PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: not-so-serious

FBI: wargamers are intelligent, overweight, messy, loyal, frugal, and spend a lot on games

C.J. Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter at Reason, has been doing some Freedom of Information Act digging—and came up a some mid-1990s gems from the FBI on the topic of Dungeons & Dragons inventor Gary Gygax.

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Elsewhere, the FBI offers a broader assessment on wargamers:DCXm8J6XUAA8nyi.jpg

Matrix game leader tokens

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These will NOT be part of MaGCK, the forthcoming Matrix Game Construction Kit that Tim Fisher, Tom Mouat, and I are working on—for we are all very serious gamers, and would never do anything like that.

Nonetheless, Tom Fisher obviously has too much graphic design time on his hands, and we thought these might be of use for those of you involved in political-military gaming of current or future crises. The image is formatted to Avery 5410 1″ removable stickers, and you should print from the pdf file here.

We may update them, of course, if the forthcoming UK election goes the other way.

 

UPDATE: Now with Vladimir Putin!

Happy holidays from PAXsims

On behalf of everyone here at PAXsims—Gary, Ellie, Devin, Tom and myself—we would like to wish our readers the very best for the holidays. May all your conflicts be merely simulated, and not every game serious!

 

 

This is NOT a Drill!

First – Applause for the Connections UK crowd – it was a very nice week in London, and I will be posting on that front shortly.

But in the meantime… Over the weekend, I read the pretty well done Politico piece on the “missing” hours on 9/11 during which the presidential retinue was being hop-scotched around the country on Air Force One. I was struck by the following extract. Early on, they head to Barkesdale AFB to get fuel and try and figure out what’s going on. As it happens, the 8th Air Force is in the middle of dialing-in to GLOBAL GUARDIAN – the annual STRATCOM exercise – leading to the following moment:

 “Lt. Gen. Tom Keck, commander, Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, La.: I was the commander of the 8th Air Force. We were in the midst of this big annual exercise called GLOBAL GUARDIAN. They loaded all the bombers, put the submarines out to sea, put the ICBMs at nearly 100 percent. It was routine, you did it every year.
A captain tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Sir, we just had an aircraft hit the World Trade Center.” I started to correct him, saying, “When you have an exercise input you have to start by saying, ‘I have an exercise input.’ That way it doesn’t get confused with the real world.” Then he just pointed me to the TV screens in the command center. You could see smoke pouring out of the building. Like everyone else in aviation that day, I thought, “How in a clear-and-a-million day could someone hit the World Trade Center?”

I had forgotten that the GLOBAL GUARDIAN exercise that year was actually investigated by the 9/11 Commission for whether it had impact the military response to the attacks detrimentally. The conclusion was ultimately that the heightened exercise readiness may have actually helped response. Go read the 2001 GLOBAL GUARDIAN scenarios – no spoilers in this post – and think about 2001 vs. 2017.

Of course 9/11 is the salient event of the contemporary, western national security narrative – but as practitioners we have to think about the same kinds of things in our daily lives. To whit, a conversation I had with a colleague and collaborator a couple of years ago:

“Me: hey [colleague], what’s up?

Colleague: Hey, did you send me some scenario materials, like draft injects?

Me: Oh, yeah, I did, a few hours ago, why?

Colleague: are they fake versions of acquisitions documents for an ISR program, with, uh, FAKE SAP markings on them?

Me: Yeah! …oh

Colleague: So, you didn’t write: “Exercise Purposes Only” on them, and now there are some guys taking all the computer hardware out of my office, and I have to see my security officer in an hour…

Me: [pause] Sorry.”

Mistakes happen in both directions. Remember to check-in!

Top scientists reveal shocking truth: amazing wargaming methodology makes wrinkles vanish in days!

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image-7.jpgIt seems the words “methodology evaluation” don’t attract readers to online media, so sometimes you have to go with a more clickbait-y headline.

The appearance of a Defence Research and Development Canada paper on (matrix) wargaming to support strategic planning on the DRDC website led to me getting a couple of calls from reporters this week about ISIS Crisis. As I told them, none of this was about planning military operations against ISIS. Rather, that just happened to be the scenario/game that was used to explore the methodology and whether it might have something to contribute to capability-based planning in general.

Because “methodology” is rather dry, geeky stuff  VICE News has just run an article under the exciting headline “The Strategy Board Game the Canadian Military Could Use to Fight the Islamic State.”

It’s like Diplomacy meets Dungeons and Dragons meets Prussian military tactics.

That’s ‘ISIS Crisis’ in a nutshell, a Canadian-developed table-top war game that a wing of the Canadian military says could be useful in getting strategists thinking more broadly about fighting in Iraq and Syria.

The game, developed by a major in the British army and a professor at a Canadian university, was given a test run by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the military’s in-house technology and research division.

The research body played the turn-based strategy game to see if it changed their way of thinking about any of the military, social, economic, or cultural problems facing the region….

Again—as is clear from the actual DRDC report—this isn’t at all why ISIS Crisis was played. It was used simply assess how this general type of game might be a useful analytical tool. The scenario was set in the Middle East, but might equally have been military response to the Great 1998 Ice Storm, the current forest fires in Fort McMurray, or a future hypothetical peacekeeping missions.

On this plus side, the article does at least highlight the value of serious gaming for analysis, and I do think ISIS Crisis does generate useful insight into the conflict with Daesh. Amazing but true!

 

How Japan saved—or enslaved—the (simulated) world

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In case you’ve been wondering what happened at the not-so-serious, but-seriously-fun McGill University New World Order 2035 megagame, this article in the the McGill International Review provides a very good overview:

We here at the MIR by our own admission talk a pretty big game when it comes to the Things That Must Be Done To Fix The World. Suppose we were thrown out of our armchairs and told “All right. Let’s see you do better.” What would the world look like then? I and fellow MIR writer Sara Gold learned precisely this when we participated in Jim Wallman’s geopolitical megagame New World Order 2035 as Japan’s Minister of Defense and Economics, respectively.

The results are not entirely encouraging. In fact, we may or may not have enslaved humanity forever to an immortal artificial consciousness. Maybe. It’s a long story.

This, at long last, brings me to the story of human enslavement I teased you with at the outset of this article. Our diplomatic efforts against Korea rendered moot, we returned to our scientific arms race fixationtechnology-worshiping cult focus. With Mexico’s help, we discovered cold fusion by the early 2040s. It was at this time that we were approached with a new project: a “Mycroft” class sentient computer. Displaying our blissful ignorance of how such projects tend to go, we approved the project. After pouring the entire state treasury into the effort, we had a prototype prepared. Jim then called us over and asked us – twice – if we were really sure we wanted to turn the device on. We said yes.

And with that, Mycroft was born. Sentient, self-aware, and with access to the sum of human knowledge through the Internet, it – I nearly wrote “he” – answered what questions we put to it, from how to upload human consciousness to how to achieve faster-than-light travel. At this point, we reached a decision: Japan would build the ship Mycroft had described and take our citizens’ consciousnesses on a voyage to explore the cosmos. Korea could have the Earth, for all we cared. The infinite cosmos would be ours.

It was around this point that the world’s satellites, one by one, started going dark. Military communications soon followed, as did the world’s nuclear arsenals. Mycroft had decided that, since humanity had created him, they had no need for such crude devices. This was, to put it mildly, poorly received. When I pleaded with the world not to shut Mycroft down, I was overruled, including by a scientific community whose moral compunctions forbade artificial intelligence but not, say, weaponized space plague. China mobilized its forces – such as they were – to shut Mycroft down by force. Korea and the United States followed suit. While Mycroft’s infiltration was able to stall the invasion fleet dead in the water in what would turn out to be the game’s final turn, it wasn’t before we immortalized him by uploading his software into the Internet itself. Such was the state of the world at game’s end – the world’s first sentient AI was immortal, omnipresent, and undoubtedly more than a little upset at humanity’s attempt to deactivate him. Add into the equation the robot servants I alluded to earlier, and we may very well have Terminator-ed the human race.

Which is not to say that, given the chance, I wouldn’t do every last part of it all again.

Otherwise, you can also try to make sense of the organized chaos that unfolded in YouTube celebrity Harley Morenstein’s vlog on the game.

For more serious discussion of the challenges of running mass participation games, see also our mini-series of Control debriefs:

More reflections on a megagame

The following thoughts were contributed by Vince Carpini, Science Control during the recent New World Order 2035 megagame. You can read my own reflections on the game here.


 

Then the Science Gets Done, and Everybody has Fun

Rex has been kind enough to open PaxSims to further commentary from the NWO 2035 megagame Control team, and I am happy to share my own observations.

Full disclosure: I am a hobby gamer and have little serious games experience. While I don’t think this was a drawback for NWO 2035, it does frame my perspective.

As Science Control, my role was to manage and (gently) drive the R&D aspect of the megagame. Players in the Scientist role are crucial, as they enable teams to research technological advancements that provide a variety of game effects, from hunter-killer satellites and military cyborgs to the cure for cancer and flying cars … and yes, even the game-changing Mycroft AI.

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Scientists hold a press conference to warn of the dangers of sentient AI.

In NWO 2035, most teams do not have a Scientist, and so must vie for the attention and assistance of a limited pool of ‘International Scientific Geniuses’ – in our game, there were six Scientists for 15 country teams (the Holy See and the four Corporations each had a dedicated Scientist). For their part, the Scientists are also engaged in a separate ‘mini-game’ wherein they aim to make the most impressive discoveries, win the acclaim of their peers, and ultimately be recognized as the Greatest Scientist Ever.

Like most of our participants, the majority of the Scientists were not gamers, and this presented a challenge: like virtually everything else in the megagame, the role requires player initiative – but without the backing and advice of a team. Fortunately, the Scientists rose immediately to the occasion, taking full advantage of their independence to work with different teams throughout the game, they shamelessly promoted their own work, stole credit for others’ efforts and bitingly undercut their rivals. All of this was expected and encouraged.

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Selling science to the highest bidder.

Quite unexpectedly however, the players spontaneously adopted a sense of responsibility as the Smartest People in the World. Each turn, the Scientists withdrew to a closed-door Conference, where they presented their work and competed for awards and prizes. On several occasions, the established agenda was ignored in favour of entirely player-driven discussions about how the Scientists could help to address the larger problems that plagued the near-future world. Global Warming was of particular concern, and several Scientists became very active in international efforts to address the phenomenon (in one case, two Scientists skipped a Conference because they had been invited to speak on the topic at the UN). I found the way in which this small group of largely-inexperienced players chose to expand their role within the confines of the larger game to be very interesting.

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I share Rex’s opinion that the game was quite successful, and I agree that there are some refinements to be made for future megagames. Speaking specifically to Science:

  • There is room to streamline the rules for how researching Technology functions in the game. The basic mechanic is sensible: spend Research Credits to ‘unlock’ a Technology, and then spend Money to put that Tech into play – but many players struggled with the idea that they had to ‘pay twice’. Further complicating matters, researching and implementing Technologies was not captured in the turn sequence provided in the player briefings, so teams only learned the exact when-and-how once the game began. Also, many Technologies directly impact team economy and/or the overall level of ‘Global Tension,’ which required a somewhat unintuitive and cumbersome process of confirming with Science Control that the research had been done, and then advising the Map and Economic Controls of any relevant developments. Going forward, I would like to explore how to reduce the administrative workload associated with getting Technology into play.
  • The Technologies available for research at the outset of the game were determined pseudo-randomly. As the game went on, I tailored which new technologies became available based on the interests of the individual Scientist players, and a general knowledge of what had already been discovered. However, while many technologies had (or acted as) pre-requisites, we did not provide a tech tree, which made it difficult for Scientists and teams to make meaningful plans or set specific goals with regards to their research. The resulting dynamic was of a world in which science ran amok, and was tremendously entertaining – but I think it would be interesting to give players the tools to make more thoughtful decisions as well.
  • Science Control needs to be disciplined and consistent in how they interact with the teams. While I believe that I succeeded in this from a ‘rulings’ perspective, I would change the way in which I actually moved through the room. Caught up in the excitement, I allowed myself to be dragged around the room by first one player, and then another. As a result, teams were often left waiting an over-long time for me to answer their questions or approve their research. Jim Wallman suggested that future Science Control could remain in a fixed position and have players come to them, which I think has merit. Personally, I enjoyed moving around the room and catching snippets of what was going on – but I think that if Science Control wants to rove in this way, then they must adopt – and stick to! – a regular route to ensure that all teams are seen.
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Who cares about the effect on the future of humanity when you can win science awards—and genetically re-engineer dinosaurs!

I feel very fortunate to have helped facilitate New World Order 2035, and I learned a great deal about game design and management from Rex, Jim and Tom Fisher. I look forward to another megagame in 2017!

Vince Carpini 

 

 

Legal Advises You to Choose a Fictional Country…

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Jonas Savimbi IRL and in Call of Duty: Black Ops

We don’t talk a lot on the blog about the weirder liability considerations involved in games designed for profit – or even sometimes as part of a public research agenda – but the risk is out there.

The family of infamous Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi is suing the makers of Call of Duty: Black Ops over the game’s depiction of the warlord. Three of Savimbi’s children, who live in Paris, having taken the company, Activision, to court, demanding 1 million Euros in damages for defaming their father as “a barbarian.” The game designer’s lawyers, meanwhile, have called the portrayal: “favorable.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 shows him rallying his troops with phrases like “death to the MPLA”, referring to the party that has governed Angola since independence from Portugal in 1975.

But his family said they are outraged at the depiction.

“Seeing him kill people, cutting someone’s arm off… that isn’t Dad,” said Cheya Savimbi…

A lawyer for Activision Blizzard, Etienne Kowalski, said the firm disagreed with Savimbi’s family, saying it showed the former rebel as a “good guy who comes to help the heroes”.

OK then. Well the U.S. government had strong currents of support for him at times too, I guess – despite the appalling violence committed by UNITA (including burning suspected witches. Really).

At least in Brynania you can assign whatever despicable behavior you want to the Zaharian Peoples Front (ZPF) without fear of winding up in court. Game writers take note.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 October 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed to this latest edition.

PAXsims

Strategic Crisis Simulations

Strategic Crisis Simulations will be holding its next simulation, Rising Tides: A Simulation of Regional Crisis and Territorial Competition in the East China Sea, on 7 November 2015 at George Washington University:

The East China Sea is one of the most contested regions in the existing geopolitical climate. A small body of water, whose mass is dwarfed by the world’s oceans, the East China Sea is hotly divided, with overlapping claims by four different regional actors: Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Though the exact territorial claims vary from state to state, all actors have held firm in their demands, and recent aggressive expansionism has once more brought the East China Sea to the forefront of geopolitical focus. This tension is fueled by the immense strategic and economic value of the region: the East China Sea is home to an abundance of marine life, rich fishing grounds, vast natural gas reserves, and several highly strategic trade arteries, all of which are integral to the economies to the surrounding regional actors. These attributes combine to make the East China Sea one of the most economically valuable, and strategically advantageous, oceanic regions in the world.

This simulation will examine the complex maze that actors must negotiate when dealing with the tense social, political, and military dilemmas currently occurring in the East China Sea. Participants will assume the roles of influential policymakers, and must work with both state and non-state regional actors to execute comprehensive and multilateral government responses to issues ranging from great power politics, piracy, and natural resource conflicts; to state bargaining dilemmas, humanitarian assistance, and collective action problems. Participants will have the unique opportunity to grapple with serious questions of national interest through the eyes of the government of the United States and the People’s Republic of China as they are divided into teams in order to develop their respective policies and agendas. Participants will need to develop strategies in line with their team’s objectives to manage a variety of crises and react to actions from other teams. Whether through the Politburo or the National Security Council; the Pentagon or Central Military Commission; the Ministry of State Security or the Central Intelligence Agency; participants will be challenged to work together to develop policy solutions for the complex myriad of issues that will determine the fate of the East China Sea.

PAXsims

USIPAlso in Washington DC, the United States Institute of Peace will be offering a course United Nations Peacekeeping Today: Why it Matters on 2-4 November 2015:

By the end of this course, participants will understand:

  • The new and challenging environment that confronts UN peace operations, including asymmetrical warfare, terrorist operations, drone surveillance, and organized crime.
  • The planning and implementation of modern peace operations, including the roles played by the Security Council, NATO, EU, AU, troop contributing countries and the United States.
  • The key issues confronting UN peacekeeping and the recommendations of the High Level Panel’s Report and the Presidential Summit for going forward.
  • The planning of a peace operation through interactive role play with a diverse group of well-informed fellow professionals.

The course includes a simulation/role-play exercise on planning for a fictional UN Mission in Equatorial Kundu (UNIMEK). More information is available at the link above.

PAXsims

The latest (Summer/Fall 2015) newsletter of the American Political Science Association political science education section, The Political Science Educator, contains a short article on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game:

After the earthquake that devastated the capital, aid was slow to reach the slums of District 3. Poor coordination resulted in duplication of effort in some areas, and shortages of essential aid supplies in others. The port and airport remained severely damaged, creating transportation bottlenecks. The latest reports suggested a cholera outbreak too. It was no surprise that social unrest was growing.

The vignette above is drawn from AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK was developed for classroom use to highlight the challenges of multilateral coordination in the context of a natural disasters or complex humanitarian emergencies. The game has spread well beyond its initial use at McGill University, and has been taken adopted for professional training of aid workers, peacekeeping personnel, and military officers. This article briefly describes the genesis of the project, the development and production of the game, and some thoughts about using it in the classroom.

You read the whole thing here.

PAXsims

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The NATO website briefly summarizes a North Atlantic Council crisis simulation for European university students held in Forli, Italy last week:

“How does the North Atlantic Council (NAC) respond to an emerging crisis situation?”

That was the question posed to 28 students from leading European Universities from throughout Europe, including Cork, Dublin, Bath, Lisbon, Palermo, Istanbul and Pavia, as well as the European University Institute in Florence, in a realistic re-enactment of a NAC session.

Based on the Memorandum of Understanding with NATO, the University of Bologna, School of Political Sciences, hosted the 9th North Atlantic Council Simulation (NATO Model Event) in Forli, Italy, 8-9 October 2015.

During the NAC simulation, the students explored, discussed and seek resolution to a fictitious scenario, led by Lieutenant Colonel Alfonso Alvarez, Commander Matteo Minelli and supported by Ms Tracey Cheasley, Mr Nicola Nasuti, Ms Cristina Siserman from Allied Command Transformation Strategic Plans & Policy Branch (ACT SPP) and Lieutenant Commander Dave Jones from ACT StratCom.

As an evaluation, the students participating to the event stressed that the realism of the discussions, decision-making and eventual consensus on actions, cannot be overstated and that they are very glad to be able to take part in this simulation.

Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Alvarez mentioned his gratitude to return to the University of Bologna to stage the NATO Model Event this year.”The Sala del Consiglio, Fondazione Cassa Dei Risparmi Di Forli is a perfect venue for the event and we are welcomed here with most gracious hospitality. It is a real honour to showcase our NAC simulation here at the university with such enthusiastic and well-prepared students.” he added.

As part of SACT’s Educational Outreach programme, NATO Model Events are held in Turkey, Italy and the USA throughout the year to help students and faculty members learn more about NATO and to understand more about the countries that they represent and that make up the Alliance.

PAXsims

A recent article by Quintin Smith in The Guardian highlights those aspects of the boardgaming experience that digital games cannot truly replicate.

Surely there’s nothing a board game can do that a video game can’t do better, right?

After all, board games are so limited. You have to fit them on a table, and make them out of real, tangible stuff. Video games can do whatever you can imagine!

And the best video games should already be stealing from board games. I think game designers ought to be out-and-out burglars, pausing their larceny only to remix and rethink the latest haul of ideas.

But there are also things that make board and card games great that can’t be stolen. At least, not yet. Those elements that exist only within the sphere of real-life cards, smiles and dining room tables.

He goes on to identify three characteristics of boardgames that are hard to replicate with artificial intelligence or in a digital environment: bluffing, physicality, and ownership. (Be sure to read the readers’ comments too for further thoughtful discussion on the topic.)

PAXsims

According to research highlighted in the New Scientist, the placebo effect works in videogames too:

Even in virtual worlds, life is what you make of it. A study has found that gamers have more fun when they think a video game has been updated with fancy new features – even when that’s not true.

Paul Cairns, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, UK, wondered if the placebo effect translates into the world of video games after watching a TV programme about how a sugar pill had improved cyclists’ performance.

“People have a preconception that a little round white pill that doesn’t taste nice will have a certain effect on their physiology,” says Cairns. “It’s changing your perceptions of the world around you in some profound way.”

To test their idea, he and colleague Alena Denisova asked 21 people to play two rounds of Don’t Starve, an adventure game in which the player must collect objects using a map in order to survive.

In the first round, the researchers told the players that the map would be randomly generated. In the second, they said it would be controlled by an “adaptive AI” that could change the map based on the player’s skill level. After each round, the players filled out a survey.

In fact, neither game used AI – both versions of the game were identically random. But when players thought that they were playing with AI, they rated the game as more immersive and more entertaining. Some thought the game was harder with AI, others found it easier – but no one found it equally challenging.

“The adaptive AI put me in a safer environment and seemed to present me with resources as needed,” said one player.

“It reduces the time of exploring the map, which makes the game more enjoyable,” said another.

A different experimental design, with 40 new subjects, confirmed the effect. This time, half of the players were put in a control group and told that the game was random, while the other half thought the game had built-in AI….

PAXsims

Ahmed Moussa is a controversial Egyptian television host known for his strong support for former Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak. He’s also a strong supporter of Russian intervention in Syria, and recently broadcast apparent satellite images that showed Russian helicopters at work, hunting down terrorists…

…except that it was actually imagery from the 2010 video game Apache: Air Assault.

PAXsims

Pocket Tactics, which reviews  iOS and Android games, is taking over The Wargame. They also will soon be launching a new site, Strategy Gamer, devoted to stragey games on all digital platforms as well as tabletops. As a result, they’re looking for writers and game reviewers:

If you want to join Dave and Kelsey and the gang, now’s the time — the first call for writers we’ve put out since 2012. We’re looking for reviewers to do 2 to 3 (paid!) reviews per month. We’re also looking for another news writer, somebody who can write funny, insightful news posts most weekdays — also a paid gig.

You’ll find more on how to apply here.

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Cards Against Humanit… arian Aid. Really.

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For those of you cynics out there who have been waiting for the gamification of the aid world’s dysfunction – wait no more. We give you: Jaded Aid the satirical card game based on Cards Against Humanity (TM), but with cards specific to appalling corruption, malfeasance, abuse, failure, and greed from the realm of development assistance.

So far the cards remain under development, but the article is worth a read, if for nothing other than two gems:

  1. the idea came about at Board Room, the wonderful but absurdly elitist Dupont Circle board game bar (when the Bank has you grounded you have to get your Catan fix somewhere, right?).
  2. The initial kickstarter was oversubscribed within 24 hours. That’s how disillusioned the development community is… OK, and how much fun they are willing to have at their own expense.

PAXSIMs promises that when the “Jaded Aid” CAH pack is released, the associate editors will convene some DC testing sessions and post a review on the blog.

Bin Laden’s bookshelf: the gaming connection revealed!

Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report on some of the reading material Osama bin Laden had on his (digital) bookshelves in Abottabad when he was killed by US special forces.

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One of those items will be of particular interest to gamers: a saved webpage from the ICv2.com geek culture business website noting that some conspiracy theorists had claimed that the “Steve Jackson Games’ Illuminati New World Order card game foretold the attacks on the World Trade Center.”

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And there you have it. Doubtless there will be further releases from the US intelligence community revealing that al-Qa’ida was also interested in jihadi Munchkins and giant cybernetic tanks.

Happy holidays from PAXsims

Gary, Ellie, Devin, and myself would like to wish a very happy holiday season to all of our PAXsims readers.

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John Oliver (Last Week Tonight, 10 August) pretty much nails it in his take on the realities of international negotiation.

..and yes, they actually do make games like this:

 

Simulation miscellany, Canada Day 2014 edition

canada-beaverHappy 147th birthday, Canada! In celebration of all those years of having successfully resisted American hegemony, PAXsims is pleased to post a few items of interest on conflict simulation, serious gaming, and other stuff we found interesting.

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PAXsims has received a mention at Foreign Policy magazine for our not-so-serious contribution to naval analysis, as Michael Peck discusses the US Navy’s new Zumwalt-class destroyers.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation 11, 3 (July 2014) is now available. You’ll find the table of contents here.

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The April/May 2014 edition of the US Department of Defense Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) M&S Newsletter is also now available.

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Ubisoft got itself into some trouble last month when it said that adding a playable female character to its next version of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed would be too much work. Ubisoft subsequently issued a statement praising itself for its commitment to diversity (unless, presumably, it involves too much work).

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Once again, Existential Comics combines everyone’s favourite philosophers and favourite games. This time, Hobbes, Rousseau, Machiavelli, and Freud play Risk (click the excerpt below for a link to the full comic).

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Has the US navy considered the drawbacks of designing its latest ship “for the video gamer generation?”

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CNN published a report today on the US Navy’s new, sophisticated, and somewhat stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers. Rather than doing any actual investigative reporting on the new ships (for example their $3.5 billion cost per ship–that is, about the same as the annual budget of the entire UK Royal Navy—or questions about their mix of sensors and weapons systems, or even their stability in rough seas), CNN decided to highlight what is clearly most important from an operational and strategic perspective—namely that the ship was designed for the video gamer generation.

Thus the reader is told:

In the operations center — which in many ways is the heart of the ship — sailors are surrounded by an array of video displays that have been designed to be used by a generation raised on video games, Knudson says.

Raytheon tested the technology configuration in the operation center with young, gamer sailors, Knudson says. “We’ve brought them down to our labs and we got direct feedback from them using human-factor engineers in order to make sure that we’ve integrated all the displays and information in a way that they can use the systems most effectively.”

And:

The way all the ship’s weapons, radar and other systems are displayed to users and the captain, Knudson told CNN, “it really give them unprecedented situational awareness.”

That ability is truly going to be a game-changer.

And:

The whole operations center technology array saves manpower by allowing sailors to monitor multiple weapons systems or sensors, Gallagher reported. The Zumwalt, Gallagher wrote, also includes limited wireless networking capability.

And:

…one day it could be fitted with advanced weapons systems that are currently experimental, including a laser weapon and an electromagnetic railgun.

Electromagnetic railguns don’t need to fool around with needless explosive warheads or propellants. These fearsome weapons inflict damage by sheer speed. The gun uses electromagnetic force to blast a missile 125 miles at 7.5 times the speed of sound, according to the Navy.

The laser weapon — which could be fired by one sailor on a video game-like console — is designed to take on aircraft or small surface vessels.

I don’t doubt that (as one would expect) the Zumwalt class has very sophisticated C3I capabilities, and that computerization, automation, and mechanization reduces crew requirements. However, CNN (and the US Navy) appear to have entirely missed all the possible drawbacks of having the “gamer generation” drive and fight their expensive new ship. For example, anyone who has ever played a first-person shooter can imagine all of the following:

  • Gamer-sailors refuse to use some of the most effective weapons systems on the ship, decrying them as “n00b tubes” used only by unskilled combatants. “Sure, we’ve got all these Vertical Launch System cells with Tomahawks, but who uses those? Real sailors run up to a Chinese ship and stab it with a knife.”
  • Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the stealth architecture of the new ships, gamer-sailors view stealthy “camping” as unsportsmanlike. Instead they prefer to rush about at high speed, trash-talking their opponents by radio using the computer-generated voice of a foul-mouthed semi-literate 13 year old.
  • No one worries about the ship’s lack of vulnerability to anti-ship missiles or its lack of a close-in weapons system because of an almost religious belief that they’ll simply “respawn” in San Diego or Norfolk, Virgina if sunk.
  • When bored, crews entertain themselves by ganking newbie navies that haven’t worked out the intricacies of naval combat yet.
  • Someone attaches the ship’s controls to a Xbox Kinect, requiring the crew to prance about in the Operations Centre to operate basic ship’s systems, with often hilarious results.
  • Much time wasted cruising around Pacific looking for “power-ups.”
  • The voice-activation capability of the ship systems means that sailors accidentally sink neutral shipping when casually saying “kill Panamanian tanker” in unrelated conversation.
  • The ship’s “limited wireless networking capability” is constantly overloaded with pirate music downloads and Netflix.
  • The ship insists on having an active internet connection, and becomes obsolete quickly unless the Navy pays for expensive downloadable content.
  • Naval victories rewarded by badges and the ability customize the ship with bling, such as cool (but militarily-counterproductive) colour schemes for the hull.
  • Shortly after ship is ordered into combat for the first time, Captain realizes s/he lost the necessary “activation code.”
  • Rival navies wait a few years and then buy Zumwalt class ships at one-tenth original cost on Steam.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so additional suggestions are welcomed.

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