Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: conferences

Connections UK 2023 registration open

Registration is open for the Connections UK conference for wargaming professionals. This will take place at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) Old College, from Tuesday 5th – Thursday 7th September 2023.

Our mission remains to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. In line with that, the purpose of this year’s conference is to bring on the next generation of professionals and help practitioners cross the ‘practitioner desert’. Hence, the conference will be primarily aimed at practitioners and users of wargames and serious games. However,  enthusiastic newcomers are always welcome! Connections UK offers a safe-to-fail (and fun!) environment where you, your games and gaming concepts can develop in the company of some of the best gamers from around the world.

Conference content includes:

  1. ‘This is not a game’. A massive meta game developed by the Connections UK team about the challenges and opportunities in the professional wargaming industry. This will bring people together to play, learn and network.
  2. The traditional hands-on Games Fair, which will provide an opportunity to practise your art and develop and playtest games.
  3. Plenaries addressing the development of the wargaming capability and capacity.
  4. Continuing professional development sessions featuring, for example:
    1. The skills required for effective facilitation.
    2. The relationship between wargaming and red teaming.
    3. Wargames without war.
    4. The Connections Next Generation team considering diversity of design and rulebook evolution.
    5. Designing to a purpose.
  5. Deep dives featuring, for example, wargaming influence, wargaming urban operations and how industry can support UK gaming.

And much more! Plus, of course, plenty of time for networking!

Connections UK 2023 dovetails with the initiative by the Secretary of State for Defence to embed wargaming throughout the Ministry of Defence and increase the wargaming capacity and capability. This reflects the increasing adoption of wargaming and serious gaming techniques across governments around the world, in NATO and in non-defence contexts. You, the Connections community, have a significant role to play in these initiatives by informing and influencing ongoing activities at the conference and beyond.

Cost. The conference will cost £299 for all three days. This will include a hot lunch and afternoon tea each day.

Registration. Venue capacity is limited. Please register as soon as you can via Eventbrite  or use the QR code on the poster.

RMAS. RMAS does not offer accommodation, but there are plenty of reasonably priced hotels nearby. The RMAS postcode is GU15 3PL, and you will find an interactive map on the registration page. The grounds of RMAS are large, so a car is recommended. Find out more about RMAS and Old College at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst – Wikipedia

Connections UK. More details about Connections UK, including a comprehensive record of previous conferences, is at

Simulation games for global pandemic resilience workshop AAR

I’m at Atlanta airport at the moment, on my way back from the Simulation Games for Global Pandemic Resilience Workshop at the Santa Fe Institute. The workshop was organized by Lauren Ancel Meyers (University of Texas at Austin), Margaret Polski (US Naval War College) and Francesca de Rosa (CAPTRS), and involved thirty participants drawn from public health, epidemiology, medicine, modelling, and serious games.

After an introduction by the organizers, the first panel of the workshop focused on public health preparedness exercises. Two key insights that I took away from the presentations were (1) that smaller, quicker, and more agile simulation games and TTXs (that can be run more often and more easily) may be more useful than very big and complex exercises, although the latter certainly have considerable value for raising broader awareness, and (2) there is often less follow-up and impact from TTXs than is desirable.

The second panel looked at simulation games for crisis management. Here we covered everything from a typology and continuum of game approaches; best practices in enhancing learning, practice and thinking; and insights from psychological research on simulation players/participants. The slides from my own short presentation are below, but they don’t incorporate the many comments I added in response to the other excellent presentations and prior discussion.

The third panel explored modeling the spread of uncertain pathogen threats and cascading effect. This was a rich and wide-ranging discussion that addressed the links between modelling and alert systems, different kinds of pathogen threats, and the kinds of information we do and do not have. One participant noted that it is not necessarily “black swans” we need fear—we often know of challenges, or what is broken, but nonetheless have failed to fix or address these vulnerabilities before the next crisis hits. Another participant, commenting on the essential role of public messaging (and modifying public behaviour), noted that you can win this with models alone but you also need a coherent and effective narrative: “don’t bring stats to a story fight.”

For the remainder of the workshop we were divided into three breakout groups which were all asked to address three topics:

  • gaming situational awareness
  • gaming decision-making
  • AI and innovation through integration

I happened to be rapporteur for one of the groups, so I’ve included my brief-back slides for that group below. However, there were a great many thoughtful comments from our group that couldn’t be adequately captured in ten minute brief-back, plus of course the many insights from the other two groups. However, it should be enough to give you a sense of some of the discussions that were held.

Overall, it was a terrific experience. I particularly enjoyed the diverse mix of participants and the benefits that come from discussion and cross-fertilization across knowledge domains, expertise, and experience. I also found the workshop very useful for enhancing my own network of contacts in this field. The Santa Fe Institute was an outstanding host.

I’m sure that the organizers will put out a formal workshop report at some point, and when they do we’ll be sure to share it here at PAXsims.

Simulation games for pandemic preparedness and response

I’m on my way to Santa Fe for a conference on “simulation games for global pandemic resilience” and I thought I would ask the ChatGPT AI what it thought of the topic. Its (quite sensible) response is below.

– – –

Arguments for using simulation games to enhance pandemic preparedness and response:

  1. Experiential Learning: Simulation games provide a hands-on and immersive learning experience. They allow participants to simulate real-world scenarios, making decisions and experiencing the consequences in a controlled environment. This active engagement can deepen understanding, improve critical thinking, and enhance decision-making skills related to pandemic preparedness and response.
  2. Risk-Free Environment: Pandemic simulations allow participants to practice and test different strategies without real-world risks or consequences. They can experiment with various approaches, assess their effectiveness, and learn from mistakes. This trial-and-error process can help identify weaknesses, refine protocols, and improve overall preparedness and response capabilities.
  3. Collaboration and Coordination: Simulation games facilitate collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders involved in pandemic response, including healthcare professionals, policymakers, emergency responders, and community representatives. By working together in a simulated environment, participants can develop effective communication channels, establish protocols, and build trust and teamwork, which are crucial elements for a coordinated pandemic response.
  4. Identifying Gaps and Improving Response Plans: Simulations can reveal gaps or weaknesses in existing pandemic response plans, protocols, or infrastructure. Through the simulation experience, organizations and authorities can identify areas that need improvement, such as resource allocation, logistical challenges, communication protocols, or decision-making processes. This feedback can inform future planning and enhance the effectiveness of response strategies.

Arguments against using simulation games to enhance pandemic preparedness and response:

  1. Unrealistic Assumptions: Simulation games often rely on simplified models and assumptions about the dynamics of a pandemic, which may not fully capture the complexities and uncertainties of real-world scenarios. This can lead to a false sense of preparedness if participants base their strategies solely on the simulation outcomes.
  2. Resource and Time Constraints: Developing and conducting simulation games requires significant resources, including financial investments, expertise, and time. Organizing and executing large-scale simulations may not always be feasible, especially during emergencies when immediate actions and responses are needed.
  3. Difficulty in Capturing Real-world Dynamics: Despite efforts to create realistic simulations, it can be challenging to accurately capture the unpredictable nature and dynamic factors of a pandemic, such as human behavior, societal impacts, and economic consequences. This limitation may affect the applicability of simulation outcomes to real-world scenarios.
  4. Limited Transferability: The effectiveness of simulation games in enhancing pandemic preparedness and response may vary depending on the context, resources, and participants involved. Lessons learned from one simulation may not always translate seamlessly to different regions or scenarios. Adaptation and customization are necessary to ensure relevance and applicability to specific contexts.
  5. Ethical Considerations: Simulations involving pandemic scenarios can evoke emotional responses and stress among participants, particularly if they involve realistic portrayals of severe health crises. Care must be taken to ensure the well-being and mental health of participants during and after the simulation, as well as ethical considerations related to informed consent, confidentiality, and privacy.

Overall, while simulation games offer valuable learning opportunities, they should be seen as one component of a comprehensive approach to pandemic preparedness and response. They should be complemented with real-world experiences, evidence-based practices, and ongoing evaluation and adaptation of response plans.

War Games at the Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa will be hosting a new exhibition on wargaming from 9 June to 31 December 2023.

From historic board games to modern military simulations, war games are as ancient, varied and complex as war itself. 

In this wide-ranging exhibition, learn how war games evolved over time — from early strategy games to massive multiplayer online battles — and how militaries use gaming as a training tool. Hear thought-provoking perspectives from professional gamers, researchers, designers and veterans.

War is not a game. Yet war games offer insights into our relationship with real and virtual armed conflict. 

We’re especially pleased to report that among the items included in the exhibit will be a Western Approaches Tactical Unit convoy escort game developed by our very own Kit Barry, as well as AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

Participants in this year’s Connections North professional (war)gaming conference (June 9) will get a chance to tour the exhibit during the conference, as well as an invitation to the launch event.

Connections North 2023 conference programme

The Connections North 2023 professional (war)gaming conference will be held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Friday, June 9. The conference is intended for wargamers and all other serious game professionals, and anyone else interested in how games can be used to support education, planning, and policy analysis.

Additional information and registration details can be found at the link above. Conference registrants will also receive an invitation to attend the launch of the Museum’s new wargaming exhibition on the evening of June 8.

Reacting to the Past summer conferences

Reacting to the Past will be holding its annual Summer Institute on 8-11 June 2023 at Barnard College.

Reacting to the Past is an active-learning pedagogy of complex role-playing games. Reacting promotes engagement with big ideas, and improves critical, practical, intellectual, and academic skills.

Class sessions are run by students. Instructors advise students, and grade their oral and written work. Reacting roles and games do not have a fixed script or outcome. This is not re-enacting. In Reacting games, students are assigned character roles with specific goals and must communicate, collaborate, and compete effectively to advance their objectives. While students are obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the figures they have been assigned to play, as well as the context and facts of the historical moment, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively in papers, speeches, or other public presentations. Students must pursue a course of action to try to win the ‘game.’ 

Students learn by

  • taking on historical roles informed by classic texts
  • making decisions in a historical role in elaborate games set in the past
  • developing skills such as speaking, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and teamwork
  • working to prevail (win the game) in difficult and complicated situations

There are two options for this event:

  • Two Reacting Game Workshops
    You’ll play two Reacting games in succession: one game on Thursday-Friday, and the other on Saturday-Sunday, OR
  • Reacting Game Workshop and Newbie Workshop
    You’ll play one Reacting game on Thursday-Friday, and then partake in a hands-on workshop series designed to walk you through the process of syllabus revision, assessment strategies, and curricular integration, so you’ll feel fully confident when implementing Reacting to the Past. This option is recommended for Reacting Newbies, and for cohorts from the same school.  

Regardless of which of the above options you choose, all participants can enjoy Working Sessions with Reacting students and experienced faculty.

In addition, there will be a a Game Development Conference at Oregon State University on 13-15 July. This conference ” is designed for veteran Reacting to the Pastcolleagues to test games, discuss design mechanics for active learning, and think deeply about pedagogy.”

Workshop on serious games (report)

On April 18, Connections North held a half day online introductory workshop on serious gaming, in collaboration with the Canadian Defence Academy, Defence Research and Development Canada, and PAXsims. The workshop was led by Dr. Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) and myself (Rex Brynen, McGill University). There were over sixty participants, of whom about two thirds were from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, and the remainder attendees from other Canadian government agencies, academics, game designers, and others.

The workshop was intended as an introduction to serious gaming, in advance of the annual Connections North professional (war)gaming conference in Ottawa on June 9. Given the geographic size of Canada, we thought an online workshop would best facilitate participation from coast to coast to coast. The workshop wasn’t recorded, but most of the slides can be found below.

The first session on “why serious gaming?” provided an overview of the value (and limitations) of serious gaming, and offered a range of examples to highlight the many different applications of gaming as an analytical and educational tool.

The second session addressed serious game approaches and reviewed the centrality of balancing fidelity vs playability, as well as manual vs digital games; different ways of undertaking adjudication; players turns and actions; representing time, space, and other metrics; hidden and imperfect information; incorporating uncertainty; distributed gaming; and seminar and matrix gaming.

The third session looked at the process of serious game development.

Following this we had an hour long “show and tell” session, in which a variety of Canadian wargamers and other serious game designers discussed their work with workshop attendees. This was divided into two simultaneous breakout rooms: one devoted to wargaming of military operations, and another addressing a broad range of other serious gaming examples. We are very grateful to colleagues from the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre (CJWC), Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Archipelago of Design, and Imaginetic for contributing to these sessions.

Finally, we identified a variety of key resources and points of contact for further learning and professional development.

Overall it seemed to go very well, and we hope to see many of the participants again in Ottawa in June at Connections North 2023.

King’s Wargaming Week

The King’s Wargaming Network will be hosting a week of wargaming talks and presentations at King’s College London from 30 May to 2 June 2023. Details can be found below.

Wargaming Week 2023: Contemporary Challenges in Wargaming will feature a range of activities that meet the Wargaming Network’s core mission of the expansion and democratization of wargaming as a method of inquiry. The events will showcase the educational wargaming work being done at King’s, including wargames designed by MA graduates of Dr David Banks’s “Designing Wargames for Education & Analysis” course and wargames designed by Anna Nettleship and other Network staff to inform dissertation and policy research and to support the institutional goals of partner organizations. Panel and moderated discussion events will feature researchers and practitioners in contemporary wargaming and workshops and working groups will showcase the wargame design and academic expertise being developed at King’s.  Dr James Smith will deliver the wargaming keynote lecture and Dr Aggie Hirst will launch her upcoming book, “Politics of Play: Wargaming with the US Military.” 

Registration is via Eventbrite.

Connections (US) 2023 registration open

Registration is now open for the Connections (US) 2023 professional wargaming conference.  This year’s conference will be hosted by National Defense University (NDU) at Ft. McNair in Washington, DC, on June 21-23.

(The above link is to a Google Form, which sometimes are difficult to access from some military networks.  If you have problems viewing or completing the form at work, please try from a personal device at home.)

More information (including a link to the draft schedule) can be found at the Connections (US) website.

Connections Online 2023 registration open

Registration and schedule information can be found here.

KWN: Zhu on ‘Brief Habits’ and Enduring Dispositions in Computer Gameplay (April 18)

The King’s Wargaming Network will be hosting the third (online) lecture in its 2022-23 public lecture series on wargaming on 18 April 2023 from 1700-1830GMT, featuring Dr. Feng Zhu (KCL) on “‘Brief habits’ and enduring dispositions in computer gameplay: The practice of gaming as an ‘aesthetics of existence’?”

Dr Feng Zhu will argue that computer gameplay is a rich site for the consideration of the intersection between governmental power, which operates on the basis of individuals exercising their freedom in the ‘right’ way, and players’ self-directed constitution of subjectivity through habit-formation and habit-dissolution in gameplay. Computer games are notable because they often encourage players: to internalize principles such that they become non-conscious and automatic; to later unlearn or refine these habits (due to the changing metagame, to the release of patches, to progressing through the game and learning new gameplay techniques); to become consciously aware of their own habits; and to transpose habits between games. There is a socio-technical significance to these processes of acquisition and reworking as gaming can become a means for individuals to develop a ‘reflexive habitus’ or ‘accelerated reflexivity.’ Dr Zhu argues that gaming, as a sustained practice of longitudinal ‘psycholudic’ development, not only constitutes a subject but also shapes the self’s relationship to itself. This is itself a deeply ambivalent or pharmacological process. It can potentially be celebrated as the liberatory inculcation of ‘brief habits,’ and even as fostering an aesthetic attitude towards our agency. Yet if we peer through the layers of the habits acquired, we should be mindful that there are potentially enduring dispositions at stake. These arguably bespeak ways of parsing the world that are naturalized over time. Some of these may be deeply neoliberal in character. Dr Zhu will explore ‘bottom-up’ means of testing the veracity of such ‘top-down’ theoretical claims concerning overarching dispositions. Further, he will consider the possibility that a shift in the focus and quality of attention by us as players can engender a heightened awareness of these dispositions in the manner that Carlisle speaks of ‘practice’ that is an elevation of habit. This would be to think tentatively about the possibility of the practice of gaming as an ‘aesthetics of existence’. This is a practice, attitude, and sensibility that highlights the constructedness of our own habits and dispositions, as well as the fact that they require continual attention and care from us in a way that does not presuppose that the world is readily legible to us or reducible to mere rules. 

Dr Feng Zhu is Lecturer in Games and Virtual Environments in the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London. He is interested in computer gameplay as a site from which to explore the intersection of power, subjectivity, and play. His research focuses on computer games and how we habituate ourselves through gameplay. In particular, it concerns forms of gameplay as longitudinal self-fashioning that may inculcate ambivalent forms of reflexivity and attention, some of which may be read in terms of an aesthetics of existence.

Please register for the lecture here to receive the information for attending this online event on 18 April 2023. 

Connections North 2023 registration open

Registration is now open for the Connections North professional (war)gaming conference. This will be held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on 9 June 2023.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is an annual conference devoted to conflict simulation, wargaming, and other serious games. It is intended for national security professionals, policymakers, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of the use of serious games for analysis, planning, education, and training. This year’s conference will address:

  • The state of serious gaming across Canada, with two panels devoted to national security gaming and other educational and policy gaming respectively.
  • Gaming ethical challenges.
  • Building and gaming future perspectives: Canadian perspectives.

In addition, there will be time available for networking, game demonstrations, and touring the War Museum’s new wargaming exhibition. We also promise that the temperatures for this year’s conference will also be a little warmer than the sub-zero chill of our usual February date!

We are grateful for support from Defence Research and Development Canada and the Canadian War Museum for the conference. Connections North is a proud cosponsor of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. Information on previous Connections North conferences can be found here.

UPDATE: The conference programme is now available here.

Forthcoming MORS wargaming courses

The Military Operations Research Society has several forthcoming courses and talks on different aspects of wargaming:

Information can be found at the links above. For all forthcoming MORS events, consult their events page.

Are games disinformation tools?

The Disinformation and Games Research Group (Concordia University) will he hosting an online panel discussion on “Are Games Disinformation Tools?” on Friday, 17 March 2023 at 1200 EST.

Focused on the overlap of disinformation and games, this panel discusses the state of research in the field, areas in need of attention, and how to not only study but make an impact in this key area. The panel also signifies the launch of the Games and Disinformation Research Project at Concordia University and the establishment of a global network of scholars pursuing work in this area.

Dr. Adrienne Massanari: an Associate Professor in the School of Communication at American University. Prior to joining AU she was Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and affiliate faculty in Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include digital culture, online communities, platform politics, game studies, pop culture, and gender and race online. She is currently working on a book for MIT Press (Gaming Democracy: How Silicon Valley Leveled Up the Alt-Right) that discusses how Silicon Valley’s culture and politics contributed to the rise of the alt-right. Her 2015 book, Participatory Culture, Community, and Play: Learning from Reddit (Peter Lang), explored the unique culture of

Dr. Lindsay Grace: Knight Chair in Interactive Media and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Communication. He is Vice President for the Higher Education Video Game Alliance and the 2019 recipient of the Games for Change Vanguard award. Lindsay’s book, Doing Things with Games, Social Impact through Design, is a well-received guide to game design. In 2020, he edited and authored Love and Electronic Affection: A Design Primer on designing love and affection in games. In 2021 he published the Amazon best seller, Black Game Studies: An Introduction to the Games, Game Makers and Scholarship of the African Diaspora.

Dr. Rachel Kowert: a research psychologist and the Research Director of Take This. She is a world-renowned researcher on the uses and effects of digital games, including their impact on physical, social, and psychological well-being. In her current work, she serves as one of the primary investigators on the first grant-funded project from the Department of Homeland Security about games and extremism. 

Étienne Quintal: the Manager of the Online Hate Research & Education Project. His research work is particularly focused on understanding the ways in which hate is promoted by and for young people. Based in Toronto, Étienne holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and recently completed a Master’s degree studying the use of emerging social media platforms by youth-oriented hate groups. 

Dr. Mia Consalvo: a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the co-author of Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames (2019) and Players and their Pets: Gaming Communities from Beta to Sunset (2015). Mia runs the mLab, a space dedicated to developing innovative methods for studying games and game players. She is the Past President of the Digital Games Research Association, and has held positions at MIT, Ohio University, Chubu University in Japan and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

You can register for the event via Eventbrite.

Connections UK Wargaming Conference 2023!

After two years of scaled-down remote events, Connections UK returns with a face-to-face conference at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) Old College, from Tuesday 5th – Thursday 7th September 2023.

Those who have attended previous Connections UK conferences will recognise the proven format:

  • A large plenary icebreaker game, designed to bring wargamers together to play, interact and network.
  • A hands-on Games Fair, which will provide an opportunity to develop games and practise your art.
  • Workshops, deep dives and continuing professional development sessions that support the conference theme and inform ongoing wargaming initiatives both in the UK and globally.
  • A portion of the conference will be hosted and facilitated by Connections Next Generation.
  • Plenaries delivered by many of the best wargamers from around the world.
  • Plus, plenty of time for networking!

Click here for full details and to track when registration opens.

%d bloggers like this: