Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 05/11/2022

Simulation and gaming publications, June-October 2022

PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis. Others might address “gaming-adjacent” issues such as group dynamics and decision-making, assessment, forecasting, or related topics. If you have published something recently and we haven’t yet included it, let us know!

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.

Vårin Alme and Adeline Hvidsten, “To Learn or not to Learn: On the Importance of Mode Switching in Educational Wargames,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

Conventional wisdom holds that educational wargames come with certain challenges – factors that can potentially hinder, rather than increase, learning – and that these must be mitigated. In this article, we argue that so-called challenges are unproblematic, even desirable, during the wargame. Underpinning this contention is the premise that learning requires a certain mode, and that in educational wargaming, two distinct modes are necessary: one in the wargame, and one in the debrief. Leaning on the pedagogical theory of John Dewey, we distinguish between the mode of experience during the game, and the mode of reflection after the game. What are traditionally conceived of as challenges are, in our mode-based framework, necessary factors in order to fully enter the mode of experience. What can hinder learning, however, is if students do not switch from the mode of experience to the mode of reflection after the game. Based on previous research, our own experiences conducting wargames, and interviews with students and professionals on learning through educational wargames, we suggest strategies for ensuring the mode switch from wargame to debrief, and draw implications for the development of wargaming as a social science method.

Thomas Ambrosio and Jonathan Ross, “The War on Terror beyond the barrel of a gun: The procedural rhetorics of the boardgame Labyrinth,” Media, War & Conflict, (first online August 2022).

Utilizing Bogost’s procedural rhetoric framework in his book Persuasive Games, this article examines Labyrinth, a boardgame that simulates the conflict between the United States and global terrorism. The authors systematically integrate ludology (rules/gameplay) and narratology (narratives/representations) to illustrate how Labyrinth was intentionally designed so that players became active participants in a narrative about how good governance undermines the sources of terrorism and the counterproductive nature of militarized counterterrorism, as well as bear witness to the agency of the Muslim world and the region’s political dynamism on the tabletop. This is a very different account of the War on Terror than has previously been studied in the literature, which has focused overwhelmingly on first-person shooter videogames and, in turn, has provided a very limited range of how this conflict can be represented in ludic form. However, Labyrinth is not alone, and the wargames that many players grew up with have given way to a variety of boardgames which approach complex historical or contemporary situations and environments beyond simply killing one’s enemies. This represents a diverse, but largely untapped, resource already in the public space and ready to be investigated. Media studies can therefore benefit from considering how boardgames similar to Labyrinth present alternative ways in which the ‘real world’ has been, and indeed can be, translated through popular culture objects.

Elizabeth Bartels et al, “Gaming Undergoverned Spaces: Emerging Approaches for Complex National Security Problems,” in Aaron Frank and Elizabeth Bartels, eds, Adaptive Engagement for Undergoverned Spaces: Concepts, Challenges, and Prospects for New Approaches (RAND, 2002).

Games have long been an important part of defense analysis that are used to understand new strategic and operational problems, develop strategies and concepts, and assess the potential shortcomings of plans. The ability of games to help policy professionals explore the key ele- ments of new problems and the relationship between them makes them a highly effective tool to help decisionmakers make sense of undergoverned spaces (UGS). However, existing approaches to games for doing research and analysis tend to fall short, either by exhibiting the same types of pathologies as modeling and simulation efforts or by failing to generate credible information to systematically advance understanding. In this chapter, we explore the potential value of gaming in policymaking for UGS, describe two common failure modes, and offer several approaches for improving games to explore these spaces. We conclude the chap- ter by offering a vision for a new game concept—a contest arena—which combines advances in several areas that could improve the ability of games to inform adaptive planning in UGS.

Karsten Bråthen, “Krigsspill i operasjonsplanlegging: Hva kan datasimuleringer bidra med?Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

Wargames play a key role in operational planning, both for developing alternative courses of actions (COAs) and for developing the plan based on a selected COA. Performing wargames in a command post environment impose strict time and resources constraints compared to other applications of wargaming. Computer-based support, especially computer (constructive) simulations, enables the possibility to wargame many alternative COAs, perform analyses that are more detailed or spend less time on the wargaming activities. This support contributes to better plans produced in a shorter time. The paper describes wargaming in the Norwegian Army’s Plan and Decision Process and based on this derives simulation requirements and outlines how simulations can support the wargaming. Simulations may e.g. perform the role as book-keeper for all the different factors and time-space considerations affecting a COA. Combat simulation may assist in the adjudication process. It is argued how technologies like distributed simulation, command and control and simulation interoperability and terrain analyses meet the needs and requirements. Additionally, the simulation system needs to be easy to use, set up and manage and these requirements can be fulfilled by access from familiar web browsers and a simulation service oriented architecture and infrastructure. SWAP, Simulation-supported Wargaming for Analysis of Plans, is a research proof of concept demonstrator for technologies for wargaming for operational planning. SWAP is also being used to elicit user requirements. A SWAP wargame experiment with 52 cadets from the Norwegian Military Academy, showed that they were able to use the demonstrator after a brief introduction, and explore COAs and produce a decision brief fast, despite SWAP’s limited functionality.

Jan-Philipp Büchler, Business Wargaming for Mergers & Acquisitions: Systematic Application in the Strategy and Acquisition Process (Springer 2022).

Supports the development of target-oriented and strategy-compliant M&A strategies 

Describes the development and simulation of M&A strategies

Presents the most important strategy tools for business wargaming

Kjetil Enstad, “Professional Knowledge through Wargames and Exercises,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

In professional military education (PME), wargames and field-training exercises are among the pedagogical tools used to teach students to be professional officers. It is generally accepted that wargames are important sources of insight – even if, as Peter Perla (2012, p. 157) points out, they are “not real.” Notwithstanding the truism that there exists a gap between the game and reality, the wargame is a tool designed to provide the learner something to aid them in the real world. There are discussions in the literature concerning which aspects of the experience and practice of gameplaying are relevant to the player’s understanding of the aspect of reality their game is about; here, Perla’s discussion of the categorization of wargaming analysis is useful (2012, pp. 231–239), as is the report Wargame Pathologies (Weuve et al., 2004). While, with a few exceptions, the literature on wargaming does not engage with the fundamental epistemological questions of wargaming, there is a tendency to demarcate the relevance of wargaming for professional competence to specific aspects or domains of knowledge. In this article I argue that wargaming and field-training exercises in PME shape the future officer’s understanding and professional practices in much more profound ways than commonly assumed. Starting from Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and his discussions of what learning means and how meaning arises, I will show that, as far as learning to become an officer is concerned, wargames and exercises are intrinsically educative: learning inevitably takes place, and this learning shapes, in fundamental ways, how the officer understands and responds to situations they might face as a professional practitioner. The article proceeds in three steps. First, the theoretical basis for the argument, a Wittgensteinian view of learning and of professional knowledge, is presented; second, the nature of wargames and exercises, and their nature as sources for knowledge, are discussed; and in the final section, the implications for our understanding of wargames and exercises in professional military education of the preceding two sections are suggested.

Per-Idar Evensen, Svein Erlend Martinussen, Marius Halsør and Dan Helge Bentsen, “Simulation-Supported Wargaming for Assessing Force Structures,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

Wargaming is a key activity for gaining deeper insight into the strengths and weaknesses of future force structures in the course of their development and assessment. For more than a decade, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt – FFI) has supported the Norwegian Army in conducting wargames for capability planning, with varying degrees of computer-based support. Throughout this period, these have evolved from what can be described as computer-assisted wargames to more realistic simulation-supported wargames. Moreover, to get a closer understanding of the deterrent effect of the force structures, which may not be observable during the actual gameplay, our emphasis has also shifted towards replicating the planning process more properly – and especially towards monitoring the planning process of the opposing force. For example, it has been important to examine the extent to which specific structure elements discourage the opposing force from taking certain actions. In this article, we describe our evolved methodology for simulation-supported wargaming, which includes a preparation phase; an execution phase, including a joint operational planning process; and an analysis phase. Furthermore, we discuss what type of data and results we are able to extract from the wargaming sessions, and present a set of what we have found to be best practices for how to conduct successful simulation-supported wargames.

Håvard Fridheim, “Wargaming Dos and Don’ts – Eight Lessons for Planning and Conducting Wargames,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

Since 2015, there has been a resurgence in the use of wargaming in NATO states. But countries with smaller wargaming communities have not seen a corresponding revitalization of the technique. If the interest is there, the capability often lacks. The paper argues that a critical first step in stimulating the role of wargaming in these countries is ensuring that local practitioners know of each other, so they can exchange experiences on gaming results and practices; further, they need an understanding of what wargaming might (and might not) be, and the steps necessary to make the technique work in practice. The paper offers experiences from wargames conducted by analysts and researchers at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), for the most part games on the strategic and operational level. The experiences are structured as eight broad lessons on “dos and don’ts” to consider when planning and running wargames, based on recurring practical issues in past games. While the lessons are drawn from experiences within a small wargaming community, many of the issues discussed are universal for wargaming at large.

Alexander R. Galloway, “How I Modeled Guy Debord’s Brain in Software,ROMchip: A Journal of Game Histories 4, 1 (July 2022).

Given that the game was a kind of allegorical index into the networked and data-driven society growing up around him, I decided to take on Debord’s Game ofWar as a research project and port the game to the computer. … What did it take to reenact Debord’s historical algorithm in the present day? What did it take to rebuild this game for mobile devices? Luckily the rules had been published, and there was a decent archival paper trail. (The national library in Paris has even preserved a shoebox full of toy soldiers Debord would use to play army.) So it seemed possible, at least in principle, to rebuild Debord’s game in a new century, in a new format. A number of steps were necessary in developing the game software, including designing the game model, implementing the rules, and adding a networking component for multiplayer. I’d like to tell part of that story here, addressing some details from my attempt to redevelop Debord’s game in software, focusing in particular on the game’s AI. Indeed, the prospect of modeling Debord’s brain was particularly tantalizing. Yet, as we will see, the outcomes were not entirely what I expected at the outset.

Anne Marie Hagen, “Learning (Better) From Stories: Wargames, Narratives, and Rhetoric in Military Education,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

Wargames have a long history as a military training method. A typical explanatory framework for their efficacy is their narrative aspect. There remain, however, questions concerning the ways narrative functions in context, and how it can be analysed to assess the educational value of wargaming in Professional Military Education programmes (PME). The article offers a case study of how officer cadets employed narrative elements during a matrix game which aims to test their knowledge of peacekeeping operations and to develop their critical thinking and argumentation skills, focusing on how these narrative elements functioned rhetorically. Using positioning analysis buttressed by insights from argumentation studies and expanded with approaches from literary narratology, this study uncovers the extensive and subtle ways players employed narrative persuasion to further their goals, and the extent to which argumentation in matrix games relies on narrative. The study suggests that this aspect of matrix game argumentation has been understudied, and that attention to narrative can have a range of benefits: it helps shed light on how players shift between participatory frameworks or narrative levels in the game, how meaning is negotiated, and how professional reflection and identities are initiated. Demonstrating how subjectivity and experience can be employed as data in military sciences, the study also offers educators an interpretive framework for analysing game interaction. It further suggests that the matrix game’s educational value in PME can be extended by incorporating awareness of the rhetorical functions of narrative into the post-game reflection; knowledge of how stories are told could enhance student learning.

Tomáš Havlík, Martin Blaha, Ladislav Potužák, Ondřej Pekař and Vlastimil Šlouf, “Wargaming Simulator MASA SWORD for Training and Education of Czech Army Officers,” Proceedings of the 16th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2022 (2022).

The article deals with expanding the capabilities of the University of Defence in the field of training and education of new officers of the Czech Army using newly introduced simulation technology. First, it looks at the beginnings of the use of simulations to support and develop teaching. One of those steps was the establishment of a professional-level computer games group. This gave students the opportunity to gain experience in commanding and managing combat while playing computer games such as Counter-Strike. Currently, students have the opportunity to deepen their command and tactical skills during practical field training or in virtual environments while playing games based on virtual and constructive simulation. Another section explains the importance and role of these simulations in teaching professional soldiers. It is very important for future combat commanders to gain as much experience as possible in commanding and directing combat activity in the conduct of military operations before they occur. Finally, it deals with the newly acquired MASA SWORD simulator, which offers another and much more complex tool for gaining valuable experience. MASA SWORD, unlike the software currently in use, can be controlled by only one user without the need to connect other users or perform control exercises. It includes a scenario building tool, constructive simulation and analytical tools for evaluating created simulations. In addition to its use in teaching and educating students, the simulator can be used for staff training, support for commander planning and decision-making, analysis and, last but not least, operational research. In the last section, the article evaluates the usefulness of simulations for teaching, science and research. It also reports on ongoing qualitative research methods to predict the next direction of development and possible connectivity with other simulators. 

Lars Henåker, “Decision-making style and victory in battle—Is there a relation?” Comparative Strategy, 41, 4 (2022)

Can decision-making styles impact victory and defeat in armed con- flicts? To answer the question of whether decision-making styles are linked to the victories and defeats of individual tacticians, this study utilizes five general decision-making styles: Rational, Intuitive, Dependent, Avoidant and Spontaneous. The aim of this study is to examine whether one or several of the general decision-making styles (GDMS) have an impact on tactical outcomes in wargames. A total of 104 officers and academics participated in the study. The study’s foremost conclusion is that the Dependent style is significantly connected to defeat in the wargame’s dueling set up.

Joshua Letchford et al, “Experimental Wargaming with SIGNAL,” Military Operations Research 27, 2 (2022).

Wargames are a common tool for investigating complex con- flict scenarios and have a long history of informing military and strategic study. Historically, these games have often been one offs, may not rigorously collect data, and have been built primarily for exploration rather than developing data- driven analytical conclusions. Experimental wargaming, a new wargaming approach that employs the basic principles of experimental design to facilitate an objective basis for exploring fundamental research questions around human behavior (such as understanding conflict escalation), is a potential tool that can be used in combination with existing wargaming approaches.

The Project on Nuclear Gaming, a consortium involving the University of California, Berkeley, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, developed an experimental wargame, SIGNAL, to explore questions surrounding conflict escalation and strategic stabil- ity in the nuclear context. To date, the SIGNAL experimental wargame has been played hundreds of times by thousands of players from around the world, creating the largest data-base of wargame data for academic purposes known to the authors. This paper discusses the design of SIGNAL, focusing on how the principles of experimental design influenced this design.

Erik Lin-Greenberg, “Wargame of Drones: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Crisis Escalation,” Journal of Conflict Resolution (first online June 2022).

How do drones affect escalation dynamics? The emerging consensus from scholarship on drones highlights increased conflict initiation when drones allow decisionmakers to avoid the risks of deploying inhabited platforms, but far less attention has been paid to understanding how drones affect conflict escalation. Limited theorization and empirical testing have left debates unresolved. I unpack the underlying mechanisms influencing escalation decisions involving drones by proposing a logic of remote-controlled restraint: drones limit escalation in ways not possible when inhabited assets are used. To test this logic and explore its instrumental and emotional microfoundations, I field “comparative wargames.” I immerse national security professionals in crisis scenarios that vary whether a drone or inhabited aircraft is shot down. I validate wargame findings using a survey experiment. The wargames shed light on the microfoundations of escalation, highlight limits of existing theories, and demonstrate the utility of comparative wargaming as an IR research tool.

Mass Soldal Lund, “Øving på cybersikkerheit: Ein casestudie av ei cybersikkerheitsøving,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

This article presents a case study of a cyber security exercise in military education, and uses this case study to reflect on some challenges with cyber security exercise for educational purposes. The case study discusses central decisions in the design of the exercise, the evaluation of the exercise, as well as challenges with the exercise concept. Through a survey of the literature, we compare the exercise with similar exercises, and have a look at how these exercises are evaluated. Finally, we use the case study and the literature survey to reflect on how further investigations into cyber security exercise could be made.

Tom Mouat, “The Use and Misuse of Wargames,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

This article forms part of the Norwegian Defence University College’s broader research and development project to explore the utilities and potentials of a wide range of wargames and military exercises. This essay is intended to generate discussion of wargaming’s use and problems, and to provoke the generation of new and better proposals. As such it contains opinion and academic reflection. The paper discusses wargames, their many different types, their practical uses, and some of the dangers or pitfalls that arise when wargames are used in order to generate useful outputs. The intention is to promote debate rather than to assert any definite conclusions.

Peter Perla, “Wargaming and The Cycle of Research and Learning,Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

Some thirty years ago, I coined the concept of the Cycle of Research, which described how wargaming, exercises and analysis, coupled with real-world operations and history, have worked together in concert to help the national-security community to understand better political-military reality and its past and future evolutions. When first proposed, I had in mind the uses of Wargaming in the analytical context, or what the community of professional wargamers most often calls research wargaming. Over the years, however, I began to recognize how much the same integration of tools and techniques can—and should—influence education and training for national-security professionals, both uniform and civilian: In essence, a Cycle of Learning. In this paper I explore these ideas more fully. I hope these musings can be of some help and inspiration for future researchers to probe deeper into the application of all our tools in the critically important task of educating future leaders. That task can be made more successful by using wargaming to help structure a framework for PME that integrates the inspiration, instruction, and application of the key knowledge and habits of mind—the mental muscle memory—required to operate effectively in the real world and to demonstrate those characteristics in the game, whatever form that may take.

Phillip Pournelle, “The need for cooperation between wargaming and modeling & simulation for examining Cyber, Space, Electronic Warfare, and other topics,” The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (first online August 2022).

I was asked by the editorial board of this publication to present my views of the need for cyber wargaming. Many of you will have read the excellent article written by colleague and friend Harrison Schramm in the April issue. I am in violent agreement with him and this editorial should be considered an explication and extension of what he wrote.

Wargaming of Cyber, Space, Electronic Warfare, and other phenomena related to warfare must remain part of the toolkit of the defense analytic community because of many factors. For this editorial, I will use Cyber operations as my primary example, but I’m certain the readers can apply many of the same criteria to Space, Electronic Warfare, and other less well understood phenomena. Wargaming is often the best tool for initial examination of cyber because cyber operations exist primarily in a human-created domain that is not well mapped; cyber is dominated by human choices; cyber operations are about manipulating information which informs human decision-making; cyber operations themselves may be examined or adjudicated using M&S, but such efforts are highly classified and so analysis is devoted to their effects mostly on humans; cyber “weapons” often take years to build, but their effects arise in microseconds; and, most importantly, cyber operations can have whole of society impacts which the operator may or may not have intended. We will examine each of these issues in some detail and then address what does good wargaming look like in addressing cyber operations. …

Carsten F. Roennfeldt, “Foreword to the Special Issue on Military Exercises and Wargaming In Professional Military Education,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

This foreword provides the context for introducing the 11 articles constituting this Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies’ special issue on the topic of military exercises and educational wargaming. It does so by describing the subject matter and the research project that made this publication possible. It also brings to the fore two assumptions that underpin the project. First, how critical officer competence is to national defense; without it even the most well-equipped armed forces will crumble when put to the test. Second, it illustrates the educational value that military exercises and wargames provide in developing officer competence by situating military students within a professionally relevant, engaging and challenging learning environment that mirrors realistic scenarios they will encounter, but without the risk associated.

Carsten F. Roennfeldt , Daniel E. Helgesen, and Bjørn Anders Hoffstad Reutz, “Developing Strategic Mindsets with Matrix Games,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

This article forms part of the Norwegian Defence University College’s broader research and development project to explore the utilities and potential of a wide range of wargames and military exercises in professional military education. We present a specific matrix game, Game MONUSCO, named for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and designed at the Norwegian Military Academy to develop the strategic mindsets of military students. The article introduces prominent literature on matrix games, to which it adds an elaborated account on the way post-play discussions are exploited to help students gain specific and general educational learning outcomes. Central to this effort, and a novel contribution to the literature, is a strategic-bridge model. This model, informed by Daniel Kahneman’s seminal work on intuitive and analytical thinking, promotes a strategic mindset compatible with NATO doctrines. In addition, we argue military students gain professionally relevant experiences by repeatedly applying theoretical knowledge to solve the kind of practical problems matrix games can generate. This serves to aid and improve the making of informed decisions. Game-experiences also help these future officers to become familiar with chance, uncertainty, and other crucially important features of the military profession. Preliminary evaluations indicate matrix games to be a valuable educational method for the achievement of such learning outcomes in professional military education and suggest the method can be relevant for other professional studies as well.

Amanda Rosen, “Simulations and Games to Teach Conflict and Political Violence,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies (2022).

There are seven key considerations for instructors and scholars using simulations and games (SAGs) to teach conflict and political violence: learning outcomes, conflict stage, scenario choice, role assignment, time required, gameplay mechanics, and postgame reflection. In each of these areas, there is a new typology or categorization in an effort to provide a standard language for work in this field moving forward—an essential effort as SAGs grow in acceptance in the college classroom. Learning outcomes are divided into content and skills, while there are five stages of conflict: preconflict, crisis response, active conflict, war termination, and postconflict. Scenario choice ranges from historical and contemporary simulations grounded in the “real world” to fictional, representative, and abstract exercises. Considerations for role assignment include whether roles are necessary, the level of analysis of different roles, and how to conduct simulations in large classes, while “time required” divides exercises by their level of intensity. Gameplay mechanics divide SAGs by those with board game–style mechanics, those that involve negotiation plus round-based actions, and those that focus on negotiations to craft agreements. Finally, postgame reflection considers the value and drawbacks of conducting formal assessment of SAGs. More work is needed to create simulations focused on individual authors, increased attention to adapting physical classroom games for the online and hybrid environment, more authenticity in simulation design, diversifying the student experience in simulations, and creating common criteria for effective simulations to teach conflict and political violence.

Brian Stewart, Deterrence Through Entanglement, PhD thesis, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology (August 2022).

… I challenge the logic of disentanglement and offer a theory of deterrence through entanglement. I argue that potential adversaries understand that attacks against entangled NC3 systems affect both nuclear and conventional missions and as such, expect that attacks against these vital national assets could be met with the harshest possible response, up to and including nuclear retaliation. With entangled space systems, a potential adversary must be willing to accept strategic consequences even if they only seek tactical objectives, so the cost-benefit calculus for decision makers should ultimately favor deterrence. Continuing this logic, I argue that disentangling NC3 systems could make conventional versions of the systems less dangerous targets and therefore more susceptible to attack. By lowering the expected costs and expected severity of retaliation for attacks, an adversary could be more willing to target disentangled NC3 space systems.

I test my theory with novel experimental wargaming scenarios and an elite sample survey that feature entanglement as the independent variable (IV) and operationalize deterrence as a dependent variable (DV), as measured through attacks against space systems. I also conducted a public opinion survey to gauge perceptions about space system attacks again using entanglement as the IV. The wargaming sessions were conducted with undergraduate and graduate students at the Georgia Institute of Technology and provide strong support to my theory of deterrence through entanglement. The wargaming sessions demonstrated that entanglement deterred attacks against space systems better than disentanglement, with entangled systems a third as likely to be attacked as disentangled systems.

Not only were entangled systems less likely to be attacked, when they were attacked, attacks were less severe than with disentangled systems. Based on both quantitative and qualitative data, entangled systems often carried too high a risk of escalation to justify attacks whereas disentangled systems were viewed as safer options and were attacked more frequently and with more severe methods. Entanglement also appeared to deter attacks in general; out of 20 teams that did not conduct any attacks during the wargaming sessions, 18 were from the entangled treatment. …

Dagfinn Vatne, Mona Guttelvik, Alf Christian Hennum and Stein Malerud, “Wargaming for the Purpose of Knowledge Development: Lessons Learned from Studying Allied Courses Of Action,”Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (September 2022).

We present a series of four wargames intended to improve our ability to analyze the alliance aspect of Norwegian military operations. We discuss the objectives, the set-up, and the lessons learned. The wargames proved to be very helpful in discovering gaps in our knowledge concerning specific types of military operations and systems, and pointed at shortcomings of our scenario portfolio. They also highlighted more general methodological aspects such as the importance of explicitly stating basic premises. We argue that wargames are a useful tool for assessing one’s own knowledge, challenging current opinions, and improving one’s analytic methods.

David Wästerfors, “Sad and Absurd Representations of War in Gameplay and Interviews,” Cultural Sociology (2022).

There is a vivid interest in so-called epimilitary narratives of war that depart from heroic themes and zoom out from the armed forces. This article joins this direction by analyzing two variants of cultural narratives of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the 1990s and the siege of Sarajevo: the videogame This War of Mine and Bosnian citizens’ personal stories told in qualitative interviews. Both variants portray war as an uncontrollable condition devoid of grand meanings, as an arena for survival skills and moral work rather than heroic deeds or moral tests, and as an object for detailed analysis rather than categorical positioning. To highlight this type of narrative across diverse manifestations may sensitize researchers to capture how the mundane and emotional content of war is articulated outside political scripts.

Kangyu Wu, Mingyu Liu, Peng Cui and Ya Zhang, “A Training Model of Wargaming Based on Imitation Learning and Deep Reinforcement Learning,”  Proceedings of 2022 Chinese Intelligent Systems Conference (2022)

This paper proposes an intelligent game confrontation model for a wargame based on imitation learning and deep reinforcement learning, given light of the supremacy of reinforcement learning for training in complex environments. In the context of simulating the battle between the red team and the blue team, a pre-training model based on expert empirical data is produced using imitation learning, and a TD3 algorithm based on the attention mechanism is further designed to build an experience pool using priority experience replay. Finally, the model is enhanced using the self-play approach to increase its training efficiency. Experiments conducted after training demonstrate that the model has a superior training impact, and the winning rate in simulation training is enhanced by 8% compared to the original model.

A seat at the gaming table: MORS Wargaming Certificate

The following article was written for PAXsims by Nathalie Marver-Kwon, a sophomore at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service studying geography and Russian. She is a teaching assistant for geography and engages in research on Russian geopolitics. She is the Secretary / Treasurer for Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) and an aspiring wargame designer. She is originally from Seattle, WA. 

From October 24th through October 28th, 2022, I attended MORS and Virginia Tech’s Certificate in Wargaming course. I was able to attend through a scholarship granted to me directly by the program, the first of an annual prize for undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated interest in professional wargaming. I felt incredibly lucky to be sitting in the same Zoom call as professional wargamers and analysts from all over the world. Through the course, I wanted to learn how to design and develop games in a structured way. More importantly, the MORS certificate represented a significant first step into the world of professional wargaming, an historically exclusive field.

On the first day Peter Perla walked us through his Artist, Analyst, Architect model on game design. He emphasized there is no one-size-fits-all for the design process. Similarly, the players who make up the game are just as important to the gameplay as the design. If a group of experts is playing a game on their expertise, their decision-making in the gamespace will be influenced by their knowledge. A game of non-experts in the same game will engage with the game content more intuitively and less knowledgeably – focusing more on the inherent incentives of the game design. As game designers and facilitators, it is important we keep the audience in mind as we consider the best way to adjudicate and hot-wash. How can we as facilitators maintain positive neutrality in gameplay and still engage the players? “Reading the room” is a necessary soft skill for wargame facilitators, a skill developed through practice and experience. This idea is especially important if we want to diversify the wargaming community by encouraging game participation from newcomers.

James “Pigeon” Fielder explored the idea of the “magic circle” with us– the mental space where the game actually takes place. As Perla explained, the real game is inside the player’s heads, where they make decisions, and assess their role in the whole. This environment of decision-making is what distinguishes a wargame from other forms of analysis or M&S. The physical game is the symbolic representation and medium of that mental space. When players are in the magic circle, they identify with their role in the game and engage with it as if it is real. Understanding player psychology is a key part of the design process as we pick what physical pieces of the game can best hold dynamic play meaning. For example, character cards give players a basis for their role while leaving room for personal injects; movement-constrained player pieces inherently nudge players towards spatial thinking. Anticipating which mode of thinking a player will utilize in the game will inform what pieces to provide them to that end.

Mike Markowitz’s presentation on graphic design answered more of my questions about practical game design. What do colors convey? What implicit meaning does map orientation hold? As a designer, it is easy to burrow into a checklist of necessary game parts– die, board, cards. But if I learned anything, it’s that answering the human-centered questions about a game concept is primary, and the mechanics will follow from there. Asking “what happens in the real world with this concept?” answers the question of “how should my players receive or relay information in the game world of this concept?” From there, we can parse down the information input into simple but significant design components.

The most helpful part of the class was putting the ideas we had learned all week into practice on the last day. Paul Vebber and Dr. Ed McGrady facilitated a brainstorm, and then broke us into small groups to discuss each other’s ideas. My small group outlined a rough plan for how we would execute a game about state capture. Condensing our ideas and understanding of state capture into simple mechanics was difficult. At times, we got caught in details of team size and turn quantity, which felt a bit abstracted from the game concept– picking between two and three people per team felt arbitrary. However, as I reminded myself, the difference between two and three people as a thought-group is vast, and could influence how that team plays and approaches intra-team negotiation. Refocusing our mechanics meant tying team size back to the actual politics of state capture and returning to those fundamental concept questions. I enjoyed the process and learned a lot from the ideas of my classmates. Their different perspectives and experiences were reflected in their approach to game design and analysis. If I could change one thing about the course, I would have liked more time to pick the brains of the other participants after each lesson and activity.

Thank you to the instructors, Dr. Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Paul Vebber, Phil Pournelle, Mike Markowitz, James “Pigeon” Fielder, and Becca Wasser for their time and expertise. Thank you to the MORS staff for hosting the class. I have so many ideas for game designs I want to pursue now, and the toolkit to approach it. Institutional access to the MORS course and other official forums for wargaming is essential for young wargamers and aspiring designers. Meeting wargamers far into their career and learning the trade from them gave me a view of the path I am following and what lies at the end.

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