PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 12 November 2021

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

Aaron Danis suggested items for this latest edition.

We are pleased to announce that the King’s College London Crisis Simulations is the latest group to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. If your organization would like to endorse the Derby House Principles, let us know!

We also still have Derby House Principles pins available.

On November 5-6, the US Army War College assisted the School of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University with a crisis simulation:

Each year, SIA Professor and former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett coordinates an international crisis simulation as a component of his core course on the foundations of diplomacy and international relations theory. The U.S. Army War College, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, manages the details of the simulation in the form of its International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise.

Experiential learning is one of the best ways for students to prepare for a career in international affairs. “The simulation with the Army War College is one of the most popular and important activities that students participate in while at the School of International Affairs,” Jett said.

This year’s exercise focused on the Arctic region, with the students divided into nine teams. They negotiated the conflicting claims of the countries represented over rights to the resources in the Arctic region.

“It puts students into a situation that is very close to what a real-world, diplomatic negotiation is actually like,” Jett continued. “It is a very valuable, professional experience and it is fun for them to try out their negotiation skills in a complicated, international crisis.”

In October, the ICONS team hosted a peace game with the US Diplomatic Studies Foundation:

Former ICONS Director and current researcher at the Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS) Devin Ellis noted that the core purpose of the game was to offer an opportunity for U.S. Government participants to practice crisis management at the U.S. embassy level.

“DSF recommended to the State Department that more training and gaming be done for FSOs, who don’t receive the level of consistent investment in these types of trainings that their counterparts in the Department of Defense, for example, do,” Ellis said.

The game included more than 30 participants from the Department of State, Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Intelligence Community.

“The unit of analysis here – the Country Team – was selected because it is an interagency group at the embassy level,” Ellis said. “Aside from serving on a country team during the course of their careers, many FSOs, when they become Deputy Chiefs of Mission or Ambassadors, would have only had experience in leading a country team to deal with a crisis if a real crisis had happened at one of their postings. So the aim here is to fill that gap.”

The game involved a crisis situation at a U.S. embassy within a fictional nation named Ikhaya, and included everything from invented White House memos to maps of Ikhaya.

“One of the best things about this simulation was that it was an interagency activity from start to finish,” ICONS Researcher and Simulation Developer Ron Capps said. “We had some pretty senior people from the defense, development, diplomacy and intelligence communities engaged in getting the details right during the development, and we had the same groups represented on the control team and as participants in the simulation itself.”

A recent episode of Homo Ludens featured Fred Serval discussing wargaming ethics (specifically, civilian victimization in wargames) with Brian Train, Javier Romero, John Poniske, and Tomislav Cipčic.

The Game Design Thinking blog at Stanford University recently featured an excellent article by Chris Bennett asking do diverse game designers lead to more diverse game designs, focusing on the recent experience of the Zenobia historical board game design award.

Was the Zenobia Award a perfect process? As a chief judge, I would say far from it. And we have learned a lot from this process that we can improve in the future.

But did it meaningfully push the ball forward? Judging from the publishing and social media success we have seen from a number of contestants already, this appears to be the case.

The intent of the Zenobia Award was to show that a diverse set of game designers could not only deliver meaningful and fun game designs but that those games might showcase the diversity of the designers. 

And from the game designs that have come out of Zenobia, I think it’s been a great success.

Körber-Stiftung and Chatham House recently published a report on Escalation in the Taiwan Strait: What to Expect from Europe?

Over the last few years, tensions in the Taiwan Strait have led to great concerns over Chinese territorial claims in the region. The potential for an escalation is

high – with significant implications for Europe. At the same time, the Biden administration is pursuing a tough stance on China and expects Europe to join a transatlantic approach.

Against this backdrop, the Körber Policy Game brought together a high-level group of senior experts, politicians, and officials from France, Germany, Italy and the UK to address a fictional scenario of a political- security crisis in the Taiwan Strait.

How will Europe position itself in an escalation be- tween China and the US against the backdrop of trade tensions and a threat of Chinese intervention in Taiwan? Which interests are at stake for Europeans, and which policy options do they have at their disposal? Can Europe find a coherent strategy in a crisis, considering China’s relevance for economic and trade relations?

The Körber Policy Game projects current foreign and security policy trends into a future scenario. The aim is to develop a deeper understanding of the inter- ests and priorities of different actors as well as possible policy options. Previous Körber Policy Games have dis- cussed Europe’s post-COVID-19 future, a US withdrawal from NATO and Turkey’s role in Syria.

The discussions took place online in May 2021 under Chatham House Rule in cooperation with the Chatham House Asia-Pacific Programme. This report summarises the results and presents policy recom- mendations. It reflects the analysis of the Körber Policy Game by Körber-Stiftung and Chatham House’s Asia-Pacific Programme and not necessarily the view of the participants.

In the past, PAXsims has pulled together lists of wargames (both serious and commercial) addressing current or future conflicts, such as the conflict in Ukraine (2014) or a potential Israeli attack on Iran (2011). We are going to do the same for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. If you have suggestions, add them in the comments below.

At the University of Edinburgh’s History & Games Lab blog, Brian Train discusses analog newsgames as citizen journalism:

The word “newsgame” became much more widely used in the game studies community when Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer published Newsgames: Journalism at Play in 2011. In the book, Bogost described the basic objectives of journalism (to inform, educate, criticize and persuade) and how video games distributed through the Internet could improve the effectiveness of journalists in achieving those objectives, and possibly rescue their reputation and livelihood at the same time.

Ten years later Bogost wrote an opinion piece for Convergence, a journal dedicated to new media technologies, called “Curiosity journalism, or the first decades of newsgames”. In it, he concluded:

“Journalism games were a long shot, for reasons that had little to do with games and more to do with everything else happening in the media and tech industries…. Computers turned out to be the authoring and distribution system for 20th Century media, not hosts for procedural media like software and simulations. Those circumstances can partly explain the shift from games to gamification….”

I was not that surprised to read his post-mortem of the form, since neither the original book nor this “bookend” piece mentioned analog games at all, except for a discussion of crosswords and word puzzles appearing in newspapers. It is well known that this area of cultural studies, particularly in the United States, is almost completely devoted to computer and video games and is persistently ignorant both of its analog history and of the analog games that continue to be published alongside digital games.

The fact remains that the practice of producing analog or analog newsgames predates video games by a very long time and continues today. Many of them stand as more than just commemorative objects or ephemera; they are also fine examples of citizen-based social criticism and analytic journalism.

In this blog I will present examples of three general types of analog newsgame: the game that uses a “reskin” of a well-known popular game to make a point; the game that is an original design but nevertheless simple mechanics; and the historical board wargame, a procedurally heavy item informed by data and techniques of operational research.

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