Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, holiday edition

PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Steven Sowards and Aaron Danis suggested items for this latest edition. Happy holidays!

The US Naval Institute blog discusses wargaming at Marine Corps University.

Marine Corps University (MCU) has unleashed the power of cloud computing to enhance its wargaming professional development. In September, the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfighting at MCU unveiled its Wargaming Cloud, a platform-independent tool for teaching a variety of skills and objectives.

Retired Colonel Tim Barrick is the wargaming director for MCU. (Note that the MCU wargaming program is distinct from the much larger Marine Corps Wargaming and Analysis Center, which broke ground in 2021.) Barrick says the Wargaming Cloud is primarily educational wargaming, not future force design concept testing. Educational wargaming, he says, “is about helping to create critical thinkers to hone adaptive warfighting.”

“When do you recognize your plan has to change?” says Barrick of adaptive warfighting, citing a DARPA study of World War II combat. Battalions that displayed adaptive warfighting fared better than those that did not, the study found. But it is one thing to say, “Adaptive warfighting is good,” and another to teach Marines how to (in Barrick’s word) “discern” when the moment to change has arrived. But it is the critical factor in a fight, and something wargaming can teach, especially with the methods the Wargaming Cloud allows MCU to employ.

On 3 October, the cloud had its first chance to shine (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor). In conjunction with the Expeditionary Warfare School, the MCU wargaming team staged an event with 240 students, using an adapted version of Flashpoint Campaigns, a game with a lot of customizability.

In June 2023 the Canadian War Museum will open a special exhibit on wargaming. In the run-up, CBC News discusses “The (sometimes) serious business of war gaming.”

As a senior historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Andrew Burtch has taken to wandering the galleries during the day to see which displays pique the interest of visitors.

Amid the dimly-lit recesses of the Second World War and Cold War exhibits, he’s noticed a strange phenomenon: clusters of school kids debating, in surprising detail, the merits of individual weapons.

“So, after seeing this habit occur a couple of times, I eventually said, ‘Hey, yeah, do you know about these weapons? Why are you talking about them?'” Burtch said. “And they said, ‘Oh, well, we play with these weapons in the games we play, you know, first-person shooters. Call of Duty.'”

It was startling for Burtch, a gamer himself.

“It got me to thinking that people approach history through many different ways,” he said.

Some engage with past wars through personal experience, he said — by meeting a veteran or talking a family member who served.

“But a lot of people have none of those personal connections, and instead approach it through media, and in particular, in a growing number of ways, through games,” he added.

It’s an intriguing idea —  intriguing enough to convince the Ottawa-based museum to embark on a major research project with an eye to standing up a full display for visitors next spring.

The effect of war games on society — and history — is becoming a major field of study in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Burtch said he approaches the subject with caution and in the full knowledge that games, like movies, have the potential to skew or distort views of past events.

If you want to see the exhibit, consider attending the next Connections North professional wargaming conference, which will be held at the Museum on 9 June 2023.

At The Futurist, Stephen Aguilar-Millan discusses lessons learned from the Arctic climate change game Green Arctic.

At the Transitional Matters podcast, Arnel David and Nick Moran discuss how games are changing warfare.

Will gamers win the next war?

What does playing games even have to do with real-life military strategy?

What data processing do we retain the preserve of humans, and what should be passed on to AI?

Can gaming make the learning experience richer?

These are all super important questions. 

In this episode, we try and answer these questions by taking a deep dive into the fascinating developments happening in the military sphere. Specifically the use of gaming – and how the technology behind this starting to be used to drive better strategy and more informed decision-making in a military setting. But, of course, its application is far wider.

To talk about this topic, Chris has invited two military experts with active-duty experience, who sit right at the forefront of this development. US Army Strategist Colonel Arnel David and British Army Lieutenant Colonel Nick Moran. Both Arnel and Nick bring a wealth of information and insight into the use of AI in the military setting, as well as discuss some of their observations from their setting up and running of the military strategy game, Fight Club International: a gaming experimentation group seeking to improve the efficacy of warfighting across the spectrum of conflict and competition.

Here’s a link to an article Nick and Arnel wrote that we touch on in the episode. Why Gamers Will Win The Next War.

A recent article by Stephen Wertheim in the New York Times asks if America can envisage WWIII. Wargaming is mentioned extensively:

Mr. Biden seems to be saying that defending Taiwan would be worth the price of war with China. But what would such a war entail?

A series of recent war games held by think tanks help us to imagine what it would look like: First, a war will likely last a long time and take many lives. Early on, China would have incentives to mount a massive attack with its now highly developed long-range strike capability to disable U.S. forces stationed in the Pacific. Air Force Gen. Mark D. Kelly said that China’s forces are “designed to inflict more casualties in the first 30 hours of combat than we’ve endured over the last 30 years in the Middle East.”

In most rounds of a war game recently conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States swiftly lost two aircraft carriers, each carrying at least 5,000 people, on top of hundreds of aircraft, according to reports. One participant noted that although each simulation varied, “what almost never changes is it’s a bloody mess and both sides take some terrible losses.” At some stage, those Selective Service registrations required of young American men might need to be expanded and converted into a draft.

Second, each side would be tempted to escalate. This summer, the Center for a New American Security held a war game that ended with China detonating a nuclear weapon near Hawaii. “Before they knew it,” both Washington and Beijing “had crossed key red lines, but neither was willing to back down,” the conveners concluded. Especially in a prolonged war, China could mount cyberattacks to disrupt critical American infrastructure. It might shut off the power in a major city, obstruct emergency services or bring down communications systems. A new current of fear and suspicion would course through American society, joining up with the nativism that has reverberated through national politics since Sept. 11.

The economic consequences would be equally severe. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which produces most of the world’s advanced semiconductors, would profoundly damage the U.S. and global economy regardless of Washington’s response. (To this end, the United States has been trying to move more semiconductor manufacturing home.) But a U.S.-China war would risk catastrophic losses. Researchers at RAND estimate that a yearlong conflict would slash America’s gross domestic product by 5 to 10 percent. By contrast, the U.S. economy contracted 2.6 percent in 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession. The gas price surge early in the Ukraine war provides only the slightest preview of what a U.S.-China war would generate. For the roughly three-fifths of Americans who currently live paycheck to paycheck, the war would come home in millions of lost jobs, wrecked retirements, high prices and shortages.

In short, a war with Russia or China would likely injure the United States on a scale without precedent in the living memory of most citizens. That, in turn, introduces profound uncertainty about how the American political system would perform.

RAND is developing The Migration Game, intended for eventual public sale. According to King Mallory on LinkedIn:

“Borders and Values” is a donor-funded serious board game intended to teach practitioners, university, and advanced high school audiences about the challenges, tradeoffs and competing interests at play in U.S. immigration and border security policy. There are four teams – representing migrants, governments, the business community, and civil society groups – each play and seek to succeed at achieving their own individual goals, all the while interacting with the other players pursuing their own distinct objectives. A novel element of the game is that it has been designed so that players can play either pursuing a pro-border-security policy or a pro-immigration policy. Players inured to one role can gain new insights and perspectives by playing the role of the other players. In this session, the designers presented the current version of the game and played through a couple of turns to demonstrate some of the game’s interesting features and how it allows players to explore and pursue consensus in this important and contentious policy area. Further rounds of beta testing with Congressional staff and Homeland Security professionals are planned before the game’s eventual public release.

According to Businessworld, the Indian military is establishing a Wargame Research and Development Centre:

After getting a nod from the Ministry of Defence project WARDEC was started in May this year. Wargame Research and Development Centre in Delhi focuses on a simulation-based training facility. AI will be used to create virtual reality wargames at the center, this program would enable a better understanding of situations that are unforeseen till now.

Different types of military exercises have been organised around the world by various nations but practicing the same in a simulation would be something new. India has the 4th largest military in the world, and now moving towards AI-based programs for enhancing skills is going to make it stronger.

The Army will use the Wargame Research and Development Centre to train its troops and evaluate their tactics through metaverse-enabled gameplay. The focus is to teach military strategy to its officers through the interface. The metaverse, which combines virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to mimic its surroundings, will put soldiers’ skills to the test.

At the CIMSEC blog Robert Rubel discusses the importance of wargaming Naval War College education.

In the mid-1980s, the U.S. Army developed its concept of AirLand Battle and imported the Soviet concept of operational art. Soon after, the Naval War College shifted the focus of its military operations course from tactics to operational-level concepts. At the time I was a planning and decision-making instructor in the department. The imposition of joint education requirements only reinforced the focus on the operational level. Tactics became almost an epithet for contaminating discussions of operational-level matters.

Since the Naval War College was, and still is, the only place where students can study the combined operations of the various warfare communities, the deletion of tactics in its courses fragmented tactical development in the Navy and undermined the college’s purported operational-level focus. I remember vividly in the late 1980s when Vice Admiral Duke Hernandez spoke at the College and described his approach to using Third Fleet as a whole to counter a Soviet attack in the Pacific. His discussion of combined naval tactics mesmerized the student body, but tactics were still shunned by the College.

The fall of the Soviet Union turned the numbered fleets into area administrators and fleet tactics evaporated, being supplanted by security cooperation plans and the tactics of individual platforms. Now that China constitutes a substantial threat to U.S. command of the sea in the Western Pacific, the Navy must rediscover fleet tactics, and reinvigorate the College’s role in warfighting education.

The Navy badly needs for the Naval War College command and staff course to become a year-long classified wargame-centric warfighting course. In such a course students would gain a fleet-level perspective on tactics and be able to link them to operational art and strategy. Joint aspects would necessarily be included, but not in the abstract way they are in current JPME. Classified capabilities and tactics must be included. The development of multi-domain and distributed maritime operations cannot be properly accomplished without fleet-level tactical logic.

At the Institute for World Politics, Aaron Danis has been playing ISIS Crisis with students–and cupcakes.

“Preparing and implementing an effective strategy is the goal of this simulation,” stated Prof. Danis. “Teams are laying the groundwork for long-term success while battling an enemy bent on destroying them.”  When the game starts in July 2014, ISIS is in the driver’s seat, and the embattled Iraqi government needs to fight them while building a broad-based government and leveraging the tools of potential allies.

ISIS Crisis forced me to use a limited array of tools of statecraft to achieve my non-state actor’s goals which meant that creativity and originality were important,” stated graduate student Parker Sears in his role as ISIS’ military commander. “This experience was valuable, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in international affairs.”

An after action report on a Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations wargame conducted at Marine Corps Intelligence Schools in September 2022 can be found at the The Warfighting Society blog.

Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre recently held “an emergency exercise simulating the national response to a hypothetical large-scale cyber incident affecting Ireland’s energy sector.” According to the Irish Times:

The aim of the exercise, which took place in the National Emergency Coordination Centre, was to test the procedures outlined in the National Cyber Emergency Plan to ensure the Government, State agencies, and relevant stakeholders are prepared for a cyber attack on critical infrastructure.

The Garda, the Defence Forces, ESB Networks, EirGrid, Gas Networks Ireland, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, and a third-party cyber incident provider took part in the exercise.

In early November, the US Army War College held an international crisis simulation at the Penn State School of International Affairs.

Each year, the Army War College, based in Carlisle, sends a team with a crisis simulation to provide students with the opportunity to experience what a real-world crisis and resolution process could involve. Col. Michael Stinchfield, Lt. Col. Chris Miller, and Edmund “Cliffy’ Zukowski oversaw the simulation, along with former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett, professor of international affairs at SIA, who acted as the United Nations Special Representative.

“It is the most popular part of INTAF 802, which is a core course on the fundamentals of diplomacy. The students really enjoy playing the parts they are assigned and get into their roles with enthusiasm,” said Jett. “Each year there is a different scenario about a particular international problem. This year it dealt with the South China Sea.”

Jett described how the simulation works. “The students were divided into seven teams representing the countries most directly involved — China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, U.S., Japan, and the Philippines. The fundamental skills are formulating and negotiating a strategy that represents your country’s interests. We prepare for this event in several ways during the semester in order to develop those skills,” he said.

At the Games for Social Transformation blog, Magnus Persson has been discussing the design of climate change games.

This blog is meant to function as a research journal that will allow me to reflect on both my thoughts and ideas during the game design process and how and why I made the choices I made after the design process is concluded. It is also a way to allow members of the Changing the Game of Consumption project group and stakeholders in the Mistra project to stay up to date with the game design process and encourage them to contribute to it between meetings. Moreover, it is intended to give game designers insight into the process of designing a megagame. Regardless of your interest in my blog, I hope you enjoy it and learn something from reading it!

The Washington Post reports on the steady growth of the board gaming industry in recent years.

The global board game market has an estimated value between $11billion and $13.4 billion and is projected to grow by about 7 to 11 percent within the next 5 years, according to market research companies Technavio and Imarc. Year-to-date board game sales last month compared to the same period in 2019 increased 28 percent, according to market research company NPD Group. Card games are up 29 percent and strategic card games — such as Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering — are up 208 percent.

The crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has made it easier than ever for unknown designers to release games. Over 3,000 new games are released each year (excluding expansion packs), according to the website and online forum BoardGameGeek, which aims to log every game published. The industry now has more categories and themes, prettier boxes and higher quality game pieces. In many cases, the rules are simpler and there are more offerings that focus on cooperation rather than competition.

These developments have opened the doors for a broader audience to embrace the hobby. There are also board game YouTube channels, like Watch it Played, that aim to making it easier for people to become gamers.

Games started gaining popularity in the years leading up to the pandemic, said James Zahn, the editor in chief of trade publication the Toy Book. Board game bars and cafes had been popping up around the country and attendance at major games conventions was increasing.

Even as covid sent people home, many still bought card and tabletop games. Sales surged, the NPD data shows, suggesting that many families who found themselves forced to spend time together looked for ways to connect through games and puzzles.

The trend continued once restrictions eased, and people craved social interactions following years of seclusion, NPD data shows. Major retailers are also embracing the hobby — broadening past the classic board games produced by major toy companies.

The Society for the promotion of radical analogue games intends “convene a series of meetings and exchanges among analogue game-makers who recognize the need for radical social change and believe that games might be a small part of that process.” You’ll find full details here.

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