PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Global politics in historical strategy computer games

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Nicolas de Zamaróczy has a forthcoming piece in International Studies Perspectives entitled “Are We What We Play? Global Politics in Historical Strategy Computer Games,” in which he explores the way that popular (gaming) culture portrays international relations. It’s already available here, and well worth a read.

Building upon current interest in studies of how popular culture relates to global politics, this article examines one hitherto overlooked aspect of popular culture: computer games. Although not prominent in the field of International Relations (IR), historical strategy computer games should be of particular interest to the discipline since they are explicitly designed to allow players to simulate global politics. This article highlights five major IR-related assumptions built into most single-player historical strategy games (the assumption of perfect information, the assumption of perfect control, the assumption of radical otherness, the assumption of perpetual conflict, and the assumption of environmental stasis) and contrasts them with IR scholarship about how these assumptions manifest themselves in the “real world.” This article concludes by making two arguments: first, we can use computer games as a mirror to critically reflect on the nature of contemporary global politics, and second, these games have important constitutive effects on understandings of global politics, effects that deserve to be examined empirically in a deeper manner.

The games he examines include various editions of Civilization (II, III, and IV); Age of Empires IIEuropa Universalis II and III; Medieval: Total War (I and II); and Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. He offers several thoughts as to how the image of international relations embodied in such games both reflects and shapes popular opinion.

Thinking about historical strategy games as a mirror forces us to reflect critically on the nature of global politics in the second decade of the twenty-first century. I attempted above to demonstrate that many of the key assumptions of these games run against much of the best IR scholarship in several domains. At the same time, however, these games would not enjoy the popularity they do if they represented global politics in a way that was too disconnected from the conceptions held by a majority of their players.

They may also shape the preconceptions of IR students:

Furthermore, IR educators have particular reason to worry about the constitutive effects of digital games, given that what they attempt to teach by day in the IR classroom may be undermined by what students are playing at night. Statistics suggest that this is not just an idle fear.

In urging further examination of such issues, de Zamaróczy also argues the need for greater methodological sophistication:

Digital games, through their strong emphasis on active participation rather than passive reception, stand out from the rest of pop culture as the medium that arguably most allows for agency, reinterpretation, and contestation. So it would be inaccurate to expect simple, direct causal effects as a result of playing digital games; the nature of the relationship is likely to be both more diffuse and less determined. Indeed, some have even suggested that instead of having a conservative effect, digital games can actually have emancipatory properties (Chan 2009; Chien 2009; Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009; Lammes 2010).

This, in turn, opens the door for further systematic empirical research. Much of the existing literature in IR on the constitutive nature of popular culture, while persuasive in toto, tends to simply posit a relationship rather than seek to test it empirically. This is especially true for the few existing IR studies of digital games, where claims about, say, games’ constitutive role in militarization tend to be asserted rather than tested (e.g., Stahl 2006; Power 2007; Höglund 2008; Gagnon 2010).10 Fortunately, though, scholars in a variety of other disciplines have been developing techniques for empirically establishing the causal microfoundations between pop cultural artifacts and their constitutive effects. For instance, the constitutive effects of digital games have been assessed through survey data (Penney 2009; Wang 2010; Festl, Scharkow, and Quandt 2013), panel studies (Williams 2006), direct observation of in-game behavior (MacCallum-Stewart 2008; Payne 2009; Kafai, Cook, and Fields 2010; Monson 2012), focus groups (Schott and Thomas 2008; Huntemann 2009), content analysis (Šisler 2008; Gagnon 2010; Hitchens, Patrickson, and Young 2014), and reviews of online material posted by players (Brock 2011; Owens 2011; Pulos 2013; Braithwaite 2014). IR will develop a richer understanding of how global politics actually works if it unpacks the constitutive effects of pop cultural artifacts using empirical techniques like these.

h/t Ryan Kuhns 

COIN Day in Minnesota

The 1st Minnesota Historical Wargaming Society will be holding their second annual COIN Day in St. Paul, MN on February 26. The event will feature all manner of insurgency and counter-insurgency-themed games. You’ll find further details at BoardGameGeek.

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h/t David Dockter  

Gendering AFTERSHOCK

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Playtesting the AFTERSHOCK gender expansion at National Defense University.

Ever since AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game was published last year we have had numerous suggestions for modifications and expansions. One particular request came from Neyla Arnas, who works on women, peace and security at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University. Would it be possible, Neyla asked, to design a variant of the game that would help to highlight the ways in which gender can shape humanitarian need and humanitarian response?

We were happy to take up the challenge. In doing so we were driven by several key design considerations:

  • First, it is important that players understand that because men and women (and boys and girls) may be affected by disaster in different ways, their needs and vulnerabilities may differ too. Accordingly, effective programme delivery requires recognizing and addressing this. In presenting a gendered perspective as an integral element of operational effectiveness we hope the expansion set neither seems preachy (which might turn off some) nor treats gender as an add-on or side issue.
  • Second, we didn’t want to imply that all gender issues are about women, or that programs that address gender are always the most important priority. Indeed, in a disaster where humanitarian need is intense, urgent, and overwhelming, there may not be the time and resources to address some issues. A central part of the AFTERSHOCK experience is identifying priorities and trade-offs.
  • Third, any supplemental rules or procedures in the game has to be clear and straight-forward. It is essential that they not confuse, excessively complicate, or slow down game play.
  • Finally, any system used for introducing gender issues into the game must be fully compatible with any other expansions we might introduce on other topics in the future. Indeed, ideally all expansions would use the same mechanic, allowing a game to be customized with material from multiple expansions sets.

Initially we thought about simply introducing new events into the Event deck. However, there are limits to this sort of approach. If too many new cards are introduced it distorts the game balance. There is also no guarantee that issues will arise in any given game.

In the end, we have added a few new Event cards, and one new Coordination card. However, the main mechanism of the expansion set is a new “Challenge Phase” that takes place at the end of each game turn. During this phase, players draw a Challenge card, which outlines a problem or need that they can collectively try to address during the coming turn. If they succeed certain benefits will accrue. If unsuccessful, there are costs.

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A draft Challenge card…

As he did with AFTERSHOCK itself, Tom Fisher worked his graphic magic to make the new gaming components clear and engaging.

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…and another draft Challenge card.

When we playtested it with volunteers at McGill University the feedback was very positive. This week I took it on the road and tried it out with a playtest group at NDU. There too there seemed to be agreement that the expansion did a very good job of raising issues without distorting the flow of the game.

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Playtesting the AFTERSHOCK gender expansion at McGill University.

We’ll be tweaking the design more in the near future, and hope that the expansion set will eventually be available later this year.

Gaming the semi-cooperative

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I’m in and around Washington DC for much of this week, and today had the opportunity to give a talk at the RAND’s Center for Gaming in Alexandria. My topic was “gaming the semi-cooperative,” and it focused on the challenge of designing games that are neither purely adversarial (unlike most kinetic, blue-on-red wargames) nor fully cooperative (unlike say Pandemic, or many emergency preparedness exercises). This sort of challenge comes up often in the sorts of games that I develop and use for both educational and policy/analysis purposes: for example, peace processes and operations where most actors may want peace, but they differ greatly in their approach, interests, and vision of the future; humanitarian interagency games, in which players may share a common overarching goal, but also have institutional interests and standard operating procedures that sometimes put them at loggerheads; or even substantially kinetic campaign games characterized by complex and tenuous multinational coalitions of the not-always-willing.

In the presentation I noted that one can try to generate semi-cooperative behaviour through the explicit rewards, payoffs, and game objectives given to the players. This is what might be termed a game-theoretic approach, since it presumes that players will, in rational pursuit of maximum gains and given a particular payoff matrix, adopt the desired semi-cooperative behaviours. And to some extent they will: AFTERSHOCK, for example, deliberately scores players both on their achievement of collective goals (saving lives, represented in the game by “Relief Points”) and separate individual goals (organizational reputation and political or donor support, represented in the game by “Operations Points”), thereby encouraging general cooperation complicated by occasional friction deriving from divergent interests.

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The core of my argument, however, is that structuring rewards and explicit objectives is not enough.  Robust evidence from behavioural economics and experimental psychology shows that not all players respond in similar ways to game payoffs: norms, attitudes, and socialization makes a difference. How one frames a game to players has also been shown to have dramatic effect on the proportion of cooperative and non-cooperative actions. From a learning perspective, extrinsic incentives and rewards (scoring points, meeting defined objectives) may be less effective in educational games than intrinsic rewards—the emotional satisfaction—from playing a game well. Role identity and immersion in the game narrative can have powerful effects on game play dynamics. So too do player gaming styles and role assignment importance.

Given all this, I discussed several techniques I have used to manipulate player psychology and narrative engagement so as to foster semi-cooperation:

  • The use of limited or manipulated player information to generate friction, rivalry, suspicion, or sense of injustice.
  • Time pressures to spur both bonding and friction.
  • Manipulation of the physical environment (such as room assignments or game layout) to foster or hamper cooperation.
  • Social engineering of participant assignments, using known players in key roles to increase cooperation or tension.
  • Recognizing the importance of “fluff and chrome”—that is, the backstory, setting, and supplementary materials of the scenario—in generating a sense of immersion and role identity.

The slides for the talk can be found here (pdf) and here (powerpoint).

The approaching dawn of the New World Order

There are just three more weeks left until the New World Order 2035 is upon us. Montreal-area folks: if you haven’t registered for the megagame, you had better do so soon—tickets are selling out fast.

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Review: King, It Could Happen Tomorrow

Russell King, It Could Happen Tomorrow! Emergency Planning Exercises for the Health Services and Business. John Curry, ed. History of Wargaming Project, 2015. 152pp. £14.95 pb.

rkitcouldhappencoverRussell King has worked in a  variety of senior managerial positions in the National Health Service (England), and for some years now has specialized in emergency planning and training. In this volume he draws upon this extensive experience to offer valuable insight into planning and implementing emergency planning exercises.

It Could Happen Tomorrow starts with an overview of exercise methodology, as well as a broader discussion of how hospitals plan for disasters. King emphasizes the importance of training exercises that can be undertaken with low marginal cost, and without significantly interference in the regular daily clinical practice of a hospital or other health institution.

The volume then devotes considerable attention to what the author terms the “Autumn Leaves methodology,” based on major exercises he has run. This approach consists of a series of linked desk-top exercises, reflecting the structure of the organization where the exercise is being held, conducted in or near the actual workplace. Established institutional metrics, feedback sessions, and peer review are essential to assessing performance, learning lessons, and enhancing preparedness.

Most of the remaining chapters examine particular preparedness exercises: coping with an outbreak of pandemic disease; preparing for a wide-area event (in this case, stages of the Tour de France); shortages of key supplies; discharge of patients to free up hospital capacity for a mass casualty incident; dealing with a VIP visit; and small scenarios and problems that can be used as the basis for quick “what-if?” discussions. The latter run the gamut from the sudden appearance of the media (for unknown reasons) to reports of an armed man dressed as a cowboy in the staff canteen. Many of these “staff college” problems are drawn from the author’s experiences as a hospital administrator, although he sadly gives no indication of whether the cowboy incident is based on real events.

Finally, King discusses how institutions and managers can best learn from preparedness exercises, and how creativity might be most effectively promoted. This chapter in particular can be usefully read in conjunction with the Emergency Capacity-Building Project’s work (2004-13) on effective use of simulations to address disaster planning and humanitarian assistance, which also investigates the challenge of individual and institutional learning.

Overall, this volume offers a range of instructive examples, procedures, and helpful advice, and is well worth reading for those interested in preparedness exercises. It also marks something of a new phase in John Curry’s History of Wargaming Project, which has now begun to address non-military serious game topics too.

RAND: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics

RANDbalticscoverDavid A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson of RAND have just released a report entitled Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. The study is based on a series of wargames conducted between summer 2014 and spring 2015 that examined a possible near-term Russian attack on the Baltic states:

The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but predictably disastrous consequences for the Alliance and, not incidentally, the people of the Baltics.

Fortunately, avoiding such a swift and catastrophic failure does not appear to require a Herculean effort. Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states. While not sufficient to mount a sustained defense of the region or to achieve NATO’s ultimate end state of restoring its members’ territorial integrity, such a posture would fundamentally change the strategic picture as seen from Moscow. Instead of being able to confront NATO with a stunning coup de main that cornered it as described above, an attack on the Baltics would instead trigger a prolonged and serious war between Russia and a materially far wealthier and more powerful coalition, a war Moscow must fear it would be likely to lose.

Crafting this deterrent posture would not be inexpensive in absolute terms, with annual costs perhaps running on the order of $2.7 billion. That is not a small number, but seen in the context of an Alliance with an aggregate gross domestic product in excess of $35 trillion and combined yearly defense spending of more than $1 trillion, it hardly appears unaffordable, especially in comparison with the potential costs of failing to defend NATO’s most exposed and vulnerable allies—that is, of potentially inviting a devastating war, rather than deterring it.

The games indicated that lighter and foot-mobile forces could not be expected to substantially slow Russian heavy armour—and that NATO, as currently deployed, has no heavy armour positioned  in the Baltics or able to reach them quickly. NATO airmobile forces can mount a stiff defence in major urban areas, but likely at the cost of high collateral damage. While NATO airpower could inflict substantial damage on Russian forces, it would not be able to do enough damage to slow their advance, not would it be able to establish sufficient air superiority prevent the Russian air force from mounting substantial localized air operations against NATO reinforcements (especially given weaknesses in the organic air defence of US formations).

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The game itself was conducted as follows:

The general game design was similar to that of traditional board wargames, with a hex grid governing movement superimposed on a map. Tactical Pilotage Charts (1:500,000 scale) were used, overlaid with 10-km hexes, as seen in Figure A.1 [below]. Land forces were represented at the battalion level and air units as squadrons; movement and combat were governed and adjudicated using rules and combat-result tables that incorporated both traditional gaming principles (e.g., Lanchester exchange rates) and the results of offline modeling. We also developed offline spreadsheet models to handle both inter- and intratheater mobility. All these were subject to continual refinement as we repeatedly played the game, although the basic structure and content of the platform proved sound.

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Orders of battle and tables of organization and equipment were developed using unclassiffed sources. Ground unit combat strengths were based on a systematic scoring of individual weapons, from tanks and artillery down to light machine guns, which were then aggregated according to the tables of organization and equipment for the various classes of NATO and Russian units. Overall unit scores were adjusted to account for dfferences in training, sustainment, and other factors not otherwise captured. Air unit combat strengths were derived from the results of offline engagement, mission, and campaign-level modeling.

They also note that “full documentation of the gaming platform will be forth- coming in a subsequent report.” We’ll look forward to reading more.

Thiele: Marines ought to play more games!

Gazette.jpgIn the January 2016 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, LtCol Gregory A. Thiele argues that Marines Ought to Play More Games! (subscription required):

Wargaming can provide Marines with a better understanding of the nature of war. While the conduct of war changes, the nature of war (friction, uncertainty, violence, etc.) does not. In addition, MCDP-1 reminds Marines that, “the enemy is not an inanimate object … While we try to impose our will on the enemy, he resists us and seeks to impose his own will on us. Appreciating this dynamic interplay between opposing human wills is essential to understanding the fundamental nature of war.”5 (Emphasis added.) It is critical that Marines find ways to incorporate a hostile, independent will into training if we are to be prepared for the battlefield.

One method of introducing an opposing will into training events is to conduct free-play force-on-force exercises. Although MCDP-1 recommends free-play force-on-force exercises, very few Marine Corps units train in this manner.6 Current training often takes the form of attempting to master techniques and procedures. While there may be some value in this, it is far outweighed by the inward focus that results. Exposed to such a training regime over time, Marines acquire a distorted view of war as a one-sided affair in which the actions of the enemy are largely inconsequential. Such sterile preparation is a poor environment from which to draw an understanding of war. Wargaming is a simple, low-cost method of introducing an opposing will into training. Ideally, wargaming complements a training regime that consists largely of free-play force-on-force exercises.

When played against an opponent, wargames allow participants to experience conflict with a hostile, independent will. In order to win, Marines will be forced to think constantly about the enemy, how they can thwart the enemy’s plans, and how they can accomplish their own. Marines will also learn to remain flexible in their approach. Well-balanced games will force players to be creative and resourceful, maximizing any advantage—no matter how slight—in order to win. Wargames will develop in participants an outward focus on the outcome desired, rather than an inward focus on process and methods.

Wargamers will also gain a better understanding of other characteristics of war. The internal focus that predominates in many Marine Corps units often leads to processes that are ineffective in combat (for instance, an operations order that is too long, too detailed, or too prescriptive). Playing wargames will remind Marines that military actions rarely occur exactly as planned. Wargaming helps develop an understanding of the need for plans that are adaptable. Wargaming should help leaders to craft a flexible plan, a clear commander’s intent and an order that enables subordinates to use their individual creativity in unforeseen circumstances.

Wargaming will also provide Marines with the vicarious experiences that are very difficult, or too expensive, to accomplish under normal conditions. How many Marines have maneuvered a brigade, division or MEF/corps on the battlefield? Wargames allow Marines to simulate such maneuvers and, with careful thought, Marines can begin to glimpse some of the challenges that they may face in leading such organizations or in planning their employment. More, they can gain an understanding of the context within which smaller units decide and act.

Wargaming can have a synergistic effect when paired with a carefully structured professional reading program. Because wargaming often requires a greater degree of involvement than does reading, the fidelity of the vicarious experience may be greater than that provided by reading a book on the same subject. Marines can select battles and campaigns that interest them, read about the campaign, and then play a wargame dealing with the same battle or campaign. Due to the great variety of wargames available, many battles can be wargamed at the tactical level and the campaigns of which they formed a part can be gamed as well in order to provide operational-level context regarding how and why the battle occurred. Such structured gaming may lead to a greater interest in the battle or campaign and even more reading, lighting a fire of interest in the individual Marine as he tries to understand historical events.

By their very nature, wargames are also progressive tactical decision games. As the game develops, each player is presented with situations with which he must cope and for which he must devise solutions. Players are required to make a large number of decisions in each game. Every new situation acts as a template that may assist leaders in making recognition-primed decisions in similar real-life situations.

When played as a team, wargames can assist seniors and juniors in building implicit communication. In such team games, decisions must be clearly communicated to subordinates so that orders may be properly executed. As time goes on, subordinates will begin to develop a sense of what their leaders expect from them with shorter communications and perhaps even when orders are entirely lacking. Such implicit communication will build trust between leaders and led and facilitate decentralized decision making.

Thiele provides a short list of recommended games—all of them digital, with no manual wargames among them. Phil Sabin’s excellent book Simulating War is recommended for further reading, as is Martin van Creveld’s rather more bizarre Wargames.

At Foreign Policy, Tom Ricks has taken up the call, asking for suggestions as to what (commercial) wargames might be added to the list. He also cites Ellie Bartel’s piece on getting the most out of wargames (although Ellie is largely discussing analytical games, rather than the training/educational/experiential games that the Thiele article addresses).

h/t Ryan Kuhns

Getting the most out of your wargame

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At War on the Rocks today, PAXsims associate editor Ellie Bartels has some ideas on getting the most out of your wargame:

Wargaming is enjoying a renaissance within the Department of Defense, thanks to high-level interest in wargaming as a way to foster innovation. However, for this surge of wargaming to have a positive impact, these wargames must be designed well and used appropriately. For decision-makers with limited wargaming experience, this can be a daunting challenge. Wargames can be deceptively simple — many do not even use complicated computer models — so it is all too easy to assume that no specialized skills are needed for success. At the same time, wargames are hugely diverse: interagency decision-making seminars that involve conflict without fighting, crisis simulations adjudicated by subject matter experts, and operational warfare in which outcomes are determined by complex computer models. For sponsors who may have only seen one or two games, it can be hard to understand the full range of wargaming possibilities and the common approaches that underpin them all. How can a sponsor discern whether wargames and the resulting recommendations are actually worthwhile?

Her eight main points—what we like to think of as “Bartel’s Rules“—are:

  1. Not all problems can be helpfully analyzed with a wargame.
  2. Wargames should have a specific and relevant purpose and objectives.
  3. Wargame design should be shaped to meet purpose and objectives.
  4. Blue losing is a sign of a fair game and a terrific learning opportunity.
  5. Wargame design isn’t over when the game starts.
  6. Those who learn the most from wargames are those who participate in them.
  7. Transparency in wargame results is critical to justify faith in findings.
  8. Wargames are most valuable when they are linked to a “cycle of research”.

Those interested in how to wargame better may also find much of interest among the presentations and discussions at the 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference (here, here, here, and here).

Review: Healthy Heart Hospital

Healthy Heart Hospital. Victory Point Games, 2015. Game designers: Scott and Anna-Marie Nelson. Game developer: Nathan Hansen. USD $49.99.

rulescover_front_.jpgMost of the games we look at here at PAXsims are wargames or conflict simulations, of which there are a great many–indeed, far more than we can possibly review. Games that explore organizational processes and institutional change are much rarer, however. Yet such games can be of particular interest to those dealing with issues of peacebuilding, capacity-building, inter-agency cooperation, development aid, and humanitarian assistance. There is, after all, a reason why we made attending meetings such a significant part of our own AFTERSHOCK humanitarian game design. I’ll admit too that I have always liked medically-themed games—Pandemic is an all-time favourite, and I co-designed Zombiton NHS, a game about Zombies in a UK children’s hospital.

Healthy Heart Hospital is a cooperative game for 1-5 players that makes management and capacity-building issues central to game play. The game is designed for hobby play, and is not intended as simulation of contemporary American hospital management (despite quite a bit of implicit tongue-in-cheek commentary on for-profit medical care). However, several of the game mechanics could be easily adapted for more serious games on this and other topics. A game play takes 60-90 minutes.

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Image: Scott Nelson/BGG.

In the game, players are tasked with reviving the reputation and financial fortunes of Healthy Heart Hospital. To do so, they’ll need to assign staff actions to process and treat the patients arriving each turn in the waiting room. Healing patients generates revenue, while curing and discharging them raises the prestige of the hospital. Conversely, if patients die there is a financial and prestige cost.

pic2729768_md.pngThe hospital’s  doctors and the senior administrator all have special abilities, such as medical specializations, research expertise, or discounts on other actions. For example, Doctor Lucky—the staff pathologist—can hide a body to lessen the financial cost of death settlements. As the prestige of the hospital improves players can also hire more junior staff, such as technicians and nurses to improve the performance of wards, a human resource manager to reduce the cost of new hires, a lawyer to reduce the financial cost of malpractice, or a public relations specialist to reduce the prestige cost of patient deaths. The chaplain can even try to bring about miraculous cures.

In addition to investing in new staff, players can also invest in improved training, as well as expansions to the hospital itself. The latter might include an emergency room (handy for reducing patients deaths in the waiting room), operating rooms (which provide higher-quality care and increased revenue and prestige), a research lab, a morgue (for hiding even more bodies), a clinic for patients with minor ailments, and even a staff break room.

pic2800377_md.pngThe rules (downloadable here, via BGG) are clear and game play is straight forward. My only real quibble was that the headline text on the Ambulance Cards (which are used to generate new patients each turn) has nothing to do with game effects. It might have made sense, for example, for a card to indicate an accident and generate largely trauma patients, or for an epidemic to primarily generate new patients for the infectious disease ward. However, overall I found Healthy Heart Hospital to be a very enjoyable challenge, even as a solo game.

As noted earlier, there’s also much here—from workload and personnel management to strategic investment in staff training and physical infrastructure—that could be adapted or built upon for serious game designs. Although not intended for teaching purposes, it could be used in classroom setting for courses on health policy, public or private sector management, or public policy, with students asked to review the game or suggest game modifications that more closely model actual health care delivery challenges. While the rules are straight-forward, it might be best to play a partial game in class to teach the rules and then have students play in their own time as a course assignment.

Simulation miscellany, 19 January 2016

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

The US Naval Institute Proceedings (January 2016) has an article by Peter Perla on improving wargaming in the US Department of Defense:

Over the past year, the Department of Defense has experienced a high-level reawakening of interest in wargaming. The Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense triggered this rebirth in a series  of memos and meetings starting in November 2014. They called for the DOD “to reinvigorate, institutionalize, and systematize wargaming across the Department.” Although this sudden interest may be new for the DOD, serious, professional wargaming has been practiced around the world for nearly 200 years. Sometimes it has pointed the way toward success. Too often it has been oversold by charlatans, abused by the cynical, and ignored by those who most need to learn from the insights it can offer. Today we face a critical historic inflection point. We can’t afford to miss this important opportunity. It’s time to get wargaming right.

Read the rest of his thoughts here.

PAXsims

At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory discusses the uses for (professional) wargaming:

GHLogoTextThe professionals talk about wargaming in very different terms than the casual hobbyists do. Don’t get me wrong, the professionals know the difference between a hobby or game and their jobs. Most of them also wargame for fun, and have a huge knowledge of the hobby. But for casual wargamers the professional uses of wargames mainly seem like two cases, and an occasional third.

The first are those games played to learn something. Those are used when introducing new material to help maintain interest in participation on the part of the learners, and help with recall of important information learned through ‘gameifying” the content.

The second paradigm envisioned by the hobbyists are those used for training. These are primarily used to practice existing skills, so as command post training.  Many times, these training events take place with participants who understand their roles and responsibilities, but have not ever executed them under the time- and event-pressures of a simulated military operation.  With the unit turnover that’s present every year, it only makes sense that units would avail themselves of every opportunity to put wargames to use training their new members.

The final usage may be familiar to some hobbyists, but not widely so. Many professionals will use for gaming in a decision-making process test an idea for compare different courses of action.  This step is explicitly called out in the Military Decision-Making Process taught in the Army, and similar ones exist in other services.  Whenever preparing multiple courses of action, planners are instructed to “wargame” those courses of action to compare them against each other along certain specified criteria.  Some hobbyists are familiar with this process.

There is a fourth way that they are used. It’s one that I only became aware of about 5 years ago, even with my own experience as a professional in the wargaming world. Some wargames are used in a curriculum in order to build interest in the material, as well as serving as a baseline for the instructors to establish students body of knowledge. This sort of working makes for a very interactive introduction into the new material, it gives all of the participants a shared experience going forward, that the instructors can readily reference as a common basis of comparison during subsequent instruction….

PAXsims

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Registration for the 84th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society is now open. The conference will be held on 20-23 June 2016 in Quantico, VA.

The submission deadline for abstracts is 17 March. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll be able to attend this year.

PAXsims

Power & Revolution, the latest version of the digital game Geo-Political Simulator, will be released in February or March:

Power & Revolution, Geo-Political Simulator 4, incorporates many new features including a new game experience that allows players to play as legal or illegal opposition, manage the budget of the party or illegal organization, media interventions, political manipulation, elections campaign (now including a specific scenario for the 2016 US elections), launch protest movements, raise an army…

The game also boasts tactical wargame phases in cities during popular uprisings or armed conflicts, with the ability to control all types of elements (protesters, hooligans, armed extremists, police forces, police vans, helicopters, snipers, armored vehicles…).

The major conflicts in the world are simulated (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Nigeria, Yemen…) with the finest details: front lines, occupied territories, besieged cities, locations of military units, international military bases, personnel and equipment of terrorist groups…

PAXsims previously reviewed Geo-Political Simulator 3 in 2013.

PAXsims

In the Huffington Post, Omar Sayfo reflects on how the online digital game Clash of Clans reflects some of the dynamics of the Syrian civil war:

Being a 33-year-old academic, I found it hard to rationalize to my friends and family my infatuation with Clash of Clans, a childish but rather addictive online strategy game, until I met Hosam. While waiting for his refugee application to be accepted, the 24-year-old man from eastern Aleppo spent much of his time online through his Samsung phone, browsing news, chatting on Whatsapp, and playing Clash of Clans. As Hosam explained, fighting in a clan from his Syrian hometown and coordinating battles against clans they were randomly matched with around the globe was one of the ways he maintained spiritual ties with the land and community he had left behind.

Hosam’s experience piqued my personal and academic curiosity, and eventually prompted me to explore how Syria’s conflict is reflected in the virtual reality of a game, highly popular among Syrian youth.

After some browsing, I joined the “Idleb Heroes,” a clan of forty players from my family’s province in the northern part of Syria, a region that since March 2015 has come under the complete control of the Islamist opposition.

The clan I found is a strong community of young males between 16 and 24 living in various parts of the Sunni-majority province, playing on cheap smartphones charged by external batteries to keep the game on even during the daily blackouts. However, lack of electricity was not the main obstacle: when the Internet was cut off in the middle of a clan war, many of our carefully devised strategies went to waste. For the clan, Clash of Clans seemed to be more than a simple game, as the chat function was eventually used for reporting on the Assad regime’s air strikes, and also to check whether all the members were alive….

It’s a fascinating piece, and well worth reading in its entirety.

PAXsims

James Sterrett recently reviewed AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at BoardGameGeeks. You’ll find the review here.

PAXsims

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Georgetown University in Qatar recently completed a simulation exercise about a fictional crisis in the South Caucasus, focusing on rising tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan Over Nagorno-Karabakh:

This year, the annual training event engaged teams of students representing Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, Russia, the United States, and Turkey, actual parties to the real conflict on which it’s based, in intensive, bilateral and multilateral negotiations that reconstruct real-world diplomatic processes. GU-Q’s prestigious flagship event, unparalleled by any other program in Qatar or the region, is organized in collaboration with Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) in Washington D.C.

“The crisis simulation is a tremendous learning opportunity for our students regardless of which major they are pursuing,” said Dr. Christine Schiwietz, assistant dean for academic affairs at GU-Q and program organizer. “The critical thinking skills and negotiation tactics they learn in the process of resolving the diplomatic crisis will empower our students in both a personal and professional capacity, not just for those pursuing careers in Foreign Service.”…

PAXsims

At the Active Learning in Political Science blog, Simon Usherwood discusses the importance and challenges of assessing student learning in simulations:

I’ve seen a wide range of sims that claim to have a wide range of effects, and I can’t saw that I can spot the common theme or mechanism. Maybe there isn’t one, but only a flexibly-constructed set of mechanisms. But then I’ve also yet to see a clear example of a sim that didn’t achieve anything: there has always been something that could be dragged from the wreckage, intentional or not.

Perhaps this is the secret: that in creating such open and flexible spaces for learning, we also create a failsafe for learning: simulations are explicitly about creating a meta-cognition of the learning processes, in their creation of a world-within-the-world. Maybe we can never truly fail.

On this very last point, I’m somewhat less optimistic: I’ve certainly seen simulations with what I felt were adverse learning or analytical outcomes.

PAXsims

Oxford’s Bodleian Library is currently featuring Playing with History, an exhibit featuring some of the 1,500 games donated to the library by collector and historian Richard Ballam:

Playing with History celebrates Richard Ballam’s donation to the Bodleian of his rich and varied collection of games and pastimes. This small selection gives us insights into the presentation of history to children, and the ways in which they were encouraged to engage with contemporary issues, such as War and Empire through game play.

You’ll find a BBC report on the exhibit here. The exhibit runs until March 6, and admission is free.

PAXsims

Middle East Monitor has put together a simple browser game entitled A Refugee’s Journey:

You know of people who managed to escape to Europe, some neighbours and an aunt made it to northern Europe and are now starting to rebuild their lives. The idea of being far away from the war in Syria and in a country which has more prospects for jobs and education is something you have been thinking about for a while. The harder it gets in Raqqa, the more promising life in Europe sounds.

How will you get there?

PAXsims has previously covered a somewhat similar educational game by the BBC, Syrian Journey (as well as some of the reaction it sparked).

PAXsims

According to the British Psychological Society, a simulation-based experiment has explored how personality affects crisis management:

The most effective crisis managers show strong preferences for variety at work and keep their cool when operating outside of their comfort zones says a study presented today at the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology in Nottingham. It also found those who demonstrate more self-discipline and stick to the rules are considered less effective at dealing with a crisis.

82 participants took part in disaster simulation exercises and were asked to complete a series of personality questionnaires. Then they were assessed on their performance by experts.

The results from the study confirm that personality assessment can make a useful contribution to identifying and training crisis management personnel. The key areas to assess are leadership, extraversion and emotional stability. Furthermore, specific predictor scales, including those assessing ‘variety seeking’, ‘self-discipline’ and ‘need for rules’ enhance prognosis.

PAXsims

According to a recent paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 58, 3 (January 2016), individuals who play play fantasy and science fiction role-playing games,”scored significantly higher than the comparison group on the IRI scale of empathy, confirming the hypothesis that fantasy role-players report experiencing higher levels of empathic involvement with others,” suggesting that”fantasy role-players have a uniquely empathically-imaginative style.”

h/t Geek & Sundry

PAXsims

— Photo courtesy Google Play store

Clearly, however, empathy was in short supply in the (government) Punjab IT board, which recently released Pakistan Army Retribution, a first person shooter set based on the Peshawar Army Public School attack of December 2014. According to a review in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn:

Whether or not a game should have been designed around the Army Public School massacre is a different debate altogether. No one, especially families of the victims, would ever want to re-live that dark day. But oddly enough, the developers decided to recreate those moments for a gaming experience.

The game, which begins with the Pakistan national anthem, depicts events that took place on the dreadful day as terrorists breached the school’s security.

The player’s task is to lead soldiers into the main building and eliminate the heavily armed terrorists scattered throughout the premises.

As much as some would argue, the desire to tackle an attacker visiting the school in this virtual manner is in poor taste. The Peshawar attack was a tragedy that holds national significance since it sent the entire nation into trauma. Any recreation of the carnage that day seems insensitive.

The game provoked heated reaction on Pakistani social media, and was subsequently removed from the Google Play store. You’ll find further reporting by the BBC here.

PAXsims

Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was prohibited from possessing tanks. It therefore created fake tanks for military exercises. You’ll find more on this piece of (simulated) panzer history at War is Boring.

PAXsims

According to data released by Kickstarter, “more than 978,000 backers pledged over $144.4 million to games projects” in 2015. Almost twice as much was pledged to boardgames, compared to digital games.

According to an analysis in SiliconAngle:

One possible explanation for the popularity of physical games over digital games on Kickstarter is the greatly reduced development time and lower chance of overall failure compared to video games.

Unlike video games, tabletop games are generally not constrained by technological limitations or negatively affected by feature creep (the tendency for crowdfunded video games to tack on more and more features as more money is raised, increasing the complexity and dev time).

Perhaps one of the most interesting statistics to come Kickstarter’s report is the fact while tabletop games raised twice as much money as video games and were nearly three times as likely to be funded, the total number of backers was not significantly different between the two. Tabletop campaigns were backed by 522,061 people, whereas video game campaigns were backed by 480,382 people, a difference of only around 8 percent.

PAXsims

Montreal-area libraries will be holding the 4th annual Festival Montréal joue from 20 February to 6 March 2016.

Le Festival Montréal joue et ses quelque 60 partenaires prévoient offrir plus de 300 activités et rendez-vous gratuits permettant de s’initier et de plonger dans l’univers du jeu sous toutes ses formes : jeux vidéo, jeux de société, jeux de rôle et plus encore! Les organisateurs visent à investir les 45 bibliothèques de Montréal et une vingtaine de sites.

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FP: Stumbling into (simulated) war with China

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With the assistance of David Shlapak of RAND’s Center for Gaming, Dan De Luce and Keith Johnson of Foreign Policy magazine recently tried their hand at descalating a simulated Sino-Japanese naval confrontation over the Senkaku Islands. It didn’t go very well:

We entered into the scenario looking for offramps. We went out of our way to choose the least aggressive options and to try to exercise restraint — even when we played the part of China as well as the United States at different stages of the game. But just as Shlapak warned us, events quickly got out of hand, and we found ourselves in a nightmarish escalatory cycle of war fueled by nationalist sentiment in both Japan and China. And the scenario depicted here is not far-fetched fiction. Just this week there was more brinkmanship, as Tokyo warned Beijing that if its naval ships sailed near the islands and lingered, Japan would send in patrol vessels to see them off. China responded with a stern warning of its own, saying that if Japan takes provocative actions, it “will have to accept responsibility for everything that happens.”

All of that is in the real world. In the artificial one constructed by Shlapak, those rhetorical volleys were replaced by open combat. This is the story of what happened next: a war we didn’t seek, didn’t want to fight — and that ended very badly…

You can read the rest at Foreign Policy.

Wargaming faculty position, US Naval War College

nwc-logo-colorThe Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College is seeking to make a faculty appointment in their Wargaming Department. You’ll find details of the position below.

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT NUMBER: VA#NWC-16-11

TITLE: Asst/Assoc/Full Professor

DEPARTMENT: Wargaming

PP-SERIES-GR: AD-1701-03/05/07

OPEN PERIOD: 15-January-2016 to 15-February-2016

WHO MAY APPLY: All Qualified U.S. Citizens

Candidates must be U.S. citizens and capable of obtaining a Department of Defense TOP SECRET/SCI security clearance.

 

Wargaming Department

The United States Naval War College in Newport, RI, anticipates full-time faculty openings in the Wargaming Department of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies and invites applications for the position of Professor with rank and salary commensurate with experience and credentials.

The Naval War College is a graduate-level Professional Military Education institution serving the nation, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy. The College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and offers a Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Additional details regarding the War College can be obtained by visiting the Naval War College web site at www.usnwc.edu .

The War Gaming Department supports the academic curriculum with operational level student games and supports the Navy and the wider Department of Defense community with research, analyses and war games that address key current operational issues and future concepts.

The incumbent will use his or her experience, background, training, and education to provide analysis, war game design, development, direction, and subject matter support to a wide variety of games, analyses and research projects. The Department seeks candidates with credible academic achievements and particular expertise in leading a team through academic or military analysis, planning, and gaming.

Essential qualifications include a master’s degree and experience designing and conducting games, conducting military analysis, operations research analysis or directly related war gaming experience. Other desired qualifications may include: completion of Joint Professional Military Education Phase I, a Ph.D. or other earned doctorate and a proven record in project management and research leadership. Candidates must be U.S. citizens capable of obtaining a Department of Defense security clearance at the TOP SECRET/SCI level.

The selected candidate will be subject to a pre-employment drug screening test and to random drug testing thereafter. Any current or prior military service should be described including assignments, positions held, highest rank attained, and dates of service.

Applicants should reference VA#NWC-16-11 and forward their application package to: cnwsvacancy@usnwc.edu. The application package should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae or resume, and three references. Applications will be accepted until February 15, 2016.

Questions can be e-mailed to Dr. Peter Dombrowski at dombrowp@usnwc.edu.

The Naval War College is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

It is my understanding that another position may be announced in the Wargaming Department in the summer.

“New World Order 2035” megagame at McGill

NWO2035

On February 20th, McGill University will be hosting New World Order 2035, a day-long megagame in Montréal by none other than (infamous) game designer Jim Wallman:

It is the year 2035… and it is no longer the Earth that we once knew. Countries around the world face resource shortages, the social and political challenges presented by new technologies, population pressures, migration and refugee crises, and rapidly accelerating global warming—as well as an alarming breakdown of international cooperation.

Up to one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decisionmakers, international organizations, scientists,  corporations, journalists, rebels, organized crime, and others. While they may or may not chart the future course of human civilization, it is sure to be a engaging day full of political intrigue, conspiracies, and crisis.

For those new to megagaming you’ll find a report on one such game in the British newspaper The Independent here, and a video report at the blog Shut Up & Sit Down here (and here and here). No prior experience is required, beyond a willingness to enjoy yourself with 100 scheming people in several large rooms while confronting the most pressing global issues of the 21st century

Space is limited, so you’ll need to buy your tickets soon via Eventbrite. Registration costs $35 for McGill students, and $60 for others (+ticketing fee). Boxed meals are available to those who purchase one in advance, or participants are welcome to bring their own lunches.

New World Order 2035 is coorganized by PAXsims and the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill, and cosponsored by the Political Science Students’ Association.

 

Perez on “Strategic Discontent, Political Literacy, and Professional Military Education”

At The Strategy Bridge, Celestino Perez Jr. has an excellent piece on the importance of cultivating political (science) literacy among military officers, and the obstacles to doing so.

Top military leaders instruct officers to attend more closely to the tangled connections between a military unit’s actions, its armed adversaries, and the sociopolitical landscape on which conflicts unfold. Insofar as these causal connections elude military professionals, armed interventions will tend to induce unwelcome consequences and, thereby, strategic discontent. Educators can help. The skilled integration of political science in the classroom provides a way for educators to squarely address these leaders’ concerns. But we first have to rethink fundamentals. Namely, what does military expertise and advice entail?

Expanding on this point, he argues:

…U.S. strategic performance suffers from a remediable neglect: the failure to appreciate the central role politics plays in war. “Politics” extends beyond the “high politics” of heads of state and diplomats. It includes also those ground-level economic, social, cultural, psychological, and ethical dynamics that determine power distributions in cities and villages, among armed actors and civilians, and between criminal and political organizations. These dynamics arise as salient features during peacetime training, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, insurgencies, and the conduct and closeout of conventional wars fought between near-peer competitors.[10]

War is both destructive and constructive. Destructive force makes sense only when it helps engender desirable, ethical results. Hence, the U.S. Army expects soldiers to help “create conditions for favorable conflict resolution”[11] and “possess the capability to translate military objectives into enduring political outcomes.”[12]

Lethal force is merely one of many factors affecting outcomes. Soldiers must also “understand the cognitive, informational, social, cultural, political, and physical influences affecting human behavior and the mission.”[13] Put otherwise, political literacy—which is also a kind of causal literacy—is necessary for military and strategic success.

Addressing this deficiency, however, is not easy:

Educators can help, but a prevalent approach to military pedagogy—what I call a “bailiwick approach”—hinders the attainment of political literacy. Bailiwick educators consider fine-toothed questions about sociopolitical dynamics and conflict resolution to be irrelevant to military work; their bailiwick is to educate solely for the doctrinal delivery of ordnance.

This separation between violence and politics is counterproductive, whether in the classroom or during military operations. Rose explains: “The clear-division-of-labor approach is inherently flawed…At some point, every war enters what might be called its endgame, and then any political questions that may have been ignored come rushing back with a vengeance.”[14]

Despite Rose’s warning, too many educators are content to teach little more than the doctrinal and historical application of violence. According to one (anonymous) senior and influential instructor at Fort Leavenworth, only military factors matter:

We all recognize that there are things that other government agencies and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] do in pre-conflict/conflict/post-conflict environments in mitigating problems and stabilizing the environment. We seek their input during our planning process, but we don’t ourselves try to bring to the table what they would. So we shouldn’t try in the classroom either.[15]

Military education invariably foregrounds the military and neglects the political. The focus, with few exceptions, is on military history, military leadership, and military doctrine. Occasional seminar discussions about, say, “soft power” or regional electives that facilitate mere “wave-top” familiarization are insufficient. Students must wrestle with how politics and violence combine in concrete ways to affect ground-level interactions. They do not wrestle today. The mid-career student at Fort Leavenworth (and perhaps elsewhere?) has no requirement to study—in a sustained, rigorous manner—a single unfamiliar, real-world population, conflict, and potential adversary with the degree of detail necessary for adequate intelligence analysis or planning.

As is evident from the quotes above, Perez’s article isn’t about wargaming at all. However it speaks to two key issues in making wargaming more effective: the institutional and attitudinal barriers to alternative analytical techniques and broader analytical scope; and the resistance to incorporating social science methods and theoretical insights into the gaming that does occur—a point that both Jon Compton and Yuna Wong (among others) have made repeatedly at MORS, Connections, and other professional venues.

h/t Adam Elkus

 

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