Something that came up again and again in the excellent Connections North diversity panel discussion was the importance of empathy as a skill for wargamers:
Yuna Wong raised it as one of the top five skills she’d look for in a wargamer, and it’s certainly been my experience that the people who are great to work with are the people who get all the work
Paul Strong raised it in the power of narrative (and all wargames are a form of collaborative storytelling), pointing to the advent of the novel as a means for social change by giving people new perspectives
Brianna Proceviat raised it in answer to a question from Cath Jones about educating people about diversity and inclusion by flipping the power dynamic
And everything I’ve done this past year in support of the Derby House Principles has been successful because of empathy.
Isn’t it beautiful that what works to improve diversity and inclusion is the exact same thing that makes people good wargamers?
Key skills for helping a friend in a difficult time—and equally in red-teaming a hostile power without falling prey to stereotypes, reading the other players, and contributing to the game analysis and insights.
Why does it work for D&I?
Some years ago, I had to fight hard to get reasonable adjustments for dyslexia. Just a screen-reader, nothing earth-shattering, but between being good at my job and the perception that real dyslexics are functionally illiterate, it was incredibly difficult to convince people of my need. Facts and figures made no impact on people who perceived me as perfectly capable. What I needed was a way to make them feel how difficult and frustrating and exhausting it was to be working so hard to keep up.
Enter stage left a serious game about dyslexia, where, through the magic of science, I make a room full of otherwise competent adults lose the ability to read, write, and speak coherently, to remember anything, to recognise familiar objects, and even tell the time. It’s hilarious and stressful and eye-opening, and it literally works because it is a lesson in empathy.
People come away from this workshop having experienced dyslexia. Having felt the glare of the spotlight on them trying to read when reading is hard, or trying to make a coherent argument when they can’t find the words they want, or having stared and stared and stared at something that makes no sense at all while everyone else just gets it.
It literally changes people’s perception of dyslexia and disability (non-ironic feedback includes: “This saved my marriage. I thought my husband was doing all these things just to annoy me.”) And it does it because it makes people feel what it’s like. I don’t tell people dyslexia is frustrating, I make them frustrated. And the lesson sticks because it gets encoded with that powerful emotion…and also because it’s an absolute blast and a compelling magic trick they want to tell everyone about.
Enter the Derby House Principles
One of the first things that came up in Derby House Principles conversations was how to help smaller wargaming organisations talk about diversity when they don’t have anyone to speak to the experience.
The diversity card deck, inspired by Tom Mouat’s excellent Migrants card deck, is the diversity missing from the room. Players draw a card and relay the vignette to the group in the first person, as if it happened to them. That act of imaginative empathy: what if this happened to me? is followed by a group discussion of whether the same situation plays out differently for them and why. For a lot of men, it’s genuinely the first time they’ve even considered that these things happen, or what it would feel like to be on the receiving end. And it’s had such a massive impact on the culture where I work.
We went from a place where well-intentioned men would respond, “I’m sure it’s not like that,” whenever I said this is my experience as the only woman in the room, to one where they genuinely realised there could be another perspective. And it didn’t just convert the good-eggs. People who harrumphed loudly at the idea of the card deck found their wives or girlfriends looking over their shoulder, saying, “Yes. Yep. That too. Oh my god all the time. And that one,” and the clouds parted, the heavenly choirs sang, the god rays shone down, and they realised (gasp) all women and minorities are human beings with thoughts and feelings just like their significant other—and that people they care about suffer these indignities and incivilities and injustices all the time too. It has meaning because they’ve connected it to someone they care about, not the ‘other’.
Walk a mile in our shoes
Another big inspiration for me in experiential learning is Jane Elliot’s anti-racism work. It works because she makes people feel discrimination:
And the same leap of imaginative empathy is at work in the RPG Dog Eat Dog by Liam Burke. (More on my project to use that to start conversations about discrimination here.) What’s stuck with me most about the games we’ve played so far is that it’s the role-playing that makes it real to straight white non-disabled men—it’s feeling that awful sense of this is wrong and I am powerless, and tying themselves in knots managing the emotions of the dominant group when they’ve never had that perspective before, and being disabused of their naive ideas that minority groups just haven’t done it right so far and here comes a white/male saviour to show them the way… it’s the role-playing that makes them open their eyes and really hear what women and minorities have been saying. It’s the act of imaginative empathy that teaches.
Empathy is why nobody who plays this game can forget it.
How do we make more connections?
Another point made in the diversity panel was that the heavy lifting of D&I should not be left—or piled on—to the minority wargamers. That, by virtue of being the only woman, or BAME/BIPOC, or LGBT, or disabled person in the building, everyone expects them to lead on D&I and be the diversity, and do the hard work so everyone else can congratulate themselves that its being done without getting their hands dirty.
The biggest challenge of all of this has been how do I get men to talk about women’s issues, straight people to talk about LGBT issues, non-disabled people to talk about disability issues, white people to talk about race. Too often a minority person is left to do all the talking, all the leading, all the fixing. Silence is complicity. Even when I write an essay about exactly that…folks talk about it in private where nobody will disagree, not in public spaces, not to minority wargamers, not where it will make a difference.
Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s strength
The first time I saw the needle move was when a straight white man in a position of authority admitted on a VTC that he’d read a blog on Black Lives Matter and wanted to comment to show support but panicked because he didn’t want to say the wrong thing. That admission of vulnerability, I wanted to do better but I didn’t know how, opened the floodgates for others who’d been silent, who supported D&I but didn’t know how to show their support and were afraid to intrude on a space they didn’t think was theirs.
Men: you have so much power to set the tone and start these conversations, just by saying I don’t have all the answers but I want to learn. Worry less about saying the wrong thing. You only have to say I see you, I’m listening.
Make it easy for allies to show their support
The Derby House pins look great so people want to wear them.
I learnt the power of ally badges presenting to the board of executives. It just so happened a good number of them were wearing LGBT Ally badges. Walking into that intimidating space and seeing those silent messages of support—completely unrelated to the topic I was presenting on—was magic. Seeing people wearing Derby House pins—or “I’m not a dickhead” badges, as they’ve come to be known—is knowing who your friends are in a room full of strangers.
It’s possible to talk someone out of bigotry. Watching some of the D&I trolls see the light—go from posting misogynist nonsense to amplifying Derby House Principles messaging—has been a delightful, heartwarming, life-affirming D&I soap opera. It’s also been hard hard work. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a good-enough person to be able to meet trolling and bigotry with the compassion and kindness and patience required. Not because I don’t agree it’s the right way to achieve change, but because I’m human and flawed and quite frankly because it’s hard to treat people with the respect and dignity and compassion that they do not show in return. Being on the receiving end of trolling and just vile comments on PAXsims does not make me all that disposed to generosity towards the marginal comments and well-intended-but-oblivious comments and idiot-but-not-actually-bigotted comments.
Jamil Zaki: It can be really exhausting to empathise with people who are different from us. Especially if they have opinions that we might fear or abhore.
Laurie Santos: Now I try really hard to be an understanding person. And I truely beleve in the importance of Jamil’s battle for kindness. But almost every day I see some view online that makes me see red. When people seem to be so hateful, it’s really really hard to see them as deserving of my compassion or my emotional energy. I was surprised that the guy who literally wrote the book on empathy got exactly what I was saying.
Jamil Zaki: Trust me, I feel that way all the time. I still remember when the New York Times had this whole very sympathetic portrayal of a family in Illinois that happened to be Nazis. And I remember a detail where they were trying to humanise this family by talking about how they cooked their pasta and I just remember thinking “I don’t want to hear about your Nazi pasta. I don’t want to humanise you.” It’s exhausting to connect. And it’s especially exhausting to connect with people who say things that are awful and that don’t really deserve a platform.
Laurie Santos: I want to make sure that all this empathic labour is a bit more evenly distributed. That the hard work of deep connection doesn’t just fall to historically marginalised groups who’ve long been on the recieving side of all the injustice; these are the folks least likely to have the emotional bandwidth to make connections.
Empathy is a learnable skill, an improveable skill. Do it to be a better wargamer. Do it for a better wargaming culture. Do it for better wargame outputs. Do it for whatever reason you like, but please hear Yuna and myself when we say women and minorities cannot carry the whole D&I load for all of wargaming.
Philip Sabin retired a year ago as Professor of Strategic Studies in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and is now Emeritus Professor. He worked closely with the UK military for many years, especially through the University of London Military Education Committee, the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Workshop, and KCL’s academic links with the Defence Academy and the Royal College of Defence Studies. Professor Sabin specialises in strategic and tactical analysis of conflict dynamics, with a particular focus on ancient warfare and modern air power. He makes extensive use of conflict simulation techniques to model the dynamics of various conflicts, and since 2003 he taught a highly innovative MA option module in which students design their own simulations of past conflicts. He has written or edited 15 books and monographs and several dozen chapters and articles on a wide variety of military topics. His books Lost Battles (2007) and Simulating War (2012) both make major contributions to the scholarly application of conflict simulation techniques. Besides co-organising the annual Connections UK conference at KCL, he has taken part in several defence wargaming projects, and he worked with the British Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research on the initial design of the Camberley Kriegsspiel with which officers may practise battlegroup tactics. Professor Sabin was also co-director of the King’s Wargaming Network, which is taking forward KCL’s leading role in the academic study of wargaming after his retirement. He is continuing to design a succession of innovative games modelling the grand tactics of combat (especially air combat), and to lecture internationally on aspects of wargaming and airpower.
See the link above for more details. A copy of Prof. Sabin’s paper can be found here:
Matt Stevens’ presentation on “what can learning games teach us about ethical refugee response?” can now be found on the PAXsims YouTube channel.
Matt is Director of Lessons Learned Simulations and Training, a professional development training firm for humanitarian workers with a focus on simulations and serious games. His talk was presented to the McGill Refugee Research Group on 20 January 2021.
A summary and link to the 2020 report prepared by Matt Stevens and Tom Fisher (Imaginetic) on Serious Games: Humanitarian User Research can be found on PAXsims here.
There is still time to register for the LLST/McGill Refugee Research Group online refugee response simulation, which will take place from 1300-1600 ET on Saturday, January 23.
A wargame is a dynamic representation of conflict or competition in which people make decisions and respond to the consequences of those decisions. Analytic wargames are wargames created to provide insights to assist senior leaders as they make difficult decisions. Analytic wargames are inherent in DoD’s planning process (as well as many of our allies and partners, including NATO, UK, Canada, Australia), and they are also used by many analytic organizations to explore future concepts and technologies and to develop the CONOPS necessary to instantiate into combat simulations. Additionally, testers and experimenters use wargames as a front-end screening tool to better understand where to leverage high- dollar tests and experiments to get the highest return on investment. This year, we are seeking analytic wargaming best practices from planners, analysts, testers, and experimenters. We are especially interested in hearing from planning wargamers at flag headquarters such as Combatant Commands to hear best practices and lessons learned while creating and conducting the wargames that inform our future plans. We are interested in hearing from those who use wargames and combat simulations together for analytic studies and for planning. We are also looking for new techniques that organizations have found for wargaming adjudication and analysis. We are interested in hearing from those who have adopted techniques and mechanics from hobby games for use in defense wargaming. We would like to hear from logistics wargamers, as this is a critical need and one often overlooked. WG 30 encourages presentations on best practices for the definition, design, execution, and analysis of wargames, methods from other disciplines that may be of use to DoD-oriented wargames, new or innovative wargaming techniques from educational or experiential wargames, and wargame results from national security domains.
Several of the other working groups also include the use of serious gaming.
Abstracts are due February 16 for those who would like to present at the event—more information (including conference registration) can be found at the link above.
On Wednesday, January 20 the McGill Refugee Research Group will be hosting an online presentation by Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulations and Training) entitled “What can learning games teach us about ethical refugee response?”
Matt will also be running an online refugee response simulation on Saturday, January 23.
For more information, consult the McGill Refugee Research Group website. Registration for the former is open to anyone. Registration for the latter is limited (with most places reserved for McGill University students and staff).
Tim Wilkie (National Defense University) has passed on a call for papers for Connections US 2021:
Happy New Year from the Connections US interdisciplinary wargaming conference!
The call for presentations for Connections US 2021 can be found here.
Connections US 2021 is expected to be conducted in person at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, June 22-25. There is, of course, a great deal of uncertainty about what the public health situation will be in June. We will be reassessing our plans as more information becomes available. Updates to the planning for this year’s conference will be found at: connections-wargaming.com
Since 1993, Connections has brought together practitioners from every segment of the wargaming community to share best practices and advance professional dialogue in the field. Connections is open to all wargaming practitioners and we welcome international participation.
Please feel free to further distribute this call for presentations.
CONNECTIONS NORTH is Canada’s annual conference devoted to conflict simulation. It is intended for national security professionals, policymakers, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of wargaming and other serious games. This year it will be held virtually (via Zoom), and will extend over three days. Prior registration is via Eventbrite is required (but is free).
Themes to be addressed this year include:
wargaming and other serious policy gaming in Canada
wargaming in smaller defence communities
gaming the Arctic
COVID gaming and hybrid threats
gaming fisheries policy
analytical and policy gaming in the humanitarian sector
wargaming for command decision support
diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming
A full version of the conference programme will be posted by mid-January. Online connection information and other details will be sent to all registered attendees a few days before the conference itself.
Reports on previous CONNECTIONS NORTH conferences can be found here.
The Doctrine and Training Centre of the Polish Armed Forces will be hosting a virtual conference on global strategic analysis on 16-20 November 2020.
The aim of the GlobState III conference is to establish a platform for discussing new developments in security environment analysis and operational research, principles of war and operational art, and emerging approaches to the conduct of operations. The conference is organized under the umbrella of the NUP 2X35 campaign of future security environment analysis grouping the military and academia into a cooperating community of interests. In 2020, due to the challenges of the pandemic, the conference will be held online, only. We hope that the conference will be a source of valuable knowledge and inspiring discussions for all the participants.
The conference themes include:
principles of war/operational art;
future security environment and operational environment/forecasting and simulation of changes in the security environment;
strategic foresight analysis and military operations research methodology;
geopolitical changes in the 21st century;
real and potential areas of military rivalry of states;
instruments for resolving contemporary armed conflicts;
space as a new domain of military operations;
threats and activities in cyberspace;
challenges of new technologies on the modern battlefield;
armed forces in the state security and policy strategy;
organizational and technical transformation of the armed forces;
multi-domain operation/battle vs. joint operation;
crisis management operations;
future military leadership.
I will be speaking briefly about the use of wargames as part of a larger panel on strategic analysis. You can get a sneak peak at my presentation here:
The Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) was founded in 2020 to provide a venue for hobby gamers, professional wargamers, and those new to wargaming with opportunities to play games and learn more about wargaming as a profession. GUWS welcomes members of all academic levels and backgrounds.
The schedule for our webinar and wargame series for Fall 2020 is indicated below. The webinar series is open to the public and free – in order to be accessible to the widest audience possible. Please note some events are still in development.
Cards in Wargames with Volko Ruhnke
Sept 21, 6:00PM-8PM EDT
Award-winning commercial boardgame designer Volko Ruhnke will discuss the use of playing cards in tabletop wargames. Playing cards—once a rarity in hobby wargames—have exploded in designs published over the past three decades. What do they bring to the table? When should you use them in your wargame design? How can you leverage their unique power to greatest advantage? The talk will briefly survey the history of playing cards in board wargames and then focus on effective use of cards as an element of design. Register on Eventbrite.
History and Principles of Solitaire Wargame Design
Sept 29, 6:00PM-8PM EDT
Bruce Mansfield & Jason Carr will discuss the history and principles solitaire tabletop gaming. Solitaire tabletop gaming has exploded in popularity over the last decade, both in solitaire-specific game designs, and solitaire game variants. Why is solitaire gaming becoming more popular? What design considerations are specific to solitaire design? How did we get to this point? This talk will outline the history of solitaire wargaming, analyze various solitaire design mechanisms, and speak about the tradeoffs in usability, complexity, and simulation in solitaire wargame designs, with special attention paid to ‘bots’ – automated solitaire opponents in otherwise multiplayer games. Register on Eventbrite.
Wargame Pathologies: An Overview, with Examples by Chris Weuve
October 5, 6:00PM – 8:00PM
Wargames can fail. In this talk, professional DOD wargamer Chris Weuve explores some of the failure modes of professional wargames, and looks at some examples — and what to do about them. (And, given the current unpleasantness, he offers some thoughts on distributed wargames.) Register on Eventbrite.
USAF Title 10 Wargaming with Mitch Reed
Oct 12, 6:00PM-8PM EDT
Mitch Reed, a senior wargame designer for the U.S. Air Force (USAF), will be discussing the wargame development for Global Engagement 20 (TREWMAN) and Futures Game 20. Global Engagement and Futures Game comprise the annual marquee wargames for the USAF, also known as USAF Title 10 wargames. This webinar will focus on how the AF/A5SW created the first competition wargame for the USAF – based on guidance from the Deputy SECDEF. It will also explore how AF/A5SW planned the largest competition game in DoD (before being cancelled by COVID) and its future plans for its TREWMAN competition game system. Register on Eventbrite.
Flashpoint Baltics Matrix Wargame
Oct 17, 11:00-3:00PM EDT
In collaboration with the Department of Strategic Wargaming at the U.S. Army War College (AWC), the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) will be hosting a matrix-style wargaming examining strategic conflict between Russia and the United States in a hypothetical future scenario. This wargame will be conducted virtually and is limited to only 18 players. The wargame aims to provide an opportunity for students, aspiring professional wargamers, and military service members to engage with wargaming as an educational tool.
Registration for this event is capped at 18 participants. Interested participants may express their interest here via Google forms.
Agile Wargaming with Phil Bolger & Lexee Brill
Oct 26, 6:00PM-8PM EDT
Phil Bolger and Lexee Brill will discuss Agile Wargaming, a way to take traditional wargaming frameworks in a streamlined, low-fidelity, quick-turn format. Phil and Lexee work with the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC). This discussion will focus on how AFWIC and other organizations AFWIC has worked alongside (including A5SW, multiple USAF Major Commands, and OSD-SCO) have made use of Agile Wargaming to develop concepts, refine plans, and assist decision-making, as well as what distinguishes Agile Wargaming from traditional wargaming, and how the two can benefit from each other. Register on Eventbrite.
Digital Transformation of Wargames Co-Sponsored by ISW
Nov 2, 6:00PM 8:00PM EDT
This event is co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization, dedicated to advancing an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education.
Stephen Gordon will discuss analytical wargaming in the context of a transformative, distributed wargaming platform concept he co-created that leverages technologies, techniques, and methods from innovative industries and use cases including eSports, gaming, animation, virtual assistants, robotics, AI, quantum computing and hyper-scale cloud platforms. Joining the discussion as a co-presenter will be Col (Ret) Walt Yates, formerly the Program Manager, Training Systems, United States Marine Corps to share his experience with existing simulation capabilities and the wargaming technology evolution taking place inside the US Marine Corps. Register on Eventbrite.
Historical Board Games as Educational Tools: Shores of Tripoli by Kevin Bertram
Nov 12, 6:00PM – 8:00PM EDT
Virtual International Crisis War Game with Naval War College & Stanford University
November 14, 2020 10:00AM – 1:00PM
In partnership with the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) will be hosting their International Crisis War Game, which provides insights into the relationship between new technologies, domestic politics, conventional military capabilities, and nuclear threats. You do not need to have any prior wargaming experience or subject matter expertise to take participate: the game is aimed at generalists (like many political leaders), but those with deeper knowledge will also find this wargame interesting. Due to COVID restrictions, this wargame will be held virtually through Zoom. Registration: TBD
Gaming Nuclear War
Nov 17, 6:00PM 8:00PM EDT
Robert McCreight will discuss how nuclear considerations and conflict are incorporated into wargaming. He will address the following: What factors drove US military and civilian leaders to prepare for all out nuclear war? What issues plagued strategic planners and governed strategic nuclear gaming? What aspects of genuine nuclear exchanges and MAD conflict were understood? What were the key requirements of gaming the management of a nuclear exchange? He will also address design elements for nuclear wargames, such as basic considerations in scenario development, issues in structuring interim game play moves and newly introduced play issues[scripted vs unscripted], and overall coordination and management of game flow. Register on Eventbrite.
Designing Cyber War
Dec 1, 6:00PM – 8:00PM EDT
Joseph Miranda will cover modeling cyberwar in wargames. The presentation will include board and computer games he has designed (examples: Cyberwar XXI for DARPA, Cybernauts for GameFix). Points will include use of game components to represent cyberspace, offensive and defensive programs, realworld forces, and the human element. Also, how to use cyberwar as part of a wider spectrum of conflict, a tactic for asymmetrical warfare (example: Decision in Iraq for Decision Games). Other topics will include modeling cyber security, crisis management, and emerging generations of warfare. The presentation will conclude with an analysis of cyberwar trends into the near future. Register on Eventbrite here: TBD
This year’s Connections Oz conference will take place online on 7-9 December 2020:
Connections Oz is a conference for professional wargamers and serious gamers. It is scheduled for 7-9 December 2020. Please note this in your diaries and feel free to distribute to your networks.
We are now calling for presentations for this year’s conference. Please contact the organisers via email@example.com
Due to Covid restrictions, the 2020 program will be entirely online. This follows the format successfully delivered by the ‘Connections Global’ team earlier this year. This format offers the opportunity to include more interstate and overseas speakers participants. We hope this collection of ‘best of’ speakers will attract a larger audience here in Australia and help grow our community.
To accommodate international speakers, the daily schedule will include ‘after dinner’ sessions. A full program will be published shortly, but the anticipated daily schedule is likely to be along the lines of:
A highlight for this year will be an opening keynote from Matt Caffrey, the originator of Connections US back in 1993. We have a number of other international and local speakers lined up. Keep an eye on the website for more information.
On September 10, the Aerospace Corporation will be hosting an online forum on integrating space into joint warfighting analysis, featuring Mike Fitzsimmons (IDA), Web Ewell (CNA), Rebecca Reesman and Russell Rumbaugh.
The new Space Force is currently grappling with building relevant doctrine and culture for an independent service in an ever more contested and congested domain. The gap between what’s possible physically and what’s desirable politically is a common seam for analysis and other tools to help decision-makers consider how to prepare. What lessons can we learn from the history of decision-support analysis? How have other domains—particularly maritime—addressed this seam? What unique aspects of space help and hinder both levels of analysis? Space capabilities are inextricably linked to all domains and services, how should this inform scenario planning moving forward? Find out in this episode!
Wargaming will be among the decision support tools to be discussed. You will find full details and a registration form here.