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Category Archives: methodology

Bae: A tale of many kinds of wargames (for many kinds of purposes)

Yesterday we posted a link to Jon Compton’s War on the Rocks piece “A Tale of Two Wargames.” Today, Sebastian Bae (CNA) adds some thoughts of his own in a series of Twitter posts.

He correctly notes that wargame sponsors may have rather different objectives, and that there are many different game approaches depending on those purposes. As a result, he suggests, “not every game will need the kind of approach outlined in this article.” He goes on to add “this binary between multi-method games and ‘event wargames’ is misleading. Some sponsors need event wargames for LOTS of people because they want to socialize an idea or get stakeholders together. Or have a specific timeline. There is no ‘ideal’ perfect form for a wargame.”

He concludes:

You can read the full thread on Twitter.

Hen√•ker:¬†Decision-making style and victory in battle

Comparative Strategy has just published a piece by Lars Hen√•ker (Swedish Defence University) entitled “Decision-making style and victory in battle‚ÄĒIs there a relation?” In it he reports on a series of experimental wargames which examined the relationship between general decision-making styles and tactical victory:

Can decision-making styles impact victory and defeat in armed conflicts? To answer the question of whether decision-making styles are linked to the victories and defeats of individual tacticians, this study utilizes five general decision-making styles: Rational, Intuitive, Dependent, Avoidant and Spontaneous. The aim of this study is to examine whether one or several of the general decision-making styles (GDMS) have an impact on tactical outcomes in wargames. A total of 104 officers and academics participated in the study. The study’s foremost conclusion is that the Dependent style is significantly connected to defeat in the wargame’s dueling set up.

The participants were 104 officers from the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm and in the Swedish Armed Forces (Sk√∂vde Garrison), ranging in rank from Lieutenant to Colonel. The study found little relationship between decision-making styles and wargame outcomes except in the case of the “dependent” style.

The Dependent decision-making style is typified by individuals who seek advice and guidance from others prior to making important decisions. This style adversely impacts the capacity for innovative behavior and creativity for the same reason as the Rational decision-making style. The Dependent decision style is also affiliated with a reduced ability to complete a thought process (e.g., a decision-making process) without being distracted by irrelevant thoughts. Individuals with a Dependent decision style tend to desire to solve quandaries rather than avoid them, although they also have a tendency to doubt their own ability to find a solution.10 A study by Alacreu-Crespo et al. pos- ited that the Dependent decision style is strongly associated with the need for emo- tional and instrumental support. The Dependent decision style encompasses individuals with socially open and constructive natures, as well as passive and anxious individuals.11

The author goes on to conclude:

One reasonable interpretation is that an individual with a Dependent decision-making style requires more tactics at their disposal and more time to make good decisions. If the individual’s decision-making style is regarded partly as acquired and habitual behavior, and identified when an individual is confronted with a decision situation, we can assume that practical training would reduce a tactician’s need for time and external support. Furthermore, studies should be conducted on how a group of tacticians would manage against another group of tacticians in the corresponding circumstances. It seems reasonable to suggest that decision-style tests be used as a tool for increased self-awareness among military officers, although it is probably too soon to use decision-style tests as a recruit- ment tool.

Finally, we can now pose the question: what practical benefits can we derive from the insight that the Dependent decision-making style adversely impacts the outcome of a dynamic, complex and high-pace environment? The simple answer is that tacticians with a Dependent decision-making style should not have first-call responsibility for making quick decisions during battle, or there would be a risk that decisions are made too slowly in relation to an opponent. However, the study does not indicate whether tacticians with a Dependent decision-making style will function positively or negatively as a member of the group, e.g., staff member, under extreme stress with incomplete decision data.

MWI: Why gamers will win the next war

At the Modern War Institute, Nick Moran and Arnel P. David argue that gamers will win the next war.

A storm is brewing. Thousands of gamers are working to upend traditional models of training, education, and analysis in government and defense. This grassroots movement has developed across several countries, under a joint venture‚ÄĒFight Club International‚ÄĒwithin which civilian and military gamers are experimenting with commercial technologies to demonstrate what they can do for national security challenges. But while technology is at the core of this initiative, its more fundamental purpose is to change culture‚ÄĒno easy feat in military organizations, with their characteristic deep sense of history and layers of entrenched bureaucracy.

A common obstacle to introducing transformational technology is the imagination of the user‚ÄĒor, put differently, the willingness of the user to be genuinely imaginative. Early testing with Fight Club, in a constructive simulation called¬†Combat Mission,¬†showed that civilian gamers with no military training outperformed military officers with years of experience. The military gamers were constrained in their thinking and clung dogmatically to doctrine. They discovered, to their frustration, that their speed of decision-making was lacking against gamers with greater intuition and skill.

The piece is an enthusiastic care for greater inclusion of wargames in professional military education‚ÄĒa point with which all of us at PAXsims would agree.

On a methodological note, however, one needs to be careful not to put excessive emphasis on civilian gamers beating non-gaming officers in wargames. Certainly, games test tactical analysis and insight. However, they also test familiarity with interface, rules/algorithms, and other quirks of the simulation. No matter how engaging the graphics, they’re usually quite different from actual command. Indeed, as Sherry Turkle and her colleagues pointed out more than a decade ago, as simulations become more realistic-looking there’s a risk we overlook the important ways in which they depart from reality. I know that some recent experimental work has been done on diversity in wargaming, which among other things assessed the strategic performance of “gamers” as opposed to neophytes and subject matter experts‚ÄĒas soon as that report is available, we’ll share it here at PAXsims.

KWN: Wojtowicz ¬†on evaluating effectiveness in wargames

The next public lecture of the King’s Wargaming Network will take place on June 1:

The Wargaming Network is pleased to announce the third lecture in our 2021-2022 public lectures series on wargaming. The theme for this year is evaluating and assessing the impact of wargaming on individuals and organizations and will feature speakers who have made important new contributions to wargaming assessment. The lecture will take place online on 01 June, 17:00-18:30 BST. Please register for the lecture here to receive the log in details for the online event. 

Natalia Wojtowicz will showcase different methods of evaluating effectiveness of wargames, compiled from academic, industrial and governmental sector. A comparison of common and distinct factors will be analyzed to connect the effects with structure of the wargame. The question of objectivity of results will be explored based on recent experiments on adjudication. This presentation will be focused on identifying next steps in measuring and evaluating wargames.

Natalia Wojtowicz is a lecturer at the Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Safety and Security Management Programme. She teaches about wargaming, game design, and digital skills. Her research includes effectiveness of wargaming, new methods and experimental implementation. Previously she worked at the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation Center of Excellence, leading the Wargaming, Modelling and Simulation project focused on introducing civilian population into training and education. Later she designed 14 new wargames implemented across NATO. Currently she is researching adjudication in wargaming and testing an upcoming game about uprising in Belarus. You can follow her [on Twitter] at @Wojtowicz_N

Please register for the lecture here to receive the information for attending this online event on 01 June 2022. 

Domaingue:¬†ÔŅľCultivating breakthrough thinking in serious games

Tabletop exercise – Wikimedia Commons.

This post was written for PAXsims by Robert Domaingue. Before retiring from the U.S. State Department, Robert Domaingue was the lead Conflict Game Designer in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.  He now works with local organizations to utilize serious games for solving community problems.


Serious games are used to provide insights into complex problems.  They help decision makers and staff test assumptions, examine strategies, and determine deficiencies in planning.  Many different government departments, businesses, and organizations utilize serious games to provide a safe environment to learn from failure.  These organizations can improve the design of their serious games by incorporating principles from experiential learning.

Experiential learning focuses on the learning that emerges from concrete experience and the reflection and application of that experience.¬†¬†A frequently cited model of the experiential learning cycle comes from David Kolb‚Äôs 1984 book¬†Experiential Learning.¬†¬†He proposes a cycle that begins with¬†Experiencing,¬†‚Üí¬†moves to¬†Reflecting,¬†‚Üí¬†to¬†Generalizing,¬†‚Üí¬†to¬†Testing,¬†‚Üí¬†and starting over again with new¬†Experiencing.¬†¬†The learner proceeds through all steps in order to make sense of the experience and apply the insights.¬†¬†There are similar earlier models from John Dewey:¬†Observation,¬†‚Üí Knowledge,¬†‚Üí Judgement,¬†‚Üí¬†more¬†Observation; and Kurt Lewin:¬†Concrete Experience,¬†‚Üí Observation and Reflection,¬†‚Üí Formation of Abstract Concepts and Generalizations,¬†‚Üí Testing Implications of Concepts in New Situations,¬†‚Üí¬†and continuing the cycle with new¬†Concrete Experience.¬†¬†All of these models highlight the importance of reflecting on the nature of the experience for general learning to occur.¬†¬†Furthermore, John Dewey felt that experiencing something served as a linking process between action and thought.¬†¬†But not all experiences lead to learning.¬†¬†In his 1938 book¬†Experience and Education, Dewey wrote “Any experience is miseducation that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience (p25).”¬†¬†This is an important point I will build on.

One problem with these models is with the very first step of identifying the experience.¬†¬†It implies that we actually understand that we are having an experience ‚Äď that we “see it”. ¬†E.M. Forster said that the only books that influence us are the ones we are ready for.¬†¬†Likewise, we may only see what we already know.¬†¬†We may not identify the experience because we don‚Äôt have the awareness to make sense of the experience, or our prior conceptual models block us from seeing the experience as it is.

‚ÄúThe blinders of our categories prevent us from seeing what is there.‚ÄĚ

A way to highlight this act of “not seeing” what is in front of us is to explore two psychological experiments that examine “functional fixedness.”¬†¬†Functional fixedness refers to not seeing the potential novel uses of something because of your narrow prior category of the object in your mind.¬†¬†The classic “candle experiment” gave subjects a candle, a box of thumb tacks, a bulletin board, and asked them to attach the candle to the bulletin board.¬†¬†Most people tried to use the thumb tacks to stick the candle to the board, which doesn‚Äôt work very well.¬†¬†A second group of subjects was given the same instructions and materials, with one small change.¬†¬†This time the tacks were removed from the box and placed next to the empty box.¬†¬†While it was a small change, it was large enough for people to see a new way of solving the problem.¬†¬†Subjects in the second group saw that if they tacked the box to the bulletin board they could then place the candle inside the box.¬†¬†When the box was full of tacks the subjects‚Äô functional fixedness prevented them from seeing other uses for the box.

Another experiment involved giving subjects a problem to solve in which a length of string could be used in the solution of the problem.  The string was hung from a nail on the wall, and most people figured out to use the string as part of the solution to the problem.  Other groups were given the same instructions, but this time the same string on the same nail was used to hold a picture.  In this case no one thought to use the string to solve the problem.  The subjects‚Äô functional fixedness on the string as part of the picture prevented them from seeing it as a resource to solve the problem.  The blinders of our categories prevent us from seeing what is there.

How do we overcome “not seeing”, and what is the impact on serious game design?¬†¬†When utilizing the experiential learning models to guide our game design we should change the first step to “Identifying the Experience‚ÄĚ.¬†¬†People do not necessarily understand the nature of the experience that they are expected to reflect upon and draw lessons from.¬†¬†The game designer must have a clear idea of the nature of the experience that the game will be providing to the participants.¬†¬†This does not mean that the experience needs to be clearly delineated for the players at the¬†start¬†of the game.¬†¬†It can be, but there are times when ambiguity and uncertainty are valuable features of the game.¬†¬†In these cases, the nature of the experience needs to be highlighted in the debriefing session at the end of the game.¬†¬†Here the facilitator can direct attention to how the players made sense of the experience and what they got out of exploring that experience.¬†¬†It is very important to look at the assumptions that players operated under as to what were viable and nonviable approaches to solving the problem.

Players bring prior experience and preconceived ideas with them to the game, and a novel experience that challenges pre-held beliefs may not even be seen.  The game designer must be aware of the dangers of misinterpreting the nature of the experience by the players.  It could easily lead to learning the wrong thing from the experience.  If, however, the facilitator with the help of the players can identify examples of functional fixedness that occurred when approaching the problem, then they have identified fruitful topics to develop additional games around.  These new iterative games could provide breakthrough thinking for approaching the problem.  The insights are so valuable that the game facilitator must be continually searching for opportunities to explore them when they arise.  Spending the time designing and playing serious games can be enormously useful for organizations if sufficient attention is given to framing the experience and guiding the learning that results from exploring that experience.

Robert Domaingue

Sepinsky and Bae: Wargaming is about the process, not the result

In Foreign Policy magazine, Jeremy Sepinsky and Sebatian Bae discuss the use, utility, and limits of wargaming as an analytic tool, using as an example a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

This is the kind of narrative most people imagine when they think of military war games‚ÄĒscenes in the bowels of the Pentagon, units fighting digitally on electronic maps, commanders pondering their next step in a fast-moving crisis. Victory in the simulation, so the popular imagination goes, shows how to win a real-life conflict. Defeat in a war game, on the other hand, is an acknowledgement that any actual conflict will likely be lost.

Contrary to the popular imagination, however, this is not how war games work. Rarely is a war game designed to predict the future or develop a single definitive strategy. Instead, a war game helps military planners and analysts explore and understand a complex problem, regardless of the outcome. Win or lose, the purpose isn’t to define a strategy for the U.S. military but to help it better understand the capabilities it has, what it can already do, and what it needs.

Whether it‚Äôs Taiwan or any other potential conflict, the scenario is rarely the focus of the war games we at¬†CNA¬†design for the U.S. Defense Department. Instead, war games are about better understanding how the U.S. military can build deterrence, what technology gaps could hobble its forces, how an adversary‚Äôs capabilities might evolve in response to U.S. capabilities, and how all that might impact what Washington should invest in today. Fundamentally, war games strive to explore and distill the fundamental nature of the problem itself‚ÄĒwhich rarely leads to definitive scenarios or solutions.

In fact, using war games to craft a clear-cut strategy is impossible. Done right, war games are a plausible method of providing a brief and limited glimpse into a possible future‚ÄĒa single future in a multiverse of possibilities. Trying to imitate victory in a war game, on the other hand, means trying to align both sides‚Äô future decisions in a complex conflict with the scenario that played out during the game. Obviously, these decisions are numerous and mostly beyond one‚Äôs control.

What worked in a single war game has limited utility‚ÄĒit worked against a specific adversary making a specific set of decisions using a specific set of game rules that may or may not accurately reflect the world. Failure, on the other hand, doesn‚Äôt require the game to be a perfect simulation. We often hear complaints from players that our war game rules make the adversary ‚Äú10 feet tall.‚ÄĚ But it is better to stress U.S. forces more than to give the adversary too little credit and not stress U.S. forces enough. Stressing the capabilities of the U.S. forces to their breaking point from all sides allows analysts and researchers to identify vulnerabilities and what might be needed to fix them.

They conclude:

So, in a war game, pay no attention to who won or lost. War-gaming is about the process, not the result‚ÄĒand analyzing that process is what will allow the U.S. military to turn losing into winning.

You can read the full article at the link above. For more on wargaming Taiwan, see Drew Marriott’s 2021 summary of recent Taiwan wargames here at PAXsims.

Diversity, inclusion, and national security

At War on the Rocks, Caesar Nafrada and Joseph Caddell have written an excellent piece on the value of diversity and inclusion in national security analysis, focusing on the role that racism and stereotypes played in leaving the United States vulnerable to the Pearl Harbour attack:

‚ÄúI never thought those little yellow sons-of-bitches could pull off such an attack, so far from Japan.‚Ä̬†So confessed¬†Adm. Husband Kimmel, former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to a member of the congressional Pearl Harbor investigation. Our 2021 reaction to Kimmel‚Äôs words is to focus on their racist invective. Yet, there‚Äôs an even more obvious problem with Kimmel‚Äôs statement. He was simply wrong, and he should have known better. Adm. Kimmel, Gen. Walter Short (the U.S. Army Hawaiian Department commander), and other military leaders on Oahu fundamentally underestimated and misunderstood the threat of Japanese carrier aviation to their detriment, and to the detriment of national security. Their underestimation and misunderstanding was deeply grounded in racial prejudice and went unchallenged in¬†an environment of ethnocentric groupthink. Even in acknowledging his mistake, Kimmel‚Äôs words suggest he remained angrily defiant that the attack materialized the way it did ‚ÄĒ as if it were unfair that reality did not conform to his prejudices. Ethnocentric and racist attitudes and actions are objectionable for their harmful effects on the groups they malign, of course, but we should never forget that they are fundamentally stupid because they are factually incorrect. Prejudice literally means passing judgement prior to possessing adequate information. For national security professionals, prejudice is dangerous. Prejudice is fatal. The prejudicial unwillingness of Kimmel, Short, and others to posture adequately against a potential Japanese aerial attack was fatal 80 years ago today. Pearl Harbor is a concrete example that demonstrates how devastating ethnocentric bias brought on by largely homogenous institutions can be.

They go on to note:

The details of the warning failure at Pearl Harbor illustrate how toxic ethnocentrism, the byproduct of a homogenous workforce, taints analysis and decision-making in various ways. A lack of diversity fosters devastating shared blind spots, skewing the foundations upon which every process is built. Without diversity, some flawed beliefs go unchallenged. Pearl Harbor demonstrates the dangerous results of unchallenged ethnocentric assumptions. Pervasive ethnocentrism and racism lead to disastrous outcomes when they supplant real evidence or lead one to underestimate a foe. These dynamics do not merely reflect the prevailing racial attitudes of the American military of the 1940s. They illustrate how a lack of diversity and inclusion in the national security workforce could have lethal consequences today.

The private sector has no shortage of industry research that demonstrates how a lack of diversity and inclusion negatively impacts organizational performance. National security organizations are similarly vulnerable. Since national security leaders have made the argument that diversity and inclusion can strengthen their organizations, extrapolations from these industry findings should be further explored for their applicability.

While organizations lacking diversity risk prejudicial blind spots, teams comprised of people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to mitigate this bias thanks to multiple perspectives drawn from personal experiences. This is¬†especially true¬†in the realm of international affairs. Ethnocentrism can damage analytical tradecraft through¬†groupthink, mirror-imaging, and the misreading of cultural norms¬†and behaviors.¬†…

National security decision-makers must be willing to incorporate more varied sources into their assessments to better avoid strategic surprises from peer competitors. Improved diversity and inclusion can drive better consideration of possible (if unlikely) threats by inhibiting groupthink and reducing cognitive biases, resulting in greater objectivity. Conversely, research shows that homogenous groups are less able to recognize the value of contrary information, leading to poor decision-making. Diversity and inclusion increase the integration of broader perspectives, reducing shared blind spots. Inclusion fosters new paradigms and heuristics that may have been absent within an otherwise homogeneous organization or team. Studies of racially diverse groups show that social differences generate teams more likely to anticipate differences of opinion, driving them to integrate multiple perspectives while building consensus.

The article isn’t about wargaming, but it’s a piece every serious game designer should read.

PAXsims is a proud supporter of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. If your organization would like to join the impressive list of cosponsors, drop us an email.

Mason: Designing public safety games and tabletop exercises

At the LECMgt blog, Roger Mason discusses designing public safety games and tabletop exercises.

Public Safety organizations employ tabletop style exercises to train their personnel. These exercises provide a flexible and cost-effective system to simulate a variety of critical incidents. This article will discuss how to design tabletop exercises and the next level of simulation complexity, wargames. I will discuss the uses of these exercises and the common and unique characteristics of each.

We will explore five steps for designing a game or exercise and how to validate the design. Some people maintain that tabletop exercises are simple to design because they appear to be simple. There may be more to designing a tabletop exercise or wargame than some people believe.

It’s a very useful overview of the process and considerations involved and well worth a read.

Barzashka: Do academic standards for research excellence apply to professional wargaming?

The following item has been written for PAXsims by Ivanka Barzashka (Managing Director of the Wargaming Network at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London), based on her recent presentation at the Connections US 2021 professional wargaming conference. This article expresses her personal views and does not necessarily reflect an institutional position. 


Wargaming has long practiced as a professional enterprise but is only emerging as an academic discipline. Civilian universities play an important role in bringing established standards of academic excellence to the theory and practice of wargaming for both research and education. 

Ensuring excellence in analytical wargames is especially important as governments increasingly looking to wargames to innovate and inform decisions. The pool of analytical wargame providers is rapidly expanding beyond the well-established expert circles. 

To achieve and demonstrate research excellence, analytical wargames need to follow established research integrity and ethics principles. Researchers, institutions and funders can then ensure these principles are implemented in practice, and action is taken when behaviours fall short. 

Research Integrity & Ethics in Analytical Wargaming 

What are these fundamental principles and how do they apply to wargames used for research? I answered this question in a recent presentation at the US Connections Professional Wargaming Conference from an academic perspective informed by King’s College London policies. I also highlighted some challenges facing scholars who wargame. You can¬†listen to the talk here¬†and view my¬†slides below.¬†

The key takeaway: while wargaming scholarship is progressing, there is still a way to go. To properly meet research integrity standards, we need more fundamental research on wargaming, more educational opportunities in wargaming theory, methods and practice, and appropriate publication outlets. It is impossible to follow ‚Äúdisciplinary standard and norms‚ÄĚ when scholars do not know or agree what these are. It is difficult to demonstrate rigour in ‚Äúusing appropriate research methods‚ÄĚ when scientifically-sound analytical wargaming methods are only beginning to emerge in the open literature and are being applied for the first time for scholarly inquiry. Academics who strive for ‚Äútransparency and open communication‚ÄĚ still have issues publishing wargame findings in reputable journals.  

Expectations for Scholars vs Professional Wargamers 

But to what extent do research integrity and ethics requirements for analytical wargaming differ for academics versus professional wargamers? To advance this discussion, I offer three propositions.  

Most, but Not All, Academic Research Integrity Principles Apply to Professional Wargaming 

First, while the general principles for research excellence are fairly standard, a major difference between academic and professional wargaming is the expectation for transparency and open communication. For example, analysts who use wargames to support research for government clients are not expected to make their methods and findings available to others. In contrast, scholars are required to publish research and are promoted on the number of publications. 

Responding to Research Misconduct and Questionable Research Practices 

Second, the extent to which research integrity principles are applied in practice differs significantly among institutions and sponsors. This includes taking appropriate measures when there is evidence of research misconduct or questionable research practices.  

Research misconduct, which includes falsification, fabrication, plagiarism and misrepresentation, is a potentially fireable offence at a university. But could professional wargamers lose their jobs over poor game design or inadequate analysis of gameplay data?  

Looking at King‚Äôs definitions for categories of misconduct, many common wargaming practices would raise red flags in academe. Here are some examples: 

Falsification includes ‚Äúinappropriate manipulation and/or selection of a research process.‚ÄĚ According to this definition, creative injects by a control team that affect or determine outcomes of player decisions, but do not clearly link to research objectives and protocols, would raise questions.   

Misrepresentation includes ‚Äúsuppressing relevant results or data, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence representing flawed interpretation of data.‚ÄĚ Cherry-picking insights from a plenary discussion, while ignoring gameplay data, would get wargame analysts in trouble in this category. 

Another issue is plagiarism. Not acknowledging other people‚Äôs ‚Äúideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise)‚ÄĚ in wargame design would be especially problematic in an academic setting but is common practice in the gaming community. 

Major Research Ethics Risks 

My third proposition concerns research ethics. The ethical issues that arise from the application of a particular analytical wargaming method that collects data from human subjects are mostly the same ‚Äď regardless of whether the principal investigator works for a university or a government agency. However, the likelihood and consequence of ethical risks materialising will differ significantly in different settings. 

Scholars applying for research ethics review of an analytical wargaming process are most worried about preserving anonymity of research participants and ensuring the confidentiality of personal data. This risk arises because wargames are conducted in group settings and require support from large research teams (e.g. rapporteurs and facilitators). 

However, scholars can effectively manage these risks by carefully applying best practices, such as minimisation of directly or indirectly identifiable personal data, pseudo-anonymisation, access limitation, data separation and retention policies. These risks can be further reduced by careful recruitment and training of game staff. (At King‚Äôs, we spend 6 months selecting and training our wargame rapporteurs.) 

For professional wargamers, the major ethical risk is the conflict of interest between them and their sponsor. Stephen Downs-Martin describes the issue well in this article. Research ethics problems deepen when lines of responsibility and accountability are not clearly defined, and when the research process is not (or cannot) be made transparent. Mitigating these risks requires clear communication between a wargame provider and their sponsor but doing so might not be in the self-interest of the parties involved. 

Other ethical risks will be just as big, regardless of setting. For example, risks of harm to individuals could result from using wargames to investigate topics that could trigger stress or violence. If a principal investigator uses deception, including not fully informing participants of the purpose of the wargame, this also raises ethics concerns. (Thanks to Rex Brynen for highlighting these points.) 

Are Scholars Better Positioned to Ensure Research Excellence in Wargaming?

Ensuring and demonstrating research excellence in wargaming requires understanding, applying, and enforcing integrity and ethics principles. These principles are well established, but expectations differ in academic and professional wargaming settings. Professional wargamers face greater ethical risks than scholars who wargame, and these risks cannot be easily mitigated.   

Overall, scholars at universities are better positioned to ensure research excellence in wargaming than their professional wargaming colleagues. This does not mean professional wargamers are less interested in honesty, rigour, transparency, or ethics. Quite on the contrary ‚Äď the wargaming community of practice is conscious of these risks and limitations, and the topic of this year‚Äôs US Connections conference is testimony to this fact. But there are powerful institutional incentives that influence research integrity and ethics in practice, which cannot be wished away. 

If people who are professional wargamers want to effectively demonstrate research excellence in wargaming, they should consider a sabbatical to spend some time at a university. 

Ivanka Barzashka

Building a climate change megagame (Part 3)

The following series of articles was written for PAXsims by Ola Leifler, Magnus Persson, and Ola Uhrqvist. You can read Parts 1 and 2 here and here.


Concluding thoughts

One of the first impressions was that we were rather overwhelmed by the experience, which is one of the reasons this blog post, long overdue and way too long, did not materialize until at least one academic period had transpired after the main CCM event. However, now that we have gathered our thoughts a bit, we realized that we have probably learned a great number of things so far. For instance:

1.     Reasons for creating a megagame on climate change and social transformation

There are many types of games that relate to climate change and negotiations, but few that we feel concern the types of negotiations, dilemmas and interactions that may be common for professionals in companies and citizens in local regions facing the prospect of societal change. One of us, Ola Uhrqvist, had previous experience developing a game about city planning to take both climate adaptation into account‚ÄĒ but there, few negotiations were conducted as the game was primarily a single-player web application.¬†

In the literature on learning for a sustainable development, engagement and various pedagogical forms is stressed as key to ensure that learners experience first-hand the dilemmas and difficulties they need to overcome. Furthermore, we noticed that when we pitched the idea of a ‚ÄúClimate Change Megagame‚ÄĚ, it immediately piqued people’s interest in a way that acted as an icebreaker and helped us to engage rather diverse groups in conversations. Even though there were practical issues with every single version of the game we have tried, the concept itself has been intriguing enough to make people joining as players or contribute as control team and even contributing to game development. However, to understand exactly which difficulties to subject players, and what type of realistic situations to simulate, has proved to be almost as elusive as real societal transformation.

2.     The eternal challenge of playable realism

Serious games always needs to balance between relevance and playability. The activities players engage in, and the type of experience they have, must be of relevance whether it is ‚Äúrealistic‚ÄĚ or not. We learned that some types of realism, such as players getting bogged down by managing their daily lives, may not be helpful in ensuring that the resulting experience is relevant to the end goal of understanding dilemmas and options for societal transformation. We wanted the game to offer interesting challenges without directing players too much with respect to what they would want to do. As designers, we can include mechanisms that reflect aspects of reality such as economic capital being vital for investments in infrastructure, say, without going so far as to say that without a growing economy, people would starve to death. We wanted to provide enough context and feedback mechanisms to stimulate discussions and make different visions apparent, without constricting players in such a way that their room for creative discussions and maneuvering would be artificially restricted. 

A golden rule for how to ensure players understand the rules well enough to be comfortable about breaking them and understanding just how much freedom they have to negotiate freely probably don‚Äôt exist but we understand much better now than before what would count as interesting and relevant challenges compared to ‚Äúrealistic‚ÄĚ ones. In our experience minimalism of game mechanics is desirable in order to let participants focus on the content. 

3.     Recruiting and maintaining a committed and diverse design team

Including more people from the early playtests in game design and discussions made it apparent that it was difficult to ensure equal commitment among all when the game concept changed quite a lot, partly as a result of feedback. Also, we wanted to be open to suggestions about how different groups could contribute to the project, which placed high demands on participants to express clearly what they wanted to contribute to and what they expected. Some of the early contributors who provided invaluable feedback on the game and made it much better in the end still did not feel comfortable joining at the end as the game changed quite a lot between playtests. Though it was necessary to make the changes, it became difficult for all members of the design team to keep up with the ideas for changes that the core group brought forward, especially as we became limited to digital meetings during the pandemic. The take home lesson is the value of a clear aim, participants roles and modes of decision making and communication is increasingly important in a dynamic, explorative project.

4.     Going digital

Going digital opened up new opportunities for players from around the world to join and it greatly simplified our ability to collect data on how the game progressed, but also introduced a whole host of new issues. We spent quite some time even after the core game mechanics and graphical elements had been decided to ensure that the digital platform (Miro) could handle all graphical components and the 50 players with decent latency. Therefore, some graphical optimizations were required before the main event took place. For instance, components were merged into bitmaps instead of hundreds of separate graphics components. The communications channel (Discord) was set up very professionally by our Megagame colleague Darren Green from Crisis Games in the UK and that enabled players to have both private and public spaces for communications. Even with such a setup though, some players felt lost between all the channels and the Miro board. Having a technical setup and preparation before the main event, just focusing on the technical aspects of the game would probably have helped some participants who were struggling.

The main event was hosted at a venue where we broadcast everything live from a studio over Vimeo. This worked rather well as a compromise between having only an internal event and only having a studio with professional talking heads but having dual roles as hosts for both the game and the ‚Äúshow‚ÄĚ was hard to manage. It would have been better to have studio hosts who could have focused on being hosts. Then again, a digital event that plays out through discussions on Discord and board changes on Miro might not offer enough continuous action for a continuous live show.

5.     The importance of good debriefing

The main event was intended to let people experience and reason about the needs for mitigation and adaptation, as in the needs for making changes to our societies that will reduce emissions versus the needs to adapt to climate change we cannot avoid. The primary aim of the debriefing was to capture the perceptions of these potentially conflicting needs, but it became apparent that the participants were mostly preoccupied with thoughts about the game mechanics, graphical elements and direct experiences. A debriefing is very important for a proper learning experience, and for us, the fact that people became preoccupied with the mechanics and graphical elements indicated that these were in fact the objects they thought mostly in terms of directly afterwards. Maybe the game was too heavy on mechanics since it became hard to talk about abstract things such as mitigation and adaptation in direct connection to having played. It would probably have been easier to first address game-specific issues and then later broaden the horizon to comprise the real world.

6.     Future development

The project had until this point been run exclusively on a small amount of seed money for a pedagogical project and a lot of personal commitment. We realized that continued work with this require us to leverage our initial experiences and gain access to proper funding for work that could significantly expand on what we have been doing. The game itself is not a goal, it is not even a product that may be finished but at best a way to help us think better, as designers and players, about what a sustainable society may be like. With some luck, we may have a chance to build on all we have learned and enable others to learn as we have about how to move constructively towards a societal transformation to sustainability.


Ola Leifler is a senior lecturer in software engineering at Linköping University who, over the last ten years and upon learning more about the state of the world and the effects of how we educate, has formed a strong interest in learning for a sustainable development. With a special interest in boardgames, role-playing games and simulations, he now explores how they can be harnessed to promote more constructive thinking about global challenges.

Magnus Persson is a translator and academic proofreader with an interest in board game development who has been serious about games for as long as he can remember and only in recent years came into contact with the megagame genre and the concept of serious games. 

Ola Uhrqvist is a teacher and researcher in the field of Environmental and Sustainability Education with a special interest in using serious games as a tool to enhance engagement in and understanding of complex issues, such as environmental and social change. 

Building a climate change megagame (Part 2)

The following series of articles was written for PAXsims by Ola Leifler, Magnus Persson, and Ola Uhrqvist. You can read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.


Playtesting

Play-test 1: Card-driven anarcho-communism

The first iteration of the game was card-driven and centered around meeting different needs such as housing, food and transportation needs, while also being about changing the way you fulfill those needs (from more carbon-intensive variants to less carbon-intensive ones). Much of the game centered on meeting needs and negotiating with local politicians as well as companies on how to do that in a low-carbon manner. We had 15 players, three different municipalities in our region along with some companies and regional politicians. Everything was definitively NOT ready, but we understood enough of what we wanted to do so that we could start playing the game. After a few rounds of learning how to fulfill needs in general, people started getting creative about the use of different transportation methods so that we ended up having an electric garbage truck from one of the municipalities helping the population with food deliveries. Not quite sure about whether that would have conformed to sanitary guidelines, but we were rather happy about the level of creative thinking the group had going.

On the whole, the initial playtest left a bewildering mix of impressions. On the one hand, everyone present very much loved the format and engaged in lengthy discussions about how to develop the game further. On the other hand, we had succeeded in reducing carbon footprints in a way that may not have revealed very interesting tensions. As one commented, as players we seemed to behave as an ‚Äúanarcho-communist collective‚ÄĚ. Maybe not what we‚Äôd expect to see. We were not sure about how to interpret the outcome either. The companies were rather willing to forego profits and instead help the population get goods and services to meet their needs at cost. The local politicians had few restraints on their willingness to spend or meet needs or expectations from the local population. The emissions were not important in providing guidance to the players, and were not even noticed as part of playing. We succeeded without having very difficult conversations. In all, our collective success and limited sources of friction gave us much to consider for our next iteration of the game. Was the game too easy? Were we just too few to create interesting social dynamics? Did we need to pitch business owners or politicians as antagonists to the overall goal of achieving a transformation to reduce emissions, or did we simply need stronger incentives or opportunities for people to act in their own interests?

However, one design decision that was made at this stage was critical, and influenced the final game version: the general population of our region, √Ėsterg√∂tland, would be represented in the game by players who would be able to take actions and make decisions, not as abstract values and mechanics such as tracks manipulated by decision-makers such as politicians, corporations, etc. This decision caused quite a few problems in the later stages of the design process, but in the end contributed to add a layer of interaction to the game that would otherwise have been missing and possibly sets the CCM apart from other megagames. In a megagame about, for example, the Napoleonic Wars, there are players playing generals and the officers they command, but there are no players playing the actual troops fighting the battle ‚Äď whether they march where the general orders them to or refuse to move is most often decided by a morale roll, it is not the decision of a player. In this respect, the CCM was designed to bring to the table the debate taking place in society and the sometimes ‚Äď from a societal planning point of view ‚Äď irrational refusal by the entire or parts of the population to follow regulations and use available options to create a sustainable future.

Play-test 2: Overwhelming complexity

From the first to second iterations, we made several changes to explore designs hinted at by these questions. For one thing, we introduced quality of life, as a general mechanism that would see players optimizing well-being for the populations in their respective municipality, where reduced well-being of a population would trigger different sorts of social unrest.

Two main game mechanics were introduced in this version: the Quality of Life (QoL) tracker and Climate Impact tokens. The idea for the former began as a perceived need to track the progress of individual players in a clearer and more comparable way ‚Äď an attempt to introduce the neighbour effect, i.e. ‚Äėif my neighbour has it, I want it too‚Äô. This functioned as a form of victory points for the population players, which was affected by the overall goals in an indirect way, as extreme weather events could impact a player‚Äôs QoL, but would not necessarily do so depending on the type of event and what community it impacted.  

Here, each population player played a social stratum of the population: the population player‚Äôs needs were affected by the generations in their part of the population ‚Äď each player began with 2 or 3 generations, each of which aged between turns and ran a risk (represented by a die roll) of ‚Äėdying‚Äô of old age and ill health. The latter was represented by a tracker, and players had to keep track of their generations so that they got proper health care, either from the local authorities or by purchasing it from private companies. This was introduced to give players a sense of relationship to a part of the population in one of the towns or municipalities. 

There were quite a few things to keep track of in this version of the game. All the needs cards in this version of the game had been replaced by boards and trackers, and players had to run back and forth to get the right resources to cover the needs boxes on their player boards. Some thought had been given to this being an obstacle in a game of a hundred players in the same room, and so some of the aspects, such as housing, had been placed on the board beforehand and did not change much during the game. Overall, however, the complexity of scaling up the original version of the game became a major problem: over 4000 cards and 50 player boards was needed for a game intended to be played by an estimated 30 players for the playtest ‚Äď a climate impact issue in itself, as was noted by the control team when spending two hours cutting cards and boards. Also, if all 30 playtesters had turned up, we came to realize that there would have been chaos in the bargaining to get the resources they needed. 

The Climate Impact (CI) tokens was tied to the overall sustainability goal, which had been rather vaguely formulated in the first version of the game. The idea was that each action would carry with it its own ‚Äėshame pile‚Äô, as one of the team members called it, in the form of a pile of CI tokens that accumulated over the lifetime of the resource. As an example, a good produced in Asia, with a certain amount of CI token already on it as decided by its production method and mode of transportation to Europe, would be purchased from the world market by a corporate player and then sold to a population player. As part of the negotiation to sell the good, the corporate player could offer to sell it at a lower price to if the population player would also take with them all CI tokens ‚Äď or else offer to take all or some if the CI tokens in exchange for a higher price. The idea of the ‚Äėshame pile‚Äô was for each player to stand at their player board at the end of each turn and take in the sight of the climate impact they had given rise to during the turn. This was intended to provide incentive to opt for products and production methods that would lead to fewer CI tokens for the player, while giving them tangible feedback on their progress towards a sustainable society.

The complexity issue became apparent even with fewer playtesters than anticipated, and we figured out that we needed a better way of managing the small communities in the region, so we thought that having groups of players collaborating in smaller teams explicitly for the purpose of a small community might be a way forward. Also, we wanted to understand if the game design could work with a wider group of players and decided to recruit playtesters from a broader group for the next playtest.

Playtest 3: Decreasing complexity and the breakdown of the market system

Thanks to broader marketing and better advance planning, the third playtest featured a much more varied group of players, with roughly 25 playtesters of varying ages and backgrounds that attended the session. This was the first time we encountered accessibility issues relating to e.g. English as the only language for rules and components to cater the the minority of English-only participants, the height of tables in relation to wheelchairs and other aspects which had not been considered before with our smaller group.

This version of the game was a streamlined version of the one used in Playtest 2, and thought had been given to decreasing the complexity of the game and focus on the sustainability goals while not giving up the idea of simulating the problems faced by the population players in meeting their needs of the various generations of the population strata they represented. Generations were made a more central game aspect as they provided population players with actions and income, and the population players were also given more distinct roles with role-specific actions, e.g. the ability to steal from other population players or increase the resources gained from certain standard actions. The number of players per population had also been increased from one to two or three to decrease the complexity and workload of each player, and as it was beginning to dawn upon the game design team that megagames are played by groups of players, which had been noted in Playtest 1, when individual players banded together to discuss things and make sense of situations. 

The political system, which had been absent in Playtest 2 due to a lack of players, was incorporated into the game through the population player‚Äôs vote cards, which allowed them to give one of three political parties their vote. The parties, which were represented by one or two players, between them decided on regional policy. Such policies included taxes and restrictions ‚Äď the power each party wielded was decided by how many vote cards they had and their ability to make voters stay with their party. The population players could change their vote at any time. This system proved to be rather static, as almost all vote cards were placed with one of the parties and few players gave their vote any thought during the game, leaving the players of two parties to try to get people to change their votes, which was in vain due to them being fully occupied with trying to sort out all of their needs and actions. This may have been rather realistic, as some of the players noted, but not great in terms of game experience. 

Two other roles were completely overwhelmed: the local authority player and the corporate players. These were more or less assaulted by a horde of population players demanding all kinds of goods and solutions to their problems, and getting access to market and local authority players became so difficult that the game rounds ended before all players had had a chance to get to the front of the line that formed in front of the market table. Thus, this version of the game showed that it would be impossible to hold on to the idea of simulating the complexity of the economic system of supply and demand ‚Äď even in simplified form ‚Äď by moving cards and tiles from one place to another. This also proved to be the fall of the ‚Äėshame pile‚Äô system as it had been imagined up to this point, as it proved far too problematic to transport the CI tokens in the room.

Research also made a small appearance with the introduction of research players, which tried to get funding to carry out research projects that would improve production processes and other aspects of the game. As this had not been given proper thought, the main role of the researchers, who represented universities as well as private research institutions, became to distribute university education and discuss matters connected to the Swedish government, which was not represented by a player in this game, but rather appeared on screens with different kinds of national policy, which the politicians were to deal with. 

After the playtest, further playtests and the main game event was postponed due to restrictions following the pandemic, which left ample time for reflections and rebuilding the game. In May 2020, the game design team met to discuss a heavily revised version of the game, which relied on the ‚Äėsteady-state system‚Äô to deal with the choke points presented by the reliance of population players on the market and local authority players to get hold of the resources they needed to play the game. The object of this was to place more focus on the issue of discussing the overall goal of the game‚ÄĒa societal transformation towards a sustainable society, which had been more or less completely ignored by players during Playtest 3 ‚Äď again, rather realistic, but not ideal for a game such as the CCM.  

Even though we wanted to illustrate that as citizens we have to spend our time managing our own lives instead of considering changing lifestyles and promoting a societal transformation, this was an unwanted piece of ‚Äúrealism‚ÄĚ in CCM. Both game designers and playtesters wanted an immersion in the decisions and dilemmas inherent in societal transformation. To simply implement mechanisms that deflect from those decisions because those mechanisms are in place in real life would not stimulate the kinds of discussions we wanted. In that way, we did not want a ‚Äúrealistic‚ÄĚ game experience but an engaging, immersive and relevant experience. We realized the difference between the two at about this point.

Playtest 4: The making of a megagame

The fourth and final playtest was held in October and was partly digital ‚Äď some players sat by their computers in the same room as the control team (the only restriction at that time involved groups over 50 people) and others participated from their homes over Discord. This was in preparation of the main event, which in the end were to be entirely digital, a fact that was suspected at this point in time. Just under 20 players and control team members participated, and the playing was done using a Miro board. 

During Summer 2020, the game had been reinvented based on the lessons learned during Playtests 1-3 and the lead game designer‚Äôs improved understanding of megagames after studying them more closely over the past year. Population players were assigned roles tied to age group (young, working-age, old) rather than social stratum and, together with a local authority player, placed in groups based on which community in √Ėsterg√∂tland they represented. This made it easier for players to act as a group against other groups, but also gave each player an individual income and a special ability, which both made them useful to the group and put them in a position to negotiate with the group members to reach their individual goals. The same was done for the corporate players, the researchers, and the politicians, who were all placed in groups (the business community, the research community, and three different political parties) with both common and individual goals. A map of the region divided into hexagons and some rules connected to it made the impact of extreme weather events and actions such as farming and harvesting forest clearer.

The most notable change was the disappearance of the market system and the cards or tiles for various needs as this proved to be a major detraction from the discussions we wanted to promote through the game. The constant negotiations to fulfil needs were replaced by an abstract ‚Äėsteady-state‚Äô system in which only changes were recorded, and the needs of each community were reduced to four areas (food, goods, transportation, and housing). Each area was represented by a track with six boxes: three orange (technological solutions) and three blue (changes to lifestyle). By investing economic capital (earned primarily by working-age population players and local authority players), social capital (earned primarily by young population players), and cultural capital (old population players) the communities could either buy technological solutions or make changes to their lifestyle to decrease their community‚Äôs CI, which was displayed on the game board in relation to the goal of a CO2-free society in 2050.

Most of the lifestyle changes were available from the start of the game as they involved reducing consumption, often at the assumed social costs (which resulted in negative effect cards being drawn to affect the community occurring at the end of turn). The technological solutions, however, were mostly unavailable at the start of the game and had to be unlocked by the business community, which in turn relied on the research community to make the necessary technological advancements. Thus, economic capital flowed from the corporate players to the researchers, who worked hard to research the technologies that would allow the business players to unlock the technological solutions on the communities‚Äô boards, allowing them to be purchased by the communities. However, even with technological solutions unlocked, community players could choose not to buy it and instead opt to implement lifestyle changes to reduce their climate impact. 

In this version of the game, the business community was made up of corporate players without specific roles, which made them act more like anonymous risk capitalists than local businesses.

Also, in this version the communities‚Äô choices of technology and lifestyle did not affect the income of the corporate players which we realized was a missed opportunity for conflicting interests.  

Regarding research, a single player handled research using a deck of cards in which they put research objectives that came into effect as soon as they were drawn from the deck (this could be sped up using economic and cultural capital to draw additional cards, increasing the chances of success), which made the impact of research very low, which may be a realistic interpretation, but made the research sub-game less rewarding. 

As for the politics, no politicians were included in this playtest and instead one of the control team took on the role of discussing with anyone who wanted to contact the regional/national government, regarding, for example, increased research grants. No vote cards were used as this aspect of the game design was at this time in doubt whether they would actually contribute to the game experience. In the end it was concluded that they would, as they were reinstated in a slightly different form in the final version. 

The game lasted for two rounds out of the planned three, and the general feeling among the players afterwards was that the game would be very interesting to play, which resulted in several of the playtesters joining the control team for the main event. The game design team felt that the game inspired the intended kind of negotiations, even though feedback from the debriefing session mainly related to the game experience rather than to its connection to the real world. At this stage, we felt we were approaching what we imagined a proper Megagame experience should be like, and we were feeling increasingly confident that we could pull this off for a larger audience.

Some of the major lessons from the fourth playtest were that we needed some tighter connections between different groups of players. For instance, all corporations (each being run by one or two players) were given specific abilities and goals that were directly related to either local production (farmers, private forest owners, local factory owners, etc.) or import businesses (food store chains, import goods businesses, import car dealers, etc.), reflecting the conflict between local supply and global trade. The final version of the game was to feature two main contentions as we had uncovered from literature on differences between sustainability visions: technological change and intact/growing economy versus behavioural changes to reduce the economy, and global solutions versus local self-sufficiency.

Also, the community players’ decisions to make behavioural changes was made to affect the income of business owners in the final version of the game and research became directly connected to the business community’s ability to make technological solutions available to the communities.

The main event: Playtest 5

The main event was held November 21, 2020 and attended (digitally) by some 40 players from different countries. From our earlier playtests, we now had a well-functioning control team and managed to host the game from a studio at the local concert hall in Link√∂ping which had been retrofitted into a studio for digital events during the pandemic. Two of us, Ola Leifler and Ola Uhrqvist, acted as both hosts and play leaders. As we ended up with roughly half the players required for a full game, it was decided that half the communites on the map (four out of eight) were not to be played. The work leading up to the event included a control team briefing session held via Discord and session a few days before the event, and a few days before that the sending out of 4-page role and rules documents to players. 

The changes that had been made to the version used in Playtest 4 involved the completion of the business and research communities as outlined above, and the addition of the regional council (politicians) and vote cards. Further reductions in complexity of game mechanics had been made, which resulted in cultural capital being removed and social capital being changed to social change tokens, which represented the snowball effect of change begetting change in that the more social change tokens were used, the more the young population players received the turn after. The old population players were also given a single social change token, as well as the power to make populations (now tokens on the game board) into generalists that could survive without the support of modern society to bring this option to the table as well. 

Final version of the game board: overview.

The politicians were divided into three distinct parties and given the option to grant economic capital to aid the communities and the business and research communities in their efforts achieve specific boxes on their development tracks, which provided them with both incentive for negotiations with other players and collaboration between the parties.

The individual goal of the politicians was to collect as many vote cards as possible, which all players (not just the populations) had been given and were free to give to any politician at any point up to the penultimate turn. Players could not take back their vote once cast, so it was important not to make the wrong choice or sell out too cheap in negotiations with politicians; most players waited to the very last minute to give someone their vote. The vote was used in an election held at the end of the penultimate turn, which decided which party/-ies would control power in the last turn. As the votes spread quite evenly the party with the most votes still had to make deals with at least one party made deals in the last round, so this did not change matters very much. 

The outcome of the game was that the four communities very nearly made it to a carbon-free society in 2050. As expected, most communities did not opt for only technological solutions or only behavioural changes but went with both, which left the business community rather poor at the end of the game due to heavy investments in research paired with loss of income from the reduction of consumption following lifestyle changes. The differences between communities was mostly during the first round, when some communities (primarily the large ones) opted to wait for the technological solutions to turn up (or even actively invested in research to make that happen), whereas others engaged all they could in lifestyle changes (the small and medium ones, who had little economic capital). During the second and third turns, the former made many lifestyle changes too, likely because they had the capital to do so and did not want to take any chances, and the latter gained handsome deals from the business community, which was trying to expand business to make up for lost income.  

Final version of the game board: close-up.

After the final round and looking at the results, debriefings were held and afterwards analysed (see a separate report. From a game design point of view, it was concluded that the game may have been a bit too easy to ‚Äėwin‚Äô, as in there may have been too much economic capital in relation to the price of unlocking the development boxes. On the other hand, all parts of the game functioned as intended and there was a great deal of negotiation going on, and the general tendency was for players to become more and more comfortable in their roles with each turn, which suggested that the game is possible to understand and make sense of. This was also suggested by the player debriefings, and the initial confusion reported by some appears to be mostly related to the megagame experience being difficult to envision beforehand, as well as the all-digital format which made it challenging to see how you could engage in conversations with other players when not in the same physical location.


Ola Leifler is a senior lecturer in software engineering at Linköping University who, over the last ten years and upon learning more about the state of the world and the effects of how we educate, has formed a strong interest in learning for a sustainable development. With a special interest in boardgames, role-playing games and simulations, he now explores how they can be harnessed to promote more constructive thinking about global challenges.

Magnus Persson is a translator and academic proofreader with an interest in board game development who has been serious about games for as long as he can remember and only in recent years came into contact with the megagame genre and the concept of serious games. 

Ola Uhrqvist is a teacher and researcher in the field of Environmental and Sustainability Education with a special interest in using serious games as a tool to enhance engagement in and understanding of complex issues, such as environmental and social change. 

Building a climate change megagame (Part 1)

The following series of articles was written for PAXsims by Ola Leifler, Magnus Persson, and Ola Uhrqvist. You will find Parts 2 and 3 here and here.


Part 1:  Building a game about regional transformation towards a sustainable society

We have made major breakthrough in understanding cultural change and human behaviour‚ÄĚ!

‚ÄúVOTE for the Market Prophets if you believe in emission free transport, eco-building, repair shops and advanced food technologies such as synthetic meat‚ÄĚ!

How do you convince people, a lot of people, to engage in meaningful conversations, or wild speculations such as those above, about societal transformations towards a sustainable future? How can you bring different perspectives to life through roleplaying in a way that not only roleplaying nerds can handle? How can you bring over 50 people from all over the world to sit in front of computers for 8 hours, starting from 3am or ending in the middle of the night? As it turns out, a Megagame on societal transformation, the Climate Change Megagame (CCM), was just what the doctor ordered. That it came to fruition as a digital event in the middle of a pandemic came as a surprise to those of us involved, but we speculate that it may have been a result from sending invitations for participation, and with people demonstrating and interest in participating, we settled on a date, panicked upon realizing that we had to create an all-digital version of the whole thing, and somehow forgot our panic and got to work. This is our story, as they say.

In early 2019, two of us (Ola Leifler & Ola Uhrqvist), who had met a number of times before but not really worked together, came to realize that we are both engaged in ensuring that learning becomes a platform for working towards a sustainable development, and we are both interested in creative approaches to learning as well including the use of boardgames and role-playing. One of us had heard about Megagames from a boardgame review site (Shut Up & Sit Down) but we had never played one ourselves. However, the concept sounded interesting enough and we also happened to have some seed money from a pedagogical project involving how to make use of climate simulation data in education, so we enlisted our third core member Magnus Persson as lead game designer and started our journey.

At the start, we wanted to illustrate how a societal transformation towards a long-term sustainable society would induce tensions between regional actors and interests such as conservation groups, business interests, the general public and politicians in a Swedish region of 500 000 inhabitants. Also, we wanted to make it clear that even as climate change effects will not be felt exactly the same by our region as others, and effects will be cumulative and delayed, there will be disruptions to food production and serious extreme weather events in the coming decades.  The exact nature of tensions and future visions were not very clear initially though, even as we read through reports from different research projects as well as national transformation initiatives. It became clear that visions for a transformed society could look rather different. There was also a whole lot of research on synergies and trade-offs between the different sustainable development goals which seemed to indicate that there are many layers of interactions between the different goals, both on regional but also national and international levels. An initial source of tension that we found to be interesting to explore through a Megagame concerned whether to make changes to our current way of life as we anticipate that it is not long-term sustainable, or focus on achieving short-term goals for ourselves such as going on vacation, building a house, buying groceries or finding a decent pair of shoes. 

So, was our challenge just to create a simulation of a region in a complex global industrial society? That would have been far too easy. We soon realised that this was just the point of departure on top of which we also had so simulate different futures depending on the paths the participants would embark upon and the transformation to get there. Oh, yes, we almost forgot, the game had to be comprehensible enough to be grasped in less than 20 minutes. 


Ola Leifler is a senior lecturer in software engineering at Linköping University who, over the last ten years and upon learning more about the state of the world and the effects of how we educate, has formed a strong interest in learning for a sustainable development. With a special interest in boardgames, role-playing games and simulations, he now explores how they can be harnessed to promote more constructive thinking about global challenges.

Magnus Persson is a translator and academic proofreader with an interest in board game development who has been serious about games for as long as he can remember and only in recent years came into contact with the megagame genre and the concept of serious games. 

Ola Uhrqvist is a teacher and researcher in the field of Environmental and Sustainability Education with a special interest in using serious games as a tool to enhance engagement in and understanding of complex issues, such as environmental and social change. 

Sepinsky: Rigorous wargames vs effective wargaming

At War on the Rocks, Jeremy Sepinsky (CNA) addresses “Is it a wargame? It doesn’t matter: Rigorous wargames vs effective wargaming.

We need to stop telling ourselves that the key to a better wargame is to add more detail. Some of the most rigorous, well-researched wargames I‚Äôve participated in have struggled to create any lasting impact on the sponsors. Yet many of my ad hoc, quickly assembled, and lightly adjudicated wargames have created exactly the lasting impacts that we are looking for: sponsors thinking hard about future plans, policies, or objectives. Why? Because a rigorous wargame is usually not the same thing as effective wargaming. Without sponsors who understand the¬†role of wargaming¬†within their organization‚Äôs priorities, even a great wargame will often become a simple exercise of telling the players what they already know. The wargaming community¬†can and should¬†be¬†better, but the community and its sponsors need to address the critical element that allows a wargame, whether deeply rigorous or hastily assembled, to also be effective wargaming: the ecosystem ‚ÄĒ the personal networks, cycle of research, follow-on activities, and continued intellectual engagement with the insights that emerge from it.

Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath¬†raise questions¬†about the quality of defense wargames in these pages, noting, ‚ÄúMuch of what the Department of Defense calls wargaming is not actually wargaming.‚ÄĚ They are quite right ‚ÄĒ but that‚Äôs not necessarily a problem. Wargamers will debate till they are blue in the face about what is and is not a wargame. It does not matter. For those of us who deliver wargames to sponsors in the Department of Defense or other government agencies in support of current priorities, these semantics have little value. If the players or sponsors are better equipped at the end of the wargame to do the things they need to do, then there is value in the activity. Nothing else matters.

You can read the rest of the article at the link above.

MORS: Sabin on simultaneity of action in rigidly adjudicated wargames

On Wednesday, January 27, Prof. Philip Sabin will be speaking to the MORS wargaming community of interest on “How to Achieve Simultaneity of Action in Rigidly Adjudicated Wargames.” The session starts at 1130 ET.

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:

Pellegrino: Modelling and games

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College‚Äôs War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department‚Äôs war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

The various Excel tools mentioned in the lecture can be found here.

Others in this series can be viewed at the PAXsims YouTube channel.

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