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Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

WotR podcast: The (war)games we play

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The latest War on the Rocks podcast features Ellie Bartels, ED McGrady, and Peter Perla discussing—what else?—wargaming. You’ll find it here.

If you read War on the Rocks, you’ve noticed there’s a lively debate over the state of wargaming in the Department of Defense. After senior leaders pushed for a renewed emphasis on wargaming several years ago, are these games any good? Are they doing what they need to be doing for the U.S. military? If not, who is at fault — the gaming community or the customers sitting in the five-sided building? To tackle these questions and more, we gathered a gifted group of gamesome and gallant gamers. Join Ryan’s conversation with Ellie Bartels, ED McGrady, and Peter Perla.


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Invicta: How Did Wargaming Shape the War in the Pacific?

The Invicta YouTube channel posted another excellent video on wargaming last month, this time focusing on the impact of wargaming on WWII in the Pacific theatre.

In this interview, US Naval War College Museum Curator, Rob Doane, talks us through the naval history of wargaming in the 20th century. We begin by discussing US navy planning in the lead up to war which includes the eventual rainbow plan and war plan orange. We then look at how wargaming influenced naval warfare from the strategic to the tactical level. These impacted battles like Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Island Hopping campaign across the Pacific. Finally we discuss the specifics of US vs Japan naval wargaming conducted by both the US Navy and the Japanese Navy.

They’ve since followed up with a couple of other Midway-themed videos, including one in which wargame designer Pete Pellegrino discuses the history of War Plan Orange and the role of the USNWC and Naval Wargaming.


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Connections US Wargaming Conference 2019 Proceedings

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The Proceedings of the 2019 Connections US Wargaming Conference is now available thanks to Mark Leno, Wargame Analyst, Department of Strategic Wargaming at the US Army War College.

Russian “multimedia combined arms training”

The following item has been provided to PAXsims by our roving correspondent, Tim Price.


 

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I was sent a fascinating insight into Russian training methods, shown on the Russian MOD Website, as well as: https://sdelanounas.ru/blogs/127374 The Commentary reads: “A unique multimedia training complex has been created in the Far Eastern VOKU”

In the Far Eastern Higher Combined Arms Command School, a unique training complex for managing units in modern combined arms combat has been created. It is made in the form of a multimedia layout of the area, turning into a three-dimensional image, on which cadets practice situational tasks.

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Classes are organized as part of platoons, where each cadet, in the role of commander, makes a decision in the current situation depicted on the display and, giving instructions to subordinates and attached forces in the position of other cadets, manages the battle. Moreover, each cadet is in a mobile isolated simulator, receives commands through a radio station and independently acts as a specific official of a motorized rifle company.

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The complex allows future commanders in the class to work out all the main types of tactical actions using unmanned aircraft, the latest reconnaissance, communications, artillery and other forces, and the means used in modern combat.

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The creation of the complex and situational tasks was carried out by the best teachers in the framework of rationalization work. It embodied the analysis of modern military conflicts and some issues of the development of military tactics of the future.”

Translation courtesy of Google Translate. Additional photographs and details are contained here. The rather odd looking red curved shapes in the foreground of the terrain map are cut-outs of the Russian map symbols for a tank platoon deployed in the advance. There is a rough guide to Soviet map marking from The Nugget:

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In the comments section several commentators said “All that is new, is that which is old, forgotten

 

How wargames work and their importance by Paul Vebber

Listen to Paul Vebber, assistant director of wargaming and future warfare research at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Headquarters, discussing how wargames work and their importance to the Warfare Centers, Naval Sea Systems Command and the Navy:

How an opponent wargames is an intelligence collection requirement

In June of this year Mercyhurst University’s Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences held its first “Intelligence Community Forum” focused on Intelligence support for decision makers (https://mercyhurst.edu/icf). At that conference I presented the argument that “How an opponent wargames is an intelligence collection requirement” available online.

The abstract reads:

The answer to “How does an opponent wargame?” supports decision makers when deterring, preempting or reacting to conflict. How opponent decision makers wargame during peacetime, i.e. the methods, techniques and styles of gaming used and the beliefs and psychological biases of the players, gives us insight into how opponent decision makers might operate during conflict. This is in addition to the scenarios, systems and concepts they game which one can credibly infer from the political, economic and military environments. Since studying the performance of individual decision makers during real life planning and conflict tells us something about how those decision makers might behave in future conflicts, then how they behave during wargames might tell us something about how they would perform during the future conflict that they are currently wargaming. Therefore studying the wargaming approaches of an opponent or ally and the wargame performance of selected military and political leaders should be an intelligence collection requirement. In this presentation I propose an analytic framework for answering the wargame intelligence question based on the Purpose of the Wargame and the Characteristics of the Wargamers for each identified opponent group, and propose methods for avoiding such collection on oneself.

Let’s see more wargamers at next year’s Intelligence Community Forum  on June 16–18, 2020, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA!


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New wargaming book hits the shelves

It’s been a good year for wargaming books.

First was Matt Caffrey’s On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future available as a free download from the US Navy College Press

Now we have from the other side of the Atlantic Graham Longley-Brown’s”Successful Professional Wargames; A Practitioner’s Handbook, published by the History of Wargaming Project. There is also a Kindle version available from Amazon.


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Low-Tech War Games Inform High-Tech Decisions

Interesting program using wargaming to educate engineers, scientists, and logisticians in the realities of operational planning to increase their ability to meet the US Navy’s strategic goals. See the report here.

Rolling dice and moving game pieces might not seem relevant to 21st century warfare, but Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is finding this low-tech means of war gaming has the potential to provide increased agility in the high stakes competition of high technology.

War games have been used throughout history to help operational and logistical leaders develop critical thinking and planning skills, determine possible outcomes and keep warfighters proficient in the use of their weapons systems.

The current battle raging across the Pacific Ocean on the tabletop map set up at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport is not being run by admirals. Instead, engineers, logisticians and even Navy Acquisition Development Program (NADP) entry-level employees are fighting the game in order to expose them to the operational and logistical requirements of the warfighters who will be on the front lines in a real conflict.

Gaming news, making news

The follow report has been written for PAXsims by Tristian Martinez. Picture credits:  Tristian Martinez (Jakarta Peacegame) and Dr. Lindsay Grace (others).


 

Scores of immigrants begin a thousand-mile trek from Mexico City to the Texas border.  A fantasy adventuring party is wiped after resolving to use plurality voting to guide combat decisions.  An anthropomorphized uterus rafts down a river of blood to a heavy metal soundtrack, lifting taboos against menstruation.  In 24 hours, these games and more were designed at the Newsjam, held jointly at the American University Game Lab and the University of Miami School of Communication.

Newsjams iterate on hackathons and gamejams, promoting games with calls for social impact as viable journalism.  Topics are left to the participant’s discretion, and digital toys, scripted interactables, and games are all encouraged.  Organizers Lindsay Grace, Andy Phelps, Lien Tran, and Clay Ewing are all veteran game designers with a talent for creating serious games that drive positive change.  Their participants are young (mostly undergrad and graduate students), socially conscious, and diverse.  Together, they represent a part of the future of serious games.

The Newsjam gathered nearly 30 designers to explore the “intersection of news, games, and community,” by “connecting people with the news and empowering citizen reporters.”  Issues of local concern like decaying Washington DC infrastructure and rolled back promises of Canadian electoral reform lept from experiences to interactive media as Dr. Ben Stoke, co-founder of Games for Change, encouraged participants to draw inspiration from innovations and subjects in local news.  Dr. Lindsay Grace followed with a crash course in rapid prototyping, advising participants to

  • Use small concepts driven by big ideas
  • Take risks and not aim for perfection
  • Tack on 30% more time to estimates
  • Discard broken elements
  • Focus on core gameplay/experience first
  • Focus on efforts with high impact/low investment
  • Use the development cycle
  • Efficiently use time by taking breaks, commenting on work, saving frequently, creating multiple versions, and reusing assets
  • Reward themselves afterward
  • Remember the 24-hour time period
  • Choose a topic that won’t lose relevance
  • Ensure that the project playfully engages audiences

Dr. Andy Phelps of the American University Game Lab delivered finishing remarks, encouraging experiential learning, engagement, and warning participants against using text-based information delivery.

Throughout the night, participants worked to design and test prototypes of their games.  Tension filled the morning; one team ran through 7 failed prototypes before splitting into mutually supportive groups at 3:00 AM to pursue related designs.  Another team started off strong and worked through the night, only to be interrupted by a game-ending bug that took 2 hours to identify and undid 4 hours of effort.  A third team, consisting of a single programmer, finished their code with only an hour to spare.

Many participants at the DC location expressed satisfaction with their product, and multiple projects were proudly published online and added to portfolios.  Unfortunately, the facilities and organizers were heavily geared to digital design, with little support for analog games.  Additionally, at the DC location, AU students were not integrated with unaffiliated participants, creating a university/town divide.  However, the demonstration of design skills and opportunity for development indicate a strong future for serious gaming, and a potential new audience for the readers and community of PAXsims.


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The Future of Wargaming: Brain Probes, Crocodile Clips and Drugs

I was recently asked by Ed McGrady to create an outline for a story about the future of wargaming (not to be confused with wargaming the future) as part of his working group on the subject. So, here is my outline for a science fiction story about the future of wargaming. I believe there is much to be gained from expanding the boundaries of wargame player manipulation, specifically the effects that directly manipulating players’ brains using electrical stimulation and drugs can have on game play and analysis.

The term “science fiction story” has three parts; “science”, “fiction” and “story”. In this short outline the fiction is underpinned by credible modern science. It remains to be seen if the “fiction” becomes fact. Given that my proposed future science of brain manipulation for game purposes is a credible forecast from current research, I suspect it will. I have not added references to current research results to this short piece, you can find those in my other writings.

The Motive

People playing a game know the game is not real life, and we know from psychology and social science research that decisions they make during the game are influenced by this knowledge. We also know from psychology and social science research that a risky shift and dishonesty shift occur during group discussions that take place during both games and real-life decision making. Players’ critical faculties generated by their frontal lobes take into account the conscious knowledge “this is a game” and are influenced subconsciously by the two shifts. Therefore we have a problem using decisions made during a game as proxies or predictors for decisions the same players would make during the real-world situation the game is exploring.

The “science” part of the “science fiction story”

When dreaming (during REM sleep) blood flows to the cortex (which provides content) and the limbic system (which processes emotions) both of which light up. However the frontal lobes (which direct our critical faculties) remains quiet. The result is that we usually accept the content and emotions of a dream (during it) no matter how weird.

Anesthesia research shows that anesthetics make us “unconscious” by disconnecting different parts of the brain’s macro-systems from each other, thus breaking the brain-wide integration that current research claims leads of self-awareness. Some anesthetics leave the person aware of the pain but experiencing a rolling amnesia – they feel the pain of the surgery but forget that fact from moment to moment.

Medical research shows that people with damage to their emotional response system, of the kind that results in them not experiencing emotions, have difficulty making decisions even when they are smart enough to know the answer and it is objectivity important for them to do so. They lack the motive to make the decision. Star Trek and Conan Doyle got it wrong with Spock and Sherlock.

Herodotus tells us that the ancient Persians made important decisions after they had discussed the situation twice, once sober and once drunk, presumably in an attempt to analyse situations both critically (while sober) and emotionally (while drunk). I don’t know for sure, but I would assume the order of the two sessions might have an effect. I will have to experiment and report back to you later.

The “fiction” part of the “science fiction story”

We will develop techniques using anesthetics and electrical stimulation to selectively suppress the limbic system and frontal lobes in wakeful subjects, and using drugs to suppress or boost the body’s production of hormones related to stress and emotion.

From the credible science and realistic projection we can now propose the likely impact on wargame techniques in the future. We will game a topic with different parts of the players brains “switched off” or “switched on” depending on the phase of the game’s move. During those phases of each move that require analysis we will suppress the entire limbic system (brain and body). We can then explore totally rational analysis driven by the frontal lobe generated critical faculties of the players and in the absence of any emotional processing.

The problem here is the likely difficulty of getting emotionless people to make decisions when it is “decision time” in the game – for example when it is time to select a move or COA from a set that has been discussed and explored during the planning phases of the game’s moves. So, during the phases when the players are called on to make decisions, we will boost the limbic system to turn decision-making motivation back on. In other words we pulse the limbic systems of the players in phase with the tasks required during the game; suppress for analysis, boost for decision making.

Alternatively, taking a leaf out of the ancient Persian’s playbook, by simultaneously boosting the limbic system and suppressing the frontal lobes we can explore wildly off the wall ideas while completely suspending disbelief. We can also, by incrementally turning the limbic system up or down, explore decision making under different levels of emotion.

The “story” part of “science fiction story

How will such a world play out? When proven successful by the Military (and it will be), this technique will move into the mainstream and be used by any profession that involves both analysis and decision making by the same people about extremely important situations. For example by judges, doctors and surgeons, airline pilots, nuclear power plant operators, senior military officers in charge of our nuclear triad (this latter is exciting, you can see where this is going!) etc. Given humanity’s desire for silver bullets, the techniques develop and proliferate rapidly and are embedded in all critical areas of the global system before the downsides are discovered (of course, why change the habits of many lifetimes?) The intellectual elites of society who combine analysis and decision-making powers over the rest of us start suffering debilitating psychoses and hallucinations caused by the technique’s interference in their brains and sleep patterns. The world descends into chaos as the senior leaders, decision makers and analysts in our legislature, judiciary, medical facilities, military etc. cycle between manic depression and emotionless psychopaths.

Conclusion

Given the history of using drugs and electrodes to experiment on people’s minds I suspect the above outline is a realistic projection of implementation by governments, business and academia. The possible benefits that result from widespread successful implementation are so great that such implementation will certainly occur despite the possible downsides explored by the story.


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KWN: Building the future of wargaming

The Wargaming Network at King’s College London has a series of events planned for November. Details below.

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Defense One Radio on wargames

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Defence One Radio has put together a very good 49 minute podcast on contemporary defence wargaming.

This episode we’ll learn why the Pentagon and the U.S. defense establishment are increasingly turning to wargames and simulations; what famous games of the past got right, and wrong; and why we still need experts who strategize almost exclusively in the analog world of plastic chips and toy soldiers and hexagon maps.

Guests include Becca Wasser, Stacie Pettyjohn, Ellie Bartels, Christopher Rice and Mark Herman.

You’ll find it here.


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Little Wars TV: Ideas to welcome more women to Wargaming

Little Wars TV has released their second video on woman and wargaming, this time focussing on bringing more women into the hobby.  In it, wargamers Amanda Voce, Veronica, and Becky Ensteness offer a number of ideas.

Among the issues they note: the uncomfortable  “boys’ club” atmosphere of some gaming spaces, the importance of calling out sexist behaviour, the value of mentoring and creating welcoming paths into the hobby.

If you missed the first one, you can find it here.


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A broadside from CNA gamers: Analytical wargaming and the cycle of research

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Jon Compton’s recent piece in War on the Rocks bemoaning the state of analytical wargaming in the US defence community has already sparked a cautious and partial rejoinder from Phil Pournelle for “paint[ing] with too large a brush.” Now Peter Perla, Web Ewell, Christopher Ma, James Peachy, Jeremy Sepinsky, and Basil Tripsas—all affiliated with the CNA gaming team—weigh in on the debate in another War on the Rocks article. It’s a pretty heavy, and well-aimed, broadside.

We certainly agree about the need to integrate wargames with analyses, exercises, and assessments as part of — dare we say it? — the cycle of research. Indeed, CNA and others have striven to do exactly that — when the sponsors of our work have been open to doing so. We disagree with Compton, however, about giving the wargaming community the central role and responsibility for integrating all aspects of the cycle of research.

It is long past time for the leadership of the Department — perhaps acting through the groups Compton calls on the carpet (federally funded research and development centers, other contractors, and educational institutions) — to break apart the stovepipes of analysis, wargaming and, indeed, of “analytical wargaming” as Compton terms it. Pentagon leadership needs to focus on integrating those stovepipes into a new paradigm for providing comprehensive advice to senior leadership. These senior leaders should include not only those within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but also those of the services, the various operational and functional commands, and the research community writ large. That senior leadership will best be served not merely by better analytical wargaming but primarily by their own broad-based commitment to integrate wargaming with analysis, exercises, experiments, and real-world assessments. It is through such integration that senior leaders — indeed, leaders at all levels — can base their crucial strategic, programmatic, operational, and tactical decisions on the most comprehensive information and insight available.

Quite rightly, they put appropriate emphasis on the sponsor to integrate all elements of research and analysis:

The organizations that make up the “wargaming community” that Compton criticizes so harshly — federally funded research and development centers, other contractors, and educational institutions — are not all in the position of being their own master distinct from the government agencies who must sponsor and fund such work. Although Compton implied that federally funded research and development centers, as well as others, should “take analytical ownership” of this process, it is important to recognize that the CAPE effort was sponsored and executed with government leadership. The Naval War College’s Halsey Alfa group has been using a similar paradigm for more than a decade.

Indeed, we use that term, paradigm, with malice aforethought. Since the McNamara era’s introduction of the concepts of systems analysis into the Pentagon’s lexicon, analysis has become a mantra of truth. Even the term Compton uses — analytical wargaming — demonstrates obeisance to the concepts of analytical rigor and objectivity based on the principles of economics and the physical sciences. For too long that paradigm has seduced both the analysis and wargaming communities within the Defense Department into judging the value of all tools, regardless of their character and use, by standards of validity and utility too narrow to encompass the full range of truth and value.

The paradigm should change.

Instead of imposing the tenets of systems analysis and operations research on wargaming, or those of wargaming on analysis, it is time for the Department — not their supporting contractors and institutions — to recognize the essential need to integrate all the intellectual tools at its disposal across all levels of decisions. And it is at the locus of those decisions that the need should be recognized and the supporting expertise tasked and funded to meet new requirements.

In short, they suggest, “It is the Department of Defense — not the federally funded research and development centers, contractors, and educational institutions — who should take the “analytical ownership” Compton calls for.”

The opinions they express, it should be noted, are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of CNA. Then again, I suspect there are more than a few in the outside-DoD/DoD contractor wargaming community who share their view.

See also comments on the CNA website by Joel Sepinsky: “Wargaming is Just One Part of the Solution.”

Little Wars TV on women and wargaming

Little Wars TV has put together an excellent segment on “Why Don’t More Women Play Wargames?”

Can you guess what percentage of historical wargamers are women? Thanks to five years of data from the Great Wargaming Survey by “Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy” magazine, we can tell you the answer! Why is historical wargaming such a male-dominated hobby? Why are women more likely to play sci-fi and fantasy tabletop games than historical ones? We’ll talk to three women in the hobby and ask them why more women aren’t playing miniature wargames. A very special thanks to our guests, Becky, Veronica, and Amanda, for taking the time to share their insights on this important topic!

Visit Becky at: https://thewargamingcompany.com

And if you’re interested in Games Workshop tabletop gaming, be sure to visit Amanda and Ethan, the WH40k Couple, at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb1_fi30Ps3sZ82OaEof_rw

You can see more results of the Great Wargaming Survey from WSS magazine right here: https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com

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