PAXsims

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Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

Sally Davis joins PAXsims as associate editor

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We are pleased to announce that Sally Davis is joining the editorial team here at PAXsims.

Sally Davis is a software developer at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), where she writes analysis models, simulations, and computer-assisted wargames. She was part of the PSOM dream team that won the OR Society’s President’s Medal for wargaming Afghanistan, once had 11 stars grinning like excited schoolboys in VR, and led the research into the marvellous Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. She also runs an award-winning dyslexia awareness simulation.

How to raise a wargamer

The following article is by Caitlyn Leong, a M.A. candidate and CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Fellow at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program. She currently serves as the President of the Georgetown University Wargaming Society and previously served as Director of Simulations for The George Washington University’s Strategic Crisis Simulations. She specializes in wargaming, emerging technologies, and cybersecurity policy.


 

As a discipline, wargaming has numerous appeals – the styles and subject matter are varied, there are constant opportunities to learn, and the community of wargamers is largely friendly and engaging. Currently, however, there is no clear pipeline or navigable process for starting a career in wargaming. There is plenty of conventional wisdom on how to get started: design a game, play as many games as one can, and work in defense analysis somewhere that also does wargaming. Many wargamers confess that their careers in wargaming are happy accidents – they started out doing something else, found wargaming, and stayed.

Back in 2016, Dr. Yuna Wong characterized the wargaming field as an inverted pyramid, dominated by an older generation, and is certainly not as diverse as it could be. There has been some progress on this issue, but there is still room for improvement. So, how can the wargaming community establish a career pipeline, ensuring that the next generation of wargamers is as distinguished and robust as those that have come before?

To understand the experience of aspiring wargamers at the base of this inverted pyramid, we must identify what experiences are unnecessary, what experiences are helpful, and how the wargaming community can ensure that future generations of wargamers have the necessary skills and opportunities to develop.  Looking back on my collection of experiences, I identified challenges, helpful opportunities, and ways the wargaming community can further develop the pipeline of talent it desperately needs.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Forays into the Wargaming Community

As a freshman International Affairs major at The George Washington University, I joined Strategic Crisis Simulations(SCS), a student organization that designs educational exercises and political-military simulations for NCR students and young professionals. I started out writing scenario injects – simulated tweets, news articles, and think tank reports – as part of our effort to put on four large-scale simulations per academic year. These simulations were designed to place students in the roles of top civilian and military decision-makers across the U.S. government as they played through kinetic and non-kinetic crisis scenarios.

At the end of my freshman year, I was selected for a three-year leadership role, guiding the design process of those simulations as a member of SCS’ Simulations Directorate. This led me to a year-long internship at the National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning, which boasts several SCS alumni, where I was able to learn firsthand about designing exercises for JPME and the various types of gaming that were popular within the U.S. government. My time at CASL convinced me that I wanted to be a professional wargamer and that I loved educational games, but I was left looking for additional experiences to make that a reality.

Aside from my extracurricular involvement with SCS, I had no idea where to look for other wargaming opportunities and what my job options might be after graduation. So, for the next two years, I focused on improving SCS and building a cadre of professional mentors who would attend the simulations and advise the control team and participants, hoping that through networking, our membership, including myself, could learn more about professional wargaming opportunities.

Despite my SCS experience and my network, I found myself struggling to move forward. My mentors helped me identify which organizations had wargaming components, but many of those organizations were not hiring undergraduates or civilians. I seemed to hit an educational dead-end as well. At the time, I only knew of wargaming courses at military PME institutions, which I couldn’t attend as a civilian. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in wargaming, but no one seemed to be able to tell me how to go about it. Of course, I am now aware that there are several civilian wargaming courses in addition to those offered at PME institutions, but at the time, I was woefully underinformed about existing educational and professional opportunities.

Then at graduate school, fortune serendipitously intervened. Georgetown’s Security Studies Program (SSP) was offering a first-time “Basics of Wargaming” course taught by Sebastian Bae. I re-arranged my fall course schedule to take the elective. I had never taken a formal wargaming course and I simultaneously debated whether I already had “enough” experience or if I was woefully unprepared to complete the course assignments. Through the course, I was exposed to the best articles, books, and handbooks in wargaming literature. I also led a team of two other SSP students to design an original box-set wargame, Reconquering Rome, which examines the Byzantine reconquest of the Italian peninsula in the 6th century CE.

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Final version of Reconquering Rome.

The course opened up the opportunity for me to meet professional wargamers, pitch Reconquering Rome to commercial publishers, and become a founding member of the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS), of which I am currently president. Working with GUWS has connected me and our membership to a plethora of wargaming resources, established professionals, and organizations in the field that I had never imagined existed before. I acknowledge that my experience is simply one way forward, but I have endeavored to identify lessons learned that the wargaming community can act upon to improve the pipeline for aspiring wargamers.

Logjams in the Wargaming Pipeline

I believe that the current wargaming pipeline has unintentional choke points, where the pipeline narrows and only the very lucky or the incredibly determined manage to squeeze through.

For budding wargamers, student-run wargaming organizations are simultaneously fantastic access points and disappointing dead ends. Membership in a wargaming organization is not mandatory for a wargaming career. However, these organizations often serve as the first introduction to wargaming, both as a tool and as a career option. My time with SCS exposed me to design concepts and built my repertoire of wargaming experiences. Yet, only select undergraduate and graduate programs outside of the National Capital Region have student-run wargaming organizations. Those that do exist are frequently islands unto themselves. They are wonderful, vibrant communities, but there is no clear path forward after graduation. Beyond the occasional individual mentor, the connection between student-run wargaming organizations and the professional wargaming community is infrequent – if not nonexistent.

Beyond the university, there is a scarcity of entry-level opportunities to develop young wargamers. My CASL internship helped me get my feet wet in professional wargaming and I enjoyed my work there immensely, but access to these professional opportunities is severely limited. Within the national security ecosystem, there exists a myriad of internships and fellowships, ranging from regional to domain-specific interests. Wargaming is the unfortunate exception. There are several wargaming institutions that could offer entry-level opportunities if they wanted, such as the Naval War College, Center for Army Analysis (CAA), and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs). By creating more access points for young wargamers, wargaming organizations can systematically cultivate talent and develop enthusiasts into professionals. These wargaming opportunities can also build transferrable skills for any analyst – such as research, military analysis, writing, and analytical skills.

Squeezing Through the Wargaming Pipeline

Formal wargaming courses are invaluable resources and experiences. Admittedly, establishing a formal wargaming course or certificate can prove difficult, with as many failed attempts as success stories. However, although limited, there are formal wargaming courses offered by select universities, such Georgetown, McGill University, and King’s College London. I learned more in my one semester in Basics of Wargaming than I did in the previous four years, where I was piecing together on-the-job knowledge in isolation. In the Basics of Wargaming course, I learned about the different styles of wargames, their uses, the strengths and limitations of wargaming, and the wider body of wargaming literature. There is a fundamental difference between simply reading Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming, Phil Sabin’s Simulating War , and Graham Longley-Brown’s Successful Professional Wargames: A Practitioner’s Handbook, and using them as guides in creating your own wargame. The opportunity to research, design, and develop an original wargame in fourteen weeks was both a trial by fire and an irreplaceable learning experience. However, formal courses are not the only answer. Professional designers could mentor interested student groups to develop their own wargames, providing experience and structure to their learning.

Professional wargaming organizations and communities offer critical access to nodes of connections, knowledge, and experiences. The MORS Wargaming Community of Practice, PAXsims, and Connections conference are some of the cornerstones of the professional community. These professional organizations offer insight into the career path and a way for young wargamers to identify what skills and experiences they need to get there. The jump from student-run organizations to professional societies is crucial. My path in wargaming began to open up when my various experiences converged to reach that critical point, but taken individually, my experiences would not have been enough to break into the field. Incrementally, however, the transition to professional wargaming communities is proving less precarious. For instance, several wargaming organizations have increasingly sought to engage a wider audience. The diverse audience of the GUWS webinar series, where military officers, students, educators, and hobbyists interact on a global scale, is a strong example of this type of engagement.

Finally, studying and playing different types of wargames – especially commercial games– aids in developing an understanding of the depth and breadth of the field and game design. This provides an encyclopedic base of knowledge to draw upon for future game design and career opportunities, as appropriate. Some professional wargamers may not see the value in commercial games, but aspiring wargamers generally lack access to unclassified and freely available professional wargames. Commercial games offer a way to learn about different game styles, mechanics, and topics, and until an aspiring wargamer joins an organization, commercial games may be all they have. And let’s not forget, many of the giants of the wargaming field learned on SPI and Avalon Hill commercial wargames.

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Graduate students from Georgetown and military officers playing Reconquering Rome at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity.

Widening the Pipeline: What the Wargaming Community Can Do

Currently, beginning a career in wargaming is a function of luck – a fortunate sequence of events and experiences, just coherent enough to get that first real wargaming job or opportunity. Expecting aspiring wargamers to navigate this in the hope of identifying and hiring the next generation of wargamers is both foolish and unsustainable. This is not the way to ensure that the next generation will be drawn from a diverse pool of talent – it will simply reproduce the same type of talent.

The wargaming community can change the experience for aspiring wargamers in three major ways:

  1. Eliminate the disconnect between aspiring wargamers and professionals. Aspiring wargamers are out there, if established wargaming professionals look for them. Wargaming professionals must actively participate in eliminating this disconnect – they must seek out and develop rising wargaming talent, instead of just leaving the door open behind them. This can occur on an individual level or by linking professional organizations to student organizations in a formal or informal way. These connections offer an incredible opportunity to identify and mentor the next generation of wargamers.
  2. Improve opportunities for civilian-military interaction in wargaming. There is a gap between civilian and military education, even though the civil-military relationship is foundational for U.S. national security. Robust educational wargaming can serve as the connective tissue between civilian and military student communities at all levels. In all my educational experience, I have only had rare opportunities to wargame side-by-side with the military personnel that I may one day have as colleagues. And yet, my favorite experiences in wargaming are those in which civilians and military personnel have participated in a wargame together. I have facilitated games that pitted midshipmen against undergraduates, colonels against GS-15s, and Marine Corps majors against Georgetown graduate students. More learning and exchange is necessary, both for education and enhancing the value of wargaming for both sides.
  3. Offer more academic wargaming opportunities. Academia should embrace wargaming, both as an educational tool and a skill to be taught. University is typically where students explore their career interests, so if wargaming is not even on the table as an option, how will they know if they are interested? Formal courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can help students to build the transferable skills that they will need for a successful career in wargaming. Even when formal design courses are not an option, universities can leverage wargames as educational tools on a wide range of subjects, such as military history, crisis management, strategy, and more. Several courses, both civilian and military, are increasingly utilizing wargames in the classroom and this trend should be encouraged. To do this, universities must provide adequate resources and allow professors to freely include wargames in their curriculum.

The field of wargaming should not rely on happy accidents. For the wargaming community to evolve and grow, it will require a robust system of diverse opportunities and pathways. Producing wargamers should not be left to luck – a whimsical roll of the dice.

Caitlyn Leong 

The Game Crafter resumes operations

TGCIf you have been waiting for your copy of AFTERSHOCK or the Matrix Game Construction Kit, we are pleased to report that The Game Crafter has resumed production.

Your copy should be in printed and shipped soon as they work through their backlog.

PAXsims 2020 research associate Paul Kearney

PAXsims is pleased to announce that Paul Kearney is joining PAXsims as one of our research associates for 2020.

Camo Profile

Major Kearney is Strategist with the United States Army. Paul has operational experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has commanded infantry and reconnaissance units in the famed 82nd Airborne Division. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, where his thesis used strategic wargaming as a research methodology to access the effects of forward-basing on deterrence. He also earned a master’s degree from King College London’s Department of War Studies, and a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point. His is currently on assignment to the Center for Army Analysis, the US Army’s proponent for wargaming.

PAXsims research associates enjoy generous pay and benefits.* They also have access to the full range of amenities at our luxurious corporate headquarters.**

If you would like an exciting career unpaid volunteer position with us in 2020, email me. We are especially looking for someone:

  • with experience or interest in serious gaming,
  • with experience or interest in the non-military side of peacebuilding, stabilization, development, or humanitarian operations
  • from groups that have been underrepresented in professional and hobby wargaming

*No they don’t—none of us get paid.

**We don’t have one of those either.

 

Hoover Institution: International Crisis War Game, 27 May 2020

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The war game explores the relationship between new technologies, domestic politics, conventional military capabilities, and nuclear threats. Players simulate decision-making roles in a National Security cabinet and come to the war game as leaders in private industry, government, academia, and the military. The aim is to better understand the role that emerging technologies play in crisis decision-making and how Cold War paradigms of deterrence and crisis escalation apply in a world with new capabilities and vulnerabilities.

The International Crisis Virtual War Game at the Hoover Institution is the first ever iteration of the game played completely virtually using the Zoom platform, but it is a part of a larger set of in person games that have been run all over the world over the last 2 years to compare behaviors across countries and cultures within crises.

As a player in this virtual game, the group of participants will first be given two hypothetical crisis scenarios and a briefing on capabilities and threats. Players will then be placed in teams and asked to represent a National Security cabinet that generates priority objectives and debates courses of action. The war game culminates in the development of a whole of government response plan to the crisis. Finally, the event concludes with a plenary session back in a large group in which players will share lessons learned from the war game and suggest potential recommendations for policies on emerging threats and crisis dynamics.

Full details of the game here.

If you wish to participate register at this link by May 25th.

Please note that as an attendee at this event, you will be a participant in a Stanford research protocol.

 

Serious games – Humanitarian User Research

 

In December, PaxSims’ own Tom Fisher (Imaginetic), and Matthew Stevens (LLST) were contracted by Save the Children UK to develop a research project on the potential use of serious games in humanitarian aid training.

With the help of their team: Johanna Reynolds (LLST), Bianna Proceviat (Imaginetic), Catherine Benedict (Imaginetic), Sterling Perkins (Imaginetic) and Alejandra Espinosa (Imaginetic), the research delved into existing academic literature on the subject and held several workshops in Amman, Jordan; Nairobi, Kenya; and Montreal, Canada.

The workshops in Amman and Nairobi focused on humanitarian aid workers, from various backgrounds with direct experience in humanitarian aid. Montreal’s workshop served to provide contrast with a population of students, with comparatively little to no direct humanitarian aid experience.

The workshops consisted exclusively of game playing sessions with debrief, both digital and analog formats, without specific course materials or lessons. Simply the lessons learned from the gameplay and short debrief were used to impart knowledge.

Participants from 11 countries participated in the live workshops and from 21 countries in online surveys. 68% of the participants identified as female, while 32% identified as male. Most participants (90%) had at least a Bachelor’s degree, and education played no significant role in the perception of the learning experience or the tools used.

The culmination of the project was a report and webinar delivered on April 24 to Save the Children UK staff.

Some Key Findings

  • 96% of participants demonstrated an ability to learn from games in the humanitarian context
  • Participants were able to retain many lessons learned even up to 45 days post workshop (with no repeat play)
  • Participants were significantly more able to clearly identify lessons learned from analog games than digital games
  • Participants significantly more likely to retain information learned from analog games than digital games
  • Good debrief was identified as an important part of the learning process
  • Neither gender nor culture played little to no role in participants’ ability to learn from games
  • 85% of participants identified games as being more effective than powerpoint presentations or lectures*
  • Language ability is, however, a driver in the ability to identify and retain lessons
  • Technological challenges are an impediment to distribution and implementation of digital games-based learning in the field

Conclusions

In the context of Save the Children UK’s needs, and this project, we came to a number of conclusions regarding the use of serious games in the humanitarian context. Feedback from participants, as well as observed data was absolutely fundamental in pinpointing focus moving forward.

  • Serious games are an educational tool, not the only tool:
    • Games are not necessarily better than other educational tools used to impart knowledge*, despite participants’ evaluations of games as being more effective
  • In order to be most effective learning game must identify and promote specific learning outcomes
  • In most circumstances, specific learning outcomes should be unlocked or revealed as quickly as possible
    • In the case of digital games, unsupported by debrief, this is fundamental, lest the player abandon the game without achieving the desired purpose
  • Proper implementation of the User eXperience (UX) through good User Interface (UI) design is fundamental to the game experience
  • Learning games are more effective when they are smaller in scope, clear in intent, and aim to teach a limited number of learning outcomes
    • The new KISSS principle: Keep it Simple in Scope and Small
  • Humanitarian learning games must be built around sound data and real-life realities, rather than convenient assumptions
    • It is important to explore mistakes
    • It is important to confront difficult issues
  • Reflecting the point above: learning games should provide a safe-to-fail environment, both in the game context (ability to learn and try again) and an organizational one (failure is an opportunity to teach, not scold)
  • In the novel context of serious humanitarian games, a crawl ⇒ walk ⇒ run approach must be used:
    • start small, and work up to larger initiatives
    • shinier is not always better (but can be devastatingly expensive)

*No credible research exists that identifies games-based learning as being a uniquely better conveyor of information than other, well-delivered, learning methods. 

Further detail can be found in the webinar, and report.

Tom Fisher of Imaginetic (tfisher@imaginetic), and Matthew Stevens of Lessons Learned Simulations and Training (mstevens@llst.ca) can be contacted for any additional information.

Webinar and Q&A link: webinar video

PowerPoint: SHARE COPY Serious Games Webiner Consolidated

Serious Games – Humanitarian User Research report (Screen PDF): Save the Children UK Serious Games Humanitarian User Research_Interactive Screen Display

NYMAS: Perla, Herman, and Dunnigan on wargaming

The New York Military Affairs Symposium has posted the full audio from an October 2018 conference on wargaming, featuring Jeremy Paulson with wargaming greats Peter Perla, Mark Herman, and Jim Dunnigan.

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The mp3 can be accessed directly here.

h/t Peter Perla 

“Survive COVID-19” browser game

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I’ve seen a few online educational and awareness games about the current COVID-19 pandemic, but Survive COVID-19 is the best so far. Developed by Yein Udaan and XR Labs in India, it presents a series of choices about how to spend dwindling savings to keep your family well, while at the same time minimizing exposure.

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Unlike some less-well designed games of this genre, there are no easy or obvious options. The scenario is all too real for hundreds of millions in South Asia and around the world. The presentation is appropriately minimalist, and the music and sound effects contribute to the appropriate mood without being distracting. As one recent research report has found, keeping things focused and simple can really pay off in educational games.

h/t Sarah Jameel  

PAXsims welcomes Brianna Proceviat as associate editor

Proceviat2.pngPAXsims is pleased to announce that Brianna Proceviat has joined our team of associate editors.

Brianna is a junior wargame designer and analyst for the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre. She previously worked as a researcher with Lessons Learned Simulations and Training and Imaginetic during their recent study on serious games for humanitarian training (2020). She holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science from McGill University, where she was once nearly assassinated as President of Brynania and served as Prime Minister during a zombie apocalypse. Her fields of interest include conflict, security, and democracy.

KWN: Caffrey on “Wargaming in a post-pandemic world” (June 23)

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On June 23, the King’s Wargaming Network will host a virtual lecture by Matt Caffrey on “Wargaming in a Post-Pandemic World: Adapting Institutions to Out-Think and Out-Partner”

We now know we live in a world where a novel illness can take lives, livelihoods and liberties worldwide with rapid speed. At the same time, the character of war is evolving in novel and dangerous ways that are not fully known. Wargaming can help decision makers better understand and address new challenges in a complex and uncertain environment, but reaping these benefits requires the right organisational structures and processes.

For almost 40 years Matt Caffrey has been building organisations to help adapt wargaming to meet evolving threats and opportunities. He will address the following questions:

  • How have wargaming structures adapted in the past to respond to changes in the strategic environment?
  • What institutional adaptations are currently underway in the United States and NATO?
  • What more can and should be done to increase the utility of wargaming to address the full set of threats facing NATO allies?

Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. provides wargame support to the United State’s Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Material Command, Air Staff and to NATO. In 1993 he helped found the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference.

Further details and registration are via Eventbrite.

Western Approaches HQ needs your help!

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Those of you who follow PAXsims will know of the work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the group of WWII Royal Navy wargamers who made many essential contributions to both the development of allied convoy and anti-submarine tactics, and to the training of those who fought the Battle of the Atlantic. As we’ve argued before, the women and men of WATU may have been the most consequential group of wargamers in history.

You may also know of the non-profit Western Approaches HQ in Liverpool, a terrific museum and an amazing group of staff who hosted our 2018 WATU wargame. Not surprisingly, they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic, forced to close their doors and hence losing much of their revenue. A Gofundme fundraiser has been established to help them out.

Western Approaches HQ was once the nerve centre of the Battle of the Atlantic. Hidden deep beneath the streets of Liverpool, the men and women who worked in this building changed the course of the Second World War.

The site was rescued from dereliction in 2017 and within two years has become one of Liverpool’s most popular heritage attractions. The site is ran entirely as a non-profit entity, with 90% of the income needed to run and maintain the vast site coming from visitor tickets.

Due to Coronavirus, the site has been forced to close, losing much of its income. Despite this, the team have been working hard to help the local community and create a number of educational opportunities for free to ensure children at home can continue to learn.

A small donation would be hugely appreciated to help offset the huge loss of income due to this current crisis.

Despite the crisis, they’ve been doing a terrific job with isolation history lessons and online activities. Consider lending them some support!

Sepinsky: Wargaming as an analytic tool

William Owen recently offered some thoughts at PAXsims on “what is wrong with professional wargaming.” Jeremy Sepinsky (Lead Wargame Designer at CNA) then replied with some comments—which I have reposted below for greater visibility. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.


 

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I think the challenge here comes with equating “wargaming” with an analytic discipline rather than an analytic tool. Wargaming looks completely different in various context, but criticizing the rigor of the discipline is like criticizing the p-test, the Fourier transform, an MRI, or anonymous surveys: there very valuable if done well, and damaging if done poorly. The trick is in educating sponsors and potential sponsors as to what “bad” looks like. Even peer-reviewed journals have gone for years without identifying the “p-hacking” that has been taking place in quantitative analysis. And wargaming is a lot more diverse a toolset with a smaller number of skilled practitioners (and no peer-reviewed journals, as you point out) than quantitative methods, which makes it even harder to call out the bad actors.

To respond to Owen’s question of “so what, is it obvious?”: When a person running a professional wargame cannot effectively translate real-world decision making into relevant impacts in the conduct of the game, then either a) the person needs to be able to fully articulate why decisions at that level are beyond the scope of the mechanics, or b) it is a poorly run wargame. But many of the situations he discusses are “game-time” decisions. And it would be impossible/impractical (though probably beneficial) to include Matt Caffrey’s “Grey team” concept in all games. In that concept, there is an entire cell whose job it is to evaluate the wargame itself. Not the outcomes, or the research, but instead to critique whether the wargame was an appropriate model of reality for the purpose defined. Though, to support the other points in Owen’s article, I have not been able to find any published article discussing the concept.

But this leads into another point: wargames are more than combat modeling. Many of Owen’s examples and statements about the model seem to imply that the wargames he discuses are those that are interested in modelling and evaluating force-on-force conflict—and that the side that understands the underlying wargame mechanics of the conflict will succeed. To that end, those games do not seem to be played manually for just the very reason that you’re discussing. However, they are instead reproduced as “campaign analysis“. Models like STORM and JICM are trusted, I would argue, overly much. It takes away the requirement for the player knowing the rules, because it pits computer v. computer where both sides know all the rules.

When a given conflict can be reduced to pure combat, campaign analytics are a good tool for calculation. But when conflict is more than combat, the human element comes to the fore and wargames have an opportunity to expose new insights. In these cases, the specifics of the combat models should play less of a role in the outcomes. They are more highly abstracted to allow time and attention of the more humanistic elements of war: the move-counter-move in the cognitive domain of the players. Wargames structured properly to emphasize that cognitive domain should overcome the requirement of memorizing volumes of highly detailed rules by simply not having that many rules. Players only have so much mental currency to spend during the play of a single game, and where that currency is placed should be chosen (by the designer) wisely.

Finally, I’ll concluded with a response to Owen’s final statement: “The right wargame applied in the right way clearly does have immense value. It merely suggests we need to get better at understanding what has value and what doesn’t.” Who is it that defines the value of the wargame? Is it the sponsor? The designer? The players? I guarantee you that each come out with some value, and that they all may not agree on what that value was. Most US Department of Defense wargames that I am familiar with are one-off events. Understanding the implications of each wargame rule on every wargame action or decision is beyond the scope of most wargames and beyond the interest of wargame sponsors. Instead, we wargamers can do a better job explaining the limits of our knowledge. When we design a game, there is a delicate balance between fidelity and abstraction. Some aspect of the game are highly faithful to reality, while others are highly abstract. Where you place the fidelity and what you abstract has a tremendous outcome on the conclusions that you can make at the end of a wargame. Wargame designers, facilitators, and analysts owe it to their sponsors to make it clear what insights and conclusions are backed by a high degree of fidelity and which are not. Complex wargame models always run the risk of inputs being identified as insights, and our due diligence is important here. But that diligence extends beyond the numerical combat modelling into the facilitation, scenario, and non-kinetic aspects of the wargame as well.

Jeremy Sepinsky 

 

GUWS: Sterrett on commercial wargames in professional military education (May 19)

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The Georgetown University Wargames Society will be hosting a virtual presentation by James Sterrett on the use of commercial wargames in military education on May 19

James Sterrett will discuss the use of commercial wargames in military education, including selection, employment, and modification of commercial games for the classroom. Leveraging his experience teaching at the Command & General Staff College at the U.S. Army University, he will highlight specific games he has utilized in past courses and provide lessons learned for other educators.

James Sterrett is the Chief of the Simulation Education Division in the Directorate of Simulation Education of U.S. Army University/Command & General Staff College. Since 2004, he has taught the use and design of simulations and games, and supported their use in education. He also earned a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London, resulting in publication of Soviet Air Force Theory 1918-1945. He has also participated in beta test and design teams for many games, notably including Steel Beasts and Attack Vector: Tactical.

A video of the presentation is now available:

US now gaming COVID-19 potential as adversary bioweapon

“The Pentagon and the intelligence community are more forcefully investigating the possibility that adversaries could use the novel coronavirus as a bioweapon, according to defense and intelligence officials, in a shift that reflects the national security apparatus’ evolving understanding of the virus and its risks,” POLITICO’s Natasha Bertrand, Lippman and Seligman report.

Secretary Mark Esper | AP Photo

Secretary Mark Esper | AP Photo

The intelligence community has begun gaming out the potential that bad actors might seek to weaponize the virus, said three people familiar with the matter.

Officials emphasized the change does not mean they believe the virus was purposefully created to be weaponized. The intelligence community is still investigating the virus’ origins, but there is no hard intelligence or scientific evidence to support the theory that it spread from a lab in China, people briefed on the matter said.”

WATU goes digital

Occasional PAXsims contributor Sally Davis has been working on a little something (again) during lockdown. Read about what she’s done, and then try the demo at the link at the end of her blog post!


 

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Hey look where we are! It’s the Western Approaches Tactical Unit and it’s digital and it’s an interactive story all about their marvellous work!

First challenge

Figure out the school layout from stills. Turns out, there are two distinct buildings. This ties up with the contradictory talk of WATU being based in a temporary building on Exchange Square due to bomb damage, and WATU being based in Derby House which is definitely not a temporary building (but it took bomb damage to the roof in early 42). Here’s the first pass at the geography:

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And some comparisons to the real thing:

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The Tactical School Duty Officer’s desk (centre) I think is actually out the WATU door (bottom right in the plan view). I think it may have a second door off-camera in front of Roberts (seated) that is the door in in the bottom left shot, between the missing wall section and the right-hand curtain/screens (there’s actually a door there, opened and forming part of the screen under the curtain. But it’s wildly difficult to tell from the available photos, so I cheated and put it behind the white wall in that photo instead.

WATU4.png

It was looking pretty good till I added people…and then the accidentally vast length of the hall became apparent…and it wasn’t till I had my player walking around that I realised the screen peep holes are about 7ft off the ground. WATU: standing on the shoulders of giants ? (I’ll get my coat).

I’ve got a lovely pack of low-poly WW2 artwork. It’s D-Day-focused, so mostly US Army and French civvies, but it’s perfect for prototyping. I love all the period posters in it. I will be adding my own, and tidying up the gash posterisation of the WATU logo. My next challenge is to get to grips with Blender and start hacking the characters to make WRNS and RN uniforms. Not quite as simple as just re-colouring the texture’s PNG since the ladies are wearing the wrong kind of hat. I’ve posed them by pulling around their mecanim rigs, which works pretty well.

Challenge Two

How do we move? I’ve gone for an old-school point-and-click mouse adventure feel. So I set up a nav mesh and let unity worry about route planning. I hooked up the player character animation so she walks while she moves. I’ll hook up some interaction animations later on, so she talks when you’re interacting with people etc.

WATU5Blue areas are walkable. You can see a couple of snafus I need to sort out still, like you can walk through Higham. And I need to make a “look at this thing” call for when you click on something interactable. I’m still figuring out how the camera/click-to-move will work. At the moment you can’t turn her round, you have to click near her feet to make her turn to get a view of the direction you want to move her in. But I don’t really want to go first-person-shooter AWSD to move. Once I’ve got cinemachine hooked up I’ll be able to fix some of that and make it less top-down shooter and more discrete ‘scenes’ in the room where the camera pans around as you move more than follows you. That and the cut-to-dialogue shots will help balance out “I need to see where she can go” vs “but now I can’t really see what’s right in front of her.” There are a couple of places you can stand and the camera is on the wrong side of the wall, too

Challenge the Third

Let’s make this interactive. I’m using Ink for this, the interactive story engine behind 80 Days (this is a marvellous game, play it if you haven’t already!), and the Unity Ink Integration package. Ink is a really interesting scripting language meant for writers rather than coders. It’s really simple to get to grips with, and entirely focused on making Choose Your Own Adventure narratives. What’s really exciting is how well they’ve implemented the unity package, so you can write a story in Inky (a nice little app that compiles-as-you-write so you can test out the story)…and then hook it up to anything in your unity scene: the story can control game objects…or you can use game objects to control the story. The vanilla setup is to have the ink story written to a UI canvas, offer you buttons for your choices, and use your button click to tell ink the choice you made (exactly like the vanilla compile-to-html Inky output). But you can do much more awesome things with it. I’m drawing inspiration from three places:

  • The Intercept: a really pleasing but simple re-skin to suit a story set at Bletchley Park. When I say inspired by, I mean to steal the typewriter skinning (it’s under MIT licence, they encourage such things) for some of my game.
  • JRPG example: here’s a nice presentation showing off a bunch of off-label uses for ink in unity. The JRPG bit blew my mind (link to the project files at the start). I started with this and I’m slowly replacing the artwork/functionality with my 3D version. I’m going to take it further and tie animation to the choices you make, too, so if something in the room gets mentioned, say, the character doing the mentioning can look towards it (and by doing it in scripting, it’ll work for dynamic locations…so a view-giving from a Wren will point to where things really are on the plot).
  • Cinemachine‘s state-driven camera system and magical shot-blending-wizardry (I firmly believe inside this package is an homunclus cameraman) means I can use the ink story state to drive cinematic dialogue without having to create cut-scenes. My player can wander up to a character, JRPG-stylee with a follow-camera, and switch to a close-up shot/reverse-shot while they talk. My player can choose to take a view-giving during the tactical game and we’ll switch to a peephole view of the plot.

Here’s my JRPG logic so far: it’s placeholder stuff at the moment, just proving the point that I can make you steer the story by who you physically talk to rather than text-based choices.

WATU6.png

At the moment the “game” is that you need to speak to Roberts. If you haven’t spoken to Roberts yet, everyone else you interact with will say go see him. The first time you speak to Roberts he gives you the dit and sends you off to learn about the problem. Now the other characters will speak to you. Eventually you’ll be able to interrogate Higham about his experience on convoy HG76 to win knowledge about what the U-Boats are up to. The second time you speak to Roberts he challenges you to test your theories against the tactical game.

All the -> ENDs are telling ink to yield control to unity again, and unity uses the = interact knots in the story to pick up where things left off. Here’s Higham in unity:

WATU7.png

Higham (temporarily a pilot…he was XO of an aircraft carrier, does that count ?) and Tooley- Hawkins are waiting for you to enter the green box Trigger Volume. It’s a trigger collider, and there’s a player controller script listening for OnTriggerEnter and OnTriggerExit events. Update is listening for you to hit space to interact, and will ask ink to resume the story at the knot associated with the trigger volume you’re in. In this example we’ve got a character you can talk to. But you can also interact with the gramophone (it doesn’t cue up story, but you can put on some period music) and the filing cabinet (this is where I’m going to use The Intercept’s typewriter skinning and let you look through the red books).

In this bare-bones version the text doesn’t give you choices yet (because I haven’t implemented buttons in the dialogue box). Once that’s done you’ll be able to have conversations with people and pick what to say. I’m also going to make this context-aware text. Ink allows me to declare variables to keep track of stuff in-game, and then change the options you get and colour the text based on the value. It’s another way ink goes off-label from the book-based CYOA branching narrative; it allows you to keep the narrative fairly linear (the same stuff happens) but change who does it or how they feel about things. This is a great blog explaining the concept. It feels like the right answer for an Explainer game about WATU where you don’t want the story to go off the rails (they have to follow the history) but you want it to still feel like they have agency. Here’s the next- step in my prototyping, where Roberts gets increasingly irritated with you for talking to him but not accepting his challenge. Ink’s a bit messy down in the weeds, so I’m using yED to keep track of my game logic as I go.

WATU8.png

Eventually I’ll have something as complex as this crime scene example. My plan is to implement a dictionary of knowledge very much like this, to track what you’ve learnt about convoy HG76. If you have noticed certain things from talking to Higham and other characters, or reading the Confidential Books, you’ll get the option to try that out in the tactical game. If you don’t know these facts you won’t see those branches of the story, and Roberts will get annoyed at you. I want to balance the game nicely so you can’t win by blind-guessing (or knowing the answers already!), and you don’t have to sit through endless chatter to learn the one thing you’re missing, and you come away having uncovered the facts without it seeming to railroad you into a linear narrative.

That sounds super-complicated and weeks-of-coding to pull off, right? But no! With ink all I have to do is come up with the text of that branching narrative. I’ve got my knowledge dictionary planned out (I’ve been red-penning the HG76 narrative, thank you Ed Butcher and the Maritime Warfare Centre for scanning the not-Confidential-any-more Books for me), and I’m deciding who/what to give the nuggets to, and what flags I need to keep track off…one of the things I want to capture about the story is how the Wrens made it work. Roberts was kind of a dick towards some people, so I intend to use that impatience tracker as a marker for how much of a yes-man you currently are. If Higham can see Roberts has been sharp with you, he’ll open up a bit more about HG76 (he was sunk out of Audacity on this convoy, it’s how he ended up at WATU, and probably why he didn’t make a good impression with Roberts).

Try out the barest-bones concept demo!

You can play the super-simple demo here (or click the WATU crest below), at simmer.io …health warning: it takes a while to load, and I’ve found (at least on my Mac) you need to toggle full-screen mode to get it to work (you can toggle out again; for some reason it starts paused and won’t un-pause except by full-screen-ing). The game isn’t really meant for WebGL but it’s a convenient and platform-agnostic way to share a sneek peek.

WATU colour

Click the WATU crest to give it a try.

Instructions

  • When there’s dialogue on-screen, left-click to continue the story.
  • Left-click anywhere on the floor to move (if you click on a wall it will interpret that as the floor on the other side of the way if there is any).
  • When you’re standing near a person or the gramophone, press space to interact.
  • Heads up, the gramophone plays music, so put your headphones in if you need to. (Actually, do it anyway, because the sound is spatially-aware and it’s a cool effect!)

 

Sally Davis 

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