PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: not-so-serious

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.

ODNIOBL

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.”

OBL

ICV2

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.

World of PeaceCraft

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.

Pentagon’s secret counter-zombie plan revealed

Move over, Edward Snowden—at Foreign Policy magazine, Gordon Lubold has blown the lid on what is undoubtedly the national security secret of the decade, namely CONPLAN 8888—the secret Pentagon plan to defend American citizens against the zombie apocalypse.

CONPLAN8888The thirty page plan was actually developed as a training tool:

(U) CONPLAN 8888 DISCLAIMER: This plan was not actually designed as a joke. During the summers o f2009 and 2010, while training augmentees from a local training squadron about the JOPP, members of a USSTRATCOM component found out (by accident) that the hyperbole involved in writing a “zombie survival plan’· actually provided a very useful and effective training tool. Planners who attended JPME II at the Joint Combined Warfighting School also realized that training examples for plans must accommodate the political fallout that occurs if the general public mistakenly believes that a fictional training scenario is actually a real plan. Rather than risk such an outcome by teaching our augmentees using the fictional “Tunisia” or “Nigeria” scenarios used at JCWS, we elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken as a real plan.

Because the plan was so ridiculous, our students not only enjoyed the lessons; they actually were able to explore the basic concepts of plan and order development (fact, assumptions. specified and implied tasks, references etc) very effectively.

We posted this plan because we feel it is a very enjoyable way to train new planners and boost retention of critical knowledge. We posted this to Intellipedia after reading about the benefits of crowd sourcing phenomena in the business management book “The Starfish and the Spider”. Our intent was to place this training tool “in the wild” so that others who were interested in finding new and innovative ways to train planners could have an alternative and admittedly unconventional tool at their disposal that could be modified and updated over time. We also hoped that this type of non-traditional training approach would provide inspiration for other personnel trying to teach topics that can be very boring. Finally we figured that an entry like this would not only be instructive, but possibly entertaining for personnel deployed away from their families supporting military ops abroad. If this plan helps illustrate how JOPP works and brings a smile or a brief laugh in the process, so much the better,

If you suspend reality for a few minutes, this type of training scenario can actually take a very dry, monotonous topic and turn it into something rather enjoyable.

It was then subsequently posted to Intellipedia, the online data sharing platform used by the US intelligence and defence communities.

This isn’t the first time zombie scenarios have been used as the basis for training exercises—we’ve covered several past cases here at PAXsims:

And, somewhat less seriously:

h/t Sean Anderson 

Simulations miscellany, 10 May 2014

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Some recent items on conflict simulations, serious games, and the politics of not-so-serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

Come across an interesting story? Send it to us!

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On May 9, many of the folks associated with Connections UK participated in an Army Wargaming Symposium held at the Defence Academy of the UK . According to the organizers, “[i]t was a great success, with over 100 participants from the Army, DSTL and academia…. The intention is to follow this up with an investigation as to how to spread best practice for this intellectual fitness regime to the wider military community.”

Army Wargaming Symposium PictureSome of the presentations are available on the Connections UK website:

  • Introduction by Major General Skeates.
  • What is Wargaming and Why Do it? by Graham Longley-Brown.
  • Modelling Effects by Major Tom Mouat.
  • Wargaming in the Military by Major General Sharpe.
  • Wargame Experience by Professor Phil Sabin (Kings College London).
    • Schlieffen.   Schlieffen Colour Map.
    • Kriegsspiel 1914 (with design notes).
    • Take That Hill!.
  • Red Teaming and Course of Action Wargaming by Brigadier Tom Longland.
  • A Swedish Army Wargame by Major Johan Elg, Swedish Army.
  • A Commanding Officer’s Experience by Lt Col Ivor Gardner, 1 R IRISH
  • Concept Demonstration by 1 R IRISH Subalterns.

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On April 25, American University (Washington DC) held a “Gaming with a Purpose” workshop, featuring Volko Ruhnke as the guest designer. Volko describes the evening at ConSimWorld:

Last night, two American University professors hosted a game night in the AU Library in Washington DC that gathered some 40 students around 4 sessions of A Distant Plain, 1 of Cuba Libre, and 2 of LABYRINTH—The War on Terror. I attended as guest game designer.

Photo by Dylan Craig.

School of International Service professors Dylan Craig and Leah Gates organized the event under AU’s new “Gaming with a Purpose” initiative. As step 1 of the initiative, the AU Library has acquired a sizable collection of boardgames, including the entire COIN Series, many funded via a donors event. Step 2 is to invite students into the Library for game nights such as this one, with the added lure of pizza. Step 3 once students are more familiar with the artform will be to incorporate more boardgames such as these into curriculum that teaches strategy in global affairs, such as in 1-credit weekend courses focused on specific conflicts, Afghanistan among them.

In addition to the Library, campus groups such as the boardgame-focused AU Gamers, the Global Politics Student Association, and the War Studies Club participated. The professors had organized a cadre of facilitators to teach the games at each table.

AU’s initiative is very exciting to me not only because of its effort to leverage specifically the COIN Series for learning, but also because of my strong sense that boardgames in general remain vastly under-used as a teaching method.

I have no idea yet what the student attendees thought of these particular games, but regardless of that, they sure seemed engaged!

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Recently, Denmark created a scale model of the entire country in Minecraft.

Not surprisingly, it soon came under attack. According to the BBC:

A virtual replica of Denmark created to help educate children has been disrupted by “cyber vandals”.

Small portions of it were blown up, despite a ban by its creators, the Danish Geodata Agency (DGA), on the use of “dynamite”.

Large US flags were erected at the starting area, as well as red, white and blue “America” signs.

The state-owned agency believes the “vandalism” was to attract attention, and said the damage had been repaired.

Images showing the changes first appeared on the fan site minecraftforum.net posted by a user who wrote: “I americanlized [sic] the place a bit.”

Chris Hammeken, chief press officer at the Danish Geodata Agency, told the BBC: “Only a minor area was destroyed.

“The flags actually appeared right where the players start, so I think the people who put them there wanted to gain as much attention as possible.”

“Minecraft is about building and rebuilding,” said Mr Hammeken, who described the incident as part of Minecraft’s “nature of play.”

The Danish project has a serious purpose:

The DGA created the replica of Denmark in order to arouse interest in spatial data, with a particular emphasis on educating children.

Its website explains: “There are real addresses in the game, so it’s possible to have a discussion of place names and their meanings.”

The agency has also suggested using the replica as a way of taking students on virtual field trips.

“We’ve discovered children are more motivated to learn when they see something they’re familiar with,” explained Mr Hammeken, who said Minecraft had been used as an educational tool in Denmark for a long time.

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Kim Correa discusses the problem of MMORPG in-game sexual assault (“Being a Lady and Playing DayZ“) at TLDR.

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Nintendo life-simulation game Tomodachi Life won’t allow players to play gay characters, which generated something of a backlash. Nintendo initially said it “never intended to make any form of social commentary,” although its refusal to see this as a problem was social commentary in and of itself.

Subsequently, however, it has revised its position and apologized to players, promising to be “more inclusive” in the future:

We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.

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In the meantime, The Sims 4 has been rated “adult only” in Russia because it permits same-sex relationships in the game. According to The Escapist:

Russia has slapped an 18+ age rating on The Sims 4 because its portrayal of same-sex relationships contravenes a law protecting children from “information harmful to their health and development.”

The Sims Russia Twitter account announced earlier this week that the upcoming Sims 4 has been rating “18+ (Prohibited for children).” That might seem like an odd rating for a game widely viewed as a relatively kid-friendly offering – previous Sims titles have all been rated T (Teen) by the ESRB, and The Sims 3, released in 2009, was rated just 12+ in Russia – but things in the Motherland have changed in more recent years.

A follow-up tweet clarified (via Google Translate) that the restrictive age rating “was assigned in according with the law number 436-FZ, ‘On the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development.'” A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals that the law was originally passed in late 2010 to prohibit the distribution to children of material that “may elicit fear, horror or panic,” or that depicts “violence, unlawful activities, substance abuse or self-harm,” but was updated in 2013 to include “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships.”

Crazy Pants

The current widespread closure of US diplomatic facilities in the Muslim world and reports of a possible al-Qaida terrorist plot has generated much comment from terrorism analysts:

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials insisted Tuesday that extraordinary security measures for nearly two dozen diplomatic posts were to thwart an “immediate, specific threat,” a claim questioned by counterterrorism experts, who note that the alert covers an incongruous set of nations from the Middle East to an island off the southern coast of Africa.

Analysts don’t dispute the Obama administration’s narrative that it’s gleaned intelligence on a plot involving al Qaida’s most active affiliate, the Yemen-based Arabian Peninsula branch. That would explain why most U.S. posts in the Persian Gulf are on lockdown, including the U.S. embassy in Yemen, which on Tuesday airlifted most of its personnel to Germany in an “ordered departure,” the government’s euphemism for an evacuation.

But how, then, does it make sense for the State Department to close embassies as far afield as Mauritius or Madagascar, where there’s been no visible jihadist activity? And why is it that countries that weathered numerous terrorist attacks – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, for example – were excluded or allowed to reopen quickly?

At Tuesday’s State Department briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there were plans to keep 19 posts closed to the public through Saturday. But she had no answers when a reporter asked: “How did the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean get into this?”

“We make decisions post by post,” Psaki said. “That’s something that is constantly evaluated at a high level through the interagency process.”

If ordinary Americans are confused, they’re in good company. Analysts who’ve devoted their careers to studying al Qaida and U.S. counterterrorism strategy can’t really make sense of it, either. There’s general agreement that the diffuse list of potential targets has to do with either specific connections authorities are tracking, or places that might lack the defenses to ward off an attack. Beyond that, however, even the experts are stumped.

Take this sampling of reactions from prominent al Qaida observers:

It’s crazy pants – you can quote me,” said Will McCants, a former State Department adviser on counterterrorism who this month joins the Brookings Saban Center as the director of its project on U.S. relations with the Islamic world.

Well, as avid players of the counter-terrorism boardgame Labyrinth, how we could pass up an opportunity to modify the game to reflect the latest news? Therefore, PAXsims is pleased to give you (with apologies to @will_mccants) the  “Crazy Pants” card for your next game:
CrazyPants

Roleplay simulations and the challenge of modern SBTNs

450x300_q75One of the key challenges facing militaries around the world is how to deal with adaptive, asymmetrical, hybrid adversaries who adopt cutting-edge 5th generation warfare methods to smuggle subversive literature in their clothing. During recent exercises at the Kogalniceanu Military Base in Romania, members of the US Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force 13  developed innovative training methods to deal with such challenges, such as the danger posed by  “shoe-borne terroristic notes” (or SBTNs, in military parlance):

The training simulates an evacuation hub where Marines participating as role players passed through an entry control point, a security station, an additional screening station and then an evacuation simulation.

“This entry control point (ECP) is a crucial point to the evacuation site,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jose Reese, the acting company first sergeant for the Logistics Combat Element, and a St. Louis, Missouri native. “These Marines and sailors encounter all types of people and have to screen them to determine they bring no threat to anyone inside the site.”

The Marines who were working inside the ECP did not know what to expect. Some role players were just normal citizens, while some had bombs, contraband and terroristic notes inside their shoes.

I think we can all sleep safer knowing the (simulated) shoes of the free world are so well guarded.

The zombie humanitarian fiction challenge

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We here at PAXsims have been in the forefront of advocating advanced simulation methods as a way of preparing for the impending zombie apocalypse (such as here, and here, and here). We’ve highlighted innovative design competitions that have sought to address the potential scourge of the mindless, murdering undead. We’ve pointed to the challenge that zombies pose for modern stabilization missions, as well as their potential impact on hemispheric international relations. Heck, we’ve even convened regular zombie preparedness exercises.

With all that in mind, how could we refrain from mentioning the humanitarian zombie fiction-writing contest that was announced last week at the Humanitarian Fiction blog? Sharpen your pencils, boot up your laptops, and start writing!

 

Washington’s birthday and those treacherous French

FOX News is, it would seem, a little miffed by the new downloadable content for the video game Assassin’s Creed III released by Ubisoft earlier this week. The Tyranny of King Washington posits an alternative universe in which, after the American revolution, George Washington becomes a power-hungry dictator.

What’s more—and here is the shocking part—Ubisoft is a French company.

A day after the United States honored George Washington, a French software company released a video game that depicts the first president as a tyrant who hangs people and must be assassinated.

You’ll find more bemused coverage of this at Kotaku, and a review of the actual DLC here at IGN.

(Pssst, don’t tell FOX that The Tyranny of King Washington was codeveloped here in Montréal. Unlike the French—who strongly supported the American Revolution with ships, guns, and thousands of troops—we tended to think of it as dangerously radical Protestant jihadism and/or treasonous rebellion against the British Crown.)

North Korea attacks the US (via Call of Duty MW3), and other digital plots

As Forbes reports today, North Korea has released a video in which a sleeping North Korean dreams of a missile attack upon the United States—with the video of the latter actually a cinematic lifted from the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. You’ll find the video below—the video game component starts around 2:12.

According to AFP, the caption at this point declares that “Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing. It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze.”

The video also features a North Korean space shuttle, and (perhaps most bizarrely) an instrumental version of that intimidating martial music, “We Are the World.”

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Medal of Honor: Warfighter have been banned by the All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association. According to a report by FOX News last month, the APCDACTM informed store owners that:

The Association has always boycotted these types of films and games. These (games) have been developed against the country’s national unity and sanctity. The games (Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Call of Duty: Black Ops II) have been developed against Pakistan, and the association has completely banned their sale. Shopkeepers are warned and will be responsible for the consequences if found purchasing or selling these games.

One Pakistani official interviewed for the report stated that ““These games are an effort to malign the minds of youth against Pakistan.”

al-Jazeera English also reports on the story below.


Roman ceramic game pieces were actually… toilet paper?

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In keeping with PAXsims’ enduring commitment to bring you the most important gaming-related news from around the planet, we offer this recent item from the Daily Mail:

‘They would have been a bit scratchy’:
The ceramic ‘gaming pieces’ that new research claims were a Roman equivalent  to loo roll

  • The flat, disc-shaped relics were unearthed in West Sussex in 1960
  • British Medical Journal article proposed their personal hygiene function
  • Museum curator says he doubts they would have been comfortable to use

Ancient artefacts thought to be early gaming pieces will have to be reclassified after new research which claims they were actually used to wipe bottoms.

The flat, disc-shaped Roman relics have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Chichester, West Sussex, since the Sixties.

Up until now museum experts thought the items were used for early games like draughts, but an article in the British Medical Journal has now proposed that they have a very different function.

It had been thought that they were chips used to play an ancient game, also known as ‘pessoi’,  but research published last month in the BMJ drew from classical sources to present evidence that they were also used to clean up after going to the toilet.

Noting the ancient Greek proverb ‘three stones are enough to wipe one’s a***’, Philippe Charlier, assistant professor in forensic medicine at the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in Paris, points to archaeological excavations which have uncovered pessoi inside the pits of Greek and Roman latrines across the Mediterranean.

In one such dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2-4in in diameter and 0.2-0.8in thick which, Professor Charlier wrote, were ‘re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma’….

The discovery could spark an entire “what game would you be most likely to use as toilet paper” thread at BoardGameGeek. Or, for that matter, it might suggest a whole new etymology for the gaming term “chit.”

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