PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Government Matters: Wong on wargaming at the Department of Defense

Yuna Huh Wong (Research Analyst in the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses) is interviewed at Government Matters on wargaming at the US Department of Defense. You’ll find the full video here.

Sepinsky: Rigorous wargames vs effective wargaming

At War on the Rocks, Jeremy Sepinsky (CNA) addresses “Is it a wargame? It doesn’t matter: Rigorous wargames vs effective wargaming.

We need to stop telling ourselves that the key to a better wargame is to add more detail. Some of the most rigorous, well-researched wargames I’ve participated in have struggled to create any lasting impact on the sponsors. Yet many of my ad hoc, quickly assembled, and lightly adjudicated wargames have created exactly the lasting impacts that we are looking for: sponsors thinking hard about future plans, policies, or objectives. Why? Because a rigorous wargame is usually not the same thing as effective wargaming. Without sponsors who understand the role of wargaming within their organization’s priorities, even a great wargame will often become a simple exercise of telling the players what they already know. The wargaming community can and should be better, but the community and its sponsors need to address the critical element that allows a wargame, whether deeply rigorous or hastily assembled, to also be effective wargaming: the ecosystem — the personal networks, cycle of research, follow-on activities, and continued intellectual engagement with the insights that emerge from it.

Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath raise questions about the quality of defense wargames in these pages, noting, “Much of what the Department of Defense calls wargaming is not actually wargaming.” They are quite right — but that’s not necessarily a problem. Wargamers will debate till they are blue in the face about what is and is not a wargame. It does not matter. For those of us who deliver wargames to sponsors in the Department of Defense or other government agencies in support of current priorities, these semantics have little value. If the players or sponsors are better equipped at the end of the wargame to do the things they need to do, then there is value in the activity. Nothing else matters.

You can read the rest of the article at the link above.

IDA endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

We are pleased to announce that the Institute for Defense Analyses is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) is a private, nonprofit corporation headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. IDA’s mission is to answer the most challenging U.S. security and science policy questions with objective analysis leveraging extraordinary scientific, technical, and analytic expertise.

People

IDA empowers the best scientific and strategic minds to research and analyze the most important issues of national security. The diverse mix of professionals provides IDA with the multidisciplinary talent and expertise it needs to respond the many challenges brought to us by our sponsors. The exceptional creativity and determination that our research staff brings to their work with IDA’s sponsors and each other is the foundation of IDA’s reputation for excellence.

Sponsors

IDA works solely for U.S. Government agency sponsors on critical national security and science policy issues; we do no work for industry. Our current sponsors include the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security; Veterans Administration; and National Security Agency. Through our Science and Technology Policy Institute, we support the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

If your organization would like to join those supporting the Derby House Principles, please contact us.

Wong and Heath: Is the (US) Department of Defense making enough progress in wargaming?

At War on the Rocks today, Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath ask whether the US Department of Defense is making enough progress in the quality and effectiveness of its wargaming efforts.

Five years into its reinvigoration, the military’s interest in wargaming remains strong. Strategy writing teams in the Pentagon extensively wargamed candidates for the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Demand has only increased for approaches that can help senior leaders think through everything from technologies such as artificial intelligence and cyber to fully fledged concepts such as the joint warfighting concept and joint all-domain command and control. Wargaming plays a key role in these activities and, despite its limitations, few practical alternatives exist.

Yet, if wargaming continues to be one of the few tools available to better prepare the U.S. military for the future, is wargaming, as conducted by the Department of Defense, up to the task? There are four questions the department needs to answer before it will know.

First: Is the quality of existing defense wargaming sufficient? Is the overall defense wargaming enterprise able to support the present challenges in concept development, analysis, capabilities development, and professional military education?

A second key question for the department to answer is whether wargaming does in fact improve learning and innovation. The truth is that we have little to no empirical research that shows wargaming promotes learning, creative thinking, or problem solving — at either the individual or organizational levels.

A third question for the department to answer is whether there is sufficient wargaming capability and capacity across the defense enterprise to support current and future wargaming needs.

This leads us to the fourth question the department needs to answer: What is the state of the wargaming workforce, and does it need to modernize this workforce, in terms of backgrounds, skillsets, and professional practices? 

It’s a very valuable discussion that raises some very important questions—you should go read the entire piece at the link above.

Army University wargaming tournament, 15 March

Army University will be hosting an online wargaming tournament on 15 March, with a possible extension to March 16 if need be. Everyone is welcome to take part.

Please let Dr. James Sterrett know if you wish to take part by 1700 ET on 13 March, so they can set up the competition grids. It will be a Swiss-style round robin tournament.

  • The game to be used will be Battle for Moscow (Victory Point Games edition). The rules can be found here.
  • Games will be played via VASSAL (download here), using this module (BFM.vmod “Alternate (VPG Remake)”).
  • Communications will be via Discord, with a channel link to follow closer to the time

Simulation and gaming publications, January-February 2021

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.

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


Sang-Hyun Ahn, Jitae Kim, Il-Moon Chung, Jeong Eun Lee, “Domestic and Foreign Case Studies of Virtual Drought Exercise,”  Journal of Engineering Geology (December 2020) [in Korean].

Drought has repeatedly occurred due to the climate change effect. The government is working on ways to reduce drought damage and is conducting drought exercise. This study analyzed drought literature and exercise cases in the United States, Australia and Korea. Based on the analysis results, the study suggested considerations in selecting exercise types which are workshop, tabletop exercise and functional exercise, and process of the drought exercise. The results of the study can be used as an effective tool to prepare the virtual drought exercise. 

Rex Brynen, “Virtual paradox: how digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming,” Digital War 1, 1 (2020).

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

Andreas Haggman, “Imagining and Anticipating Cyber Futures with Games,” in A. Ertan, K. Floyd, P. Pernik, T. Stevens, eds., Cyber Threats and NATO 2030: Horizon Scanning and Analysis (NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, 2020).

This short chapter considers the relationship between games and futures, with specific focus on cyber security. Games and gamification have received renewed attention in both academia and industry over the past ten years. Within this broad field, the genre of wargaming occupies a significant but often underappreciated space.

Unlike what some observers might argue, wargaming is not just an activity for history anoraks with an overly keen interest in the past. Wargaming can indeed be used to better understand historical events, but it can also be used to explore the dynamics of the present or employed as a highly imperfect crystal ball to gaze into the future. When done right, wargaming can be a powerful tool to engage audiences with little subject matter expertise or game playing experience.

Three core arguments are made in this chapter. First, wargames can provide structure for players to imagine futures. Second, wargames can prepare players for the future by enabling them to anticipate emotions. Lastly, cyber wargames should avoid the trap of becoming enamoured with the technolo- gy of cyber security.

The chapter is grounded in diverse literature, drawing on material from cultural studies, strategic studies, modelling and simulation and history. Readers will find theoretical insights into the uses of games alongside prac- tical advice for those seeking to use wargames in a cyber security context.

Shang Jiang, Wenxia Wei, Yanlin Wu, Rui Tang, Qingquan Feng, Daogang Ji, “War Chess as Hierarchical Learning Environment,” 13th International Symposium on Computational Intelligence and Design (2020).

This paper introduces GWCLE (General War Chess Learning Environment), a general machine learning environment based on hexagonal wargaming. Hexagonal war chess, when utilized as machine learning challenge, is naturally a multi-agent problem with the intelligent interaction of human or machine. The GWCLE supports hybrid engine, allowing credible simulation for kinds of war chess, which provides hierarchical training framework for massive agents control problem. The agent can be trained with designated level of war chess data and transferred bottom-up or top-down. For training on the whole deduction, we build the database to store refined replay data. Our framework is able to support agents to be trained in tactical and strategic level simultaneously. GWCLE offers a hierarchical perspective of the war chess simulation, allowing researchers controlling the granularity of action and time step.

Thorsten Kodalle, Terra Schwartz, David Ormrod, C. Sample, K. Scott, “A General Theory of Influence in a DIME/PMESII, ASCOP/IRC Model,” Journal of Information Warfare 19, 2 (2020).

The leading question of this paper is “How can one conceptualise influence warfare in order to simulate it?” The authors discuss the foundational aspects of theory and model of influence warfare by building a conceptual framework. The framework forms a prism with three axes along the DIME/PMESII/ASCOP dimensions. The DIME concept groups the many instru- ments of power a nation-state can muster into four elements: Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics. PMESII describes the operational environment in six domains: Political, Mili- tary, Economic, Social, Information, and Infrastructure. ASCOPE is used in COunterINsurgen- cy (COIN) environments to analyse the cultural and human environment (the ‘human terrain’) and encompasses Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organization, People, and Events. Addition- ally, the model reflects about aspects of Information Collection Requirements and Information Capabilities Requirements (ICR2)—hence DIME/PMESII/ASCOP/ICR2. The paper focuses on building a framework for the problem space of influence/information/hybrid warfare and intro- duces the idea of the perception field, understood as a molecule (gestalt or shape) of a story or narrative that influences an observer. This molecule can be drawn as a selection of vectors that can be built inside the DIME/PMESII/ASCOP prism. Each vector can be influenced by a shielding or shaping action. These ideas are explored in the context of an influence wargame.

Robert Körner and Astrid Schütz, “It is not all for the same reason! Predicting motives in miniature wargaming on the basis of personality traits,”  Personality and Individual Differences 173 (April 2021).

Despite the increasing popularity of miniature wargames (MWGs), research on this pastime is still scarce. We aimed to understand how personality is related to motivations for playing MWGs. A world sample of 8590 MWG players was tested with the Ten-Item Personality Inventory to assess the Big Five and the Trojan Player Typology to measure gaming motivations. The latter scale was used for the first time in non-video-game players and showed good psychometric properties. Results showed several significant associations between personality and motivations for engaging in these games. People who played MWGs to socialize were high in openness and extraversion. Players high in agreeableness did not want to compete and did not emphasize winning as an important factor. People who played to escape from everyday problems reported high levels of neuroticism. Story-driven gamers described themselves as open and agreeable. Clearly, personality is relevant for predicting the attractiveness of MWGs, and the game has different aspects of attractiveness for different groups. The results help to better explain the phenomenon of MWGs and highlight the role of personality in this pastime. Avenues for future research such as the use of behavioral measures in playing MWGs are discussed.

Miriam Matejova and Chad M. Briggs, “Embracing the Darkness: Methods for Tackling Uncertainty and Complexity in Environmental Disaster Risks,” Global Environmental Politics 21, 1 (February 2021).

Environmental systems are complex and often difficult to predict. The interrelationships within such systems can create abrupt changes with lasting impacts, yet they are often overlooked until disasters occur. Mounting environmental and social crises demand the need to better understand both the role and consequences of emerging risks in global environmental politics (GEP). In this research note, we discuss scenarios and simulations as innovative tools that may help GEP scholars identify, assess, and communicate solutions to complex problems and systemic risks. We argue that scenarios and simulations are effective at providing context for interpreting “weak signals.” Applying simulations to research of complex risks also offers opportunities to address otherwise overwhelming uncertainty.

Daniel F. Oriesek, Jan Oliver Schwarz, Winning the Uncertainty Game: Turning Strategic Intent into Results with Wargaming (Routledge, 2020).

This book is about the challenges that emerge for organizations from an ever faster changing world. While useful at their time, several management tools, including classic strategic planning processes, will no longer suffice to address these challenges in a timely and comprehensive fashion. While individual management tools are still valid to solve specific problems, they need to be employed based on a clear understanding of what the greater challenge is and how they need to be combined and prioritized with other approaches. In order to do so, companies can apply the clarity of thinking from the military with regard to which leadership level is responsible for what and how these levels need to interact in order to produce a single aligned response to an outside opportunity or threat. Finally, the tool of business wargaming, while known for some time, proves to be an ideal approach to quickly and effectively bring all leadership levels together, align them around a common objective and lay the groundwork for effective implementation of targeted responses that will keep the organization competitive and in the game for the long run.

The book offers a comprehensive introduction to business wargaming, including a historical account, a classification of different types of games and a number of specific real-world examples. 

This book is targeted at practicing managers dealing with the aforementioned challenges, as well as for students of business and strategy at every level.

Matthew A. Schnurr and Anna MacLeod, eds., Simulations and Student Learning (University of Toronto Press, 2020).

Simulation-based education (SBE) is a teaching strategy in which students adopt a character as part of the learning process. SBE has become a fixture in the university classroom based on its ability to stimulate student interest and deepen analytical thinking. 

Simulations and Student Learning is the first piece of scholarship that brings together experts from the social, natural, and health sciences in order to open up new opportunities for learning about different strategies, methods, and practices of immersive learning. This collection advances current scholarly thinking by integrating insights from across a range of disciplines on how to effectively design, execute, and evaluate simulations, leading to a deeper understanding of how SBE can be used to cultivate skills and capabilities that students need to achieve success after graduation.

James Smith, “New Research into the History, Theory and Practice of Naval Wargaming,” The Mariner’s Mirror 107 (2021).

It is largely overlooked today that naval war- gaming was a major contributing factor not only to the development of British naval thought but also to strategic theory. In academia and in government, naval wargaming has often been disregarded and its importance to the development of the art and theory of war neglected. It has been viewed purely through the eyes of a land narrative. The disparity between land and sea wargaming rose to prominence in 2016 when the author regenerated naval wargaming in the War Studies Department at King’s College London, which was met with an array of suspicious questions, often from historians. Projects on the history of wargaming and its many branches have been undertaken previously by the wargaming community, but they failed to set their research in a wider context. They had become reliant on the same, often secondary, sources as a cornerstone of their understanding of the history of naval war- gaming. To their consternation, these were some of the factors behind why wargamers continued to face the same questions repeatedly on the role and function of wargames. They often failed to demonstrate that naval wargaming was both a practical tool and an enabling agent for the disciplines and topics that it has supported. Examples could have been easily shown from the wider narrative of wargaming, and their interpretation was not just dependent on the classified wargaming found in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century defence practice. With this in mind, the Society for Nautical Research supported a project to fill a gap in knowledge and address these issues in a scholarly manner. Addressing these multide of imbalances, the research has identifed that naval wargaming became an essential tool to support not only historical discussion of naval topics and questions, but was also critical to the development of strategic theory. This report summarizes the initial findings.

Hanchao Wang, Hongyao Tang, Jianye Hao, Xiaotian Hao, Yue Fu, Yi Ma, “Large Scale Deep Reinforcement Learning in War-games,” 2020 IEEE International Conference on Bioinformatics and Biomedicine (2020).

War-game is a type of multi-agent real-time strategy game, with challenges of the large-scale decision-making space and the flexible and changeable battlefield situation. In addition to the military field, it has played a role in fields including epidemic prevention and pest control. In recent years, more and more learning algorithms have tried to solve this kind of game. However, the existing methods have not yet given a satisfactory solution for the war-game, especially when preparation time is limited. In this background, we try to solve a traditional war-game based on hexagon grids. We propose a hierarchical multi-agent reinforcement learning framework to rapidly training an AI model for the war-game. The higher-level network in our hierarchical framework is used for task decision, it solves the credit assignment problem between agents through cooperative training. The lower-level network is mainly used for route planning, and it can be reused through parameter sharing for all the agents and all the maps. To deal with various opponents, we improve the robustness of the model through a grouped self-play approach. In experiments, we get encouraging results which show that the hierarchical structure allows agents to learn their strategies effectively. Our final AI model demonstrates that our methods can effectively deal with the challenges in the war-game.

Nan Wang and Miao Shen, “Foreseeing the Subversive Influence of Intelligent Simulation Technology for Battle Example Teaching,” International conference on Big Data Analytics for Cyber-Physical-Systems (2020).

It is an important research project that exploring battle example teaching is how to serve the fight and drill preferably. The simulation territory has introduced artificial intelligence, virtual reality and cloud computing at present, the simulation based on these techniques will bring far-reaching influence for battle example teaching. The intelligent simulation technology will remodel analysis factors of battle example, reconstitute research idea of battle example, overturn the research of battle example. The battle example teaching methods based on intelligence confrontation, scene recurrence and fight chess manoeuvre will show itself, and it will help researchers capture victory inspiration from battle example, feel command art in virtual confrontation and excavate defeating mechanism from retrospect research.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 February 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. Many thanks to Scott Cooper, Aaron Danis, Bruce Pennell, Hans Steensma, and others for suggesting material for this latest edition.

The Connections North 2021 professional (war)gaming virtual conference is on 19-21 February—and ticket sales close on Thursday, so hurry up and register! A copy of the conference programme can be found on the registration page, and the Zoom link for the conference will emailed to all registrants a day before the conference starts (if you haven’t received it already).

At the LECMgt blog, Roger Mason discusses commercial wargames and experiential learning.

In military organizations, the use of wargaming is a tempting approach to introduce learning and engage discussion. The most readily available pool of games is the hundreds of titles available from the commercial wargame industry. Is it feasible to use commercial off the shelf (COTS) games as learning platforms? What type of learning is possible, and to what extent can it occur? What about the underlying game mechanics sometimes referred to as the Black Box? Are they an insurmountable problem in employing commercial games?  

To evaluate these questions, it is important to examine the issues of the Black Box, evaluate how the end user may learn from games, explore what COTS games can provide, and finally offer a hybrid solution or game requirements not met by COTS products. To begin I think it is important to deal with the most common obstacle presented by critics of commercial games, the Black Box problem.

In case you missed the announcement back in December, the UK Ministry of Defence is establishing the Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC), based on the US Department of Defense model. According to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace:

The Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC) will encompass war gaming, doctrine, red teaming and external academic analysis.

It will focus and enhance existing efforts, work closely with Defence Intelligence and look across all areas of defence, especially doctrine and the equipment choices we are making.

The latest quarterly report (Fall 2020/Q1 FY2021) of the US Naval Postgraduate School’s Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI) can be found below. It addresses NPS wargaming courses, outreach, conference presentations, publications, thesis research, and other work.

According to Breaking Defense, the US Department of Defense “will include climate change-related issues in its National Defense Strategy  and war gaming, a major change driven by President Biden signing of an executive order today instructing the government to begin tackling climate change on a wider scale.”

Biden’s order directs the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to include climate risk assessments in developing a new National Defense Strategy, due in 2022, along with the Defense Planning Guidance, the Chairman’s Risk Assessment, “and other relevant strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes.”

The order gives the Pentagon and other federal agencies 120 days to produce “an analysis of the security implications of climate change (Climate Risk Analysis) that can be incorporated into modeling, simulation, war-gaming, and other analyses.”

On 15-19 March, the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) will offer a certificate course in cyber wargaming, taught by Ed McGrady and Paul Vebber.

Through a combination of lectures and practical exercises focusing on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues, we will examine the challenges of cyber gaming. Students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy and will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.

On 6-8 April, MORS will offer a course on gaming emergency response to disease.

This three-day course will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response and will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. The objective throughout the course will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. The current pandemic is a reminder that disease can produce unusual, unique, and difficult challenges for decision-makers at all levels of government.

Back in December, students at the Institute of World Politics found themselves fighting—in virtual Iaq:

On an early December Saturday, ten students in Professor Aaron Danis’ Violent Non-State Actors in the Contemporary Security Environment course (IWP 683), joined by another of Prof. Danis’ students and four IWP undergraduate interns, played the first virtual iteration of a wargame about the summer 2014 crisis when ISIS forces broke out of Syria and overran a sizeable chunk of northern Iraq, to include the major Iraqi city of Mosul.  Unlike the previous three times this wargame was played in class, this one had to be played out over Zoom.

“It took some indispensable help from the professional wargame team at the U.S. Army War College, but we were able to get the essence of the game into an online format,” said Prof. Danis.

In a typical game, students and interns represent one of six teams: three state actors (the United States, Iraq, and Iran) and three non-state actors (ISIS, the Kurds, and the Sunni tribes of Iraq).  Each team develops a strategy using the tools of statecraft prior to the game that they then apply against live opponents who are either working with or against them.  “The strategies are graded based on content and how well the teams implement them,” said Prof. Danis.

Each game turn represents 2-4 weeks of real time, so a full 6-turn game will cover the 6 crucial months when the United States, Iraq, and its new Coalition allies tried to stem the ISIS tide before the group could take Baghdad.

You can find out more about the ISIS Crisis matrix game here at PAXsims.

If you missed the Connections Netherlands conference back in December, here’s an after action report:

The Sheffield Telegraph featured an interesting article last month on the use of miniatures for air raid preparedness training during World War Two:

But when is a toy soldier not a toy soldier? The answer; when a world war is looming and it becomes a vital training aid to help Britain prepare for the terrifying ordeal of the Blitz.

In April 1937, in response to the growing threat of conflict in Europe and the aerial bombing of civilians in the Spanish Civil War, the government decided to create the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) service. Its job would be to protect civilians from the danger of air raids as well as help those caught up in the bombing.

During the next 12 months this volunteer organisation swelled to over 20,000 members. Training was based on the experiences of both World War I and the Spanish Civil War, with aerial bombing and gas attacks seen as the main threats. It also became clear that ambulance and other medical services would need to train with ARP wardens in advance of the predicted heavy casualties.

The best way to do this was through live exercises on the streets of towns and cities across the country. However it was thought that such exercises would have a detrimental effect on the morale of the civilians they sought to help and protect, bringing too close to home the fears of aerial bombardment. So the next best idea was to perform tactical exercises within the confines of offices, church and drill halls using miniatures.

At this point two toy companies entered the scene; William Britain, and Taylor and Barrett. Both were established and hugely successful manufacturers of lead model figures. Indeed by 1939 Britain’s was the biggest maker of toy soldiers in the world….

The National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffiled holds some of these in its collection. See the article for more details.

Does your wargaming organization encourage diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming? Then you might want to join the many supporters of the Derby House Principles. We still have some Derby House Principles pins left too!

Liberating Mosul (solo edition)

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Mosul (2019) on Netflix—a fictionalized account of a real-life Iraqi SWAT team that fought against Daesh (ISIS) from the fall of Mosul in 2014 through to the liberation of the city in 2017. It’s an excellent, gritty movie. Filmed entirely in Arabic, it places the Iraqi security forces at the centre of the story: US and coalition support is only mentioned a few times and one Iranian military advisor makes a brief (and memorable) appearance. Indeed, during the actual campaign in Iraq and Syria, 99.5% of those who fought and died against Daesh were Arabs and Kurds.

Not surprisingly, the movie often comes to mind as I’ve been playtesting the optional solitaire rules for We Are Coming, Nineveh! As regular readers of PAXsims will know, WACN is a tactical/operational game of the liberation of West Mosul. It was first developed by two students in my conflict simulation class, Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer. I later joined them as a codesigner, as did Brian Train. While things have been slowed by the pandemic, Nuts! Publishing plan to release it by the end of this year. You’ll find previous reports on the project here and here.

Normally, WACN is a two player game. In the solitaire version, the player assumes control of Iraqi forces against an automated Daesh defender. First, the ISF player decides what additional assets and capabilities they will bring to the battle. The initial deployment of Daesh forces is then randomized, but in a way that reflects the group’s major tactical priorities: a last-ditch defence of the densely-built Old City, with enough units and IEDs elsewhere to preclude rapid encirclement, complicate ISF planning, and promise some difficult fights and tactical surprises. The use of blocks and rumours (dummy counters) means that the ISF player is rarely sure of the enemy’s exact dispositions.

Thereafter, game play alternates, with Daesh actions controlled by a deck of “military council” cards. These usually direct two or three sets of Daesh action each turn, from ambushes and counterattacks, through to indirect fire, quadcopter (drone) attacks, snipers, tunnels, human shields, and so forth. Some of these depend on Daesh’s supply situation, and others seek to identify weak spots in the ISF lines.

For the ISF, it is essential to cut off external supply routes into the Old City and destroy key assets (such as leadership, arms aches, and IED factories). Coalition ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance assets) and precision fires can be very helpful indeed if used carefully. But so too are things like training, improved logistics, casualty evacuation, explosive ordinance disposal, and old-fashioned human intelligence (HUMINT). Indeed, while the battle for Mosul had some key high-tech elements, most of the gruelling, house-to-house fighting would have been familiar to veterans of Stalingrad, Seoul, or Huế—a point that the movie brings out well.

Details from yesterday’s game can be seen below. (Note that this is my rather heavily-used playtesting copy, and not representative of the artwork that will appear in the published version.) The ISF has secured coalition air, artillery, and UAV support, augmented its logistics capabilities, and deployed some Popular Mobilization Forces in addition to the Iraqi Army, police, and Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS).

Military Council cards determined what Daesh did each turn. The initial advance went well, with some Daesh forces brushed aside quickly.

However, Daesh had a few surprises up its sleeve—on top of the challenges of conducting military operations in a major city. Below, veteran Daesh defenders emerge from a hidden tunnel to attack Iraqi police in a rear area.

Things began to bog down. The Iraqi Army severed the enemy’s supply lines, only to see them reestablished for another month after a Daesh counterattack.

Most of the fighting in the Old City was conducted by forces from the elite CTS “Golden Division.” However, one memorable scene from Mosul was replayed as an Iraqi police SWAT team and Iranian-advised PMF forces found themselves together—possibly trading cigarettes for ammunition, as in the movie.

The fighting here was gruelling, with some CTS units suffering over 70% casualties (as they did in real life). The local Daesh commander was ultimately cornered just north of the al-Nuri mosque, but precious weeks were lost taking these final positions.

The collateral damage from the fighting was also heavier than expected. When points were tallied at the end of the game, Daesh had lost control of the city but won a political victory.

Wargaming in the era of telework

At the Modern War Institute (West Point), Yuna Wong discusses “going virtual: wargaming in an era of telework, travel restrictions, and social distancing.”

One of the many ways that COVID-19 has impacted the US Department of Defense is in its wargaming activities. Typically conducted in person, wargames face challenges from travel restrictionslarge-scale shifts toward teleworksocial distancing measures, and state and local lockdowns that affect the defense industry. Wargames are also often classified, and classified work has faced particular challenges during the pandemic—although it has given rise to classified telework.

There are significant limitations of using many of the same approaches we have always used, just now in the virtual space. Additional thought and better design are required to improve the virtual wargaming experience and to gain the full advantages that distributed wargames may offer. As we have all discovered, virtual events come with their own set of challenges. The lack of face-to-face engagement takes away many of the benefits from traditional, in-person wargames and tabletop exercises. Zoom fatiguedistractions in the home; bandwidth and connectivity issues; anxiety, frustration, and boredom from social isolation; plus general pandemic stress all hamper participants’ engagement. Multiple, day-long tabletop exercises and wargames are impractical and ineffective when simply moved to Microsoft Teams without additional adaptation.

What, then, can wargamers do in light of these difficulties with virtual gaming?…

You’ll have to read the her article to find the answers.

Simulation & Gaming (February 2021)

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 52, 1 (February 2021) is now available. It is a special symposium edition devoted to escape rooms.

  • Editorial
    • Escape Rooms: A Novel Strategy Whose Time has Come Desiree
      • A. Díaz and Timothy C. Clapper
  • Articles
    • Toward Defining Healthcare Simulation Escape Rooms 
      • Mindi Anderson, Lori Lioce, Jamie M. Robertson, Joseph O. Lopreiato, and Desiree A. Díaz
    • Ensuring Educational Escape-Room Success: The Process of Designing, Piloting, Evaluating, Redesigning, and Re-Evaluating Educational Escape Rooms 
      • Heidi Eukel and Briyana Morrell
    • Escape Room Blueprint: Central Orientation Contagion Crisis 
      • Jill L. McLaughlin, Jessica A. Reed, Jody Shiveley, and Stephanie Lee
    • A Community Pediatric Camp Escape Room: An Interactive Approach to Applying Real-Life Critical Thinking Skills 
      • Syretta Spears, Gabriel M. Díaz, and Desiree A. Diaz
    • There is no I in Escape: Using an Escape Room Simulation to Enhance Teamwork and Medication Safety Behaviors in Nursing Students 
      • Dawn Sarage, Barbara J. O’Neill, and Carrie Morgan Eaton
    • The Impact of an Escape Room Simulation to Improve Nursing Teamwork, Leadership and Communication Skills: A Pilot Project 
      • Beatriz Valdes, Mary Mckay, and Jill S. Sanko
    • Escape the Simulation Room Jennifer E. Sanders, Jared Kutzin, and Christopher G. Strother
      Shocking Escape: A Cardiac Escape Room for Undergraduate Nursing Students 
      • Briyana Morrell and Heidi N Eukel
    • Can You Escape? The Pharmacology Review Virtual Escape Room 
      • Miranda Michelle Smith and Rebecca G. Davis
    • Operation Outbreak: A Periop 101 Exam Review Escape Room 
      • Ashley N. Frederick and Jessica A. Reed
    • Escape the Womb: A Maternal Emergency 
      • Lori Hardie, Amanda Gill, Stephanie Lee, and Jody Shiveley

Wargaming the laws of armed conflict

At War on the Rocks today, Thomas Gordon IV, Adam Oler, Laurie Blank, and Jill Goldenziel discuss “Lawyers, Guns, and Twitter: Wargaming the Role of Law in War.”

In partnership with National Defense University and the Emory University School of Law’s  International Humanitarian Law Clinic, the Marine Corps Command and Staff College implemented National Defense University’s “Burning Sands” wargame for the student body of 213 midcareer military officers and civilian counterparts. Burning Sands was created by faculty at the National War College and designed by National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning for the university’s War Crimes and Strategy elective. As students simulate a joint force command staff tasked with liberating an Islamic State-controlled city in North Africa (a fictional scenario based on Israel’s experience during its 2014 “Operation Protective Edge”), they navigate war’s changing character —and recognize its enduring nature.

At the start of the wargame, the students received an order with three mandates. First, they were tasked to secure the town as quickly as possible. Second, U.S. and coalition casualties were to be kept to a minimum. Third, students had to comply with strict rules of engagement, including stringent limitations on civilian casualties. None of these demands were surprising, at least initially. Political pressure to achieve military objectives rapidly and with minimal casualties is hardly new. Minimizing civilian suffering maintains coalitions, undergirds military ethics and the profession of arms, and is central to the just war idea. To accomplish the mission, students were provided a variety of military forces and weapons, ranging from special forces to cruise missiles.

Through a series of injects, students faced immediate operational dilemmas that raised legal questions and, in due time, presented challenges to the legitimacy of U.S. and coalition actions. Students quickly ascertained that, as several put it, “I can get you two, ma’am, but not all three mandates.” Students were required to assess the legal, operational, and policy issues and brief the joint force commander accordingly. To be clear, none of the options were close to ideal. Each time the coalition attacked a target, the results were immediately captured on video and broadcast to the world. For example, when the game started, students learned that the Islamic State was operating its main command and control node deep inside the city’s only hospital. As designed, the students wrestled with whether and how attacking the hospital would be legal once the Islamic State was using it for military purposes, as well as the accompanying moral and operational considerations. To start, the target could be destroyed with minimal coalition casualties with a large air-delivered ordnance. However, this decision would increase the prospect of civilian deaths. Alternatively, the students could recommend a ground assault on the hospital to neutralize the command and control node, limiting civilian casualties but increasing the risk to coalition forces. Most students asked for more time and intelligence reports, but the joint force commander reminded them of the time pressure imposed by Washington. Students would have to make a timely decision, as they would in the real world, in the absence of complete information….

Read the rest at the link above.

Wargaming positions

The Digital Leader Development Center at the US Army Combined Army Center is looking for a Deputy Director:

As a senior Program Manager, you will be responsible for policy development, planning, organizing, directing and coordinating the directorate’s educational policies. …

Responsibilities

Plans and oversees administration of day to day directorate activities, to include the development, justification and execution of an operating budget and operational plans to provide travel and professional development services for the Directorate

Manages projects in the formulation and implementation of simulation education policy, plans, and programs. Directs, manages, coordinates, and evaluates the projects, products and personnel within the directorate.

Represents the organization at action officer meetings, working groups, Integrated Process and Concepts Teams, Council of Colonels, and General Officer Steering Committees.

Evaluates reports by analyzing facts and performing appropriate research and prepares detailed responses. Determines appropriate recommendations for unresolved or questionable problems and performs follow-up.

Oversees the course development, instructor training, and presentation of all digital leader training in the curriculum.

Coordinates and provides guidance to department personnel serving as instructors, subject matter experts, branch and functional area proponents, system administrators, and software and hardware technicians.

You must be a US citizen and eligible for security clearance. Additional details are available via USA Jobs. The closing date is February 8.


BAE Systems is looking for a wargame designer:

BAE Systems is seeking a Wargame Designer in support of a major Marine Corps Wargaming program in Quantico, VA. Responsible for the design, development, and execution of wargame programs. Lead and guide a team of government, military, and contractor personnel through the entire wargaming process. Work closely with government sponsors to develop wargame problem, purpose, and objectives. Develop a custom wargame design that addresses objectives and research questions. Develop wargame products and materials to include: wargame player instructions, wargame player templates, wargame facilitation guides, road to war, orders of battle, friendly and enemy assessments, political guidance, and concepts of operation (CONOPS) or operations orders (OPORDS). Oversee the execution of wargames by managing a Control Cell, directing player activity, and facilitating player discussions. Contribute to analytic tasks that include: assessment and synthesis of game results, structuring and writing wargame reports, and coordination of post-game products.

The ideal candidate will be a good critical thinker and process-oriented planner; be a facilitator and negotiator; possess a strong background in Marine Corps and Navy issues; be a strong planner; and be able to perform in high-paced, multi-tasking office environments. Professional experience with Title 10 or Joint/OSD wargaming–especially wargame design experience or knowledge–is preferred. 

A current DOD Secret clearance is required, with the ability to acquire TS/SCI. Details at the link above.

Bae on educational wargaming

At the Australian Defence College website The Forge, Sebastian Bae addresses how to develop an educational wargaming programme at civilian and military educational institutions alike:

Educational wargaming is experiencing a remarkable resurgence, reflected in the growth of wargaming Fight Clubs and the embrace of wargames as pedagogical tools in the classroom. From civilian educators to senior military leaders, there is an increasing consensus that wargames can be powerful learning tools – better equipping future decisionmakers to face a broad spectrum of challenges. As universities, both civilian and military, continue to develop a model for 21st century learning and education, wargaming and other forms of experiential learning may increasingly become permeant fixtures in curriculums. This begs the question: how does one cultivate wargaming at the university?

There is no singular, definitive answer. Several universities, such as King’s College LondonU.S. Army War College, and U.S. Naval War College, have established excellent wargaming programs, each with their unique character. However, if a university is aiming to build a wargaming program, storied wargaming histories or boasting one of the giants of the field are not prerequisites. Over the last two years, Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program (SSP), U.S. Marine Corps Command & Staff College (CSC), and the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) have all established respective wargaming initiatives. With the support of amazing partners and colleagues, these initiatives feature a wargaming lab, student societies, and wargaming design courses where students research, design, develop, and execute an original educational wargame.

The key to success and rapid growth of these initiatives lies in cultivating a wargaming insurgency, a grassroots movement to foster experiential learning on campus. Admittedly, the idea of establishing any wargaming initiative, whether an extracurricular student society or official course, can be daunting. Institutions of higher education, whether civilian or military, may be resistant to change, reluctant to assume risk, and may stifle innovation with bureaucracy. Hence, for those aiming to start wargaming programs of their own, I offer four potential overarching principles for conducting a wargaming insurgency: crawl, walk, run; find champions and sponsors; collaborate to generate growth and value; and be adaptable and exploit opportunities.

Read his full piece at the link above, and also check out the Educational Wargaming Cooperative.

Teaching conflict simulation at McGill: pandemic edition

As regular readers of PAXsims may know, I teach an undergraduate course on conflict simulation each year at McGill University. You can find reports on previous editions of the course here (2018) and here and here (2019). In Winter 2020, of course, the pandemic hit part way through the term—forcing a quick shift to online teaching, and disrupting the various game design teams as many students left Montréal to head to homes elsewhere in Canada or around the world.

In 2021, POLI 452 has been redesigned for remote teaching—which poses certain challenges with something as “hands-on” as manual game design. The course is fully-enrolled again this year, with 44 students.

McGill discourages professors from offering long, passive, synchronous online lectures during the pandemic: they can be tedious for the students and can pose timezone problems for those living outside Canada. Instead, I’m prerecording a major lecture each week, then hosting a one-hour Zoom seminar later in the week to discuss it (which is recorded for students unable to attend). I’m also available seven days a week for individual or group consultation, via Zoom, offering students more flexibility than pre-pandemic office hours.

We are using Phil Sabin’s excellent book Simulating War as our primary course text, together with the UK Defence Wargaming Handbook, selected chapters from Zones of Control, and various other articles, videos, and podcasts.

Students are expected to participate in a number of games to earn simulation activity credits. Usually these take place in person, but this year weekly sessions in Leacock 510 have been replaced with online games via Zoom, Vassal, and Tabletop Simulator. They can also earn credits by attending various online presentations and other events.

In the first month of class, the games we have played include the following:

  • Zombies! (tactical miniatures game, repurposed as a investment/resource allocation analysis game)
  • 1812: Invasion of Canada (board game)
  • Shores of Tripoli (board game)
  • Unity of Command (digital game)
  • Delivering the Needle (online COVID-19 vaccine seminar game/TTX)
  • Refugee response (online roleplay/TTX)

…plus various GUWS and MORS presentations, McMUN (McGill model UN), campus and class speakers, and others. We will be playing AFTERSHOCK, Black Orchestra, Assassin’s Mace, a matrix game or two, and a few others later in the term, and quite a few POLI 452 students will be attending the Connections North conference on February 19-21. Sadly there will be no McGill megagame this year, which is usually integrated into the class as well.

Back in July, James Sterrett and his colleagues at the US Command and General Staff College offered some  some useful advice on distributed wargaming. In the case of POLI 452, I am generally not having students play directly over TTS or Vassal. Instead, I have a technically-savvy student volunteer head up the Red team against my Blue, and the rest of the class joins one side or the other via Zoom (with Discord being used for communication between the two team leaders). In games with no hidden information I simply host the whole thing myself. Zoom works well, is largely intuitive, and the integration with our myCourses (BrightSpace) course support software is excellent.

In non-pandemic terms all POLI 452 students undertake a group game design project. It is challenging to design and playtest a game remotely, however, so this year they also have the option of writing an individual research paper instead. I expeced that most students would be cautious and opt for the more familiar research paper assignment. In fact, indicative of their enthusiasm (and probably in reaction to the isolation of a school year conducted online), over 80% of the class has expressed a preference for the game project. POLI 452 is a conflict simulation course, not a wargaming course, so the proposed topics range from military operations to various other forms of political, social, economic conflict:

  • Imperial succession struggles in the early Tang Dynasty
  • West African kingdoms in the 17-18th centuries
  • WWII German commerce raiding (1940-41)
  • The Tiananmen Square protests (1989)
  • The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (1994-2020)
  • Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020)
  • Chinese-Indian border conflict (contemporary)
  • Irregular migration to the United States (contemporary)
  • Democratic backsliding (contemporary)
  • Adaptation of low-carbon technology in the US auto industry (contemporary)
  • Conflict on the Korean Peninsula (near future)

Finally, there are the inevitable exams: three online quizzes (multiple choice or similar), plus a take-home final exam in April (short and long answers).

So far, I’m quite happy with it. The real challenge will be the game design projects this year—but students seem to be very keen, and I’ve endlessly reminded them about the need to do their research and develop a first playable prototype as soon as possible, so I’m hopeful this will work out well. I’ll let you know at the end of the term!

Simulating civil society: The case of the Beirut Port explosion

The following report has been prepared for PAXsims by Nadya Hajj, Associate Professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Wellesley College. She has a new book, Networked Refugees: Palestinian Reciprocity and Remittances in the Digital Age (University of California Press) coming out in Fall 2021. 


In the Fall 2020 academic semester I launched into teaching a remote digital course,  Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at Wellesley College. The course explores critical issues in the politics of the MENA and draws from the literature in Peace and Justice studies to consider practical strategies for transforming political conflict in different state systems and among different groups across the region.

Specifically, the class is tasked with exploring a variety of violent (terrorism/coups/violent protest) and non-violent strategies (political humor, peaceful protest, civil society groups) vis a vis Curle and Dugan’s (1982) classic model of conflict transformation. The Curle and Dugan model is concerned with how to transform unpeaceful relations into peaceful ones. Unpeaceful relations are ones in which either or both parties are damaged possibly through physical violence but also economic or psychological ones. Like Galtung (1969) suggests, unpeaceful conditions are marked by structural violence, where one’s potential is curtailed due to broader socio-economic forces. In contrast, peaceful spaces are collaborative spaces where people, with the help of others, realize their own potential. When there is a high level of awareness and parity among the suffering and those that might help then you are likely to find peaceful spaces (Dugan and Curle 1982). Awareness refers not only to whether the parties involved know of the suffering of the aggrieved, but also the degree to which parties are aware of its sources and the possibilities for addressing the situation. Parity considers the balance of power among those that are suffering and those that might help.  In latent conflict, the suffering of others, their needs, and potential pathways for remedying them are “hidden” usually because there is a low level of awareness and a great disparity between those suffering and those with control or access to valuable resources (Curle and Dugan 1982). Understanding and deploying strategies that enhance parity and awareness are key learning objectives in my classroom.

Of course, through readings and class Zoom discussions we evaluated the costs and benefits of different strategies. One thing that I noticed is that many people, not just passionate young college students, often argue that bolder (and sometimes) violent strategies are more effective than subtler forms of resistance because they are, theoretically, more likely to raise awareness and tip the balance of power such that communities can transform structural conditions of repression that underpin the suffering of many. Certainly, these bold strategies may bring about dramatic shifts in political systems if they are successful. However, the cost in terms of human suffering when they fail or only partially succeed is often difficult for students to comprehend in the safety of our anodyne classroom setting. I encourage students to consider the human implications when such movements fail and share digital talks, for example, from the few Syrian dissidents that survived prisons in Syria like those of Omar Alshogre. Still, it is hard to teach this perspective shift of theoretical versus human implications of particular strategies through traditional readings and lectures.

Simulations offer a chance to shift perspective and prompt students to learn through experience. It has been found that simulations and game-based learning promote skill acquisition, knowledge retention, attitudinal change, support the understanding of new concepts and ideas, shape behavior, and improve context-based problem solving (Klabber, 2003; Mateas 2003; Prensky 2001; Ricci, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 1996). In particular, Stevens and Fisher (2020) find that, “serious games have the capacity to help humanitarian students more deeply understand and critically engage with important issues. Experiential Learning Theory and Situated Learning Theory help explain why this is the case. According to Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), individuals learn most from direct experience, active participation, and visible feedback on the consequences of their actions. Situated Learning Theory (SLT) likewise suggests that people learn better when placed in authentic contexts to perform actions that parallel real world tasks, interacting with others and applying knowledge.” 

In my classroom, I wanted students to experience a shift in perspective that simulations could offer so that they might consider the true costs and benefits of particular conflict transformation strategies in the Middle East. The catastrophic Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020 provided a current and critical real-world case for student learning to do just that. Students were “dropped into” Lebanon just moments after the explosion. The simulation was introduced with a description of what the explosion felt like for residents in Beirut. Borrowing from Jaddaliya’s excellent reporting, I shared:

The date is August 4, 2020 and the time is 6:05pm. The place is Beirut, Lebanon. In the midst of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 pandemic, the Lebanese economy is weakened by a financial meltdown that has wiped out life savings and reduced the purchasing power of most segments of society to mere survival, threatened by the scarcity of food items, and frightened by rising levels of poverty now estimated at fifty percent by the World Bank. Just moments ago an explosion rocked the port of Beirut. 

Sisters Yasmine and Rhola Khayat described the moment of the blast in their Beirut family apartment, “Still gripping my mobile, I felt the floor become jelly as I watched my cat dash maniacally into the furthest corner underneath my bed, not to emerge for a full twenty-four hours. Rola burst into the hallway screaming, “Did you feel the earthquake?” Then the entire house shook, our window screens, false ceilings, and door hinges blowing out. Even the laptop went sailing through the air as plumes of fluorescent pink nitric acid blanketed the sky (Khayat and Khayat 2020).”

Furthermore they shared, “reports began to trickle in that it was the result of sheer negligence—2,750 explosive tons of negligence, epitomizing the abyss that catalyzed the peoples’ collective rage against rampant corruption last October—and all that remains of that chapter. An accidental spark caused by fireworks, they say, catalyzed the ammonium nitrate dumped for years in the port, into an indescribable fireworks display. “Fireworks,” Theodor Adorno writes, ‘are apparitions par excellence.’ The humanitarian crime of neglecting 2,750 tons of explosive materials for six years in the heart of Beirut criminalizes the ineptitude of the government that cost people’s lives, livelihoods, and sense of being, to go up into apparitional smoke (Khayat and Khayat 2020).”

Students were pre assigned groups (4 groups of roughly 5 students each) and instructed with the following tasks: 

Your team constitutes a Lebanese civil society group that just experienced the explosion and your members are knowledgeable of the unfolding crises that precipitated this cataclysmic event. You have also trained in conflict transformation strategies. You are tasked with developing a strategy that transforms this catastrophic moment of suffering into a path forward that realizes greater justice and peace for Lebanon. You must use your skill set and share your strategy (an executive summary and a power point presentation) with other groups. Your plan will be assessed by other civil society groups (i.e. classmates) and tough to please outside experts (i.e. Prof. Hajj and several Wellesley alumnae currently working in the policy, humanitarian, and think tank sphere in America and the Middle East).

Students were incredibly creative in crafting civil society group names, logos, and even websites. They did extensive research on community needs and existing resources available to communities in Beirut. They were conscientious of the need to develop horizontal and lateral relationships among sectarian groups, cognizant of deep histories of mistrust rooted in the decades long civil war. One group contacted a startup tech company that provides mobile WiFi units in disaster zones (the company has already piloted projects in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria) to assess the possibility of adapting technologies to various neighborhoods in Beirut. They crafted superb power points and generated well-argued and clearly stated executive summaries. Students spoke of their strategies with professionalism and compassion. They were self-aware about the potential limits and pitfalls of their plans. I was truly astounded at their teamwork and commitment in the midst of a difficult remote semester during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Upon reflection, I believe the simulation went well for three main reasons:

  • I led the class through a variety of readings and lectures in the weeks prior to the simulation that provided a strong base of book knowledge about Lebanon’s political history and the theoretical arguments for how and why social capitol and civil society groups work to transform communities toward more peaceful situations. Students had a solid foundation from which they could iterate and create.
  • Prior to the simulation, students interacted with a Wellesley alumna from Lebanon that is pursuing her PhD in advanced spatial mapping and recently co-founded a civil society organization called “OpenMapLebanon.” She gave insight into what it was like in Lebanon during and after the explosion- from sweeping broken shards of glass to using her anger to mobilize others for justice. She spent almost two hours of class time providing real time knowledge of what is happening in Lebanon and fielded questions. Her presence and participation created a more authentic context for the simulation to unfold.
  • Finally, students were given tough but constructive feedback from Wellesley alumnae working in related policy and think tank fields in America and the Middle East. 

Students left the simulation feeling like they had a firm grasp of Lebanese politics, knowledge of specific historic events, and most critically, a sobering view of the “real world” benefits and drawbacks of using civil society groups to transform conflict and injustice. In a final project evaluation, one student shared: “Working with my teammates in a safe but high stress time limited situation forced me to really consider efficient, resilient, and realistic solutions to an emergency crisis. It was fun to work creatively with others and to stress test all these theories we encountered in readings. Having tough outside feedback from alumnae working in the real world made me feel like it was a realistic assessment of our projects. I don’t think I will ever forget the assignment.” Though the preparation and run time of the simulation meant students did not get to all the topics one could study about the MENA region, I firmly believe the students left with a renewed perspective and lifelong learning experience that will inform their knowledge of the Middle East and conflict transformation strategies for many years to come.

Nadya Hajj

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