated by wargames, beyond those we hope or expect to find.

It also points to a weakness of wargaming, in that we too often find what we expect or want to find. As I have argued before, these framing effects may be so powerful that they essentially overpower the actual results of the game. In the Dire Straits experiment, for example, we showed that game analysts can come to very interpretations of exactly the same game. All of this underscores the recent call by Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath for greater attention to assessing the actual effectiveness and utility of wargaming.

Interestingly, I have found in “grey zone” wargames that Blue sometimes over-interprets actions and events as hybrid warfare, when some of it is rather less nefarious or more routine. I’m also rather cynical about the terms gray zone and hybrid warfare altogether: it’s hard to think of any point in the history of human conflict when this sort of stuff wasn’t a key part of international relations (the British East India Company, for example, being a much more successful version of the Wagner Group in many respects).

This might also be a good time to revive that most important of all PAXsims game designs, Jargon Wars!

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