PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming journals

Simulation & Gaming, April 2016

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 47, 2 (April 2016) is now available. This issue features a selection of papers first delivered at the International Simulation and Gaming Association’s (ISAGA) 2014 conference.


Symposium issue:
45th ISAGA Conference, July 2014, Dornbirn, Austria (Part 1)
Editorial
Articles

 

Simulation & Gaming, December 2015

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 46, 6 (December 2015) is now available. It is a special symposium issue devoted sustainable development.

  • Edutainment for Sustainable Development: A Survey of Games in the Field
    • Korina Katsaliaki and Navonil Mustafee
  • Ethical Thinking and Sustainability in Role-Play Participants: A Preliminary Study
    • Karen Schrier
  • Clarifying Sustainable Development Concepts Through Role-Play
    • Odile Blanchard and Arnaud Buchs
  • Communicating About Water Issues in Australia: A Simulation/Gaming Approach
    • Sondoss ElSawah, Alan McLucas, and Jason Mazanov
  • LAND RUSH: Simulating Negotiations Over Land Rights – A ready-to-use simulation
    • An Ansoms, Klara Claessens, Okke Bogaerts, and Sara Geenen
  • Managerial Myopia in Mismanaging Renewable Resources: The GONE FISHING Game
    • Federico Barnabè
  • Hybrid Active Learning Situations: Common Pools, Climate Change and Course Purposes
    • David Goetze
  • Possibilities and Limitations of Transferring an Educational Simulation Game to a Digital Platform
    • Ulrike Erb

Other Articles

  • Do Videogames Simulate? Virtuality and Imitation in the Philosophy of Simulation
    • Veli-Matti Karhulahti
  • Synchronous Mobile Audio-Visual Recording Technology (SMART) Cart for Healthcare Simulation Debriefing
    • Don Stephanian, Taylor Sawyer, Jennifer Reid, Kimberly Stone, Joan Roberts, Douglas Thompson, and Tom Pendergrass

Connections UK in MS&T

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The latest issue of Military Simulation & Training magazine has an extended article on the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference held at King’s College London in September. You’ll find it here.

Simulation & Gaming, June-August 2015

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 46, 3-4 (June-August 2015) has now been published. It is a special symposium issue on system dynamics and simulation/gaming.

Simulation & Gaming, April 2015

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 46, 2 (April 2015) is now available. This is a symposium issue devoted to Theory to Practice in Simulation.

Simulation & Gaming (February 2015) now available

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 46, 1 (February 2015) is now available. It includes a tribute to the late Donald Featherstone by John Curry of the History of Wargaming Project.

Tributes

PS: Political Science & Politics: Summary of TLC 2015 simulation and role play track

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The latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics 48, 3 (July 2015) contains a summary of the simulation and role play track of the American Political Science Association’s 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference. We’ve reproduced it below at length. Each year the TLC includes a number of papers presentations and discussions on the use of simulations in teaching political science.

Simulation and Roleplay

Michelle Allendoerfer, George Washington University

Casey Delehanty, Florida State University

As in previous years, the 2015 Simulations and Role Play track served as an ideal arena for the presentation and discussion of active learning exercises for a variety of classroom environments. Track participants took care to integrate the lessons of previous years into the discussion, so as to build upon previous insights and identify recurring themes.One of the main themes of the track was the evaluation and implementation of simulations and games. Andrew Schlewitz and Joan Andorfer explored the degree to which substantive learning took hold within a Model OAS simulation and how these outcomes differed based on individual student characteristics. Chad Raymond compared the effectiveness of two different simulations in terms of their ability to cultivate empathy in students. Robbin Smith presented a fantastic US government simulation as well as pre- and post-test assessments of student learning outcomes. Michelle Allendoerfer used follow-up surveys to test the degree to which simulations were more-or-less effective than lecture in terms of increasing student retention.

Generally the results of these attempts at assessment were muddled. Studies of simulation effectiveness are continually plagued by “small-n” problems as well as the lack of true control groups, which poses problems for instructors who seek to “justify” the implementation of simulations and other active learning exercises in the classroom. While empirical analysis has yet to conclusively demonstrate the superiority of active learning techniques, it is generally the case that simulations are not worse for student learning than traditional techniques. Despite this muddled empirical record, track participants generally concluded that the increase in student enjoyment and engagement provoked by simulations is valuable in and of itself. While it may be difficult to empirically demonstrate the inherent value of active learning, the process in itself can generate positive student outcomes across a range of activities.

Gavin Mount’s “Simulating World Politics: Teaching as Research” presented the idea that simulations themselves can be used as sites of inquiry for students. While instructors often think of active learning exercises as delivery mechanisms for knowledge, deconstructing the institutional rules and implied norms of simulations themselves can be a productive method of debriefing students and encouraging critical thinking about political systems. Discussion then centered on the importance of debriefing: whether done as an in-class discussion or through personal reflective essay, instructors should allow students to discover the underlying themes and lessons from active learning rather than “telling.”

Finally, a number of presentations addressed the notion of adapting new or existing simulations to changing learning environments or goals. Gretchen Gee presented a simulation of Chechen terrorism for use in a “blended” classroom (a mix of online as well as classroom meetings), spurring an interesting discussion on the challenges of adapting active learning to non-traditional environments as classroom dynamics change. Nina Kollars, Victor Asal, Amanda Rosen, and Simon Usherwood demonstrated the flexibility of the Hobbes Game in terms of the learning goals it can be structured to evoke, demonstrating the degree to which small changes in simulation structure can beget new learning opportunities or goals.

The Simulations and Role Play track enjoyed a conference filled with rigorous discussions about how to effectively use simulations. Discussions surrounding assessment led to the general conclusion that as long as simulations seem to engage student learning and do not negatively effect learning outcomes, that a shift in the discussion to how to successfully create and execute simulations was in order. To that end, participants discussed how to effectively use debriefing strategies to engage students. Further, participants in the track concluded with a fruitful discussion of advantages and disadvantages of existing simulations that served a very practical purpose.

Next year’s TLC will take place in Portland, Oregon on 12-14 February 2016.

Simulation & Gaming, December 2014

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The latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 45, 6 (December 2014) is now available.

Articles

CounterFact magazine

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The first issue of CounterFact magazine is now available, published by One Small Step Games.

CounterFact magazine is a journal of professional and commercial wargaming. It is published approximately four times per year on an “as ready” basis. Each issue contains articles on professional and commercial wargaming to include game analysis, commentary, polemology, and provocative pieces on conflict and design theory. Also included in each issue is a manual wargame, usually consisting of a tabloid map-sheet, a sheet of playing pieces, and a rules booklet.

The first issue includes a critical analysis by Jon Compton of Breaking the Chains (Compass Games, 2014), in which he assesses the insight the game offers into future Sino-American conflict in the South China Sea. Game designer John Gorkowski then offers a rebuttal.

Cover01The issue also contains a very nitpicky, negative review of At Nueve Chapelle (White Dog Games, 2012) by the game’s own graphic artist. There’s a piece on “Wargaming by the Rules of War,” that offers a satirical take on the Red Cross movement’s efforts to have video games more accurately reflect the role of international humanitarian law in modern warfare. (Personally, I didn’t find it that funny or on-target, given what the ICRC and American Red Cross are actually trying to do. However, I’m a bit of an IHL nerd.)

A preview is offered of the forthcoming American Civil War game Huzzah! (One Small Step 2014). Finally, the issue contains a  game (120 counter, 11″x17″ map) of the fighting at the Mule Shoe Salient during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse (1864) during the American Civil War. This uses also Huzzah’s “Rebel Yell Light” rules. Since I haven’t played it yet, I can’t really comment on the game or rules.

Overall, I thought CounterFact was a worthy initiative, but one with uneven content that is still very much in search of its niche, voice, and identity. I very much like the idea of well-informed debates over game design and game philosophy that draw on both game reviews and informed assessment of historical or future conflict. Despite its title, there is no consistent focus on games as a rigorous method of counterfactual analysis in CounterFact, other than in the very general sense that all historical conflict simulations embody this to a greater or lesser degree.

Big Board Gaming had somewhat similar impressions of the first issue—for that review, see below.

Simulation & Gaming, June 2014

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 45, 3 (June 2014) is now available:

Autobiography
Articles

Teaching about peace operations

Brazilian members of the United Nation's MINUSTAH mission patrol in Haiti.

Brazilian members of the United Nation’s MINUSTAH mission patrol in Haiti.

A forthcoming issue of International Peacekeeping (2014) features a number of articles on future directions for peacekeeping research, edited by Paul Diehl. My own contribution focusses on teaching about peace operations:
The complex, multidimensional nature of contemporary peacekeeping operations presents particular challenges for teaching about them in the classroom. Teaching should bridge the academic/policy divide, and impart a real sense of the political complications and operational challenges of peacekeeping. Fortunately, teachers can call upon new resources to help address these challenges. These include, in addition to the growing body of scholarly research, practice-oriented materials produced by operational agencies. It is increasingly easy to bring field perspectives into the classroom via the internet. Finally, classroom simulations can be particularly useful in exploring the ‘problem space’ of contemporary peace operations.
As you might expect, I address the potential use of simulations and serious games in the article. You can find the full article here (paywalled), or possibly here (limited free access), but I’ve reproduced the relevant section below:

Games and Simulations

One potentially very effective method for exposing students to the interaction of theory and practice in peace operations is the use of classroom simulations and exercises. In recent years, there has been growing attention to the potential contribution of such teaching tools in the political science classroom.13 The academic journal Simulation & Gaming recently devoted an entire special issue to peacebuilding simulations, suggesting that such techniques could offer particular insight into the ways in which peace might be achieved and sustained:

Through serious games, participants can gain a better sense of the dynamic relationships at work in complex environments, explore good fits and practical solutions, and understand how mistakes occur (often, by making them themselves). These are real skills needed in the real world: In recent decades, policy makers working on peacekeeping and peacebuilding have certainly been faced with the prospects of failure and have been forced to choose between ‘reinforcing success and salvaging failure.’ When games engage multiple participants, the games reproduce some of the political, coordination, communication, and coalition- building challenges that often accompany peace and stabilization operations, especially if a simulation is designed to reproduce some of the organizational silos and bureaucratic politics that exist in the real world.14

Similarly, the Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) project, comprised of several of the world’s largest humanitarian and development NGOs, has emphasized the extent to which humanitarian sector is placing ‘increasing value on simulations as valuable staff capacity, preparedness and relationship building exercises’.15 Professionals who have traditionally designed war games for militaries and governments have also devoted increasing attention to simulating peace and stabilization operations and humanitarian assistance.16

Certainly, simulations (usually in the form of command-post exercises) have long been used by militaries to help train personnel for peace operations. They have also increasingly been used within the UN system over the past decade to teach staff and planning skills, as well as to provide training in other key areas.17 Many of these are set in the fictional country of ‘Carana’, which is also used in modified form for training of members of the African Union’s Standby Force for peacekeeping, stabilization and humanitarian operations.18

While such exercises are rarely appropriate for classroom use as designed, the scenarios and background materials can be adapted for use in other contexts – thus saving a course instructor the work of having to invent a fictional setting from scratch. This, for example, is what the World Bank did in modifying Carana so that it could serve as the setting for a very different course simulation addressing economic planning in fragile and conflict-affected countries.19

Other resources are also available to support role-play and seminar type simulations on issues of conflict resolution.20 Most of these focus on peace negotiations rather than peacekeeping operations, however.

Simulations can either be run face-to-face during class time, or outside of the classroom between classes. The ubiquity of email and Skype, and the relative ease of setting up websites and blogs, means that most university instructors already have available to them all of the (free) communications infrastructure necessary to sustain an out-of-class simulation.21 This can also be used to enable simulations involving students in different locations, or even at different institutions.22 In addition, there are some companies and projects that provide simulation support services, whereby scenario materials and communications are provided within a dedicated (usually web-based) software platform. Perhaps the best-known example of this is the ICONS project, based at the University of Maryland. ICONS offers both pre-packaged simulations (some of which address conflict issues, although not peace operations), and can develop customized scenarios upon request.23

These sorts of simulation approaches are best seen as a sort of ‘technology-enhanced role-play’ in which the traditional seminar-style game is expanded and enriched by online communications and information resources. What about true digital games, however, where the computer itself models and moderates outcomes, or even acts as an artificial intelligence responding to player decisions?

Certainly there has been significant development of such resources within Western militaries, a consequence of both post-Cold War peacekeeping operations and US-led interventions and stabilization missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Peace Support Operations Model (a ‘faction-to-faction, turn-stepped, cellular geography, semi-agent-based model that was designed initially to represent a range of civil and military aspects of Peace Support Operations’), for example, has been developed over the past decade for the UK Ministry of Defence as an analytical and decision-support tool, and has been evaluated and used by other Western militaries as well.24 In the US Department of Defense, considerable attention has been devoted to modelling stabilization operations and irregular warfare. The post-9/11 period has similarly seen the development of serious digital games for the military that seek to train personnel in everything from language skills and negotiation to urban stabilization operations.25

Few of these, however, are available for use outside government. There are some digital games that seek to raise awareness of issues related to conflict (and hence peace operations), but these are generally very limited in scope and intended more as advocacy tools than educational ones useable at the university level. One exception is Country X, a purpose-designed classroom simulation of mass atrocity prevention, used both at Columbia University and to train practitioners in the field.26 In this, participants assume the role of the president of fictional country X, an opposition leader, a Western diplomat, or a subregional representative tasked with conflict early warning. During the game they make a series of policy choices, which may take the country away from – or towards – widespread violence. Another excellent web-based game is Inside the Haiti Earthquake, which provides thoughtful perspectives on the challenges of humanitarian assistance.27

Both Country X and, even more so, Inside the Haiti Earthquake are not sophisticated, AI-based games. Instead, they are more like interactive stories in which actions at one point open up, or foreclose, a range of possible choices later in the game – in many ways, the electronic equivalent of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Several online applications now make it relatively easy to produce interactive e-learning exercises of this sort, whether text-based or including video.28 An instructor could, for example, create a peacekeeping-focused game in which students face the sorts of choices and operational dilemmas encounter by actual peacekeepers, and experience similar sorts of outcomes. Placed in the position of the UN headquarters, for example, how would students react to limited information from a peacekeeping commander suggesting the existence of arms caches and a risk of violence – especially if the scenario were disguised so that it was not initially recognizable as Rwanda in January 1994?29

Alternatively, students can be given the assignment of developing their own interactive stories, exploring the challenges of peace operations and other issues related to civil conflict. Some research evidence suggests that students may learn more from authoring simulations than simply from participating in them.30 In my own classes, students have authored simulations that address such issues as humanitarian negotiations with armed groups; demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of combatants; and survival as a refugee in the Syrian civil war.31

Finally, there are some low-tech alternatives to this, in the form of manual board games that address issues related to peace operations. Peacekeeping is a quick and simple game that challenges several players to each stabilize their country by allocating resources to peacekeeping, security sector reform, social welfare and development of a market economy, while facing the problem of spoilers and violence.32 Players may subvert or aid each other. The Humanitarian Crisis Game places players in the role of the local government, the UN, NGOs or foreign militaries attempting to deal with the aftermath of a major earthquake. Here, the focus is on coordination, logistics and political challenges, while event cards generate realistic operational challenges and opportunities each turn.33 While such games tend to be somewhat abstract, they can be useful for illustrating key concepts and engaging students in a different (and potentially more enjoyable) way than conventional lectures.34 With a little effort, purpose-designed games like this can be designed for particular classroom needs.

Despite the considerable attention devoted above to the value of simulations in teaching on peace operations, several important caveats are in order. It is important to recognize that simulations and serious games rarely teach themselves, nor are they necessarily more effective than traditional teaching methods. Much depends on how they are integrated into broader course content, and the purposes that they serve within a broader pedagogical strategy. Second, and closely related to this, is the importance of simulation and scenario design,35 as well as the actual conduct of the game or simulation. It is important to recognize that all games involve embedded assumptions and models of peace and conflict, which participants should be encouraged to approach from a critical perspective.36 Finally, it should be stressed that debriefing is an absolutely essential part of the simulation process. Indeed, considerable evidence suggests that it is during debrief that much of the actual learning takes place.37

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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Simulations miscellany, 4 May 2014

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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Thomas Schelling will be the keynote speaker for this year’s Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference (4-7 August 2014, at Marine Corps Base Quantico):

There is no Nobel Prize for wargaming, but if there was, Professor Thomas Schelling would have one to go along with his 2005 Nobel Prize in economics. While he is best known as a game theorist and nuclear strategist, his contributions to the field of wargaming have been hugely significant.  An advocate for the unique analytic value of gaming, while at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs he wargamed with RAND at Camp David and undisclosed locations.  His writings pioneered the application of wargaming to diplomatic deliberations and international political-military crises.  I can think of no better Keynote, especially in a year when our theme emphasizes understanding across international wargaming cultures and across wargame applications.

You’ll find information on the Connections conference here.

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lossless-page1-220px-MCWAR_Logo.tifLast month, the US Marine Corps War College used the commercial wargame Darkest Hour as the basis for a WWII strategy exercise:

  1. Background. From March 31- April 2, 2014, the Marine Corps War College (MCWAR) conducted a strategy exercise on World War II. The exercise put the school’s 30 students (military officers at the lieutenant colonel and colonel rank as well as a handful of senior government civilians from the interagency) into Allied leadership positions at the joint staff and theater command levels (USA, UK, and USSR). The exercise leveraged the commercial wargame Darkest Hour to provide a gaming environment in which the students could develop strategy and make decisions.
  2. Educational Objectives. The exercise was designed to meet learning objectives for MCWAR’s War, Policy, and Strategy (WPS) Course (our “history” course). This immersion in WWII was intended to imprint on the students’ minds, through experience, the strategic issues of WWII. Of particular focus was the interaction between Allied staffs and between national and theater commands. And, as the exercise progressed, the students assessed their strategies and made strategic decisions on the direction of the war. Making those decisions as a coalition made conducting the war that much harder. The following were specific educational objectives:
    1. Evaluate the World War II strategic setting and historical strategic decisions.
    2. Develop and implement a “theory of victory” with corresponding objectives and strategic concepts.
    3. Conduct national level and theater level resource prioritization decisions.
    4. Conduct strategic negotiations and diplomacy.
    5. Conduct coalition planning and decision making.
  3. Student Organization. The 30 students were divided into US, UK, and USSR teams. Within each country, students formed joint and theater staffs. While the students were initially assigned to staffs as depicted in the below diagram, the students re-organized themselves to streamline their command and control—consolidating US and UK into one Europe and one Pacific theater, unlike the below diagram. They merged the Pacific Theater 1 and 2 cells with the UK SE Asia cell to form one combined Pacific Theater staff. The students did the same for the European Theater, combining the US and UK theater teams into one combined team. Each of these two theater commanders (Pacific and Europe) then performed a dual reporting function to the USA and UK joint staffs….

You’ll find a slide presentation on the resulting campaign here, and a full after action report on the exercise by LtCol Tim Barrick here. The latter is especially useful reading for those who might be considering adapting commercially-available war-games for classroom use.

h/t Robert Hossal

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A call for papers has been issued for the 2014 conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, to be held in Baltimore on 8-12 October 2014.

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) is a community of practice of trainers, educators, game designers and facilitators working on the design and implementation of serious games, simulations, and other experiential activities. For decades, NASAGA has been promoting professional networking, providing training and education, and advocating the use of experiential activities to industry and academia through its annual conference.

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association invites proposals for our 2014 conference in Baltimore, MD. NASAGA is a games and learning conference with particular interest in work involving non-digital games, simulations, mixed or alternate reality, locative games, classroom and training exercises, and playful learning. Our theme this year is “Playing Stories, Sharing Worlds, Learning Games.” We particularly welcome work that connects with this year’s theme and engages the potential of playful narratives for learning, experiential education, and learning game design. We welcome proposals from practitioners, educators, designers, researchers and gamers. NASAGA is not a conference for reading papers: session proposals should be hands-on and engaging. This may include playing a game or prototype and debriefing, roundtable discussions, collaborative design, facilitated activities, and any other interactive format. To allow for this active learning, sessions are scheduled in timeslots of 60 or 90 minutes, although you can also propose an extended session to allow for an unusual learning experience.

We also invite researchers, including students, to consider submitting to our poster session to share ongoing research or design proposals. NASAGA invites proposals from researchers working on the theory and application of games and simulations for learning challenges, including but not limited to active learning methods to increase engagement, retention, and performance. We invite the submission of 300-500 word abstracts for poster presentations on all topics related to games and learning.

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journal_coverThe May 2014 issue of the Journal of Simulation is now available. It includes an article by M. Peng H. Chen and M. Zhou on “Modelling and simulating the dynamic environmental factors in post-seismic relief operation:”

This paper introduced dynamic environmental factors into the disaster-relief supply chain to characterize the dynamic relations and provide support to further decision-making in relief operations. A system dynamic model was presented to describe the processes of delivering emergency supply. The researches in post-seismic rapid damage assessment of road networks and injured were referenced, and the impacts of dynamic road condition and delay in information transfer (information delay (ID)) were simulated and analysed. Simulation results indicate that (1) the road condition influences the system performance significantly; and (2) the transport time of relief supplies (transport delay) is a function of the road capacity and the in-transit volume, so the mechanism of considering the feedbacks of these two factors is important to maintain the stability of the relief system. Further analysis of the system behaviours reveals that (3) the ID affects the relief head-quarter (the upper stream) and the disaster-affected town (the lower stream) in different ways; and (4) the choice of the inventory planning strategies is a choice about how to reduce the impact of ID and make full use of the capacity of the damaged road networks.

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img_2112The Interuniversity Consortium for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at McGill University recently held a simulation exercise to prepare students for the challenge of a future zombie apocalypse on campus. In addition to honing student skills, it also provided interesting empirical insight into the anticipated survival rate of various population subgroups:

  • McGill University faculty members: 100%
  • McGill University graduate students: 50%
  • Fictional TV stars: 0%

You’ll find full details of this sophisticated educational exercise here.

Simulations miscellany, 12 April 2014

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After having read or written some 16,529 emails during our week-long “Brynania” civil war simulation at McGill University that ended on April 7, I’m only now digging out from the backlog of other work that accumulated during that period. As part of clearing up my virtual desktop, here’s the latest PAXsims simulations miscellany!

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MokhtarThe Iranian video games industry provides interesting insight into both domestic and domestic politics. A case in point is a recent game release by conservative game designers (by which I mean “folks who create really crude mods of the 1990s first-person shooter Doom“), clearly aimed at Iranian reformists. According to IranWire:

The release of online video game “The Return of Mokhtar” has hit the headlines, dominating social network debates and commanding the attention of a number of news websites. Its aim, according to the game’s creators, is to pit the player against “symbols of sedition and imperialism”. And the game, which is available via the Nofuzi website, has received enthusiastic endorsement from the Pure Islamic Art Institute.

The symbols of “arrogance” are none other than the leaders of the Green Movement, who emerged during the disputed presidential elections of 2009 – namely, former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, his wife, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami and prominent supporters.

Players move through corridors, advancing to the next stage after successfully shooting and killing an enemy. Instead of being rewarded with points, a player earns “insights”. If he or she fails to hit a target, they lose an “insight”; when they run out of them, the game is over and the player must start again.

The game’s title references the early days of Islam, when, in the 7th-century AD, Mokhtar bin Abu Ubaid Saqafi led a revolt against the governing Umayyad Caliphs. Mokhtar exacted revenge for the murder of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. Though Mokhtar successfully executed many who had played a role in Imam Hossein’s death, he was eventually crushed by the Caliph’s army and lost his life. He became a martyr for Shi’a Muslims.

On its website, the Pure Islamic Art Institute promotes and celebrates “The Return of Mokhtar”. Initially launched as a design company in 2008, the institute registered as a non-profit organization in March 2010. Soon after, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted permission for it to operate a website, an indication that the institute had widespread approval among some of Iran’s most influential political and religious leaders. According to the site, the institute is made up of “a group of committed and expert young people who want to promote Islamic culture and art”. It lists “The Household of The Prophet Mohammad’ and ‘Islamic Revolution and The Holy Defense” among the most important topics it champions.

Despite this endorsement, the game met with some consternation from Hassan Moazemi, Vice-President for Communications at the National Foundation for Computer Games. “The makers of the game never submitted a request for a permit,” he said, “but now that it has been released, we are duty-bound to refer the matter to the responsible authorities, including the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, security forces and the judiciary, so they can take appropriate legal actions.”

“We will gather necessary information and pass it on to competent authorities,” he added, “so they can perform their legal responsibilities.”

Although the game isn’t directly aimed at current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it seems likely to me that his administration is an indirect target too.

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Update: Sam Razavi notes that the game designers have removed the turban from the late reformist figure Mehdi Karroubi (see left), most likely because they are reluctant to associate “sedition” with a senior cleric.

h/t Sam Razavi 

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While on the subject of Iran and video games, former US Marine (and former employee of Kumar Games) Amir Hekmati has apparently been retried in secret in Iran, and sentenced to 10 years for “practical collaboration with the American government.” According to the New York Times:

Inside Iran, Mr. Hekmati’s case is viewed as highly political. He is considered a pawn in domestic infighting between hard-liners, who want him in prison, and moderates who want him freed as a good-will gesture to the United States.

“Basically the judiciary, which is under the control of hard-liners, is opposed to Hekmati’s release, but the Foreign Ministry, deeply involved in nuclear talks in which the U.S. plays a crucial role, wants him freed,” a person with knowledge of Mr. Hekmati’s case said, asking to remain anonymous in order to avoid complicating the prospects of his release.

In the past, Hekmati’s association with Kumar Games has provided part of the basis for the charges against him. You’ll find background on the case here (via al-Jazeera English), and on the Kumar games angle here (PAXsims).

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The BBC recalls the the great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic:

Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.

“Since fantasy typically features activities like magic and witchcraft, D&D was perceived to be in direct opposition to biblical precepts and established thinking about witchcraft and magic,” says Dr David Waldron, lecturer in history and anthropology at Federation University Australia and author of Roleplaying Games and the Christian Right: Community Formation in Response to a Moral Panic. “There was also a view that youth had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.”

While the wilder claims about the nature of D&D tended to emanate from evangelical groups, they prompted wider suspicion.

“The memes from this campaign proliferated and, being published largely uncritically in the initial stages, led to a wide-ranging list of bizarre claims,” says Waldron. “For example, that when a character died you were also likely to commit suicide.”

h/t D&D paranoia from Chick Publications 

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In response to recent events, One Small Step is producing a 2014 update kit for owners of their Millennium Wars Ukraine wargame.

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Recently we mentioned This War of Mine, the forthcoming video game that places the player in the role of civilians trying to survive the conflict. You’ll find more on the project at Gamasutra.

h/t James Sterrett 

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The February-March newsletter of the US Department of Defence Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) is now available online:

This issue presents articles ranging from maximizing the educational value of virtual training to the design process of the velodrome used in the London 2012 Olympic games. Additional articles feature a new simulation and game institute at George Mason University, simulation based training, combat convoy simulator training, and the U.S. Air Force demonstrating energy resiliency in a mission critical environment. This edition also includes a list of upcoming events within the M&S Community.

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The April 2014 edition of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is now available.

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The latest news from the folks at Reacting to the Past:

We are pleased to announce that Jose Bowen and Judith Shapiro, both champions of active learning in higher education, will be our keynote speakers at the Fourteenth Annual Faculty Institute at Barnard College (New York, NY | June 5-8). Jose Bowen becomes President of Goucher College on July 1, 2014, and is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, winner of the Ness Award for Best Book on Higher Education (2013) from the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Bowen has won teaching awards at Stanford, Georgetown, Miami, and Southern Methodist University, where he was Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. Judith Shapiro is President of the Teagle Foundation, where she promotes curricular reform and broader dissemination of successful pedagogical initiatives. She supported “Reacting to the Past” from its inception, and is President and Professor of Anthropology Emerita of Barnard College. In 2002, Shapiro received the National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal Award for her contribution as a leader in higher education for women.

Interested participants are encouraged to register early in order to ensure their space and game preferences at the institute. Faculty and administrators with experience teaching “Reacting to the Past” are also invited to submit a concurrent session proposal.  Proposals will be considered on a rolling basis, space permitting.

We also invite faculty and administrators to participate in our Regional Conference at Schreiner University (Kerrville, TX | April 25-27).  This regional event will feature two game workshops: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England andVictory or Death! The Consultation of 1835 and the Texas War for Independence (game under review).  Priority registration ends April 11, 2014. Visit the conference page to learn more.

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Existential Comics has had a couple of recent strips involving famous German philosophers playing boardgames. You’ll find examples here and below.

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simulations miscellany, 14 January 2014

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Some recent items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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Kris Wheaton wants you to play Hnefatafl—especially if you are an aspiring intelligence analyst. Robert Beckhusen takes up the story at War is Boring:

You Have to Play This 1,600-Year-Old Viking War Game

Especially if you’re a diplomat, soldier or spy, says one ex-spook

Viking warriors storm into the torch-lit camp of a rival clan. Outnumbered, the ambushed Norsemen are far from their boats. Their one goal: flee to a nearby castle while keeping their king alive.

At first glance, Hnefatafl (prounounced “nef-ah-tah-fel”) might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Norse helms and impressive beards, but the game is at least 600 years older—already well-known by 400 A.D.—and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

“I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent,” emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command’s Intelligence Directorate. “Geography, force structure, force size and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can’t think like your opponent, you can’t win. I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”

For another “simple” game that also highlights the intellectual challenges of asymmetric conflict, check out Brian Train’s Guerrilla Checkers.

There’s even a Vassal module for it.

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The  European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR) will be holding its annual meeting in Vienna on  22-25 April 2014. In conjunction with that meeting a workshop will be held on “Game-based learning in systems thinking.”

Game-based learning is one of the current buzzwords almost everywhere, even if the successful examples are few and far between. The worldwide systems movement could greatly benefit from a critical survey of research and insight in this field, furthering the application of game based learning principles to various fields within the scope of the conference.

This workshop invites authors to submit extended abstracts demonstrating research, design or practice in topics like but not limited to:

  • games & systems
  • games as fail-safe spaces
  • systems, modelling & abstraction
  • games as simulations
  • exploration of cause/effect
  • transformational learning/transfer
  • gameful design
  • gamification
  • serious board games
  • social impact games
  • game-based learning

Prospective authors are invited to submit extended abstracts (not exceeding 800 words) in any of the topics listed above, not including personal information about the authors. Accepted papers will be allocated 30 minutes for oral presentation (including discussion).

Extended abstracts should describe either (1) thought-provoking ideas with the potential for interesting discussions at the conference, (2) the academic reflection of practical work in the space of game-based learning and social impact games or (3) mainly theoretical papers addressing one or more of the above areas.

Further details are available at the link above.

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming (December 2013) is now available, devoted to “the development of a Finnish community of game scholars”:

Articles

  • Simulation/Gaming in Finland
  • Subjective Experience and Sociability in a Collaborative Serious Game
    • Kimmo Oksanen
  • Social Network Games: Players’ Perspectives
    • Janne Paavilainen, Juho Hamari, Jaakko Stenros, and Jani Kinnunen

  • Hypercontextualized Learning Games: Fantasy, Motivation, and Engagement in Reality
    • Carolina Islas Sedano, Verona Leendertz, Mikko Vinni, Erkki Sutinen, and Suria Ellis

  • Formation of Novice Business Students’ Mental Models Through Simulation Gaming
    • Lauri-Matti Palmunen, Elina Pelto, Anni Paalumäki, and Timo Lainema

Guest Editorial

  • Development of a Finnish Community of Game Scholars
    • J. Tuomas Harviainen, Timo Lainema, Jaakko Suominen, and Erno Soinila

Newsletter

  • Immersive Technology Strategies
    • David Wortley 

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The latest (February 2014) edition of the Journal of Simulation is out, with articles on discrete-event simulation, dispatching and loitering policies for unmanned aerial vehicles, product and process patterns for agent-based modelling and simulation, simulating a crowd, and many other things beside.

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The Red Team Journal offers Five Reasons Why You Should Red Team Your Red Team.

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The new blog Powder Keg Politics gives a shout-out to PAXsims. Thanks!

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