PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Connections Online 2021 After Action Review

Prepared for PAXsims by Chris Weuve

Connections Online 2021 (hereafter CO21) was held 12-14 April, through the mechanisms of Discord and YouTube. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first professional wargame conference designed not as simply a replacement for an in-person conference, but as first and foremost an online event, optimized for that environment. For that reason (and, I admit, because I am proud of what we pulled off), I’d like to tell you what we were trying to accomplish and how we went about doing it.

CO21 was really an experiment to see if a small group of people could put on a professional conference. The origins of this conference went back to May 2020, when it really became clear that we were not going to be doing in-person events any time soon. At that point I envisioned an online, recorded, 3-5 day “single room” (i.e., only one event at a time) conference, modeled after but separate from Connections US. Originally I planned to use a tool like Zoom or Go To Meeting with a direct-to-YouTube livestream, but about the same time I discovered StreamYard, a subscription website designed to do video streaming. Add in Discord to support text communications amongst conference members, including distributing StreamYard links and last second communications to panelists, and I had the technology behind a plan.

With a couple of people (largely Merle Robinson and Stephen Downes-Martin), we scoped out the rest of the format: The core conference would take place from 10am-4pm each day (“London to Los Angeles”), with events starting at 10am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. The early morning hour-long sessions would be generally solo talks (e.g., keynotes). The two 2-hour blocks were conceptualized as topical panel discussions of 3-4 presenters (plus a moderator) giving 10-15 minute presentations, followed by moderated discussion and Q&A. The last hour-long session each day would be 2-4 panelists who will comment on and lead a discussion on a set of previously viewed YouTube movies whose URLs have been sent out in advance. (This last format is an experiment, and I was fully prepared to declare after we tried it that “The experiment was a success — we learned to NEVER do that again!”) The conference theme of “distributed wargaming” seemed pretty obvious, as did what I call the 60-40 rule of Connections conferences: the goal is that somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of a Connections conference is about the theme, the rest is other relevant topics. In addition, we could conduct an “extended” events schedule — basically, put out a call for people who wanted to run games or other events outside of our regular hours and who could provide their own IT solutions, which we would had to the schedule.

At that point the day job intervened and, after targeting March or April 2021, the idea was largely put on hold until sometime around December 2020, at which point we re-lit the engines and got to work. As Merle Robinson and I started divvying up the work, Brant Guillory joined us. At this point I was pretty confident: Merle is a fellow Connections US committee veteran used to running large wargame events through the National Security Making Game, and was conducting his own experiments with online events; Brant and the Armchair Dragoons had run multiple game conventions (two online in 2020), and had an excellent handle on the registration side of things; and I knew how to make the technology work and had spent a LOT of time thinking about the operating procedures.

All we had to do at that point was, you know, get moderators and speakers.

In the end, we had three days of core events for 10am to 4pm EDT, plus extended events running two days before and four days after, usually in the evening.

I don’t have time to discus all of the excellent panels our moderators put together, but I do want to go back to the two experimental YouTube panels I mentioned above. The first was on Monday, when Brian Train and Mike Markowitz sat down and discussed their Georgetown University Wargaming Society videos on the practical aspects of wargame design. Brian and Mike are second to none in their field, and the panel basically designed itself.

The Tuesday YouTube panel required a little more work, and exemplifies the hands-off approach I used as conference director. Back in 2020 I had read Simon Parkin’s A Game of Birds and Wolves and Mark William’s Captain Gilbert Roberts R.N.and the Anti-U-Boat School, on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. While reading the Parkin book I saw a name I recognized — Tom Mouat. So, when it came time to spin up for the conference, I sent Tom a note and asked him if he had the time to put together a panel on WATU; I briefly outlined an idea of a panel consisting of him, Simon Parkin, and maybe a YouTuber who had done something on WATU. I also asked Nick Bradbeer (the only other British wargamer I had met at a Connections conference) if he could back Tom up, since I knew Tom had been deployed and might be too busy.

So, an important thing to keep in mind — at this point I really didn’t know much about WATU, other than it was a wargame success story. That’s okay, because it wasn’t my panel — it was Tom’s panel, and I was specifically asking Tom to use his contacts to take charge and make it shine, as I was trying to organize the conference and didn’t want to be in the business of organizing each panel, too. I told Tom what I told all of the panel moderators — “here’s an overview of what I was thinking, but you are fully authorized to do whatever you want to do to make the panel as good as it could be.” It took about a week or so, but Tom got back to me, telling me that Sally Davis had largely reconstructucted the game rules and had actually run it sometime previously, and that some of the players might be available as well. Truth be told, I had forgotten the event and totally missed that Sally had run it, but it seemed like a no-brainer to me. (PAXsims has a lot more about WATU than I realized. I missed a lot and need to get caught up.) From the conversation during and after the panel, it’s clear Sally has thoroughly researched WATU and the Wrens who worked there, and I hope she publishes on the subject.

Overall, here are my takeaways:

  1. The “StreamYard to YouTube” model worked amazingly well. Training sessions with panelists in advance is a must.
  2. Discord is a little quirky, but will do, and we’ve got a better handle on what it should look like next time. More Discord help resources are needed, and we need to rethink how we organize the Discord server.
  3. The two YouTube panels seemed to work well, but I think I need to be more proactive about getting URLs out in advance before I declare the format to be a success.
  4. The key to making this work is writing everything down in advance. Before I created the first session in StreamYard, I had planned out all of the core events — titles, panelists, descriptions, et cetera, in a Word document, organized from the last event to the first, so that when I created an event I could take the YouTube URL and paste it into the description for the previous event. Information was grouped (and in some cases, duplicated), such that the document became the go-to reference document for cutting and pasting into Discord as well.
  5. Finally, this was essentially a proof of concept, a beta test to demonstrate that a small number of people (three core players for setup, plus a couple of people during the conference, all doing this part time) could organize and execute a professional, online (with video and chat), recorded wargaming conference for a couple of hundred dollars. That beta test was a success.

I look forward to seeing other reviews of the conference — feedback encouraged! — and I am really looking forward to doing it again next year.

Thank you again to our moderators and panelists, and to my colleagues who made it happen.

— Chris Weuve

Game Labs returns to Connections US — Call for topics

Game Lab is an opportunity for short (40 minute) small group discussions of specific gaming-related issues among Connections US (June 21 — 25) attendees. Originally conceived and organized by Scott Chambers, they were a highly successful feature of past face-to-face Connections conferences.

This year at Connections US (June 21 — 25) we will be running Game Lab online — similar concept, different implementation! So, if you have a game related challenge or question you wish discussed at Connections US 2021 then use this form to propose it (you can propose more than one question by submitting the form several times).

Conference attendees have the option to join whatever discussion they like, and the participants who submitted questions lead the subsequent conversations. The Game Lab fosters conversations across experience levels and backgrounds, resulting in some of the most focused exchanges of the conference.

If your proposal is accepted you agree to facilitate and lead your discussion, to submit all data gathered during your discussion to the Conference organizers for inclusion in the public online Conference proceedings, and to participate in a training session which we will set up with you covering the online collaboration tool we will use for Game Lab. We will work with you to make your Game Lab session a success!

NOTE — You have to be registered for the Connections US 2021 Conference to participate in the Game Lab. You may submit Game Lab questions before you register, but If you have not yet registered for the Conference please do so as soon as registration opens at the Conference website.

Game Lab Question/Challenge Proposal Form

Psychological Barriers to Distributed Wargaming

Much has been written about the practical issues of doing professional wargaming in a distributed environment — for example the role of simulation, the difficulties of dealing with security, facilitation and adjudication, scheduling, etc. However, I have not seen much written or discussed about the psychological effects on stakeholders during distributed wargaming, who these effects impact, whether they are barriers or advantages, and how should we respond to them.

The Simulation and Wargaming Standing Study Group of the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization’s Working Group on “Distributed Wargaming” is reaching out to the wargaming and simulation communities for your insights on this topic.

Please consider providing your ideas via this survey form. Your name and email address are voluntary, helps me get in touch with you later. You may provide as many answers as you wish by responding multiple times to this survey form.

Click here for live results (without names and email addresses, wait for the spreadsheet to load), assuming of course anyone has submitted ideas! So check back occasionally.

I will publish a final report will be published later this Summer.

Click here for Survey Form

Click here for Live Results
(and wait for the spreadsheet to load!)

Contact me with questions or if you cannot access the live results page.

Thank you for your inputs!

Stephen Downes-Martin
stephen.downesmartin@gmail.com

Gaming Disease Response

Ed McGrady just published his book on “Gaming Disease Response.” The book focuses on how to build games in support of public health professionals. It covers all types of subjects, from chronic conditions to mental health to infectious disease. The book focuses on the intersection of games and disease, with chapters detailing how to incorporate disease into games, and how the structure of the public health system in the US matters for game creation. Each chapter is followed by a game outline that takes you through the process of designing and executing a game on a particular disease response. Ed has been working on games in the public heath arena for many years, and has run them at literally every level of the government.

Published by the History of Wargaming Project (http://www.wargaming.co/serious/details/rolltosave.htm) and available on Amazon.

Part 2 of USNA Study on Wargame Design Education

“Thanks in advance for those of you who participated in this study’s first Delphi Survey. As a reminder, these Delphi Surveys are part of a larger project I conduct as the Fellow of the United States Naval Academy Naval History Wargaming Lab. I am seeking to understand the current state of wargaming design education and to explore potential solutions inspired by art epistemology. If you are curious for more information about my study, please consult the previous PAXSims post on this study.

You do not have to have participated in the first survey to participate in the second one. This survey will be less involved than the first – it includes multiple choice and select all type questions rather than long answer questions. The second survey, in the Delphi Survey tradition, will help me move findings from the data closer towards statements with a sense of community consensus.

Thank you in advance for your participation, time, and energy. Please feel free to email me at sawyerjudge@outlook.com should you have any additional questions.”

From Sawyer Judge

Click here to complete the Survey for Part 2 of the Study. Sawyer requests you complete as much as you feel comfortable and willing to complete. No question is required except for your name and consent at the beginning. Learn more about the study itself, her ongoing research, and the instructions for the survey on the survey’s first page.

Please try to complete the survey by the end of the month, the 28th of February.

Connections US Archive

I need email addresses for the following 8 people, who have given presentations to Connections US. We need these as part of our effort to build an archive of Connections US Proceedings — specifically to obtain from them a copy of their presentation and their permission to include it in the online archive.

Please eyeball the below list and email me direct (stephen.downesmartin(at)gmail.com) whatever email addresses you have for them, thanks!

  • Thomas Allen
  • Natasha Bajema
  • Chris Baker
  • Brian Killough
  • John Lister
  • James Morningstar
  • Neil Randall
  • Todd Reid

REMINDER: USNA Fellowship Study on Wargame Design Education – Delphi Survey 1

If you wish to support USNA’s research into how current wargame design education measures against the norms of higher education in artistic disciplines then please take the Delphi Survey 1 before the end of tomorrow (Friday 8th Jan).

(Further information is on the front page of the survey and at the original PAXsims post on the subject.)

Thanks!

Call for Participation: USNA Fellowship Study on Wargame Design Education – Delphi Survey 1

Sawyer Judge is an Associate Research Analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), a recent graduate of the Georgetown University Security Studies Program, and a fellow for the United States Naval Academy’s Naval History Wargaming Lab.

As part of her fellowship for the United States Naval Academy’s Naval History Wargaming Lab, she is running a series of Delphi Surveys which will inform our understanding of the Wargame Design Community’s views on design education. This is part of a larger study addressing the following question:

How does current wargame design education measure against the norms of higher education in artistic disciplines?

Anyone can participate, and you will be asked about your ties to the community as well as your insights and opinions.

Delphi surveys aim to move towards a coherent picture of subject matter expert (SME) opinions within a particular community of interest (COI). It is a useful tool for identifying both consensus and divergence, without running any risk of “group think.” Delphi surveys are iterative by nature, so if you participate in the first round, she will be reaching out to you again for a second survey.

Click here to complete the survey. You are asked to complete as much as you feel comfortable and willing to complete. No question is required except for your name and consent at the beginning. Learn more about the study itself, her ongoing research, and the instructions for the survey on the survey’s first page.

Please complete the survey by January 8th 2021! Thank you.

Gaming and Professional Military Education

Given the current interest in wargaming and PME, here’s an interesting overview by Group Captain Jo Brick, a Legal Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force and Chief of Staff at the Australian Defence College, on how games can enhance PME. Contents include:

  • The Intellectual Edge, play, and gaming
  • Overview – from the Magdeburg War Gaming Society to ‘This War of Mine’ (2017)
  • Conflict and competition through abstraction
  • Conclusion

Representing Artificial Intelligence in Wargames

Proceedings of the Connections US 2020 Wargaming Conference Working Group 2, with contributions from: ED McGrady, Dennis Rensel, Kristan Wheaton, Megan Hennessey, Abram Trosky, Joseph Saur, Jeremy Sepinsky and John Hanley.

What effects will AI or other advanced technologies have on how we fight? New technologies are notoriously hard to incorporate into existing military operational concepts. Some change nothing, others change everything. How to identify the holistic effects of technologies like AI or other advanced technologies is a task is well suited to wargaming. After all, wargamers often consider the far flung future and provide a possible universe for study. As noted by multiple authors the lack of actual technology did not prevent study of future technologies in the InterWar period.

The report contains an executive summary explaining the high level takeaways and the Working Group method and process, and seven research papers along with discussion.

The initial chapters provide an overview of the challenges inherent in addressing specific methods for including AI and other advanced technologies in wargames. Following this discussion, the next several papers provide an overview of a range of methods to represent AI and other advanced technologies in wargames. Finally, the report closes with a discussion of some of the mathematical considerations that may allow us to address the challenges provided by AI.

Please direct inquiries to the Chair of the Working Group, Ed McGrady: mcgradye@gmail.com.

How to Master Wargaming

From the United States Army Combined Arms Center comes this interesting Handbook on how to use commercial off the shelf wargames to improve military COA analysis.

“This handbook focuses on three items: First, how to improve and develop the cognitive skill of visualizing, a key component to COA analysis (wargaming); second, improving the methods and conduct of action, reaction, and counteraction adjudication of COA analysis with off-the-shelf wargames; and third, thoughts on training the staff. COA analysis is similar to any collective skill, and is perishable if not continually trained and rehearsed. Therefore, it is the purpose of this handbook to provide thoughts on how to develop individuals and staffs so they can better conduct COA analysis during the military decisionmaking process.)

https://usacac.army.mil/organizations/mccoe/call/publication/20-06

Tactical Reconnaissance – A Soviet View

I’ve added “Tactical Reconnaissance” (No. 23 of the Soviet Military Thought series) to the earlier post of books 1 — 22 in that series. Maybe of use to anyone interested in Cold War wargaming, or on how Soviet Military Thought has evolved into the current day.

Does anyone know of volumes after No. 23?

(For links to books.google.com, click on the gear wheel top right of the screen and select “Download PDF” for a clean text-searchable PDF.)

Active Learning in Policy Studies in Pandemic Times: The Promise of Digital Games

————– Forwarded ————
From: Bruno Oscar Dente <bruno.dente@polimi.it>
Date: Tue, Nov 24, 2020 at 5:17 AM
Subject: Panel at ICPP5 – Barcelona July 2021

Dear colleagues,

Attached you will find the announcement and the call for papers for a panel I will be chairing together with Ixcel Perez Duran and Claudio Radaelli at the 5th International Conference in Public Policy that will be held (in person, blended or online) in Barcelona 6-8 July 2021.

If you are interested in participating either as commentators or paper givers do not hesitate to contact us. We will also be grateful if you will circulate the announcement to your colleagues who might be interested.

Thank you for your attention.

Best wishes

Bruno Dente

Honorary Professor
Politecnico di Milano
Department of Management Engineering
Via Lambruschini 4/B
20156 MILANO (Italy)

Distributed Wargaming Working Group

The Distributed Wargaming Working Group is now full, no more applicants will be accepted. Respectfully, Stephen Downes-Martin

You are invited to join the Distributed Wargaming Working Group. If interested, read on …

Covid-19 made distributed wargaming a requirement for both safety and economic reasons. By working together the modeling, simulation and professional wargaming communities can satisfy this requirement.

The Simulation and Wargaming Standing Study Group of the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization has started a Working Group on “Distributed Wargaming”, the focus of which is to:

“examine how technical, social and design processes can exploit the advantages and overcome the disadvantages of wargaming for professional purposes in a distributed environment”

Note that by “wargaming” we mean:
“A warfare model or simulation, using rules, data, and procedures, not involving actual military forces, and in which the flow of events is affected by, and in turn affects, decisions made during the course of those events by players representing the opposing sides”
Perla, P. The Art of Wargaming, Naval Institute Press, 1990, p.274

We are looking for experts in the following areas to apply their expertise to distributed professional wargaming:

  • Wargame design and execution
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Human/machine interfaces
  • Online collaboration systems
  • Human in the loop simulations
  • Distributed simulation
  • Game psychology
  • Distributed decision making and negotiation

If you decide to join you may participate in any of the following ways:

  • Engage in online discussions on any topic that surface within the focus area of the group.
  • Write a working paper for inclusion in the final report. Your paper can be on any topic you choose so long as it fits within the group focus.
  • Comment and discuss other members’ papers and respond to comments on your own (if you write one).
  • Participate in any of several wargaming and simulation conferences.
  • Lurk and learn, and contribute when you feel comfortable doing so.

The Working Group will produce a product consisting of an Executive Summary, the refined working papers, discussion about each paper and other topics, and an integrated bibliography. The objective is to produce a useful resource for the simulation and wargaming community. All contributors retain intellectual property rights to their contributions but grant the Working Group unrestricted rights to post their material as part of the Working Group product online and distribute it widely. For an example of the kind of report we will produce see: https://paxsims.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/2019-wargaming-the-far-future-final-20191105.pdf

If you wish to join, please email me including either a link to your online bio or a copy of your bio, and let me know your general area of interest in the working group focus. Thank you.

Respectfully
Stephen Downes-Martin
stephen.downesmartin@gmail.com

Introducing the Gaming Lab at CNAS

CNAS PRESS RELEASE
Contact: Cole Stevens, 202-695-8166, cstevens@cnas.org

Washington, October 14, 2020—The Center for a New American Security today launched The Gaming Lab at CNAS, a new major initiative led by the CNAS Defense Program. CNAS experts and adjuncts at The Gaming Lab will lead innovative, unclassified games and exercises to help policymakers and military strategists gain critical insights into key national security problems. …

info@cnas.org

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