PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Dstl is looking for a wargaming analyst

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is looking for a wargaming analyst:

A wargame is a process of adversarial challenge and creativity, delivered in a structured format and usually umpired or adjudicated. Wargames immerse participants in an environment with the required level of realism to improve their decision-making skills and/or the real decisions they make. Wargaming is a powerful tool, used within the Ministry of Defence to explore issues ranging from national strategic (such as current geopolitical decision-making) to the tactical (such as how to effectively use generation-after-next concepts on a future battlefield). 

The Wargaming capability you would be joining uses wargaming as a structured analytical technique to understand conflict in order to provide advice to the Ministry of Defence and wider UK Government. Wargaming draws on people with a range of skills; quantitative and qualitative operational analysis techniques; communication; and player interaction in order to model adversarial scenarios to understand factors that can influence the outcome. 

In order to build a better wargaming capability, we need a team of people with a range of different skills and experiences to challenge established assumptions. Analysts brought in to the Defence Wargaming Centre will be developed using our Wargaming Development Framework to give a broad range of opportunities to develop the breadth of skills needed to be a professional wargamer. As well as building a broad range of skills, you will also be given opportunities to specialise in areas of wargaming which should align with your own passions/interests. 

Dstl wargamers are founder signatories of the Derby House Principles, showing our commitment to leading the opposition of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination across the board, as well as in wargaming. If you want to find out more, please read this.

The job description for the position is as follows:

In this role you will: 
For Level 4:

• Work as part of a multidisciplinary team in the provision of timely, impartial, evidence-based advice to inform decisions on future defence and security capabilities, policies and strategies. 
• Work with customers and the military to understand their needs & challenges and shape their requirements for advice. 
• Lead on the delivery of small work packages, being responsible for your own research and analysis. 
• Provide technical advice and direction to industrial and academic partners and suppliers. 
• Prepare and deliver technical reports and presentations to a range of technical and non-technical audiences. 
• Develop an awareness of defence and security challenges and issues. 
• Develop your awareness of advances in science and technology 
• Explore and visualise data to present its story in a meaningful way to technical and non-technical audience 
• Develop your technical skills in wargaming in line with the Wargaming Development Framework. 

Additionally for Level 5 you will 
• Lead strands of work, including the work of others to maintain a focus on output and technical quality. 
• Provide technical partnering to work done by Industry and Academia to ensure that the tasks remain on track, are of high quality and maximise the benefit of external expertise 

Additionally for Level 6 you will
• Engage with senior stakeholders across MOD and wider Government to offer advice and capture/identify future wargaming requirements 
• Lead on deep technical or professional specialisation 
• Manage the resources of people, materials, money and information to achieve a balanced set of results within a project framework 
• Consistently seek broader application and exploitation of your wargaming outputs 

Finally, the security stuff and other details:

Our work in defence, security and intelligence requires our employees to be British Citizens who are able to gain a high level of security clearance to understand the work you will undertake to protect us from any security threats. For this reason, we regret that only UK Nationals will be able to apply for this role. If you are an international or dual-national candidate, and you think you have the skills we need, please consider applying to any of our government, security or defence partners. 

This role will require full UK security clearance and you should have resided in the UK for the past 5 years. For some roles Developed Vetting will also be required, in this case you should have resided in the UK for the past 10 years. 

If you are a current Dstl employee, you are encouraged to inform your line manager of your application as they can support you through the process and should you be successful it will help in negotiating a release date. 

Work location
Dstl is strongly encouraging blended and flexible working either at one of our sites or from home or both. We want to empower you to undertake your duties at the most appropriate location for the task, however you will be allocated a Dstl site as a base. You may be required to travel to other Dstl and MoD sites as required.  

We particularly welcome female and ethnic minority applicants and those from the LGBTQI community, as they are under-represented within Dstl at these levels.

Full details and a link to the application process can be found here. The deadline for application is 18 October 2021.

JAMS: Special issue on military wargaming

The latest issue of the Journal of Advanced Military Studies 12, 2 (Fall 2021), published by Marine Corps University Press, is devoted to “wargaming and the military.

Given the rate of change taking place within the Corps and the local activity driving university innovation, the editors felt the need to contribute to the debate with a full issue of the Journal of Advanced Military Studies (JAMS) that focuses on wargaming and the future of the Marine Corps and the U.S. military. The authors of the articles that follow approached the conversation from a broad scholarly spectrum that offers historical and forward-thinking perspectives.

The first article by Dr. Charles Esdaile, “ ‘Napoleon at Waterloo’: The Events of 18 June 1815 Analyzed via Historical Simulation,” offers a historical perspective on the importance of wargaming and professional military education (PME). His article examines how products of the game industry can be used to assess battles and draw out wider lessons relating to the conduct of war or to show how historical board games are not just recreational artifacts but also a tool with which to more fully explore, analyze, and understand campaign design and battle execution.

Sebastian J. Bae and Major Ian T. Brown then provide a transition into a more modern conversation by offering a brief history of educational wargaming specific to the U.S. Marine Corps. The article reviews and assesses the history of educational wargaming from its tentative engagement before World War I through today. It will also offer recommendations on how the Corps can institutionalize the use of educational wargaming as a tool for honing Marines’ minds against thinking human adversaries. Our next two articles continue this discussion of wargaming and PME. Colonel Eric M. Walters considers the challenges and solutions presented by wargaming and helps orient those unfamiliar with wargaming and advises on proven best practices in using them when teaching military judgment in decision making. Lieutant Colonel P. C. Combe II shifts then into the design and implementation of wargaming for the purpose of teaching or evaluating the extent to which students have learned and can apply material as a means of professional development.

Kate Kuehn further highlights the importance of evaluating the use of wargaming with her article, “Assessment Strategies for Educational Wargames.” Kuehn maintains that by examining the perspectives and practices of experi- enced faculty within wargaming, she can then identify strategies that can serve as useful teaching tools for other faculty as well as contribute to broader theory about designing assessment in such spaces. Colonel Brian W. Cole’s article on the wargame Hedgemony focuses on using wargames to then evaluate the learning objectives within senior Joint PME. His article examines how the Marine Corps War College’s experience with Hedgemony offers active learning for its students while emphasizing resource management and evaluates how well the game met the educational objectives set forth by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for senior-level PME.

The final two articles in this issue of JAMS close the loop on the PME continuum by focusing on how wargaming complements military decision making and the future development of wargaming focused on the future of warfare. Colonel Walters’s article “Developing Self-Confidence in Military Decision Making” highlights how extensive practice through wargaming grows self-confidence in both the individual Marine and in the unit engaged in it. Stephen M. Gordon, Colonel Walt Yates, and Andrew Gordon close out the journal articles by exploring the benefits and challenges of applying successful storytelling techniques to designing wargame narratives that balance creative ambitions with achievable time lines. In the authors’ minds, wargames that incorporate such techniques will generate new trends and better inform future conflict planning.

Kania and McCaslin: China’s progress in wargaming and opposing force training

The Institute for the Study of war has just published a study by Elsa Kania and Ian Burns McCaslin entitled Learning Warfare from the Laboratory: China’s progress in wargaming and opposing force training (September 2021).

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is faced with the challenge of preparing for future warfare during peacetime as a force that lacks contemporary operational experience. Among the methods through which the PLA seeks to enhance its combat readiness are sophisticated wargaming and realistic, force-on-force exercises. Chinese military leaders regard wargaming (bingqi tuiyan, 兵棋推演) as an important technique by which to “learn warfare from the laboratory” for training purposes and to promote insights on the dynamics of future combat.1 This style of learning is complemented by the PLA’s study of military history and emulation of the experiences and innovations of foreign militaries, including through creating “blue forces” that simulate potential adversaries against which to train.2 Beyond improving its current capabilities and readiness, the PLA also aspires to achieve an edge in military competition, seeking to “design” the dynamics of and develop capabilities for future warfare.3

Wargaming is part of a cycle of military learning and experimentation that involves and informs exercises against opposing forces (OPFOR), as well as a range of other styles of training. While this report does not provide a comprehensive assessment of the PLA’s current training methods, our analysis examines select aspects of the PLA’s computerized wargaming and employment of blue (i.e., simulated adversary) forces in the context of the continuing transformation of PLA training. Over time, the PLA has improved the realism of its “actual combat training” (shizhan hua xunlian, 实战化训练) and undertaken exercises in increasingly challenging battlefield environments.4 The lessons learned from wargaming can be tested in exercises, and the outcomes of exercises can shape the design for wargames.

PLA wargaming and development of their blue forces continue to be significantly influenced by emulation of the approaches of foreign militaries, particularly those of the US military. The combination of domestic and foreign influences has resulted in features unique to the PLA, reflecting distinct priorities, interests, and constraints. In wargaming, for example, the PLA appears to prefer and prioritize computerized approaches over other forms, and it has attempted to leverage this cost-effective technique in training to address certain long-standing weaknesses, such as in command decision-making.5 To that end, the PLA has scaled up wargaming in professional military education (PME), especially through programming at the PLA’s National Defense University (NDU). The history and political character of the PLA as the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also appear to be a notable influence, demonstrated by the experimentation with political warfare in PLA wargaming.

Meanwhile, wargaming has become prominent and popularized across China, and the PLA has leveraged the commercialization of wargaming to improve its quality and realism. Ongoing advances in video games and innovations from the video game industry continue to provide China’s armed forces with new options for realistic, engaging wargames. Under the auspices of China’s national strategy for military-civil fusion (MCF), several technology companies have partnered with the PLA to develop new systems for wargaming and military simulations. Beyond PME efforts, wargaming competitions have become an important element of

national defense education, as thousands of military and civilian students across universities nationwide participate in annual wargaming competitions. This national initiative encourages patriotism and interest in military affairs among the public while fostering greater unity and understanding between military and civilian stakeholders.6

Increasingly, the PLA is pursuing innovation in the platforms and techniques used in wargaming, including the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI). The PLA has introduced “intelligentization” (zhinenghua, 智能化) as a priority for its military modernization. This strategic initiative includes the development of AI for military applications and leveraging wargaming platforms to advance technological experimentation. The progress to date includes PLA contests and competitions that have concentrated on developing AI systems for wargaming in complex scenarios. Starting in 2017, these efforts have seen the development of more powerful AI systems across years of competitions. The human-machine confrontation (renji duikang, 人机 对抗) that can occur through such a virtual platform also could allow for improvements in planning and decision support systems for future joint operations. The increasing capabilities of AI systems in wargaming also allow for improvements in simulated adversaries.7 Beyond the objective to improve the quality of their wargames for training purposes, there are scientists and strategists in the PLA who hope AI will become powerful enough to facilitate human planning and command decision-making in future warfare.8

The PLA’s OPFOR program has centered upon the creation of blue forces that are intended to imitate potential adversaries. These units are directed to serve as whetstones to increase the challenge of training, thereby contributing to the PLA’s effort to overcome its “peace disease.” While the PLA’s OPFOR efforts have been unique in their variety and potential creativity, the relatively fragmented development highlights the issues of coordination and standardization that have often impeded progress within the PLA. However, the increasing professionalism of these initiatives, including the focus on simulating the United States and its allies as anticipated adversaries, is an important dimension of PLA preparations to watch going forward.

This report starts by tracing the trajectory of wargaming within the PLA in modern Chinese history and then continues to examine the progression of PLA blue forces in its OPFOR program. The analysis initially reviews a series of recent wargaming competitions, examining the introduction of AI systems into wargaming and considering com- mercial contributions to wargaming. Our research also considers the progression of OPFOR exercises (exercises that involve a force tasked with representing an enemy) that have expanded and increased in sophistication with the use of improved blue forces. We examine what wargaming and OPFOR exercises can reveal about the PLA’s capacity to learn and adapt to the challenges of future warfare. In closing, we raise considerations and potential recommendations for US policy.

Emery: 1950s Political-Military Wargaming at the RAND Corporation

The Texas National Security Review has just published an article by John Emery on “Moral Choices Without Moral Language: 1950s Political-Military Wargaming at the RAND Corporation.”

The RAND Corporation was the site of early-Cold War knowledge production. Its scientists laid the foundations of nuclear deterrence, game theoretic approaches to international politics, defense acquisition, and theories on the future of war. The popularized understanding of RAND as filled with cold, detached rationalists who casually discussed killing millions with no moral abhorrence misses the immense contestation in the early 1950s between the mathematics and the social sciences divisions, which sought to understand the impact of nuclear weapons on war and international politics. To do so, they created the first political-military simulations, called the “Cold War Games.” The games had divergent outcomes, with the mathematicians quick to launch nuclear weapons and the social scientists acting with nuclear restraint. The key difference in the game models was a high degree of realism in the social science game that engaged the players’ emotions. This immersive experience had lasting effects beyond the game itself as defense intellectuals bore the weight of decision-making and confronted the catastrophic consequences of using nuclear weapons. The role of emotion is central to both ethics and decision-making, and is essential for wargaming today, yet often remains excluded in rational theories of nuclear deterrence.

He concludes:

The high degree of realism present in the SSD’s Cold War Game triggered nuclear restraint by engaging the emotions of the players and therefore their ethical intuitions, in contrast to the MAD game, which privileged high levels of abstraction for the sake of mathematical certainty. What was lost in the process was a more cohesive vision of decision-making under uncertainty, all while ignoring the role of emotion in the realm of international politics. Not only are the outcomes of the game boxed in by initial assumptions in operationalizing variables that can fall out instantaneously in the real world, but a high level of abstraction produces a detached theorizing in which a kind of ethical practical judgment can also be lost. Reason cannot be separated from emotion and imagined futures are as powerful as the study of the past.

These political-military games at RAND have important lessons for thinking through the implications of emotion, ethics, and the role of judgment in wargaming today. Given the current renaissance in wargaming — in the social sciences as well as in efforts to think through the dilemmas of AI and the future of war — it is important to reflect on the issues raised by RAND in the 1950s and the lessons that can be drawn from them. First, reason and emotion are inextricably intertwined. They exist in a symbiotic relationship in terms of how we experience and interpret the world. Second, wargames with a high degree of realism can better represent decision-making in the real world by engaging the emotions of the players. Third, even when ethics is excluded from the conversation, facing the potential consequences of political-military action can lead to restraint. Finally, a conversation of realistic consequences and the uncertainties of the world is essential for an ethical assessment of possible consequences of nuclear threat and use. Wargames can be more than the division between art and science or quantitative and qualitative approaches, but a quest for understanding the why of decision-making, beyond the discursive reasons that players may give. The technostrategic language that Cohn wrote about in the 1980s remains pervasive in nuclear deterrence circles, but the revival of simulations and gaming in the social sciences offers an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of emotion and ethical practical judgment in international relations. Being made to feel the weight of decision-making is a necessary antidote to abstractions that allow policymakers to ignore the real consequences and human suffering that could come from pressing the button.

You will find the full article at the link above.

Connections Oz 2021

Connections Oz professional wargaming conference will be held online on 14-16 December 2021. For more details, see the Connections Oz website.

If you wish to propose a presentation for the conference, contact the organizers at connections.oz@gmail.com.

Conference registration is via Eventbrite.

IDA hosts first in-person Women’s Wargaming Network event

Earlier this summer, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) hosted the first in-person event of the Women’s Wargaming Network:

IDA hosted the first in-person event of the Women’s Wargaming Network (WWN) on June 26. The event was organized by Yuna Wong, founder of the WWN and research staff member in IDA’s Joint Advanced Warfighting Division (JAWD).

The event was held at IDA’s current headquarters near the Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Women from IDA and their guests gathered to network and play board games. These types of in-person events are what the WWN is hoping to have more frequently to build connections and provide mentorship opportunities for women with an interest in wargaming.

Men are much more likely to have spent their adolescent years playing hobby gamming whereas women did not grow up with the same experiences. The mission of the WWN is to help women thrive in professional wargaming, a historically male-dominated field. These efforts contribute to bridging the gaps between men and women and raising the visibility of women in the discipline.

Addressing barriers specific to women in professional wargaming is key to getting more women involved in the discipline. “All too often, women are assigned as note takers and announcers; they don’t receive the core tasks of game design and adjudicators,” says Wong. “Minority women face even more barriers. The WWN is committed to having a place for all women.”

Paris Nero, research staff member in IDA’s Operational Evaluation Division (OED) was among the participants who is new to the discipline. “One of my favorite pastimes is playing board games with friends,” says Nero. “I left the WWN event thinking about how the game’s mechanisms capture various aspects of warfare and how I could apply wargaming in my research. It’s nice to be part of a community that can gather around an activity I enjoy so much.”

More seasoned wargamers also participated, including S. K. (Sue) Numrich, JAWD adjunct research staff member. She has experience in theater and training simulations, so wargaming is a natural extension. “In wargaming, every perspective is valuable, and it’s especially important to include women as they tend to approach situations differently than men do,” says Numrich. “These are games of the mind and the ability to see from different perspectives and craft solutions along different lines is critical to developing a creative solution to a strategic problem.”

The WWN started at the 2020 Connections Wargaming Conference. With aims to become a formal non-profit, the network comprises members from around the world including Australia, Turkey, the Netherlands and the UK. “The purpose of the WWN is to become a community for women interested in wargaming, to raise the profile of women in the profession and to find networking opportunities,” says Wong. “We need to continue to create opportunities that allow women to get involved and to grow the numbers.” Upcoming WWN events and the Connections Wargaming Connections Conference help Wong and others to do just that.

IDA will host the 2022 Connections Wargaming Conference on July 26–29, 2022. This in-person event will be held at our future headquarters’ location in the City of Alexandria’s high-tech Potomac Yard corridor. Registration and logistics information will be available closer to the conference.

IDA is a nonprofit corporation that operates three Federally Funded Research and Development Centers in the public interest. IDA answers the most challenging U.S. security and science

For more information on the WWN, click the link above. Both IDA and the WWN are sponsors of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

IDA to host 2022 Connections US wargaming conference

The Institute for Defense Analysis will host the 2022 Connections US professional wargaming conference on 26-29 July 2022 in Alexandria, VA:

ALEXANDRIA, VA (August 2021) — IDA will host the 2022 Connections Wargaming Conference on July 26–29, 2022. This in-person event will be held at our future headquarters’ location in the City of Alexandria’s high-tech Potomac Yard corridor.

The Connections Wargaming Conference is an annual event that brings together practitioners from every segment of the wargaming community. The conference gives attendees the opportunity to exchange information on achievements, best practices and other elements of the field of wargaming…from military, to commercial, to academic applications.

IDA is moving its headquarters and Systems and Analyses Center to the Potomac Yard later this year. The new facility will enable IDA to hold large meetings, such as this one, with sponsors and industry. There will be a large auditorium that seats 300 people, breakout rooms, a green room for speakers to prepare for events, and other large conference rooms.

Registration and logistics information will be available closer to the conference.

IDA is a nonprofit corporation that operates three Federally Funded Research and Development Centers in the public interest. IDA answers the most challenging U.S. security and science policy questions with objective analysis leveraging extraordinary scientific, technical, and analytic expertise.

Zenobia Award finalists

The eight finalists for the Zenobia Award have been announced, together with two honourable mentions.

The Zenobia Award is a competition among submitted historical tabletop game prototypes by designers from underrepresented groups (women, persons of color, and LGBTQ+ persons), with mentoring and industry exposure available to selectees and cash prizes and industry access benefits to the winners. 

Finalists have the opportunity to revise prototypes by 15 September for evaluation and selection of three winners 15 October.

Marine Corps Wargaming Laboratory seeks wargaming manager

The Marine Corps Wargaming Laboratory is currently looking for a wargaming manager.

Responsibilities

You will plan, direct, supervise, coordinate, and execute multiple simultaneous wargame efforts and scoping future wargames.

You may serve as the Division’s representative to other Agency and Service wargaming organizations on operational planning, support requirements, policies, and capabilities for wargaming.

You will write, manage, revise, and maintain the wargaming SOP, and maintain a library of models and simulations for use as appropriate in wargaming design.

You will inform and advise the Service, Joint Organizations, other services, and DoD Leadership in the conduct of wargame activities that support visualizing present and future security challenges.

You will provide active oversight of all ongoing WGD efforts, activities, and wargames.

Qualifications

Your resume must demonstrate at least one year of specialized experience at or equivalent to the GS-12 grade level or pay band in the Federal service or equivalent experience in the private or public sector. Specialized experience must demonstrate the following: 1) developing, advising, and recommending wargaming best practices and coordinating the complex efforts of multiple individuals and organizations toward the successful execution of a Wargaming Program; 2) utilizing tactical, operational and strategic military planning processes, including but not limited to the Marine Corps Planning Process, the Military Decision Making Process, the Joint Operation Planning Process, and the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System; and 3) advanced knowledge and use of combat simulations, modeling, methods, and tools and the incorporation of these into wargames

Applicants must be American citizens able to obtain a TS/SCI clerarance. Full details can be found at USA Jobs. The deadline for applications is August 10.

Great Wargaming Survey 2021

Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine is currently conducting the eight edition of their Great Wargaming Survey.

It’s a very useful source of data on the hobby, so if you’re a wargamer we encourage you to participate. Also, there is an opportunity for comments at the end, so you can share your ideas on diversity, inclusion, and growing the hobby!

You’ll find an archive of their previous survey results (and associated discussions) here.

Aspiring game designer wanted, eh?

The Archipelago of Design is looking for an aspiring game designer to assist them with Project Albatross. Applicants must be Canadian citizens aged 15-30 (and hence eligible for the Canada Summer Jobs programme).

Project Albatross will seize the emerging trend of leveraging war gaming and virtual learning systems in professional military education and steer it towards the video game industry’s cutting-edge advancement in creating immersive learning experiences. By fusing game design, engaging narrative, and immersive environments with world leading design education, the virtual learning experience will promote seamless learning of self, organizational and environmental awareness.

This groundbreaking virtual learning and game experience will be tailored for a new generation of officers as they will be the playtesters and co-designers from initial conceptual design, to level design, and further play testing. The learning content will be triangulated with the global leading expertise in military design & planning represented by the Innovation Methodology for Defence Challenges (IMDC) network on game design terms.

The Archipelago of Design is looking for a talented, passionate individual eager to face the challenge of bringing game design into the learning environment of national security professionals. You will be part of this endeavour by developing a proof of concept of a virtual learning experience conducive to the development of a security design mindset. The ideal candidate has hands-on experience designing systems and balancing gameplay mechanics.  A strong literacy in game design and the ability to clearly and concisely communicate ideas in both written, verbal and visual forms is key.  The game designer will be part of a small collaborative team consisting of team members with backgrounds in multiple disciplines. Accordingly, collaboration with other disciplines and the ability to accept and provide direction to deliver a high quality product is a central aspect of the job. The ability to work in a multidisciplinary team environment and the willingness and drive to learn about security design is desirable. The position is partially funded by Canada Summer Jobs. Accordingly, only Canadian citizens can apply for this position.

You will find additional details here. The deadline for applications is August 8.

Review: Schrier, We Are the Gamers

Review: Karen Schrier, We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics (Oxford University Press, 2021). 229pp, appendices to p. 252, notes to p. 384, index. $99.00 hc, $39.95 pb, $14.57 Kindle.

In We Are the Gamers, Karen Schrier examines how games can be used to teach about ethics and civics. Games, she notes, “have always mattered and do not need to be legitimized, but the pandemic further showed us that games can serve as publics: as places and communities for learning, for connecting, for problem-solving, and for ethical and civic engagement.”

What follows is a far-reaching exploration of how games can and have been used to address civic and ethical issues. Broadly, the book is divided into five major sections. In Part I, two chapters address the value of teaching ethics and civics, and what it is that should be taught. In Part II, the author addresses games for knowledge and action, asking what knowledge is needed to empower citizens and how games can support real-world change. Part III turns attention to using games for connection and community, and better understanding both ourselves and others. Part IV devotes four full chapters to the development of critical thinking skills. Finally, Part V offers some overall reflections on how to select the right game, how to design supporting and complimentary activities around a game, and how to assess learning. Schrier also considers the possible future of serious games for ethics and civics.

As regular readers of PAXsims will know, I tend to be rather dubious of unbridled and uncritical evangelism for the magic of educational games—serious games can deliver excellent results, but only if they are designed well, used appropriately, and supported in other ways. In each chapter of We the Gamers, Schrier certainly provides enthusiastic discussion, well illustrated with examples, of the good that games can do. However she is also careful to identify potential pitfalls: entire sections of the book are devoted to how fostering communication can have negative effects, and how games may be insufficiently diverse or inclusive, trigger or emotionally overwhelm a player, misrepresent cultures, do a poor job of encouraging critical reflection, or confirm biases—to cite but a few. She also notes how the “fun” of games can itself be problematic. Having identified these risks, she then goes on to suggest how these problems can best be addressed.

The value of her analysis here goes well beyond games designed to teach ethical and civic engagement and would be of value to almost anyone who designs or uses games for learning or analytical purposes.

The book includes several length appendices, which offer sample lesson outlines, a design checklist and toolkit, a summary of key game design principles, and a series of recommendations for designers, educators, and researchers. Some of this is likely to find its way into my own game design syllabus. The endnotes and references are very extensive indeed.

Overall, this is a very readable, yet deeply thoughtful, book on the design and use of serious games. I recommend it highly.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 31 July 2021

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. Robert Crandall, Aaron Danis and Colin Marston suggested items for this latest edition.

The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) recently held their inaugural influence wargame conference, in which participants “tested their influencing and decision-making skills against a series of real-life international scenarios.”

The event provided an opportunity for civil servants and military officers to experience wargames based on influencing behaviours using physical and non-physical force, share specialist knowledge and identify potential user requirements for further investigation.

Held on Monday 19 July at QinetiQ’s Training Innovation Facility, and attended by UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and government representatives seeking to integrate influence activities into their areas of work, the event was organised by a multi-disciplinary team comprising members from across academia, industry and defence.

The conference showcased wargames developed as part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Representation of Behavioural Effects (RBE) project. The RBE project conducts science and technology (S&T) activities to improve the representation, integration and synchronisation of non-kinetic / behavioural effects in decision-support tools such as wargaming, modelling and simulation.

Wargames provide structured and safe-to-fail environments to help explore what works (winning / succeeding) and what doesn’t (losing / failing). At the core of wargames are: the players; the decisions they take; the narrative they create; their shared experiences; and the lessons they take away.

The work from this conference will help determine how better to wargame influence and how to include influence within wargames that have not considered it before. Incorporating influence within wargames will better represent the current and future character of warfare, as set out in the Integrated Review and thus better informing decision-making within UKgovernment.

Wargaming Influence Conference

The Defense Futures Simulator, created by the American Enterprise Institute, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and War on the Rocks, “allows users to see how various defense strategies and budget choices would alter the Defense Department budget.”

According to Defense One, “A brutal loss in a wargaming exercise last October convinced the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten to scrap joint warfighting concepts that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.”

The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks. 

“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive. But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable,” Hyten said.  

Even more critically, the blue team lost access to its networks almost immediately. 

“We basically attempted an information-dominance structure, where information was ubiquitous to our forces. Just like it was in the first Gulf War, just like it has been for the last 20 years, just like everybody in the world, including China and Russia, have watched us do for the last 30 years,” Hyten said. “Well, what happens if right from the beginning that information is not available? And that’s the big problem that we faced.” 

The October exercise was a test for a new Joint Warfighting Concept. But the new joint concept had been largely based on the same joint operations concepts that had guided forces for decades, Hyten said, and the red team easily defeated them.

In keeping with that same theme, the Mad Scientist Laboratory blog features a piece by Ian Sullivan discussing “Using Wargaming to Envision a Chinese Assault on Taiwan.”

The Taiwan Strait is about 80 miles wide.  Although a formidable obstacle to cross, time and distance factors clearly favor China, as the distance between California and Taiwan is over 6,000 miles.  Furthermore, although the United States maintains a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific Theater, they clearly would be at a numerical disadvantage if the PLA decided to initiate an invasion.  Finally, the PLA’s significant Area Denial/Anti-Access (A2/AD)capabilities mean that any effort to move a US force across the Pacific will be contested, possibly from CONUS itself all the way across the Pacific.  To understand the challenge we face, it is imperative that we imagine what such a fight would entail.

In November 2020, I wrote a previous post arguing that wargaming can help us visualize what the threat can be.  It can help us imagine it and provide context to our thinking about it.  It can help us check our assumptions, and perhaps even offer thoughts and ideas that we would never have considered.  It will not tell us the future, or lay out with certainty what will happen.  But it can offer us an opportunity to prevent a failure of imagination of the kind warned against in the 9/11 Commission Report.  By imagining the threat, we may be in a position to make better decisions during moments of crisis.  This time, I’m using a copy of GMT Games “Next War: Taiwan” to help visualize what such a fight could entail.

In the end, China largely achieves its objectives

The campaign lasted less than a month.  The Joint Force and its Allies performed well in all their engagements with the PLA.  The PLA was a capable adversary, whose modernization created a peer competitor whose capabilities were in general, on par with US capabilities.  In cases where US and PLA forces entered into direct combat with each other, US forces generally prevailed tactically.  However, the PLA was able to achieve three key effects which tipped the operational and strategic fight their way:

They relied on a time and distance equation that was in China’s favor, and then further expanded it through the a surprise ballistic missile strike which mitigated forward deployed Allied airpower and then a sophisticated cyber/information attack against the US Homeland, which caused mass confusion among the civilian population and interdicted the Joint Force’s ability to flow reinforcements to the theater.

The PLA’s sophisticated and capable A2/AD capabilities were an obstacle that could not quickly be overcome. These capabilities also were extended by the coup de main operations to seize the outlying island territories in the Spratlys, Paracels, Penghu, and the Ryukyus.  The Allies were forced to fight to clear the outlying islands, while the A2/AD capability allowed China to retain all-domain superiority at critical moments in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits areas.

The PLA’s modernization efforts created a flexible force capable of carrying out its preferred way of war. This force was superior in terms of personnel and capabilities over its ROC adversary, and was on almost-even terms with the US Joint Force.  With time and distance in its favor, and while holding all-domain advantages (or at least parity) at critical moments and areas of the battlespace, the PLA was able to wage a successful campaign.

Continuing our pivot to the Pacific, Security Nexus (the online journal of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies) features an article by Deon Canyon, Jonathan Cham, and Jim Potenza on insights into US-North Korea nuclear tensions arising from a senior leader wargame.

In dealing with complex security issues and imperfect information, decision-makers frequently rely on mental models that limit their capacity to make fully rational decisions. Wargames can provide an innovative option for challenging assumptions based on past experience, exposing unassessed risk, and gaining insight into future events. This paper reports on five high-level wargames on the United States – North Korea nuclear standoff. Player actions, reflections, feedback, and anonymous surveys indicate that the games provided ample opportunity to understand different viewpoints, explore non-worst-case options, think about the unexpected, and expose the implications of subtle interactions.

The game used was based on the DPRK matrix game previously featured here at PAXsims.

Back in June, The War Room offered a “student’s view” of educational wargaming.

Last year our WARGAMING ROOM editor, Ken Gilliam, sat down with a soon-to-graduate War College student to get her impression of the use of wargames in the classroom. A BETTER PEACE welcomes War College graduate Tina Cancel to the studio to share her thoughts and experiences with LEGO® Serious Play® and the War College created game, Joint Overmatch. Ken has recently retired and moved on to a new career and this was fitting as his final episode because Tina confirms the benefits of all of his hard work during his time as the Director of Strategic Wargaming at the Center for Strategic Leadership and gives him some great feedback to pass on to his successor.

In The Atlantic, Luke Winkie discusses “The Board Games That Ask You to Reenact Colonialism.”

Boutique board games have been around for years, but in the mid-2000s, as “Catan”which was formerly called “Settlers of Catan,” and which also employs a colonist mechanism, this time in a fictional place—permeated the culture, people started latching on to a hobby most commonly associated with the fringes of nerdom. These games are far more involved than the Parker Brothers catalog, and their designers ask players to embrace complicated rule sets and deep critical thinking; players will rarely do something as simple as just rolling a die and moving a pawn. For a seemingly narrow market, it keeps growing: In 2020, the research firm Euromonitor International noted that the “games and puzzles” market had eclipsed $11 billion.

But recently, players have started asking more incisive questions about their hobby—questions that reach beyond design elegance or component quality, that get at the nature of games as political objects and whether they should be held to the same standards that we demand from our other entertainment. One of the longest active threads on the BoardGameGeek forums for “Puerto Rico” discusses the game’s sanguine perspective on colonialism. (“Puerto Rico is the only game I ever turned down even a single trial play of, because of a literal curl of my lip in distaste as I was being taught the game,” one user writes.) Earlier this year, the board-game YouTube channel No Rolls Barred uploaded something of a mea culpa for having recommended “Puerto Rico” as one of its favorite strategy games. In 2019, the war-gaming giant GMT canceled a game called “Scramble for Africa” after mounting objections from its customers.

But why did anyone look at that concept and think it was a good idea? Why did game designers ever fall in love with colonial fantasy anyway?

You can read more at the link above.

Controversy and Clarity, the podcast of the Warfighting Society, has recently interviewed a number of prominent professional wargamers, including Sebastian Bae, Tim Barrick, and Eric Walters. See the full lineup here.

The Register features a report on the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool, focusing on the role of the WRENS there and especially the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.

The upper floor of Derby House was home to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit under the command of Captain Gilbert Roberts, who had designed wargames while serving at the Royal Navy’s Tactical School in Portsmouth before the war, and his predominantly female staff from the Women’s Royal Naval Service or WRENs.

The task given to Roberts and his team when it was established on 1 January 1942 was simple – develop tactics for the Royal Navy that would defeat the U-boats and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Wargaming was Robert’s chosen medium, re-enacting Atlantic engagements and trying out new tactics in what looked like a vast and complex version of the popular board game Battleship.

By the time WATU closed in 1945 more than 5,000 naval officers had played the wargames run by Roberts and his WRENs (66 in all) and attended more than 130 different courses covering all aspects of anti-submarine warfare. And it wasn’t just the Royal Navy that benefited. Crews from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Denmark, and Belgium to name but a few were trained in WATU’s tactics.

The final room of the museum gives a taste of what the WATU game floor would have looked like with its canvas booths and the plots of convoys, U-boats and escorts chalked out on the floor in different colours. The booths were designed to restrict the view of naval crews who came to train at WATU in such a way as to mimic the limited view they would have from the command decks of their warships.

On the floor, the chalk tracks of the U-boats were drawn in green, to make them invisible to the escort commanders in their booths.

The white chalk lines that denoted the position and course of the escorting warships and their merchantmen wards could be seen from the booths. In this way, WATU hoped to match the situation on the high seas as closely as possible.

DEV The Solution “s a nonprofit organization that encourages game development to help solve significant global problems. A major part of that will be hosting regular game jams centered around the theme of helping educate about real life challenges facing humankind as well as providing potential solutions.”

Finally, there is this unique example of investigative journalism in The Conservative Woman, which highlights how serious games designed to prepare public health institutions to deal with the threat of global pandemics have actually been part of an immense global conspiracy to rob us of our freedoms.

Dammit, who told them?

PAXsims research associates, 2021-22

We are pleased to announce the latest group of PAXsims research associates for 2021-22. Many thanks to everyone who applied—we had more applications than usual this time, and weren’t able to take everyone on board.

Alexandria ‘Lexee’ Brill is a second-year M.A. candidate at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program and works as a full-time wargaming analyst, specializing in scenario development and facilitation. Lexee came to wargaming through red teaming and threat analysis. She has games and gaming research in development covering topics from historical influence in Mao-era China to the role of internal biases in-game participation. In between work and studies, Lexee enjoys playing video games and hiking with her dog.

Benjamin Gaches is a PhD Candidate at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen attempting to answer the question ‘How can serious games and simulations be used to better understand the perpetration of grave international crimes?’, and a freelance instructional designer. He holds an LLM in International Humanitarian Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, and a B.A. in Political Science and International Development Studies from McGill University. He participated in the development of several serious games for training while working for the UN Institute for Training and Research, and has recently begun running wargames and simulations as part of undergraduate courses on war in Groningen. His interests include role play for research and educational gaming, simulation and world building, international criminology and the psychology of mass violence.

Anne M. Johnson has worked in maritime security and defense for over 20 years.  She has served as systems software management lead and principal investigator for concept generation and development, assessments, futuring, and analytics across many areas of undersea warfare and maritime security.  Anne serves as the Group Mentoring Chair for the Conflict, Security, and Defense Special Interest Group of the International System Dynamics Society.  She is currently pursuing an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degree in Systems and Simulation Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Her research focus is at the intersection of system dynamics modeling and serious games to develop evaluation criteria for wargame design.

Drew Marriott is a gap year student and graduate of The Brearley School who hails from New York City. This year she is located in Washington, DC where she is exploring national security as a career. Outside of school or work, you can find her reading, playing the board game Diplomacy, or watching The West Wing.

Wargaming accuracy and the Official Secrets Act

A recent online debate over modelling of the Challenger 2 tank in the popular digital wargame War Thunder led one player—apparently, a British Army tank commander with the Royal Tank Regiment—to post the classified Challenger 2 Army Equipment Support Publication in an online forum to prove their point. According to UK Defence Journal:

…excerpts from the document had their ‘UK RESTRICTED’ label crossed out and a stamp of ‘UNCLASSIFIED’ added, as well as having various parts fully blanked. One forum user remarked that “the cover for instance had basically everything except CHALLENGER 2 blacked out”.

The forum user posted the following alongside the now removed AESP in an effort to have an issue with the in-game design of the vehicle rectified.

“Linking those screenshots with the following edited image from the AESP’s which is meant to show the relationship of the various components. The image isn’t exactly to scale as its only meant to show the position of components relative to each other but it works for the point I’m trying to make here. The trunnion’s sit centrally of the rotor. The trunnions support the rotor in the turret structure and the GCE sub components as previously stated are all mounted to the rotor.”

The (Russian) gaming company removed the images from their community forum, and a (non-Russian) discussion moderator noted:

“We have written confirmation from MoD that this document remains classified. By continuing to disseminate it you are in violation of the Official Secrets Act as stated by the warning on the cover of the document, an offence which can carry up to a 14 year prison sentence if prosecuted. Of this you are already aware, as a service person you have signed a declaration that you understand the act and what actions it compels you to take. Every time you post this you place us (International representatives of Gaijin), especially any UK citizens, in hot water as the warning so helpfully states that unauthorised retention of a protected document is an offence.”

The entire episode suggests a new form of intelligence collection: TROLLINT, whereby you goad wargamers with access to sensitive material into sharing classified specifications online by trash-talking their favourite weapons systems.

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