PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming software

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 7 April 2015

wordle070515

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

* * *

JDMS header

The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation features a forthcoming (gated, OnlineFirst) article by Gregory Reed, Mikel Petty, Nicholaos Jones, Anthony Morris, John Ballenger, and Harry Delugach on “A principles-based model of ethical considerations in military decision making.”

When comparing alternative courses of action, modern military decision makers often must consider both the military effectiveness and the ethical consequences of the available alternatives. The basis, design, calibration, and performance of a principles-based computational model of ethical considerations in military decision making are reported in this article. The relative ethical violation (REV) model comparatively evaluates alternative military actions based upon the degree to which they violate contextually relevant ethical principles. It is based on a set of specific ethical principles deemed by philosophers and ethicists to be relevant to military courses of action. A survey of expert and non-expert human decision makers regarding the relative ethical violation of alternative actions for a set of specially designed calibration scenarios was conducted to collect data that was used to calibrate the REV model. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey showed that people, even experts, disagreed greatly amongst themselves regarding the scenarios’ ethical considerations. Despite this disagreement, two significant results emerged. First, after calibration the REV model performed very well in terms of replicating the ethical assessments of human experts for the calibration scenarios. The REV model outperformed an earlier model that was based on tangible consequences rather than ethical principles, that earlier model performed comparably to human experts, the experts outperformed human non-experts, and the non-experts outperformed random selection of actions. All of these performance comparisons were measured quantitatively and confirmed with suitable statistical tests. Second, although humans tended to value some principles over others, none of the ethical principles involved—even the principle of not harming civilians—completely overshadowed all of the other principles.

* * *

The Georgetown University Law Center recently conducted a two-day simulation that examined fictional national security crises, and the legal issues they raise:

Whether it be bombs going off at the Boston Marathon finish line or a D.C. sniper on the loose, the country’s top decision-makers are tasked with keeping the U.S. safe from any and all national security threats. Now, law students are being prepped to deal with hot seat situations, too. At least that was the goal of a two-day simulation at the Georgetown University Law Center last weekend that asked students to use law, politics and public opinion to mitigate a threat.

A total of 80 law students from nearly a dozen law schools participated the National Security Crisis Law Invitational, a simulation developed by Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law, eight years ago.

“There is a lot about how we teach in law school that doesn’t work for students who are jumping into national security law,” Donohue said in an interview with The National Law Journal. “We teach the law as it is written, not how it is applied. Law is one of many competing considerations during a national security crisis. How do you talk with policymakers? How do you bring the law into the conversation?”

Donohue said that she created the simulation as a way to help students understand how best to apply the law during real world, high-pressure crises. It’s in these stressful times that your gut reaction has to be the right one. Your actions have consequences.

Leading up to the National Security Crisis Law Invitational, students spend several months hitting the books on national security law, as their performances on Georgetown’s campus are accessed by highly regarded national security experts, including James Baker, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and Rosemary Hart, special counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

This is only the second year that law students from outside of Georgetown have been invited to take part in the simulation. Students at this year’s invitational came from American University Washington College of Law; Cornell Law School; George Washington University Law School; Indiana University Maurer School of Law–Bloomington; New York University School of Law; Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law; Stanford Law School; Syracuse University College of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; and The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School.

Teams acted as departments within the National Security Council and were paired with mentors with a background working within the agency students were assigned.

You’ll find more on the simulation here.

* * *

watch-the-skies

What can the UN learn from a game about aliens? Mark Turner reports on the recent Watch the Skies 2: The Megagame of Alien Terror held in London.

* * *

world-peace-mega-game-map-low-res-1038x576

Watch the Skies! and John Hunter’s Peace Game have inspired high school teacher Shaun Macmillan and his students to develop their own political science game, Alliance: World Wide Crisis. Follow the link to find out more.

* * *

Phli Sabin (King’s College London) was featured as designer of the month on BoardGameGeek in March:

Mr. Sabin has been a wargamer for over 40 years, and became Professor of Strategic Studies at King’s College London’s War Studies Department. Over the past 20 years, he has published several board games on ancient warfare through the Society of Ancients. In 2007, his book Lost Battles was published, reconstructing three dozen different ancient battles using a common rules system. A deluxe board game edition was published by Fifth Column Games in 2011. In 2012, his book Simulating War was published, containing eight different simple wargames which he has used in his military history classes. One of these (Hell’s Gate) was published in a deluxe edition by Victory Point Games in 2013, and VPG has just published a second game from the book (Angels One Five).

Besides using wargames to help his BA students to understand conflict dynamics, since 2003 Mr. Sabin has been teaching a very innovative MA option module in which students design their own simple board games of past conflicts of their choice. Many of these are available for free download (Google ‘Sabin consim’). He also writes regularly for Battles magazine, and works closely with defense wargamers in the UK and overseas.

For discussion of his design philosophy and views on conflict simulation, see the thread here.

* * *

Engadget has an article about a proposed digital game intended to promote greater understanding and empathy between Israelis and Palestinians.

Navit Keren grew up in Israel. She’s lived through the signing of historic peace treaties, and horrific terrorist attacks. Just as important though, she’s witness to the dramatic deterioration of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. The biggest problem she sees, is a lack of empathy. Those living on the other side of the divide are not people, but enemies. “Others” to be feared and hated. Her effort to bridge the gap between the two sides is a pretty novel one: a location-based game. Welcome to the West Bank is merely a working title, but it gets right to the heart of the game. Israeli citizens, primarily teenagers, would play as Palestinian teenagers living in the West Bank. Basically she’s asking people to walk a mile in someone else’s virtual shoes.

Right now, there is no prototype, only screen mockups and ideas about game mechanics. The most important part is creating a “sincere and appealing narrative” that will help someone understand the experience of being on the other side of this seemingly intractable conflict. A lot of that means lifting directly from the personal stories of Palestinian youth. As you move through the world you’re offered information about the city you’re virtually visiting, landmarks and historical figures. But eventually you’ll be presented with a choice. Like this passage ripped straight from one Palestinian teen’s personal experience:

You are interrogated because of a suspicion of teaching boys in your village how to build Molotov Cocktails, which you deny. During the interrogation you are kept in a room that stinks of feces and rotten food. You are hit with a chair and threatened with a knife. You are also told that if you did not admit to the charges against you that you would be “taken to an electric chair to help you.”

You’ve already been held for 30 days, and your options are falsely confess and be released, or deny the charges and be held for 10 more days. And your choice will impact future events. If you admit guilt you’ll be placed under house arrest, be unable to attend school and therefore won’t graduate.

The game, however, is only in the concept stage—there’s no actual playable prototype yet.

h/t Anya Slavinsky 

* * *

By contrast, Gaza Man is available for download (Android) or online play. In the game the player assumes the role of a Palestinian fighter defending Gaza against an Israeli invasion. Not surprisingly, that’s made it popular in Gaza, and controversial within Israel.

Google briefly removed the game from its Play Store after complaints, but later restored it following complaints about its removal.

The game itself is pretty standard arcade-type shooting game. It only involves combat between opposing military forces, and no attacks on civilians or any other form of terrorism. Other than a red kaffiyeh worn by “Gaza man,” it also avoids strong political symbols or ethno-religious stereotypes. The game’s introduction shows the hero initially coming to the defence of a Gazan family being harassed by Israeli troops.

For information on other digital games that examine the Arab-Israeli conflict, see these PAXsims reports:

* * *

8553b66975c51ed620046cf1b483803fThe next issue of Yaah! magazine by Flying Pig Games will feature two abstract Brian Train games, both on the general theme of insurgency:

In UPRISING, the State knows where the rebel units are, but not what they are– violent radicals, passive sympathizers, or simply shadows? The Rebels must misdirect the State to buy themselves the time to build a loose-knit network born of popular unrest into a force capable of declaring open revolution– but will they overthrow the current regime, or be crushed?

In ARMY OF SHADOWS, both players have their own map and set of counters– but only the Insurgent Player knows for sure where his units are located. It’s a tense and desperate race as the State tries to find and destroy the insurgency before the army of shadows can seize the capitol.

* * *

The Polish gaming magazine Tactics & Strategy may publish a wargame of the crisis in the Ukraine, Mariupol 2014-15.

* * *

The folks at Red Team Journal remind you the “Mind the Gap“—that is, the gap between your model and assumptions, and the real thing.

* * *

LabyrinthII-ban1(RBM)

GMT Games will soon be publishing Labyrinth II: The Awakening, 2010 – ?, an expansion set by Trevor Bender that updates Volko Ruhnke’s very successful Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? game to the post-Arab Spring era. For more on the expansion and the issues it addresses, see Trevor’s comments on the GMT blog. For the original game, see our PAXsims review here.

* * *

podcast-SPLASH-700x294

What’s a GrogCast? It’s the new podcast by our friends at the wargaming site GrogHeads!

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 October 2014

wordle291014

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

* * *

twom4

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an interview with Pawel Miechowski at 11 Bit Studios on the forthcoming release of This War of Mine:

RPS: What do you want people to get out of playing This War Of Mine?

Pawel Miechowski: We want to raise awareness about how civilians suffer when war is breaking out. We want to show the other side. We’re partnering with War Child so we’re going to raise money for [kids in war]. From the perspective of being creators we use a parallel to movies because it works well in this case. Sometimes you’re in the mood to watch an action movie or a comedy. Sometimes you watch drama – The Pianist or Saving Private Ryan with that brutal opening. We decided we see games as ready to speak about important things. We’re not pioneers – we already have amazing games which do that really well – Gone Home, Papers Please….

See the full interview at the link above.

(h/t James Sterrett)

* * *

positech_clonesAndDroneslogo

Positech Games have announced the release of Democracy 3: Clones & Drones, an expansion for their political strategy game Democracy 3. It adds a range of new policies to consider (from the use of armed drones to human cloning to driverless cars) and events (shortages of “rare earths”, anti-technoloy rebellions,  antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and many more).

* * *

In an article in the Huffington Post, Mary Flanagan (Dartmouth College and Tiltfactor.org) has called for using games to examine and resolve otherwise intractable conflicts and public problems:

…unusual strategies — and the gall to enact them — are desperately needed as we increasingly face complicated conflicts that seem to have no way out. Police and citizens distrust one another in places like Ferguson, Missouri. Bullies taunt kids from rich neighborhoods to poor. Old ways of fetishizing power, such as nationalism, and winner-takes-all need to be replaced with new models in which complicated people in global, complex societies can not only get along but prosper. It’s not impossible. We need resilient communities that not only survive, but thrive.

And as law scholar Yochai Benkler noted in his bookThe Penguin and the Leviathan: Triumph of Cooperation Over Self-Interest (2011), systems built wholly on self-interest end up as disasters. Parts of society that serve everyone — from public parks to Wikipedia — last longer and make people happier.

It’s time to recast the molds. Let’s find new ways to model unusual forms of cooperation. Games like Pandemic or Pox: Save the People, two board games where teams of people fight against spreading viruses, are a first step. Let’s tell stories that replace the “bad guy” with the challenges we face together.

We must reinvent rusty old conflict models, or we will never escape the vicious cycle of war countering war. Violence isn’t the answer to seemingly intractable problems. And yet, we’re only as brilliant as the tools we’ve learned to use.

I have certainly used games as a way of exploring challenging issues and helping to players to jointly identify possible solutions to deep-rooted conflicts (see, for example, here, here, and here). However, I think we also have to be careful that we don’t oversell what games can do.

(h/t Matt Kirschenbaum)

* * *

In a forthcoming issue of Politics, Erin Hannah and Rorden Wilkinson reflect on Zombies and IR: A Critical Reading:

The zombie genre is quickly becoming a feature of International Relations (IR) classrooms and pedagogical toolkits as scholars enthusiastically embrace the undead as a vehicle for teaching the discipline. This article offers a cautionary note on a generally positive move to embrace the use of zombieism in IR. It shows how an uncritical use of a zombie apocalypse as a vehicle for teaching IR can reinforce existing divisions in the field, essentialise country positions, crowd out heterodox approaches, reinforce gender stereotypes and dehumanise people. To guard against these problems, the article shows how Zombie IR can be better used to think critically and normatively about world politics.

(h/t Lisa Lynch)

* * *

York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design is seeking a tenure-track junior researcher in the area of games, gaming and gamification:

This position seeks a strong junior researcher whose creative practice and theoretical interests span games, gaming, and organized play as cultural phenomena, as a platform for art-making, and who explores gaming as it manifests in a wide range of contemporary practices. Possible areas of interest include the following: art games, serious games, experimental game mechanics, alternate reality games, game related art or installation, interactive narrative, critical game studies, world making, visualization, alt-games, notgames and gamification. The candidate will be a practicing artist and creative coder, with strong theoretical framework, who has expertise with a variety of tools found in professional game development and whose technology-based art practice incorporates interdisciplinary approaches to art and science. The candidate will have capacity to teach practicum courses in Digital Media and Design.

You’ll find additional details here. The deadline for applications is 5 December 2014.

* * *

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is advertising a tenure-track faculty position in serious games. You’ll find details here. Applications should be received by 15 December 2014.

* * *

Earlier this year, George Phillies (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) posted a series of videos on wargame design to YouTube, based on a class he taught on the subject. You’ll find the first of them below, and links to the others here.

Simulations miscellany, 17 August 2014

wordle150814

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

* * *

Games for Change has a brief listing of games (in production or development) that examine war away from the battlefield:

Countless games have thrown players into heated warzones, whether as a soldier holding a gun ready to fire or an almighty commander who oversees the entire battlefield, moving units around.

What’s less examined in games is what’s happening off the battlefield and the consequences of violence. Recently, however, we see more developers who are examining war’s impact on civilians. We’ve made a list of games that we’re looking forward to and a list of thought-provoking titles to play right now.

Some of those mentioned in the short piece have been discussed before at PAXsims, including PeaceMaker and This War of Mine.

* * *

The current conflict in Gaza spurred  the development of several games on the theme. According to Time:

In Bomb Gaza, a game about doing precisely what its peremptory title commands, you play as the Israeli Air Force, tapping a touchscreen to pour red-nosed bombs into a 2D multi-level landscape filled with cartoonish people wearing white robes and clutching children — meant to signify civilians — as well as others draped in black, clutching rifles, touting greenish headbands and grinning maniacally. The goal is to hit those black-garbed militants — presumably members of Palestinian militant group Hamas — while avoiding the white-clad civilians.

At some point in the past 24 hours, Google removed Bomb Gaza from its Android Play store (the game was released on July 29). It’s not clear why. Google’s only officially saying what companies like it so often say when handed political hot potatoes: that it doesn’t comment on specific apps, but that it removes ones from its store that violate its policies….

It’s unclear which of Google’s policies Bomb Gaza might have infringed, but in Google’s Developer Program Policies document, it notes under a subsection titled Violence and Bullying that “Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed,” and that “Apps should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users.” Under another titled Hate Speech, Google writes “We don’t allow content advocating against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.”

Bomb Gaza isn’t the only Gaza-centric game Google’s removed: another, dubbed Gaza Assault: Code Red is about dropping bombs on Palestinians using Israeli drones. Its designers describe the game as “[bringing] you to the forefront of the middle-east conflict, in correlation to ongoing real world events.” It was also just yanked, as was another titled Whack the Hamas, in which players have to target Hamas members as they pop out of tunnels.

Politically-themed games about touchy current issues have been around for years, from depictions of deadly international situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to others modeled on flashpoints like school shootings. In late 2008, a game called Raid Gaza!appeared around the time Israel was carrying out “Operation Cast Lead,” a conflict that left 13 Israelis and some 1,400 Palestinians dead. In that title, you’re tasked with killing as many Palestinians as you can in three minutes, and actually afforded bonuses for hitting civilian targets, all while listening to a version of the Carpenter’s saccharine “Close to You.”

In the past, quick browser or app games have developed for the purpose of sitar or political commentary—as is immediately evident if you play Raid Gaza!. In this case, however, it seems to have simply been a case of game developers cashing in on the widespread destruction in Gaza to create a quick “how many Hamas militants can you kill” game.

There was also at least one Arabic game that put the player in the role of Hamas. According to the BBC:

The US-based firm has now removed Rocket Pride by Best Arabic Games, in which players attempt to outmaneuver Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, from its Google Play app store.

It also deleted Iron Dome by Gamytech, which challenged players to “intercept the rockets launched by Hamas”.

Other titles that do not name the “enemy” remain online.

You’ll find further discussion of this phenomenon at Slate, The Guardian, and Haaretz.

* * *

The Connections Australia website has been updated with a general conference program and registration information. The conference will be held on 8-9 December 2014 oat the University of Melbourne.

* * *

cropped-hsi-logo-red-jpegAdditional details have been announced for the 2014-15 Disaster and Humanitarian Response Program at McGill University (October 2014-April 2015). The program includes a field exercise to be held in May 2015.

2014-2015 Disaster and Humanitarian Response Program

Beginning in October 2014, the Humanitarian Studies Initiative of McGill University will be once more offering its innovative and multi-disciplinary humanitarian training program that advances and improves the quality of humanitarian work and practice to improve the lives of people most affected by war and disaster around the world.

The 2014-2015 Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program offers an evidence-based approach on the globally-recognized core humanitarian competencies that are essential for anyone involved in disaster response and/or humanitarian assistance. This course is specifically designed for people with little or no prior experience in emergency settings who wish to undertake a career in the humanitarian sector. Participants will learn about the background and context of humanitarian emergencies, international humanitarian law, doctrines, and operating procedures of in many technical areas.  Instructed by a community of humanitarians and Faculty from around the globe, the program also offers participants an occasion to join an exciting network of humanitarians.

In-Classroom training is on a weekly basis from October 2014 till April 2015.

The 3-day field-based disaster simulation exercise will be held in May 2015.

The course will take place in Montreal at the Department of Family Medicine

Interested applicants can apply directly on our webpage  or send their enquiries to the Program Manager: Melanie Coutu.

 

 

 

The Pedagogy of Statecraft

The following post was contributed by Jonathan Keller (James Madison University). For an earlier PAXsims summary of Gustavo Carvalho’s forthcoming article, see here.

* * *

The Pedagogy of Statecraft

I would like to thank Rex Brynen for the opportunity to join this conversation on his excellent blog. A good discussion has been provoked by the forthcoming International Studies Perspectives article by Gustavo Carvalho entitled “Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: Using Ready-Made Computer Simulations for Teaching International Relations.” The article focuses on one class’s (largely negative) experience with the Statecraft simulation at the University of Toronto and generally casts doubt on the effectiveness of Statecraft as a teaching tool.

UnknownAs the creator of Statecraft, I read this article with great interest. Statecraft is certainly not a perfect simulation, and I am interested in feedback on ways in which it can be improved. I was disappointed to discover, however, that Carvalho had employed Statecraft in at least four ways that were directly counter to the explicit instructions we provide to professors. These instructions are not arbitrary, but are the result of over a decade (now approaching 15 years) of observing the pedagogical impact of different Statecraft design choices in a variety of IR courses. The instructions were designed to maximize Statecraft’s pedagogical effectiveness and to prevent precisely the sorts of negative outcomes this class experienced. Specifically, in the Toronto class that was the subject of the ISP article, (1) students were not incentivized to learn the simulation rules through the online manual quizzes, (2) the all-important grading system (which encourages realistic behavior) appears not to have been used, (3) countries and student roles were not set up properly before Turn 1 began, leading to widespread confusion, and (4) the instructor materials (lecture outlines, assignments, etc.) that are essential for helping students make sense of their Statecraft experience are nowhere mentioned in the article and appear not to have been used.

ISP has decided to include my rebuttal alongside Carvalho’s article in print. This forthcoming article is entitled “Misusing Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: A Response to Carvalho.” This article provides context regarding Statecraft’s design, instructions for use, and pedagogical intent that were missing from the Carvalho piece, so that readers may gain a more complete picture of what Statecraft was intended to do and how it is designed to work.

I encourage PaxSim’s readers to read this rebuttal, which should be available soon on ISP’s “Early View” if it is not already. But here I’d like to highlight briefly three pedagogical lessons that the Toronto experience (and my own 15-year history developing Statecraft) suggest regarding the use of simulations.

First, grading criteria greatly affect students’ behavior and should be carefully calibrated to produce the dynamics the instructor wishes to illustrate. The clearest lesson from the early trials of Statecraft (1999-2002, back when it was a purely “paper and pencil” simulation) was that unless students are given incentives to behave like real world leaders, Statecraft will quickly degenerate into entertaining but unrealistic global warfare, with a heavy emphasis on nuclear weapons. One student described an early version of the simulation as “college kids with nukes.” The current Statecraft grading system is a result of this experience, and it gives tangible incentives for students to pursue the range of goals that have historically motivated real world countries (national prestige/distinctiveness, domestic development, cooperation on transnational issues, and imperial conquest), without telling students which of these goals they must pursue. Since Statecraft assigns students to countries using a foreign policy attitudes survey, there will always be a mix of hardline countries, pacifist regimes, and so on. The “Historians’ Verdict” award was introduced specifically to curb unrealistic resort to nuclear warfare, and when used it virtually eliminates nuclear war in Statecraft. In the last 10 years of using the recommended grading system (described in detail in my forthcoming ISP article), about 40% of my “worlds” have avoided war altogether, and only one nuclear weapon has ever been launched. I encourage instructors to tweak the default grading criteria to achieve the type of “world” they want their students to experience, but they should be cautious about diverging too far from these thoroughly tested criteria. The extraordinary bellicosity of the world described in the Carvalho article, together with the omission of any mention of the grading system, indicates that the recommended grading criteria were not used.

Second, precise verisimilitude with the real world should not necessarily be the primary goal of IR simulations. Yes, some degree of realism is necessary in order to illustrate key concepts and replicate the core dynamics of world politics. But if a given run of Statecraft produces outcomes that diverge from real-world outcomes, this should not be an occasion for despair (as the Carvalho article seems to suggest) but presents a golden opportunity for reflection and critical thinking. If a class finds itself locked in conflict spirals and the UN is impotent, the instructor can ask students what factors are driving the conflict and under what conditions these processes are likely to be replicated in world politics. He or she can ask students whether these outcomes approximate the predictions of realists or liberals, and can encourage them to consider whether their classroom experience with an ineffective UN parallels the limitations of the real UN, or whether the actual UN has more influence than the Statecraft version, and why. This is how Statecraft was designed to be used, as evidenced by the many discussion questions and paper assignments (provided to instructors using Statecraft) that ask students to actively critique the assumptions behind the simulation design and compare their classroom experience with their observations of world politics.

Finally, no matter how well designed a simulation is, student learning will be stunted if the simulation experience occurs in a vacuum. It is still the job of the instructor to make clear the connections between students’ simulation experience and class material. Statecraft is intended to be fully integrated into IR courses through lecture, discussion, exams, and paper assignments. (All of these instructor resources, including 39 pages of lecture outlines on 13 different IR topics, are included with Statecraft). It is therefore not surprising that Carvalho’s students—who, based on his article, were not exposed to lectures or assignments making sense of their Statecraft experience—expressed skepticism about the utility of Statecraft as a teaching tool. As Carvalho notes (p. 13), “Simulations and video games do not replace good textbooks and content material, and they need to be carefully interwoven with lectures if they are to be effective educational tools.” On that point, we are in complete agreement.

Hopefully the upcoming publication of Carvalho’s piece and my response in ISP will continue to generate productive discussion on the pedagogy of IR simulations. I believe that the Toronto class experience in spring 2012, when properly understood, offers constructive lessons about the limitations of simulations as standalone teaching tools and the ways in which Statecraft can most usefully be employed.

 

Jonathan Keller is Associate Professor of Political Science at James Madison University.  He received his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 2002.  His research and teaching interests include political psychology, foreign policy decision-making, U.S. foreign policy, and research methods.  His work has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, International Studies Quarterly, Political Psychology, Conflict Management and Peace Science, and Foreign Policy Analysis.

 

 

Carvalho: Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous

logo-large-330x329Gustavo Carvalho, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, has an interesting article appearing soon in International Studies Perspectives on the use of computer simulations in an international relations classroom—in this case, the online educational game Statecraft. He warns, based on use of the game in an introductory international relations course at U of T, that such games may not necessarily be very effective, and may also be less versatile in the classroom than non-digital “manual” games:

Video games have become a hot topic in education. To their proponents, they enhance the interactive and active aspects of learning. In addition, mass-produced off-the-shelf video games promise a cheaper and more convenient approach to education, being quick and easy to set up, in contrast to the extensive time commitment that goes into designing a simulation from scratch. My paper uses our experience with Statecraft, a commercial off-the-shelf IR computer simulation tailored to the educational market, as a proxy to discuss the educational usefulness of commercial strategy video games in general. Our experience recommends that we be cautious and reflective in the use of ready-made games for teaching. More to the point, it is still not clear which benefits, apart from convenience, commercial computer simulations bring to our classes that cannot also be provided by old-fashioned, low-tech customized simulations, whether designed by instructors or in collaboration with students.

The full text of the article is behind a paywall, but for readers who don’t have access to the journal here are some of the major points he makes, together with some comments of my own:

In view of how much they relied on the lectures, it is of some concern that only slightly over a quarter of the students said that the simulation helped them understand IR theories and concepts much (23.91%) or very much (4.35%), while close to a third (32.07%) ranked their experience only as average. Likewise, although a little more than a quarter of the students said Statecraft improved their engagement with the course readings (29.3%), a quarter felt that the improvement was average (25%), and almost half of them felt that it improved their engagement little (23.37%) or nothing at all (21.74%). Not surprisingly, given the status quo bias of Statecraft, only slightly over a fifth of the students said the simulation changed their previous views on international politics (21.19%). In a more positive tone, however, close to half of the students said Statecraft improved much (32.07%) or very much (13.59%) their engagement with the lecture and tutorials, while less than a fifth (19.02%) recorded an average change in engagement.

Much depends, of course, on how a game is integrated into curriculum, and especially how it is briefed and debriefed. That being said, the numbers aren’t very impressive—even more so when one considers that they are self-reported learning effects, which tend to be a more generous appraisal of game effects than objective learning measures (such as impact on test scores). One also needs to consider opportunity costs. It isn’t enough that a game have learning effects—it also needs to have learning effects that are greater or different from those that would be generated by a similar amount of time devoted to lectures, tutorials, readings, films, or other ways of examining the course material. It is an observation that international relations scholars James Robinson, Lee Anderson, Margaret Hermann and Richard Snyder made almost half a century ago in a seminal research article in the American Political Science Review, but which often gets lost amid contemporary enthusiasm for the gamification of learning. (It should be noted, however, that a 2013 paper by Chad Raymond on Statecraft reports much more positive learning experiences—again suggesting that much may depend on how any give game/simulation is used in the classroom.)

While it is often assumed that games-based learning is more attractive to students, Carvalho has some words of caution based on his classroom experience:

In contrast with the expectations of some scholars (Weir and Baranowski 2011:450), my first takeaway point is that computer-based simulations may in fact be unattractive to students, particularly those that do not feel at ease playing video games…. One student summarized this problem poignantly: “(…) I found that I got lost very quickly. Not being used to computer games I had to take more time to get acquainted with the rules and on top of trying to understand what was going on [at] my screen, I had to connect that with what I was learning.”

He also later notes that, based on the results from his class survey,  “commercial video game simulations appeal more to those students who already enjoy playing them outside of the academic environment.”

The author’s second takeaway from the experience relates to the issues of course design and other learning methods raised above:

My second takeaway point is that there is a careful balance to be struck between simulations, particularly video game-based ones, and traditional learning tools, such as lectures and tutorials. Simulations and video games do not replace good textbooks and content material, and they need to be carefully interwoven with lectures if they are to be effective educational tools (Aldrich 2009). Moreover, simulations and video games may also be detrimental to the experience of students who prefer traditional learning methods (Asal 2005:361) or feel uneasy in intense social situations.

His third major point relates to the problem of “realism” versus playability, a constant source of debate among conflict simulation designers:

My third takeaway point is that the trade-off between complexity and playability, important for games in general, is crucial in educational simulations. Game designers may feel tempted to increase the complexity of a game, or the amount of variables and elements that the players need to deal with, in order to make it seem more “realistic” (Sabin 2012:21). This seems to have been the case with Statecraft. Our data suggest that many students had trouble with the number of variables they had to control and with the choices they had to make in every turn of the game.

Gus also discusses the need for an educational game to be easy to play and run:

My fourth takeaway point is that off-the-shelf or commercial computer products may present serious technical challenges to course instructors. In the case of our experience with Statecraft, many software glitches had a direct impact on the performance of the countries, a serious problem for a simulation that relies too much on conflict-based game dynamics. In our case, the bugs and glitches were not serious enough to derail the simulation, but they may have been detrimental to our educational goals in the course, and particularly to the experiences of students that were not gamers to begin with

His fifth major point is a very important one, relating to the way in which any game models the “real world,” and the need to be aware of the potential message this sends to students:

My fifth takeaway point is that, when using commercial video games for teaching purposes, we need to be aware of the concepts and ideas that they either explicitly or implicitly transmit to the players. Game designers may be uncritical when choosing game mechanics or may be more concerned with making the game viable from a commercial point of view. Either way, their choices may not be equally useful in helping the students to better understand political science and IR, and some may actually be counterproductive to the goals of our courses.

In the case of Statecraft, it is difficult to say whether its designers had strong views about IR theories or were attempting to emulate successful games such as those in the Civilization and Age of Empires series.[13] Either way, as a result of their design choices, Statecraft ended up as a tragic caricature of international politics, to the detriment of its pretense realism. Instead of depicting the nuances of international politics, with the real trade-offs behind decision-making and the high costs associated with conflict, the game dynamics behind the simulation pushed the students to behave with the testosterone-infused logic of the stereotypical male gamer, including the “trash talk” and “trolling” that are associated with it. This is supported by the survey, with more than two-thirds of the respondents ranking the level of realism of Statecraft as average and lower, and was highlighted by the nuclear wars that occurred in two of our simulated worlds.

This is a widespread problem. We raised similar concerns a few years ago in a review of the manual, book-and-roleplay IR simulation  International Relations in Action: A World Politics Simulation. We also pointed to the problem of exaggerated levels of international conflict  in our recent review of the computer game Masters of the World

One final point in the article that is worth underscoring is how serious games in the classroom can positively affect inter-student dynamics:

…an interesting, and usually neglected, part of the entertainment factor of group simulations such as Statecraft is their social or community-building aspect (Aldrich 2009; Hofstede et al. 2010:830–832). In private conversations, some of my students noted how the simulation had actually brought them together and helped them connect with other students in their tutorials, a welcome change in our current environment of huge (and increasing) class and tutorial sizes.

This is a point my own students frequently make, with the friendships forged in the simulation often enduring for years after (or, in one notable case, resulting in marriage!)

All-in-all, an excellent piece, and well worth a read.

simulations miscellany, 12 August 2013

 

Some recent material on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to our readers:

* * *

rttp-header

The folks at Reacting to the Past historical role-play project are in the process of transitioning to a new publisher, which may temporarily affect the availability of their published volumes:

As the new academic year approaches, we wanted to reach out to everyone in the RTTP community with important information about the availability of Reacting to the Past Series games for the Fall 2013 semester. The Reacting to the Past Series is currently in transition to a new publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, and is temporarily unavailable for purchase. We are confident that our relationship with W.W. Norton & Co. is going to be a successful one, but we must remain focused on quality and be willing to accommodate to industry-standard timelines.  Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that printed versions of the nine (previously published) RTTP game books will be available to purchase by September 1. Therefore, we have implemented a new policy to ensure that instructors will be able to obtain game materials for Fall 2013 courses. All instructors planning to teach a published game should follow this alternative procedure.

As noted at the link above, RTTP will make their simulation materials in the Fall 2013 term via an encrypted PDF version of the student game book(s).

* * *

The preliminary programme for the 7th European Conference on Games Based Learning (Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, Porto, Portugal, 3-4 October 2013) is now available.

* * *

Eversim—the same people who produce Masters of the World and Rulers of Nations—also produce iScen, a software programme that allows you to create netowrked interactive multimedia training modules. Currently only available for PCs, version 2.0 (in development) will also be available in a Mac version.


A free evaluation version is available from their website. (If anyone with some experience in educational simulation wants to review this for us, drop us a line.)

* * *

These two papers aren’t new, but were only posted to the Social Science Research Network earlier this year:

  • Zapalska, Alina and Brozik, Dallas, A Model for Developing and Evaluating Games And Simulations in Business and Economic Education (December 19, 2008). Zbornik radova Ekonomskog fakulteta u Rijeci, časopis za ekonomsku teoriju i praksu – Proceedings of Rijeka Faculty of Economics, Journal of Economics and Business, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2008, pp. 345-368. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2268452
  • Ebner, Noam and Efron, Yael, Little Golano: An International Conflict Management Simulation (2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2237985

India’s proposed Counter-Terrorism Operations Planning Tool and Wargaming System

India CT sim

Earlier this year the Indian Army’s Wargaming Development Centre (WARDEC) issued a request for proposals for a Counter-Terrorism Operations Planning Tool and Wargaming System. According to the RFP “[t]he aim of the Counter Terrorism Operational Planning Tool and Wargaming System is to aid unit commanders in operational planning and to train sub-unit commanders in planning and execution of various Operations in Counter Terrorism (CT) environment.” Other key features of the system would be:

The package will be based on actual area of Operations in a 1:5,000 scale digitised map with option to switch to 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 scale maps, provided by WARDEC. The software will have the facility of incorporating satellite images and air photographs.

[T]he package would be fielded at WARDEC and in the actual Area of Operations of an Infantry Brigade/Sector Headquarters.

The Operational Planning tool is intended to be used both in a standalone and networked mode based on a LAN configuration.

The training audience are required to be trained in planning and execution of various operations in CT environment based on “painted” situations.

The level of game play would be from the battalion down to platoon level. However, the Exercise Control (EXCON) of the game would be from a terminal, dedicated for Exercise Director, who will represent the Brigade Headquarters….

(a) BlueForces. The resolution level for Blue Forces would be down to sub section/Operational Team level for input of orders. All activities below a Team level would be depicted and resolved based on sets of Combat Rules embedded in the system. The behaviour and activity pattern of a single soldier would be modelled in the back end and aggregated to that of an Operational Team comprising 6-8 soldiers. The players would, however, play the game based on this lowest entity of an Operational Team.

(b) Terrorists. The resolution level for terrorists would be individual terrorist

EXCON would be able to set intangible factors like training, leadership, morale, fatigue, fear, support of local population, etc. These factors would have effect on the combat outcome of the forces

The aspect of civilians would be played as an EXCON function. The aspects to be played from the civilians graphical user interface would be:-

  1. (i)  Assisting terrorists.
  2. (ii)  Act as informers to security forces/terrorists (OGWs).
  3. (iii)  Act as human shield during security forces operations.
  4. (iv)  Mass gatherings.
  5. (v)  Blockades.

The closing date on the RFP was back in April. However, Colonel Sameer Chauhan (Senior Fellow, Center for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi) is currently undertaking research on simulation-based training requirements in the Indian Army, and passed on the RFP with a request for thoughts and feedback from the broader professional wargaming community. If you have any comments, feel free to leave them here, or email him directly.

Simulations miscellany, D-Day edition

Some 69 years ago, Allied paratroopers were were over France jumping into darkness, while British, US, and Canadian forces were approaching the beaches in Normandy. There’s no particular D-Day content to this week’s simulation miscellany, but it does all provide  excuse to post a clip a from The Longest Day.

* * *

At GrogHeads, they have an interview with COL(R) Matt Caffrey of the US Air Force Research Labs wargaming office at at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  Matt is also the organizer behind the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference

* * *

bildeDefense News has an article on the Culture Awareness for Military Operations trainer, developed by Apitima for the US Office of Naval Research:

Aptima’s Culture Awareness for Military Operations trainer, or CAMO, focuses on teaching students how to recognize and assess culture more broadly rather than providing detailed instructions on how to deal with a specific populace.

“If there has been one trend, one push, it’s been towards the development of these general competencies and less on the nuts and bolts of a specific culture,” said Alex Walker, Aptima’s program manager for the project.

Born from a classroom course for Marines and under development for the Office of Naval Research, the computer-based training is interactive, distributable and aims at higher-level thought processes.

The CAMO course addresses five dimensions of culture: environment, economy, social structure, political structure and belief system. In each category, users go through three kinds of instruction aimed at helping Marines understand second- and third-order effects of their actions.

“We need to get them to learn how to think about cultural situations, how to interact with a culture, how to pull out the information they need for their interactions, regardless of the specific context of the situation,” Walker said.

I strongly endorse the approach that this simulation/training software appears to be taking, namely to develop general intercultural competencies and empathies rather than niche single-culture-specific knowledge such as what hand to shake, what fork to use, and what big cultural faux pas to avoid. People will often forgive the visiting foreigner for getting local customs wrong. However, being an insensitive jerk will get you in trouble pretty much everywhere on the planet, especially when you are a foreigner carrying a gun.

Somewhat confusingly, there seems to have been another completely unrelated “Cultural Awareness in Military Operation”s project undertaken by the Norwegians in 2010-2011, based on scenarios using a virtual setting in Second Life. This appears to have gone in the opposite direction from the US version, focusing on very particular Afghanistan scenarios such as how to act towards women and how to observe local customs.

Student interactive simulation-writing in political science

A storyboard in development.

A storyboard in development.

A few months back we mentioned Inklewriter here on the blog, a ” free tool designed to allow anyone to write and publish interactive stories.” This term I had a chance to try it out for class assignments, specifically as an alternative option for the group research paper assignment in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course at McGill University. Usually this paper takes the form of a “best practices” analysis of a common peacebuilding challenges, such as dealing with the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, or donor coordination. For those who decided to go the Inklewriter route, they were told to develop an interactive story or adventure that would serve to illustrate best practices, explore particular sets of operational challenges, or otherwise illuminate the material we had covered in class in an educational way. Because of the experimental nature of the assignment, they were asked to submit both a development diary documenting the design process, as well as the Inklewriter project itself. They were also given a two-week extension.

Four groups (about 15% of the class) opted to try their hand at Inklewriter. All, I think, did a very good job—especially since they were working in uncharted territory for the course. All four groups volunteered to have their projects posted to PAXsims, so you’ll find each of them below, together with their design notes.

One of the storyboards in development.

Another storyboard in development (and gradually taking over someone’s room).

All groups found storyboarding  a complex yet illuminating plot line with multiple decision points to be a challenge—especially since the various choices presented to the reader/player had to be subtle and non-obvious. After all, there’s little point in an interactive story if the decision points are all a choice between something obviously sensible, and something obviously stupid. There were some minor quirks in the software which, at times, made it a little difficult to work with—although everyone overcame these without any help from me. The biggest challenge, I think, was having to write interactive stories about field operations in fragile and conflict-affected countries when few if any of the students had spent any time dealing with such issues in real life. Experienced aid workers, diplomats, and peacekeepers might therefore have some quibbles about how particular institutions or processes portrayed in each assignment (and these are the raw assignments too, as submitted for grading and without any subsequent tweaks). The bigger picture here is the way in which this medium can be used to create vignettes and scenarios, and the ways in which the generation of these encourage students to undertake research, think about causal relations and critical junctures, and portray them in interactive form. None of the students had any prior simulation-writing experience.

yemen-checkpoint-afp-670

Humanitarian Negotiation with Armed Groups (design notes)

  • by Tiphaine Monroe, Toader Mateoc, Taylor Steele, and Bushra Ebadi 

This project explores the difficult of securing humanitarian access in areas of ongoing armed violence, building upon the Guidelines on Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups (2006) developed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. One interesting innovation by this group was introducing an element of chance into the outcomes. Since the software doesn’t allow for it, they achieved this through the simple solution of occasionally having the reader roll a six-sided die.

In this simulation, you are a senior member of the OCHA, and you have the task of developing and implementing a proposal to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in the United Federation of Petrichor, a nation riven by civil discord on the continent of Northern Tiffleton.

Petrichor is a former Western colony that has enjoyed independence since 1956, but due to simmering ethnic tensions stemming from colonial times, the country has fallen into periodic chaos. Currently, the country is suffering from episodic fighting with occasional breaks in the violence, mostly between the government led by President Martin Steed-Asprey, leading industrialist, and the rebel group Minabwa led by Damocles Lafleur, son of a farming family that had their land confiscated by the government in an earlier episode of ethnic tension.

The colonial power only dealt with the President’s rebel group; as such, the rebels’ original motivations were to have increased political representation and to have more equitably distributed economic growth, but the conflict itself has led to further deep-seated racism and enmity between the two groups. Further adding to complications, the two groups are also divided by separate religions, though this does not form the basis of the conflict. You will discover more information after you make contact with your intermediary throughout the following adventure.

Before you begin, we recommend that you have on hand both the OCHA manual on humanitarian negotiations with armed groups, specifically the worksheet for mapping characteristics of armed groups, as well as one six-sided die.

At certain points in this game, despite your best efforts, the result will be at least partially up to chance, much like real life. We wish you patience and success as you navigate the complex field of humanitarian negotiations!

123062-firearms

Hard to Handle: A DDR Story (design notes)

by Daniel Stysis, Jess De Santi and Kegan Chang

This simulation addresses many of the challenges of disarmament, demobilization,  and reintegration programmes, including cheating, female combatants, and the need to find suitable civilian employment for ex-combatants. It also captures some of the never-ending meetings, coordination challenges, stakeholder consultations, and confidence-building requirements of peacebuilding by forcing the player to meet with many different actors—often more than once—before achieving their goals.

The country of Badnok has recently been the subject of a major civil war. The Gand, a minority ethnic group in the country, founded a resistance movement against the dominant ethnic Lothan ethnic group. Naming themselves the Gand Liberation Front, they fought the regular army for nine bloody years, with both sides committing major human rights violations. Now, however, mutual exhaustion by both sides has allowed a peace treaty to be brokered, and it will be necessary for aid agencies and the United Nations to help set Badnok on the road to peace.

You are the head of cantonment camp 18, located outside of Basin City, a mid-sized city located somewhat inland from the coast. As part of the peace agreement, armed groups are voluntarily surrendering themselves to the process of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration.

Your responsibilities entail the running of the camp itself while securing possible avenues for employment for the demobilised soldiers at your camp. You must also attend coordination meetings with other NGOs operating in the area and as part of the service delivery team at your own camp. Finally, you must report back to your superiors at headquarters.
Mideast-Syria_Horo-1-635x357

Aleppo: The Mother of All Battles (design notes)

by Tracy Atieh, Alexander Arguete Iskender, Thibault Charpentier, and Louise Duflot

Here the reader/player is just trying to survive, as the Syrian civil war rages around them. It isn’t always clear what the best choice: flee, or stay in place? Join a side, or stay neutral? When death comes, it comes as suddenly, and finally, as a sniper’s bullet.

You have chosen to play under Ahmad Munzer, also known as Abu Omar. You are married with Leila and are the father of three children: your elderly son Omar age 12; your daughter Nour age 10, and your youngest Karim.

You live in the Eastern district of Tariq al-Bab, and work in the Souk al-Madina market, the largest covered market in the world, where you sell clothing. As 80% of Aleppo’s population, you are part of the Sunni majority.

The uprising began on 15 March 2011 with popular demonstrations that grew nationwide by April 2011, but Aleppo remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protest. However, you can feel the tension escalating around you. You know it´s getting closer… All you can do is continue with your daily life

OR

You have chosen to play with the Haddad family living in Homs, in the Hamidiya neighbourhood. Your name is Rida, you are 43 years old, you are Christian. You have 2 children (1 daughter of 13 years old named Yasmina and 1 son of 17 years old named Zein). Your wife’s name is Sima.

Like every morning, you drive your children to school before going to work. You have two ways to get there, the fastest and the safest, which one do you choose?

Intro-photo14

Chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (design notes)

by Kushal Ismael, Joya Mukherjee, Regan Johnston

In this simulation, the player/reader must try to deal with various challenges arising from M23 militia activity in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reader is given the option of playing through the story as two quite different characters. Also, the simulation recognizes that perfection is rarely achieved in the field: a player needs to only succeed two out of three times for the mission to be deemed a “success.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been plagued by decades of violence. Millions have been displaced or have died as a result of the conflict between the Congelese Government and various groups of rebels. 5.4 million lives have been lost since 1998. 2.4 million people have become displaced and 1,152 women were raped daily (2012)….

The history of this story begins in 2008 when the violence intensified and a new rebel group, M23, formed.

One of the main IDP camps in region is Mugunga III, run by the UN in North Kivu, a few kilometers west of the large city of Goma. 30,000 IDPs reside in the camp, with more coming in each day as they flee the violence. The camp’s demographics include thousands of rape victims, ex combatants, and former child soldiers. Conditions in Mugunga III are deplorable as rebels have broken into the camp several times, stealing the limited food rations that Mugunga III has.

These are just some of the notable problems you will have to deal with in your adventure.

THE ACTORS: PICK ONE TO BEGIN YOUR ADVENTURE

UN Field Officer: You are the head of Mugunga III, responsible for reporting to UN headquarters in Kinshasa on the conditions at the camp. You have worked here since 2009 and you hope to finish your service on good terms. You are responsible for coordinating relief efforts between the various NGOs that work at the camp as well as ensuring that relations with the local government remain on good terms.

Radio Okapi Journalist: You are responsible for writing stories from Mugunga III to broadcast on Radio Okapi. You are one of 200 staff of Radio Okapi, which is funded by the United Nations and Hirondelle, a Swiss news agency.

 * * *

What did students think of the assignment? The feedback I received was  overwhelmingly positive:

We definitely think that it should be an option for future classes. Maybe there should be a few more constraints around the project, just make sure groups are working along the way and together. We had a great experience working on the game together and we learned a lot. We know that future classes would definitely enjoy this project and perhaps even find new software that could enhance the conflict simulation further.

All in all, I’d recommend it as an option – I think that it’s entirely possible a group will be able to come up with a better project if they can learn from our mistakes. The only recommendation I would really make is just ensuring that they have a chance to look through the projects this year for an idea of what to expect.

I think the assignment was a very engaging and thorough learning experience, it took us a long time but really deepened our understanding of the situation and was therefore very insightful so keeping it as an assignment option for the course would be a great idea since the format is also very flexible and any kind of games can be created.

Regarding the option of having this as an assignment option, I highly recommend it. It gives the students the opportunity of approaching civil conflicts from a different point of view.

In comparison with the group paper, the games really gives you the opportunity of working together and not just dividing the parts. Because of the nature of the software, constant communication is needed because:

  1. Even if in theory it coud be used in several computers at the same time, the software glitches.
  2. The software doesn’t give you the opportunity of adding new parts.

I learned a lot from this assignment. It required not only the ability to solve problems relating to conflict, but also an understanding of how conflict in and of itself might arise. I believe that students in future classes might gain quite a bit from this.

 I think offering the project to future students would be useful (it may be best to make them choose a narrow topic and have them start at the very beginning of the semester). I don’t know if other options are available, but a more friendly software could make the process more efficient.

Working on this game was very exhilarating, and although the software wasn’t easy to use from time to time, I’m sure the four of us were able to gain a lot from it. Just like in the class SIM, we really identified to our character, and – in a way – his fight for survival became ours.

I really believe you should offer this assignment option to future poli450 students. It gave us the opportunity to be creative – something we generally don’t find in other polisci classes.

Given the quality of the output and the feedback I received, I certainly will be making this an option for future classes.

h/t Many thanks to POLI 450 students for making their assignments available for the blog.

Papers, Please

While it doesn’t really count as a peace and conflict educational simulation—unless, that is, you are training people to be border guards for a faintly East European 1980s-era communist dictatorship—I wanted to give a quick mention to Papers, Please. This quirky, sardonic little game is still in development, but a fully playable beta is downloadable  from the website of  designer Lucas Pope. I loved it, right down to the blocky, pixelated graphics reminiscent of an earlier time.

Papers, Please

A Dystopian Document Thriller.The communist state of Arstotzka has ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists. Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.

Pope also has a few other interesting quick games on the website, including 6 Degrees of Sabotage (a surveillance tape whodunit) and Republia (in which you are a newspaper editor attempting to make the regime look good while attracting readers).

h/t David Brynen

“Pipe Trouble” trouble

Pipe Trouble is a Canadian digital game that explores some of the issues around pipeline construction in environmentally-sensitive areas. In it, a player must connect two ends of a natural gas pipeline. In doing so, however, they must cross areas of forest, wildlife, and farmland. Placing pipes costs money, so there is an incentive to take the shortest route. However, building in sensitive areas brings out environmental protesters, and even the occasional saboteur. If a pipe isn’t connected when the gas starts flowing, spillages and explosions can result. Between levels, one hears “news broadcasts” in the background that showcase many of the issues involved. Part of the funds from purchases of the game were to be donated to the David Suziki environmental foundation.

According to the website of game developer Pop Sandbox:

PIPE TROUBLE was developed in conjunction with the documentary film TROUBLE IN THE PEACE by Six Island Productions.

Trouble In The Peace is a much anticipated documentary film by award-winning director Julian T. Pinder, commissioned by TVO. It takes an unflinching look into the world of Big Oil & Gas told through the eyes of artist/cowboy Karl Mattson and his four-year-old daughter.

As the video above suggests, Pipe Trouble is simply a classic pipeline game repurposed with a somewhat satirical political and environmental overlay. It is also rather fun. However, the part where angry locals blow up the pipeline (as really happened in British Columbia in the past) has ignited a storm of controversy—especially since the game was partially developed with public money, and featured on the website of TV Ontario.

 

The premier of Alberta condemned the game:

Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she is disappointed to see a taxpayer-funded online game showing the bombing of a gas pipeline.

TV Ontario provided money to create the game, called Pipe Trouble, to accompany a documentary about the pipeline debate in British Columbia.

But questions have been raised about the game’s introductory video, which appears to show activists protesting before a pipeline blows up.

This screen grab shows a taxpayer-funded online game showing the bombing of a gas pipeline, called Pipe Trouble, which will accompany a documentary about the pipeline debate in British Columbia.

The provincially funded broadcaster says the game is meant to engage people on both sides of the pipeline debate and it’s not taking sides.

But Redford says a taxpayer-funded game depicting the blowing up of pipelines is contrary to Canada’s interests given that the entire country benefits from a strong and diverse energy sector.

B.C. premier Christy Clark said there was no place for positions that advocate violence:

“In British Columbia, we have a long history of strong, vigorous debate on issues and it is always done in a respectful way,” she said.

“There is no place in debate for positions that advocate violence and it is disappointing this video would even suggest that approach is appropriate.”

At least one federal cabinet minister also jumped into the fray:

On Saturday, Federal Heritage Minister James Moore came out critical of the David Suzuki Foundation for supporting the game’s message.

“[The game] has sparked discussion, and it’s tasteless, and I think that they [the game developers] should be ready for that kind of a pushback,” Moore said.

“There are video games that depict all kinds of pretty aggressive acts — violent acts from time to time — but I think that angle, of the David Suzuki Foundation actually collecting a financial benefit from those who want to play games that depict violence against people who work in our natural resource sector, I think probably goes a little bit too far and I think probably tests the boundary of good taste.”

At first TVO defended the game:

As a public media organization our mandate is to use media to engage citizens in the issues that shape our world, and to spark discussion and debate by exploring different points of view. The issues our content has addressed over more than four decades are complex and sometimes controversial. We explore these issues through hundreds of hours per year of documentary programming and current affairs (For a blog and video on the issue of pipelines click here:  http://theagenda.tvo.org/blog/agenda-blogs/agenda-insight-say-yes-keystone).

TVO does not endorse any one point-of-view. We have solid editorial processes in place to ensure all our content meets our programming standards.

Docs like Trouble in the Peace and immersive games like Pipe Trouble are some of the ways in which TVO uses media to engage people in complex issues. The point-of-view documentary tells the story from the perspective of a farmer who sees the construction of a pipeline affecting his remote community of Peace River. Worried about environmental repercussions, he takes an unusual course of action, building a protective capsule on his property for he and his daughter.

Pipe Trouble allows players to explore both the corporate and the environmental perspective of this complex issue. To get a perfect score, players must build the pipeline as economically and environmentally responsibly as they can. The objective is to lay down as few pipes as possible, while not disrupting the environment. A demo of Pipe Trouble is on TVO’s website. The full version is available for purchase as an app for iPads and Android devices.

TVO has no relationship with the David Suzuki Foundation. The game developer, who owns the rights to the game, has decided to donate a portion of the revenues to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Trouble in the Peace premiered on TVO and will be running on several other Canadian broadcasters later this year. The game has just completed an exhibition at the SXSW digital media conference in Austin, Texas.

But then they later removed it from the website pending a review:

TVO has rigourous editorial oversight processes in place to ensure that our Programming Standards are met. However, we recognize the public concern regarding this game and have therefore decided out of an abundance of care, to appoint two individuals of experience and independent standing to review the game in the context of TVO’s Programming Standards. We expect to be able to confirm these individuals by early next week. They will produce a report for TVO’s Board of Directors by the end of April. Until this process is complete TVO has made the decision to remove Pipe Trouble from its website.

TVO takes very seriously the expenditure of public funds with which we are entrusted and would like to assure Ontarians that the organization is in full compliance with all related Government policies and directives.

Much of the criticism is a little off-base, since the game certainly doesn’t advocate bombing gas pipeline. Rather, it is simply one of the things that can occur if your lay pipe in sensitive areas and anger the local population. Then again, pipeline sabotage is a rare and criminal activity that certainly doesn’t characterize the pipeline debate in Western Canada. A publicly funded (and Ontario) broadcaster could have anticipated the likely political backlash the game would generate.

As for the game itself, in many ways it has served its purpose: the film it was meant to publicize has now received far more publicity than would have otherwise been the case.

Masters of the World: Geo-Political Simulator 3 released

Masters of the World: Geo-Political Simulator 3 is now available for the PC, with a Mac version promised for the end of the month.

We’ll review it when time allows. You’ll find our review of the game here.

simulations miscellany, 5 March 2013

flightsimulatorSome recent items on games, serious games, and conflict simulations that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

From Clipboard

The 2013 Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Training Program will be held in Toronto on 8-19 May 2013. The course will make extensive use of simulation methods, notably in the simulation/field exercise component:

The Simulation Exercise part of the program is designed to simulate a complex humanitarian emergency that involves understanding cultural context, war, natural disaster and forced migration of the local population in addition to other challenges injected to add stress to the participants. Participants are in the simulation for 72 hours, working in multidisciplinary teams to perform a series of assessments on the fictional populations. Teams must find ways to solve dynamic and complicated problems including security incidents, disease outbreaks, child soldiers, environmental shocks, limited resources, supply issues and populations on the move. Participants apply their skills in all areas specific to humanitarian response including: health, water and sanitation, food, shelter and protection. They also use principles of triage and of humanitarian action, coordinate the emergency, run meetings, apply globally-recognized standards to meet shelter, water, sanitation and nutritional needs, enumerate populations and calculate important health indicators that translate into numbers needed to treat and the dollars needed to do so. They draw on knowledge in international humanitarian law, negotiation, population sampling, information management, and crisis mapping along with other technologies specifically used in humanitarian emergencies. Teams establish their own compound, eat military rations, draft situation reports and evacuation plans, respond to militia strikes and kidnapping, practice landmine safety and provide media interviews on camera. At the end of the simulation teams submit and present a final proposal for their intended project to assist the affected population to the UN and other donors. Individual performance is assessed using and CCHT-created competency-based evaluation tool.

The deadline for application is March 7.

From Clipboard

The UN Staff College will offer a course on Advancing Training Skills and Simulations Development in Turin on 9-12 April 2013:

During this course, participants will be exposed to theoretical lessons, coaching sessions, demonstrations, group-work and presentation tasks enabling them to successfully design, develop and deliver effective security training programs. In order to allow participants to monitor the improvement of their training skills and capacities, their performances will be assessed during the course through pre-established criteria, which will contribute to the final evaluation of the competencies and abilities acquired during the course.

From Clipboard

The United State Institute of Peace, as usual, offers a number of forthcoming courses on peacebuilding and conflict resolution that make use simulation methods.

From Clipboard

For those putting together humanitarian and disaster relief simulations, there are a great many useful resources to be found at the website of the Emergency Capacity-Building (ECB) project. You’ll find an overview of their work on simulation-based training here, and links to various resource materials here.

From Clipboard

ActionAid is looking for an international programme manager, to lead their “preparedness and emergency response work, managing a team for emergency response as and when necessary.” While primary emphasis is on applicants with extensive field and management experience in insecure environments, including emergencies and conflict situations, part of the job also involves ensuring that “simulation exercises take place with country programmes and ensure that country based preparedness plans are in place.” Applications close on March 11—details here.

There are also several United Nations positions currently advertised for which familiarity with simulation methods would be an asset. Search at UN Jobs for more details.

From Clipboard

At Playing the World, Jon Peterson discusses how gaming got its (polyhedral) dice.

From Clipboard

Allan B. Calhamer, the postal worker who invented the influential boardgame Diplomacy, died on February 25 at age 81

From Clipboard

At Slate, Farhad Manjoo reviews the new edition of SimCity, and likes what he finds—especially the shift in the game engine from macro-modellling to agent-based modelling of urban processes.

From Clipboard

h/t last two items, Jacob Levy

PeaceConferencing Games: A New Paradigm for Digital Learning

The video below describes the “PeaceConferencing” exercise that is currently a part of Kristen Druker’s 9th grade Modern History Classes at The Bishop’s School. The simulation uses the Open Simulation Platform, first developed at the United States Institute of Peace, and now being further developed by Sea Change Simulations.

IR theory and virtual worlds

At the Bretterblog, Felix Haas asks (in the original German, or in English via Google Translate) a very good question—why haven’t more political scientists used interaction within massive multiplayer online games to study theories of international relations?

I’m certainly aware of very little work in this area, although one of our recent PhD graduates in psychology, Michael King, did use my annual civil war simulation at McGill to examine possible relationships between personality type and the use of violence. You’ll find a few of his findings here (there’s more in his actual PhD thesis).

For one attempt to connect IR theory and multiplayer online simulation, have a look at the Teaching with Statecraft blog, which discusses how to teach international relations using Statecraft. Statecraft is a multiplayer strategy-and-resource game for classroom use, with a rather Civilization look-and-feel: players develop productive assets, trade, build (and use) military forces, engage in espionage and terrorism, research technologies, and so forth. In many ways, therefore, it is similar to Brock Tessman’s International Relations in Action manual/book-based simulation, but with the greater complexity that a computer enables. It is also different from the Open Simulation Platform in that it is much, much less scriptable, and has most interactions automated through programmed algorithms (rather than having these determined by the moderator). The Statecraft website contains a number of useful suggestions as to how classroom game play can be used to illustrate key theories in international relations, as well examples of course outlines, class lectures, and assignments that integrate the simulation.

While Statecraft is configured as a teaching tool, it seems to me that—provided data is collected from player interactions appropriately—it could also be used as a research tool. Statecraft and similar simulations could thus be used to generate data on patterns of strategic behaviour drawn from repeated play (for example, when do players “balance” or “bandwagon“?) and also used for experimental methods (how, over large numbers of plays, does altering key variables or relations affect behaviours and outcomes?)

At some point—when time allows—we’ll arrange for a trial of Statecraft so that we can report back our impressions.

%d bloggers like this: