Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulations miscellany

Simulation miscellany, 27 March 2014


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

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G4C11The eight finalists for the 2014 Games for Change Awards have been now been selected. The winner will be announced at this year’s Games for Change Festival in New York, 22-24/26 April 2014.

This year G4C will be partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival. As USA Today reported back in January:

In the clearest indication yet that video games are growing well beyond their roots as amusements built on coin boxes and hand-eye coordination, the 11th annual Games for Change (G4C) Festival this spring will take place as part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it will host a family-friendly gaming arcade in lower Manhattan.

“For me it’s a huge leap because it means that for the first time we’re bringing Games for Change … to the real person on the street,” says Asi Burak,the games festival’s president.

G4C is perhaps the biggest player in the growing “serious games” movement, which uses digital games and simulations for health, education, training and social change, among other uses. The festival last year produced Half The Sky Movement: The Game, a Facebook game based on Half the Sky, the 2009 book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the worldwide oppression of women.

Craig Hatkoff, co-founder of the film festival, says Tribeca is paying attention to “the transformative power of gaming” that goes beyond traditional entertainment. He wants the combined event to bring together “the most cutting-edge creators of games, educators, and the world’s greatest story-tellers.”

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GAMEONGAMEON’2014 will be held 9-11 September 2014 at the University of Lincoln, UK:

The aim of the 15th annual European GAMEON® Conference (GAMEON®’2014) on Simulation and AI in Computer Games, is to bring together researchers and games people in order to exchange ideas on programming and programming techniques, which will be beneficial to the gaming industry and academia. Secondly it aims to steer young people into this industry by providing how-to tutorials and giving them the opportunity to show their ideas and demos to the gaming industry. The conference will concentrate mostly on the programming of games, with special emphasis on simulation, AI and fuzzy sets, and physics related computer graphics. Next to that, all of this will be fused in the topic of computer game design in stand-alone and networked games. Software providers will be able to show their latest packages and give hand-on tutorials for the participants.

Companies will also have the opportunity to seek new talent at this unique event.

GAMEON’2014 consists of three core tracks, which cover, Gaming Methodology, Artificial Intelligence and Simulation, while the other tracks cover peripheral technologies closely linked to games design, like 3-D scalability, facial and skeletal animation, 3D in-game animation etc, mobile gaming and gaming applications.

Further details can be found here.

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The Iranian-based International Studies Journal and the United Nations Information Center in Iran are jointly selecting 45 senior advisors, resident diplomats and their dependents, heads of state organizations, NGO representatives, professors of law and International Relations, and post-graduate and graduated students to participate in a Security Council simulation, to be held in Tehran on 18 September 2014:

The Programme

The programme will cover three specific issue areas:

  1. International law and security, peace and human rights;
  2. Simulation methods and Research workshops;
  3. Global and Regional initiatives to protect peace and human rights.


Preparing for a Model United Nations conference can be a very challenging task. One time before the simulation, there will be a pre-conference training workshop for the participants at UNIC-Tehran.


ISJ and UNIC will award a certificate to all participants who successfully fulfill the workshop assignments, research, and exercises.

Admission Requirements

  1.   An accredited degree in law, international relations or a relevant field of study;
  2.  Good command of English or French;
  3.  Two recommendation letters by professors or sponsoring institutions;
  4.  Your recent photograph;
  5.  Letter of application including address, telephone, email and language skills(Persian, English, French);
  6. CV/Resume;
  7. Payment of 120 Euros (for Non Iran resident students) and 200 Euros (for other) upon admission. This fee covers registration, courses, booklet, ISJ quarterly magazines and lunch.

The registration deadline is 10 July 2014. For further information, contact

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We’ve updated our blog post on “Gaming the Crisis in the Ukraine” to include a new matrix game on the situation, designed by Tom Mouat.


Simulation miscellany, 28 January 2014


Some recent news on conflict simulations and serious games (and, occasionally, other stuff) that may be of interest.

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They’re as busy as ever at GrogHeads. First, there is still time to vote in the 2014 “Readers’ Choice” awards for the best games of the year. Also, they are always on the lookout for academic and analytical contributions on wargames and related subjects. Go check it out.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education this week features an article by Anastasia Salter on “Alternate Reality Games in the Classroom“:

It can be hard to get a clear picture of ARGs without participating in one directly. Alternate Reality Games typically start with a rabbit hole: a website URL for a fictional company embedded in a movie ad campaign, a strange interruption in a video clip on YouTube, a series of street art images with a Twitter hashtag, or some other method of alerting potential players that a story is starting. From there, players typically follow a trail of clues presented by the game’s puppetmasters. You can find out more about games going on now through the Alternate Reality Gaming Networkand the Unfiction ForumsBrooke Thompson has a great quickstart guideon how to play ARGs that can help you get started. Most of the games are marketing promotions, but they still often include great examples of using mysterious websites, codes, social media, geocaching and flash mob events to play a story. These same techniques can be scaled up or down to a classroom or conference….

h/t Brian Train

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The proceedings for last year’s History of Games conference are now online. There is also a special issue of Game Studies with papers from that conference

h/t TAG

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Kotaku has an interesting discussion by Paolo Pedercini of the forthcoming game Prison Architect:

Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration? As video games mature and tackle more serious topics, players and developers should be aware of the values embedded in their systems.

Prison Architect is an upcoming game by Introversion Software, a British independent company. Dubbing themselves “the last of the bedroom programmers,” Introversion played a key role in the renaissance of independent game development, producing a string of critically acclaimed titles and paving the way for digital distribution of third-party games on Steam.

Among their previous releases is one of my favorite games ever: Defcon, a spine-chilling, eerily beautiful multiplayer real-time strategy game in which players engage in a Cold-war era nuclear conflict. Each Defcon game culminates in a slow-motion Mutually Assured Destruction scenario. Whoever suffers the least amount of megadeaths is the winner.

Prison Architect is also tackling a dark subject, a subject that deserves special attention and defies any ‘it’s just a game’ kind of dismissal.

As the name suggests, the player is in charge of designing (but also managing) a private penitentiary. The gameplay is reminiscent of sim games from the ’90s, most notably Bullfrog’sTheme Park and Theme Hospital: a mix of construction, zoning, research, resource and staff management….

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Do you have a lot of ill-gotten gains you need to turn into safe, useable cash? The blog Criminal Genius is featuring the “Keno Laundromat,” a weekly money launder challenge/tutorial simulation.

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The deadline to submit abstracts for consideration at the 82nd Military Operations Research Society Symposium is Thursday, 14 February 2014. Registration is now open.

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Red-Team-This-RTJThe Red Team Journal continues to add to its list of “The Laws of Red Teaming.” Check out the current list.

Simulations miscellany, Boxing Day 2014 edition


Happy holidays to all PAXsims readers—we very much hope that nondenominational Gaming Santa brought everyone a sleigh-load of games and conflict simulations!

We have a few items that may be of interest:

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At War Is Boring, Michael Peck discusses his picks for the Best War Games of 2013.

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Masters of the World (Geopolitical Simular 3) will be releasing an add-on in January 2014 that will update the game with new economic and other data. It will also include a ““God’n spy game mode where you can access nearly a hundred internal hidden game engine variables, all modifiable on the fly.”

For our previous PAXsims review of the game, see here.

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JDMS header

The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation 11, 1 (January 2014) is now available. Of particular interest to agent-based modellers of conflict and cooperation will be an article by Dariusz G Mikulski, Frank L Lewis, Edward Y Gu, and Greg R Hudas on “Trust-based coalition formation in multi-agent systems.”

In this paper, we provide a framework to study trust-based coalition formation in multi-agent systems using cooperative game theory as the underlying mathematical framework. We describe how to study trust dynamics between agents as a result of their trust synergy and trust liability in cooperative coalitions. We also rigorously justify the behaviors of agents for different classes of games and discuss how to exploit the formal properties of these games for cooperative control in an unmanned military vehicle convoy.

In addition, a forthcoming article in JDMS by Jeffrey Appleget, Robert Burks, and Michael Jaye on “A demonstration of ABM validation techniques by applying docking to the Epstein civil violence model” is now available online:

The increased focus of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency has served to identify the lack of credible models and simulations to represent the relevant civilian populations – the centers of gravity of such operations. While agent-based models (ABMs) have enjoyed widespread use in the social science community, many senior DoD officials are skeptical that agent-based models can provide useful tools to underpin DoD analysis, training, and acquisition needs mainly because of validation concerns. This paper uses docking and other forms of alignment that enable the linking of the Epstein civil violence agent-based model results to other models. These examples of model-to-model analysis could serve to assist and encourage DoD ABM human domain model validation efforts.

simulations miscellany, 12 November 2013


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

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck asks “Should You Be Allowed to Use Chemical Weapons in a Video Game?

Your next Call of Duty game might be a bit less colorful — or less ethically challenged — if the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has its way. 

The ICRC is now asking video game publishers to incorporate the laws of war into their games. The organization makes clear that it is not calling for a ban on violence in video games, nor does it consider — contrary to earlier reports in 2011 — that war crimes in video games equate to real crimes. But it does want games to penalize players for violating the laws of war. “The ICRC is suggesting that as in real life, these games should include virtual consequences for people’s actions and decisions,” notes the Red Cross website. “Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes.”

The ICRC fears that the next generation of soldiers will have their notions of ethical battlefield behavior shaped by video games. “Certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” the organization says. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behavior.” Such virtual behavior includes “the use of torture, particularly in interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of prisoners or the wounded, attacks on medical personnel, facilities, and transport such as ambulances, or that anyone on the battlefield can be killed.”

How widespread the problem is can be seen in an article on game site Gameranx, which identified 10 egregious cases of war crimes in video games, such as executing wounded prisoners in Call of Duty 2, genocide in Gears of War 3, and using torture against captives in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

But the ICRC is not calling for removing war crimes from games, on the grounds that including them is actually educational, allowing players to make the same difficult choices that real combatants face. “We do not suggest that games be sanitized of all illegal acts,” ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett said in an email to Foreign Policy. “Also, games must remain fun and challenging. A boring game is of little interest to the players, to the manufacturers or to us. We would prefer that players not be required to commit illegal acts to move to another level or be rewarded in some other way.”

For previous discussion of this issue at PAXsims, see here and here.

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Can a wargame spark a real war? It has long been known that a 1983 NATO military exercise named “Able Archer” caused some in the Soviet Union to fear an impending surprise attack. An article in The Observer reports on further evidence of how dangerous this all became:

Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.

Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Archer, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.

When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.

The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.

“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.

“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”

The Observer piece doesn’t really add anything we didn’t know, however—indeed, there is even a Wikipedia entry on the exercise. It also doesn’t mention the glitch in the Soviet early warning system that, on 26 September 1983, gave a false warning of a US nuclear missile launch against the USSR. Fortunately the Soviet officer on duty at the time violated protocol and waited for further evidence, rather than immediately passing on the warning to already nervous superiors.

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Wondering how Bayesian inference can help you understand Iranian nuclear negotiations with the P5+1? Harry Hale discusses the issue at Arms Control Wonk:

Life can be modeled as a tree of future events with branches that will be realized with different probabilities.  Each branch can be thought of as forked paths in the forest.  Each branch in the past or the future relates to other branches.

Bayesian inference offers a method to relate the conditional probability of a certain branch to the probabilities of other branches.  This can be a useful tool in improving the odds of achieving a desired result.  I have applied such a tool to the Iranian nuclear negotiating portfolio, looking at the situation from the perspective of the P5+1 negotiation team (a tree created from Iran’s perspective would have different nodes and primary goals).  It is simple in concept, yet surprising in results.  This tool, which I have modeled in Excel spreadsheet form, can help to realize the implications of various decisions on the ultimate outcome: an Iran with or without “the Bomb.”

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In a forthcoming article in International Studies Perspectives, Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç, and Teri Murphy discuss “Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus.”

This article reviews experiences from a large-scale student simulation, which concluded the Istanbul Conference on Mediation: Enhancing Peace through Mediation that took place in February 2012. We share insights on two unique aspects of the simulation. First, the paper examines a rare case where the simulation crossed paths with real life: a number of the impersonated officials (and offices) including the president of the General Assembly of the UN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and the Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs were in the audience and shared their impressions. Second, the setup of the simulation was more complex than its typical in-class counterparts. Our insights from this multi-day, multi-stage, and multi-issue simulation can inform colleagues who plan to run larger scale simulations. Besides sharing experiences on a number of logistical points, we especially draw attention to the constructive role facilitators can play in augmenting the learning benefits accruing to the students from simulations.

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Coming soon to PAXsims: a review of another volume in GMT Games “COIN series,” Cuba Libre.

Simulations miscellany, 28 October 2013


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

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Wired UK has an article on “Battling insurgency in war-torn nations with immersive 3D sims”  that suggests an optimistic (and I would say ridiculously optimistic) vision of the predictive utility of computational simulations addressing complex social and political processes:

“Simulation science will transform how humans make decisions for the next 100 years.” If Justin Lyon sounds evangelical, that’s because he is. The Texan-born founder of Simudyne is on a mission to persuade public and private sectors that their reliance on old maths is deeply flawed. That the buzz of big data is no longer a buzz — it’s sitting in his cloud-based simulation software Simudyne, and to not use it to help make decisions, particularly in the context of warfare, should be criminal.

“Humanity’s continued reliance on mathematics the ancient Egyptians understood is the wrong thing for our society,” Lyon tells, exasperated by what he sees as the world’s snail pace attitude toward adopting complex models to analyse a complex world. “The vast majority of consultants still use spreadsheets to make decisions based on that same math.”

The world is, however, ready for a change Lyon believes, as demonstrated by the epic failures of the last decade: ourfailure to predict the danger of an unregulated financial market  has proven catastrophic, as have interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both prove what happens when policy is based on a flawed model. Lyon believes Simudyne — a neat package of system dynamics and agent-based modelling, visualised in 3D virtual realities via algorithms — provides the disillusioned with a new way to fail safely. Policymakers can run simulations with meticulous detail thousands of times to allow for insights and generate statistical distribution.

It took a near total economic collapse for Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, to realise the flaw in his policy. And Lyon argues his mistake was not just to wait for real-world failure to realise that flaw, but to place trust — an inherently human characteristic — in other humans. Greenspan believed in a free-market run by rational people, who would always act to protect shareholders to maintain the status quo. Catastrophe has too often followed the errors of individuals. So why not let the machine do some of the heavy lifting, and point out our mistakes before we make them?

“For every single exceptional human, there are a million David Brents out there,” says Lyon, “we’re trying to equip humans with the ability to interact with computers that allow humans to better understand the consequences of decisions.”

So far it’s been used it to create realtime emergency response solutions (in a trial 98 percent of actors received the correct escape route on their phones when trapped in a tunnel), map the US healthcare system and replicate an entire country of three million people.

But it’s in counterinsurgency operations where the applications get most messy, risky and — if they work — perhaps most revolutionary. Simudyne has worked on defence projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, working with local businesses and elders and using open source intelligence from the World Bank, IMF, UN Agencies, charities and NGOs.

There was a precursor to Simudyne’s work, in the form of the COIN (Counterinsurgency) Dynamics Afghanistan Stability Chart. It’s a mathematical model to describe counterinsurgency, but to the untrained eye the chart’s a mass of neverending circles pointing back at our own failure to comprehend it. General Stanley McChrystal famously said “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war”. Lyon tells us, “I would have said ‘you’re absolutely right sir, if you had understood this, you would have won the war’”. It measured the turning point from civilian to insurgent, taking into account things like accessibility to guns and opportunity. Its says increasing the killing and detaining of insurgents increases the flow of new recruits, but Lyon believes simulation can also help us understand why that happens, and why getting the ratio of things like counterinsurgent troops dedicated to combat or intelligence patrols right can positively affect the outcome.

The point of an all-encompassing system like Simudyne’s is to seek out the “unintended consequences” of our best intentions. And it’s during counterinsurgency these are perhaps greatest. The system provides another point of view, highlighting things policymakers may never have thought of. When mapping the US healthcare system, for instance, it showed people were not using bike paths planners had spent millions on, because not enough was spent on policing — people were wary of crossing dangerous areas to reach those paths. “These obstacles frustrate our best intentions — we have to connect them together and allow decision-makers to play the game.” Like a pilot training for hours in a simulator, they know it will be different in the real world, “but the more training they have, the more likely they are to survive.”

Fortunately, the article goes on to cite some skeptics, who bring as back to earth. “You can have a sophisticated set of simulations and very smart people working on them, but if your assumptions are wrong it’s worthless,”  warns Celeste Ward Gventer. Phil Sabin also nails it:

Philip Sabin, a professor of strategic studies at Kings College London, argues the variables that matter most only occur to us once they’ve happened. This, is why presumptions will drive failure. In Afghanistan and Iraq allied forces instigated the insurgency, in part because they were operating off a bad model and poor assumptions that failed to take one key thing into account.

“In Iraq the invasion went reasonably well, and Bush said mission accomplished — in conventional terms they thought the war was won,” said Sabin. “Then the insurgency came. They hadn’t even considered these people wouldn’t be delighted to be liberated from Saddam Hussein. Their model was totally incorrect because it said it will be like 1945 and once you get rid of the terrible regime — the modern equivalent of Nazi Germany — people will proposer and be happy. The idea they’d fight for the remnants of Saddam’s regime was seen as absurd.” Like 1945, the entire regime was removed, but no one asked what those people would do. “Become insurgents of course,” says Sabin, “because you’ve given them no new way forward.” These are the kinds of factors a model won’t tell you, if you’ve built it from a position of bias. It demonstrates how ineffectual any such simulation can be, if the perceptions and politics at its core are inadvertently in direct conflict with the desired outcome. It’s the human factor that’s the simulation’s undoing.

I like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series of books as much as the next science fiction nerd, but let’s face it—we are very far away from having psychohistorical model of human history that allows us the sort of predictive accuracy suggested in the article. Certainly, computation modelling (whether agent-based or otherwise) is really interesting stuff, and it can illuminate some really interesting issues. However, overselling the methodology it is to do it a disservice (unless, of course, you’re trying to sell contractor services to the military).

h/t Crispin J. Burke

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A forthcoming issue of International Studies Perspectives will feature an article by Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç, and Teri Murphy on “Simulation Games in Teaching International Relations: Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus.” You can access the early-view prepublication version at the link, if you are a subscriber.

This article reviews experiences from a large-scale student simulation, which concluded the Istanbul Conference on Mediation: Enhancing Peace through Mediation that took place in February 2012. We share insights on two unique aspects of the simulation. First, the paper examines a rare case where the simulation crossed paths with real life: a number of the impersonated officials (and offices) including the president of the General Assembly of the UN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and the Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs were in the audience and shared their impressions. Second, the setup of the simulation was more complex than its typical in-class counterparts. Our insights from this multi-day, multi-stage, and multi-issue simulation can inform colleagues who plan to run larger scale simulations. Besides sharing experiences on a number of logistical points, we especially draw attention to the constructive role facilitators can play in augmenting the learning benefits accruing to the students from simulations.

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The September 2013 edition of US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office (M&SCO) M&S Newsletter is now available.

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The Russian government is worried that there aren’t enough patriotic video games, as Michael Peck reports at Forbes.

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Play the Past always has interesting material. However, we particularly enjoyed Peter Christiansen’s piece earlier this month on videogames and scientific revolutions.

As I discussed in a previous post, videogames tend to take a very deterministic view of technological development. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the concept of the “Tech Tree.”  While dedicated players and modders are usually quick to point out other flaws or deficiencies in games (often holding them to an almost absurd standard of historical accuracy), this strong thread of technological determinism is generally left unquestioned.  I attributed this lack of critique to the fact that technological determinism is so deeply ingrained into Western culture, especially the culture of tech industries like videogames.  So while the fact that a spearman has a slim chance of defeating a tank in combat may incite a minor revolt in some online forums, the fact that every culture on the planet, even landlocked ones, will develop sailing, optics, and the compass (and always in that order) never gets a second glance….

Simulations miscellany, 11 October 2013


If you missed the last NDU Roundtable on Innovations in Strategic Gaming, the video of the event is now available online via Livestream. The two powerpoint presentations are also available:

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck interviews Larry Bond on the late Tom Clancy, and his use of the popular naval wargame Harpoon to help plot his books. You’ll also find discussion of  “Tom Clancy, Gamemaster” by Matthew Kirschenbaum here at PAXsims.

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Also by Michael Peck, have a look at his pieces on Arab-Israeli wargames both at Foreign Policy magazine (“The Guns of October“) and The Forward (“War Games Depict History of Israel and Challenge Players To Win Conflict“).

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The latest issue of Military Training & Simulation 5 (2013) is available via the Halldale Group.

simulations miscellany, 29 September 2013


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

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At Forbes recently, Daniel Tack asked whether we were on the cusp of a games-based revolution in the way we teach:

Are serious games the classroom tool of the future? Is the future already here?  The tablet classroom may have once been the stuff of science fiction, but modern developments in technology and brain science may have come together to create a massive change in the way we think about education.

Certainly his interviewees are, with suggesting Nolan Bushnell “In some ways the world of education is going to go through one of the most massive changes in the next five years than it has seen in the last three thousand years. It’s a perfect storm.” I’m unconvinced. Certainly I think games have enormous educational potential. However I think over-hyping them as transformative overstates their impact. Indeed, the evidence on their effectiveness shows the effects are positive but limited, and that much depends on how they are integrtaed into more traditional curriculum.

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In the latest issue of International Studies Review 15, 3 (September 2013), Timothy J. Junio and Thomas G. Mahnken discuss “Conceiving of Future War: The Promise of Scenario Analysis for International Relations.” 

This article introduces political scientists to scenarios—future counterfactuals—and demonstrates their value in tandem with other methodologies and across a wide range of research questions. The authors describe best practices regarding the scenario method and argue that scenarios contribute to theory building and development, identifying new hypotheses, analyzing data-poor research topics, articulating “world views,” setting new research agendas, avoiding cognitive biases, and teaching. The article also establishes the low rate at which scenarios are used in the international relations subfield and situates scenarios in the broader context of political science methods. The conclusion offers two detailed examples of the effective use of scenarios.

Given the centrality of both scenario construction and counter-factual methods to conflict simulation, the article is one that social scientists using analytical games might find useful.

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At the must-read blog War on the Rocks, Adam Elkus explores the  the analytical and ethical issues that this raises about “good” versus “bad” models embedded within simulations:

From computer models of climate change to intricate simulations of future conventional conflicts, abstract models, wargames, and simulations remain prized tools for analyzing security problems. Models and simulations offer the ability to rigorously visualize uncertain complex situations with a vast array of variables and moving parts. Syria is no exception—think-tankers have created crisis simulations while gamers play topical tactical Syria-themed games. But while ethical and philosophical questions surrounding the Cold War analysis of nuclear strategy loomed large, today’s games do not receive similar scrutiny. There is no cinematic equivalent of Dr. Strangelove for today’s computational “web of war.”

It would be great if all models did was create a nice, simple abstraction of the world to inform good decisions. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. A model can also influence the reality it seeks to abstract.  Both finance scholars and sociologists of science claim that financial theory has acted as an “engine” as well as a “camera,” building marketpractices around models and theories designed to explain and predict those very market practices. The simulation could very well alter the thing it simulates.

More common (and pernicious) is the way bad models dress up shoddy thought with walls of  intimidating mathematical formalisms and computer code. While a simulation should be an exercise in exploration and experimentation, but it frequently also functions as a way to validate a narrow vision of a desired future. For example, the famous Millennium Challenge 2002 wargame’s purpose was to test a new suite of military concepts. But red-teamers playing opposing forces quickly found themselves stymied when they exposed the fragility of these operational concepts.

However, simulation, modeling, and gaming do not possess some all-powerful guild that can coerce every modeler to adhere to modeling norms that remain fundamentally hazy and informal. And replicating many models and simulations in the security world is difficult for those without security clearances. To use economic modeling terminology, theinformation asymmetry such a situation creates can help dishonest modelers “strictly dominate” more scrupulous counterparts.

Thus, even those who dislike simulations, models, and games must adjust to a reality in which they will enjoy continued prominence. An effective way to become an informed consumer of models and simulations (and thus argue against bad ones) is to design/build or run/play one’s own. Powerful simulations were once only available to military organizations and research universities. Today, we live in an unprecedented age of computational abundance. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of programming can create powerful models and simulations on standard computing equipment….

Go and read the full thing here.

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RR331Looking for a scenario (and background information) for your next crisis game? How about Bruce Bennett’s detailed examination of Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse (RAND, 2013):

A North Korean government collapse would have serious consequences in North Korea and beyond. At the very least, a collapse would reduce the already scarce food and essential goods available to the population, in part due to hoarding and increasing costs. This could lead to a humanitarian disaster. Factions emerging after a collapse could plunge the country into civil war that spills over into neighboring countries. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could be used and even proliferated. This report examines ways of controlling and mitigating the consequences, recognizing that the Republic of Korea (ROK) and its U.S. ally will almost certainly need to intervene militarily in the North, likely seeking Korean unification as the ultimate outcome. But such an intervention requires serious preparation. North Koreans must be convinced that they will be treated well and could actually have better lives after unification. The allies need to prepare to deliver humanitarian aid in the North, stop conflict, demilitarize the North Korean military and security services over time, and secure and eventually eliminate North Korean WMD. Potential Chinese intervention must be addressed, ideally leading to cooperation with ROK and U.S. forces. Plans are needed for liberating North Korean political prisons before the guards execute the prisoners. Property rights need to be addressed. The ROK must sustain its military capabilities despite major reductions in force size due to very low birthrates. And ROK reluctance to broadly address North Korean collapse must be overcome so that plans in these areas can move forward.

Personally, I found the focus on military intervention a little precipitous, especially given the risks of it provoking conflict with China. Still, it would be interesting to game. Also, don’t forget the compendium of modern North Korea-themed wargames at Wargaming Connection.

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In the category of “things PAXsims missed when they first appeared,” have a  look at Scott Swanson’s piece on “Enhancing Red Team Performance: Driving Measurable Value and Quality Outcomes with Process Improvement,” at Small Wars Journal (5 October 2012).

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On the subject of red teaming, we’re regular readers of Red Team Journal. Recently John Sullivan had a particularly interesting piece there on “Analytical Red Team Exercises for Irregular Warfare.”

Irregular conflict–terrorism, insurgency, and criminal warfare (“criminal insurgency” and transnational organized crime)–is a complex challenge to many states. Ranging from street gangs–”local insurgencies” to drug/crime wars or “criminal insurgencies” through transnational criminal or extremist networks challenging regions–these threats require intelligence and analysis to understand and forecast potentials and craft interagency, intergovernmental solutions. Adaptive, analytical red teaming is a process of refining tradecraft for indications and warning (for a range of scenarios along the spectrum of current intelligence, early warning through strategic foresight). Specifically, analytical red teaming places a team of analysts against an active red team simulating a criminal opposing force, or forces. This short paper will describe the process and briefly recap the experience of two adaptive, analytical red team exercises (Operation Talavera and Operation Chimera) conducted by the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning (TEW) Group. Lessons learned and suggestions for refining the process, as well as conducting future red team exercises for irregular threats, will be discussed.

The article is particularly important in the wake of several recent acts of urban terrorism, notably this month’s attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Simulations miscellany, 8 September 2013


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

* * *

gaming-research-2The folks at GrogHeads have started a new monthly column for academic-focused research on games and wargames:

Hobby games and gamers – especially in the strategy gaming and wargaming world – have rarely been the subjects of much serious published research inquiry.  And yet, some of us know from personal experience that such research is, in fact, being conducted in graduate schools and academic institutions all over.  Distinct from marketing analyses in that they are not focused on improving commercial performance, these studies are frequently conceptualized and executed by members of the broader gaming community who are seeking to fuse their love for the hobby with an academic persuit in the social sciences or humanities.

Although there are a few academic outlets for such research – the journal Simulation & Gaming springs to mind – not every paper was written with the intention of journal or conference submission.  Nevertheless, the research is still interesting and useful, and for GrogHeads everywhere it is certainly relevant.  Papers shared may inspire better research by later investigators, and the ideas discussed may help designers and developers craft better games.

Here at GrogHeads, we’re kicking off a new monthly series on Research and Gaming.  The first of these papers was published in early August, and we plan to follow with one each month.  And we’d like you to submit your research to us.  We’re not a peer-reviewed journal, but we do have some academics on our staff and among our “Friends of GrogHeads” network that include PhD’s in history, political science, and business, as well as other grad degrees in social sciences and the humanities.  So if you’ve got something interesting that you want to share, here’s your chance.  Email us your papers at research-at-grogheads-dot-com . Make sure you include all of your citations and footnotes in the document, and attach any graphics as separate files.  We will also need a short bio from you about who you are and how people can contact you.  One great way for people to contact you is to create an account in our forums, so that you can join any discussions of feedback that go on there.  We even have an area dedicated to references and research.

A few caveats, of course:

  • Do not send us something you’re hoping to see presented at a conference, or in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Do not send us something you expect to try to claim on a CV when you’re hunting for a future academic job
  • Do not send us blatant marketing, political, or religious tracts
  • Do not expect detailed, in-depth critiques of your work from our advisory team, but do expect a lot of questions from our audience, many of whom do not have a great academic background, and for whom there will need to be some gentler discussion of the finer points of how your research got to where it is.

So please send us your tired, huddled research projects yearning to breathe free, and let’s share them with the wider gaming audience.  Who knows what great insights they may spawn for someone else to build on, what feedback you’ll get to improve your own work.  Either way, it’ll be in the public and being discussed, which sure beats languishing on a digital shelf somewhere, next to the Ark of the Covenant.

Their first piece, by Brant Guillory, examines “Entrepreneurship in the Hobby Games Segment of the Publishing Industry.”

* * *

The various slides and presentation recordings from the recent Connections UK professional wargaming conference are now online at the Connections UK website.

* * *

JDMSAn article by Andrew Collins, John Sokolowski, and Catherine Banks  on “Applying Reinforcement Learning to an Insurgency Agent-based Simulation”  will appear soon in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.”

A requirement of an Agent-based Simulation (ABS) is that the agents must be able to adapt to their environment. Many ABSs achieve this adaption through simple threshold equations due to the complexity of incorporating more sophisticated approaches. Threshold equations are when an agent behavior changes because a numeric property of the agent goes above or below a certain threshold value. Threshold equations do not guarantee that the agents will learn what is best for them. Reinforcement learning is an artificial intelligence approach that has been extensively applied to multi-agent systems but there is very little in the literature on its application to ABS. Reinforcement learning has previously been applied to discrete-event simulations with promising results; thus, reinforcement learning is a good candidate for use within an Agent-based Modeling and Simulation (ABMS) environment. This paper uses an established insurgency case study to show some of the consequences of applying reinforcement learning to ABMS, for example, determining whether any actual learning has occurred. The case study was developed using the Repast Simphony software package.

* * *

Strategic Crisis Simulations, a student-run organization at George Washington University, will be conducting “Shattered Resolve: A Simulation of Conflict and Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula” at GWU from 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM on 14 September 2013. You’ll find registration details here.

* * *

How might a  zombie elf help you get to college? The New York Times explains.

* * *

The University of Denver sponsored an international humanitarian crisis simulation exercise over the 2013 Memorial Day weekend. You’ll find a very good video of the event below.

Simulations miscellany, 21 August 2013

miscellanySome recent material on peace/conflict/development simulations and gaming that may be of interest to our readers:

* * *


Registration is still open until August 23 for the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference to be held at King’s College London on September 3rd and 4th. I’ll be there, as will be several other PAXsims contributors.

Registration for the conference (including lunches and dinner) costs £100, and should be done via KCL.

I’ll also be running and demo and playtest of the Humanitarian Crisis Game that I’m developing for classroom use, based on ideas from the Connections 2012 “Hati HADR Game Lab” (see here and here and here), as well as Gary Milante’s Crisis Response card game (featured on PAXsims here). I could do with a few more volunteers for the game, so if you’ll be attending Connections UK and are interested, let me know.

* * *


The McGill Humanitarian Studies Initiative as offering a multi-disciplinary program that includes both in-classroom learning (one evening per week, September 10 to December 17) as well as a 3-day Field Simulation (Spring 2014):

The course provides registered medical students, residents, public health students, and other graduate-level students with relevant backgrounds, mid-career professionals and humanitarian workers with the globally recognized competencies relevant to humanitarian work.  The course is created so course participants gained competency-based essentials in humanitarian response practice recognized by Non-governmental Organizations (NGO’s), Canadian universities and government as the standard for professional-level humanitarian training.

You’ll find further details at the HSI website. You can also find a review of the Spring 2013 version of the course by PAXsims contributor June McCabe here.

* * *

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association will be having an online discussion on Twitter (#NASAGAchat) on August 29:


Time: August 27, 2013 from 9pm to 10pm (EDT)
Location: Twitter, Twubs
Organized By: Melissa Peterson

Event Description:

One of the things we discussed last time was the large difference between the design and implementation of in-person games, board games and virtual or video games.

This time we will be delving into that in more detail. What are those differences, what are the pros and cons of each, and how do we decide what the best option is for a particular project?
Join us to learn or provide your expertise!

* * *


The annual conference of the Digital Games Research Association will be hosted by Georgia Institute of Technology at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta on 26-29 August 2013:


This year’s proposed theme is a playful linguistic remix of the terms “frag” and “defrag.” Defragging is the computer term for reducing file fragmentation. Fragging, derived from the military term for killing a superior officer of one’s own unit, has become video game parlance for the temporary killing of another player.

In the early game studies community, a good deal of fragging (in all three senses) took place between various camps, schools of thought and disciplines. This included discussions as to whether or not game studies should split into more discipline-centered communities; however, the overall trend has been to continue to grow our field as an “interdiscipline” that includes humanities, social sciences and psychology, computer science, design studies, and fine arts.

Borrowing from the computer engineering term, the theme for DiGRA 2013 highlights this process of defragmenting, which both embraces and better articulates our diverse methods and perspectives while allowing the game studies research community to remain a coherent and unified whole.

DiGRA 2013 will take place immediately proceeding Dragon*Con, America’s largest multigenre fan convention. For more information, visit:


Questions about the conference?

Celia Pearce, John Sharp, Helen Kennedy
DiGRA 2013 Conference Co-Chairs

DiGRA Students have put together some useful research resources:

As our updated version of the Games Research Positions Map ( has received so much positive feedback, the new “Games Research Journal Map” has been structured in a similar way. It is completely searchable, sortable (by journal name, discipline, publisher, or frequency of publication), and contains a range of important information about the different academic journals in the field that regularly publish games-centric research (e.g., impact factor, word limits, link to submission guidelines, etc.). Check it out here:

We hope that this will soon become a valuable resource for students and academics alike! Please feel free to pass this information along to any other mailing lists/researchers who may be interested in such a resource.

Also, if there is a journal that has been overlooked, or see an error in one of the postings, please let us know via this thread ( on the DiGRA Student forums. As the only known list of its kind, we would like to keep it as accurate and comprehensive as possible.

* * *

In a very thoughtful review at BoardGameGeek, game reviewer (and insurgency groupie) extraordinaire Tom Grant has high praise indeed for Andean Abyss:

Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss recently won the Charles S. Roberts award for best post-World War II boardgame. That deceptively simple statement means a lot more than it might seem at first glance. Andean Abyss is one of the most important wargames published in the last decade, a real watershed in the history of the hobby. And it’s a damn good game, too.

We were very positive about the game too, as you’ll see from our earlier review.

* * *

This month in Seattle, the world championships for the fantasy-themed computer game DOTA 2 featured the largest ever prize for a digital game competition, $1.4 million. As noted in the  BBC’s reporting on the competition, it follows an earlier decision by the US government to grant P1 visas to professional gamers, much like internationally renowned athletes or entertainers.

Alas, D&D never paid like that…

simulations miscellany, 12 August 2013


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

* * *


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:
  • Ebner, Noam and Efron, Yael, Little Golano: An International Conflict Management Simulation (2009). Available at SSRN:

Simulations miscellany, 6 August 2013


Some recent simulation and gaming items that may be of interest to our readers:

*  *  *

The May/June 2013 issue of the US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office (M&SCO) M&S Newsletter is now out. You’ll find it here.

* * *

Brian Train (insurgency simulation designer par excellence) has a thoughtful discussion with Tom Grant (of the I’ve Been Diced game blog, whose PhD was on insurgency before he turned to other things) on the challenges of designing counter-insurgency wargames via Brian’s own Ludic Futurism blog.

Brian will be among those presenting at the Connections UK wargaming conference at King’s College London next month.

* * *

According to the Washington Times, US Republican politician Newt Gingrich has growing doubts about the US ability to export democracy:

Mr. Gingrich supported the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he said he has increasingly doubted the strategy of attempting to export democracy by force to countries where the religion and culture are not hospitable to Western values.

“It may be that our capacity to export democracy is a lot more limited than we thought,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich at times has expressed doubts about the U.S. capacity for nation-building, but he said he now has formed his own conclusions about their failures in light of the experiences of the past decade.

“My worry about all this is not new,” Mr. Gingrich said. “But my willingness to reach a conclusion is new.”

Mr. Gingrich said it is time for Republicans to heed some of the anti-interventionist ideas offered by the libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, tea party favorite and foreign policy skeptic.

I think it would be healthy to go back and war-game what alternative strategies would have been better...” [emphasis added]

It is nice that Gingrich has such confidence in the ability of professional wargaming to deliver such answers, but here’s the thing: they can’t. It might be possible to use policy games to explore some of the things that might go wrong in democracy-promotion—although you can probably do that even more effectively in a simple seminar-style BOGSAT discussion. We certainly can’t wargame what would definitively “work,” however, because the social science just isn’t there to support unambiguous judgments. On the contrary, both scholars and the intelligence community are still searching for greater clarity as to how complex political processes like regime change and political transition unfold.

Any wargame requires an underlying model of cause and effect. If our knowledge of cause and effect is fuzzy—as it so often is with social and political processes—one needs to treat with considerable caution any predictions derived therefrom.  (h/t Red Team Journal)

* * *

MW7The September/October 2013 issue of Modern War magazine is out. There are articles on the Vietnam War, the Second Congo War, Robert Thompson’s work on counterinsurgency, and the US Army National Training Center, as well as shorter pieces on game design, weapons systems, and other topics.

The  wargames included in this issues are designed by Eric Harvey, and examine two 1967 Vietnam War operations: “Snoopy’s Nose” (riverine action in the Mekong Delta) and “The Iron Triangle” (an offensive against Viet Cong bases and tunnels northwest of Saigon).

simulations miscellany, 3 August 2013


Some recent simulations-related items that may be of interest to our readers.

* * *

AFP recently featured a report on humanitarian training simulations, and the role they can play in preparing humanitarian workers for growing challenges in the field:

Go, go!” shouts a soldier at five Red Cross aid workers crammed into a 4×4 truck speeding into the woods as explosions go off nearby, sending up plumes of white smoke.

The scene feels menacing and real. But it is in fact taking place far from an actual battlefield and just a stone’s throw from a city renowned for its international peace efforts, in one of the safest countries on the planet.

Welcome to Alpesia, an imaginary land created by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 15 years ago in the woods of Geneva. Here the Sequane Liberation Front rebels are facing off against the authorities in a “conflict” tailored to teach new aid workers how to face the increasingly dangerous world they will soon be ushered into.

Nearly 200 participants, who have to be between 25 and 35 years old, pass the simulation test each year before joining a profession where armed attacks, kidnappings and hospital bombings are becoming ever more prevalent.

In the Swiss woods, they get a taste for what life could be like on mission: military checkpoints, visits to destroyed hospitals and a refugee camp — all within eight days of practical and theoretical training.

* * *

The New York Times (2 August 2013) has a long report on “The Dog-Eat-Dog World of Model UN.”

 This is not F.D.R.’s Model United Nations, that rigid simulation of General Assembly protocol and decorum. Conferences like this one in Philadelphia, hosted by the club at Penn, have turned MUN, as it’s called, into a full-fledged sport, with all the competitiveness and rowdiness that suggests. Today, there are official sponsors, a ranking of schools and, much to the chagrin of traditionalists, non-U.N. role play.

MUN’s roots are older than the United Nations itself. In 1927, Harvard invited nine colleges to a simulation of the League of Nations, nearly a decade after that body’s creation in the wake of the First World War. Today, anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 high school and college students in this country attend Model U.N. each year, according to the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

In classic MUN, students represent the positions and values of assigned countries, adhering to official protocols when speaking, negotiating and drafting resolutions. Consensus is important, and the process of arriving at innovative solutions to global problems the goal. That is still the prevailing model. But a new breed of Model U.N., popular among student-run clubs at elite universities, has a distinctly different philosophy. Their “crisis committees” focus on a single historical event (the 1929 Atlantic City conference of crime bosses, for example) and fantasy recreations (“Star Wars,” “Harry Potter”). Participants battle it out in four-day conferences in hopes of winning a coveted gavel, awarded to the strongest member on each committee, and schools with the most “best delegates” top the new rankings.

* * *

HGWellsThe BBC (2 August 2013) offers a look at “Little Wars: How HG Wells created hobby war gaming,”

It is a century since HG Wells published the first proper set of rules for hobby war games. There’s a hardcore of gamers who are still playing by his code.

Pine tips are stuck in the grass to represent trees. Roads are laid out with trails of compost.

This is the Battle of Gettysburg, with Union soldiers on one side and Confederates on the other. But the soldiers of this new Gettysburg are 54mm (2in) tall and mostly made of plastic.

The battle is taking place between a group of enthusiasts in a garden at Sandhurst military academy under the rules of Little Wars, devised by HG Wells in 1913.

War was then looming in Europe and Little Wars was both an expression of Wells’s passion for toy soldiers and to his fears over the coming slaughter. The science fiction author even believed that war games could change attitudes.

“You only have to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be,” wrote Wells.

But this is looked on with disapproval by some modern war gamers, who prefer theoretical bombardments worked out with distance tables.

Phil Barker, a celebrated deviser of modern games, acknowledges Wells’s role in “showing it could be done – and giving grown men an excuse to play with toy soldiers”.

But he adds: “Combat was based on shooting solid projectiles at the figures. Today, this would be discouraged because of the risk of someone getting a projectile in the eye, but it was the chance of damage to the finish of lovingly home-painted figures that led to the switch to less lethal dice.”

* * *

Given both  continued Sino-Japanese suspicions stretching back to before WWII and continued territorial disputes between the two countries over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands/Tiaoyutai/Pinnacle islands—what you call them depends on which claim you are advancing—it is hardly surprising that they have become the subject of a video game. According to The Diplomat (2 August 2013):

 Chinese video game, designed in part by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and originally intended as a training tool for soldiers, allows gamers to engage in all-out war against foreign enemies. An early version of Glorious Mission generated a fair share of controversy when it appeared to pit virtual soldiers against the U.S. military.

Today, a more recent version of theCall of Duty clone received an update, containing a new mission – a siege of the contested Diaoyu Islands – a move that embodies China’s shifting of aggression from America to its Asian neighbor and past colonizer, Japan.

Disputed islands between China and Japan have become the centerpiece of diplomatic tension in Asia. Called the Diaoyu Islands by China and the Senkaku Islands by Japan, bitter territorial disputes over ownership of the rocky outcroppings have sparked mass protests in both countries. Chinese nationalists went as far as burning and looting Japanese-owned businesses in China last year, following a Japanese government announcement that it would purchase and nationalize the uninhabited islets.

Glorious Mission Online’s latest downloadable content (DLC) gives Chinese gamers a chance to virtually evict Japanese “invaders” by force – aided by China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and an arsenal of military weaponry.

“Players entering the game will fight alongside Chinese armed forces and use their weapons to tell the Japanese that ‘Japan must return our stolen territory!’” read a press release on the game’s website,according to the South China Morning Post.

The video trailer for the scenario can be found here:

* * *

MST_magazine_2013_lrWith regard to professional military training and simulation, the latest issue (3-4/2013) of Military Simulation & Training can be found here.

simulations miscellany, Connections diaspora edition


The Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference is currently underway, and I know that several PAXsims readers who weren’t able to travel to Dayton, Ohio are, like me, following it all by VTC or dial-in. For those of you who are interested in listening in, it may not be too late to contact Tim Wilkie for the remote connection information. You can also find the conference presentation slides here, and we’ll also try to recruit some participants to send in their own impressions.

The Connections conference extends through to July 25.

Meanwhile, in other conflict simulation and serious games related news:

* * *

John Curry at the History of Wargaming project discusses why the UK Conference of Wargamers is the best model for a conference—and the worst.

* * *

The folks at MMOWGLI have prepared a couple of papers for the  NPS Acquisition Research Symposium, 2013, focusing on Innovating Naval Business Using a War Game and Improving DoD Energy Efficiency: Combining MMOWGLI Social-Media Brainstorming With Lexical Link Analysis (LLA) to Strengthen the Defense Acquisition Process.

* * *

The latest issue of the Journal of Simulation 7, 3 (August 2013) is out, devoted to agent-based modelling. Of particular interest is an article by Xavier Rubio-Campillo, Jose María Cel, and Jose María and Francesc Xavier Hernández Cardona of the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre and Universitat de Barcelona. In it they used agent-based modelling to examine the development of new infantry tactics during the early eighteenth century—a rare application of this computational technique to military history:

Computational models have been extensively used in military operations research, but they are rarely seen in military history studies. The introduction of this technique has potential benefits for the study of past conflicts. This paper presents an agent-based model (ABM) designed to help understand European military tactics during the eighteenth century, in particular during the War of the Spanish Succession. We use a computer simulation to evaluate the main variables that affect infantry performance in the battlefield, according to primary sources. The results show that the choice of a particular firing system was not as important as most historians state. In particular, it cannot be the only explanation for the superiority of Allied armies. The final discussion shows how ABM can be used to interpret historical data, and explores under which conditions the hypotheses generated from the study of primary accounts could be valid.

Also of interest is previous work by these researchers on using agent-based models to support battlefield archaeology and using spatial analysis to better understand combined arms warfare in the Spanish Civil War.

* * *

33AA651E-C639-481A-97EA-15E537446268_mw1024_n_sOne of the challenges that agent-based modellers have not yet turned their analytical attentions to is how to prevent Russian all-girl punk bands from conducting protests in Russian Orthodox churches. Fortunately, that challenge has been taken up by some Russian programmers, who have released the game Don’t Let Pussy Riot Into The Cathedral. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

A video game was showcased at a recent Russian Orthodox youth festival in Moscow that encourages players to “kill” members of the feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot.

In the game, “Don’t Let Pussy Riot Into The Cathedral,” players use an Orthodox cross to snuff out the balaclava-clad women before they enter a domed white church.

Throughout the game, Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer For Putin,” which some of them performed in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012, earning three of them jail terms, plays in the background.

When the Pussy Rioters enter the church in the game, they reappear atop the church with horns on. The building gradually falls into disrepair and ominous clouds gather.

A version of the game, which used the name “Inquisition,” was posted online late last year.

I think almost all of the press reporting on this has it completely wrong—the game is clearly satirical, as evidenced by the overweight priests, luxury car, absolutions for sale, and the expensive watch that serves as the load screen (a reference to this). If the game was on display at the youth festival, either someone didn’t understand the humour or it was a very clever piece of performance art.

* * *

At his Sources and Methods blog, Kris Wheaton (Mercyhurst University) discusses Hnefatafl, the ancient Viking game Every intelligence professional should play:

1001689_277186405754085_2142739834_nToday, only dedicated tabletop gamers have ever heard of it and many of them have never had a chance to play the game.  That is a shame for it’s an extraordinary game with a number of lessons embedded in it for the curious intelligence professional.  For example:

  • It is an asymmetric game.  As you can see from the board above, one side starts in the center and the other side surrounds it on all four sides.  One side outnumbers the other by about 2:1.  The sides even have different victory conditions (the player with the pieces in the center need to get the “King”, the large playing piece in the middle of the board, to one of the corners.  The other player is trying to capture the King).  It is not too hard to see a game such as this one incorporated into courses, classes or discussions of asymmetric warfare.
  • It is a conflict simulation.  Most historians agree that there were relatively few large-scale battles involving Vikings. Instead, most of the time, combat resulted from raiding activities.  Hnefatafl seems to reflect the worst case scenario for a Viking raider:  Cut off from your boats and outnumbered 2:1.
  • It provides a deep lesson in strategic thinking.  Lessons in both the strategy of the central position (hundred of years before Napoleon made it famous) and in the relative value of interior vs. exterior lines of communication are embedded in this game.

What makes this game even more fascinating for me is what it teaches implicitly – that is, what are the lessons it teaches the players without the players knowing that they are learning?  Furthermore, what does this tell us about the Viking culture?

But wait, there’s more! Kris will be producing a version of the game through his new company, Sources and Methods Games—a version featuring Vikings and… Cthulhu.

* * *

Every wargamer needs a laser pointer. It is essential when discussing a map, and useful for those lengthy powerpoint presentations during the briefing and debriefing. Miniature gamers often use them to confirm line of sight on the table-top battlefield. Boardgamers can use them to keep the cat away.

Given that.. what could be cooler than pointers that look like sharks… with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads? Available at ThinkGeek.

Simulations miscellany, 11 July 2013

Various bits of recent simulation and serious games-related news that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

Dice Cartoon

The Training & Simulation Journal is no more, with publication having been ended by its publisher, Gannett.  (h/t Mike Peck) Presumably, though, occasional reporting on military simulation will continue to appear in Defense News.

Dice Cartoon

In this era of budget-cutting, does the military need to use more manual boardgames? Robert Hossal thinks so. (h/t Robert Hossal)

Dice Cartoon

Interested in history and gaming? The excellent academic blog Play the Past is looking for contributors.

Dice Cartoon

According to an article posted by the British Psychological Society, a simulation/experiment conducted earlier this year at the London Science Museum has shown that the stress brought on by a zombie apocalypse would likely cause you to make bad tactical decisions:

You’re in a room full of lumbering zombies and you want to get out quick. Here’s a tip: the stress of the situation will make you favour the exit that you’re most familiar with even if that’s the busiest way out. Give yourself a better chance by checking that there isn’t a quieter way to escape the flesh-munchers.

This is the lesson from a study conducted by researchers at the ZombieLab event held at London’s Science Museum earlier this year.Nikolai Bode and Edward Codling presented 185 participants (90 women; average age 25) with a computer simulation showing a top-down view of a corridor and a zombie-filled room with two available doorways on opposite sides.

“Our approach has revealed what can only be described as nonrational human decision making under the influence of the motivational, potentially stress-inducing, treatment,” said Bode and Codling. “We suggest that in evacuations with higher stress levels evacuees will be more likely to use known exit routes and less able or willing to adapt their route choices, even if this results in longer evacuation times.”

An obvious weakness of the research is that it was based on a computer simulation. Bode and Codling acknowledged this and said their approach presented a mid-way between purely theoretical studies and real-life evacuation drills. Another criticism is with the believability of the horror scenario – if the zombies were rushing to exit the room, why follow them?

These findings would certainly help to explain much of the stupid behaviour of survivors in both The Walking Dead and World War Z.

Dice Cartoon

Back in 2010, Lee Sheldon at Indiana University ran his course on multiplayer game design as if it were a multiplayer roleplaying game, with students divided into competing guilds and earning experience points for various tasks that translated into their overall course grade. Earlier this year he shared his thoughts on “designing coursework as a game” in a talk at the ATLAS (Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society) Institute of the University of Colorado – Boulder. (video below)

simulations miscellany, 27 June 2013


The graphic above is from Karl reMarks, a witty blog on Middle East politics and culture by Karl Sharro. The items below may also be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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Ellen E. Deason, Yael Efron, Ranse William Howell, Sanda Kaufman, Joel Lee, and Sharon Press have assembled their collective wisdom on debriefing simulations exercises in “Debriefing the Debrief”  (Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 202, April 2013).

The debriefing process is a critical element of simulation exercises, which are a common technique used in negotiation and mediation education. The debriefing step provides the opportunity for self- and group-reflection that enables students to turn a “game” into a learning experience. This chapter considers this aspect of negotiation pedagogy from both theoretical and practical perspectives. It emphasizes the importance of developing goals, not only for each exercise, but for each debrief. It outlines the characteristics of an effective debrief, contrasting an inductive approach with a deductive approach. Based on the authors’ experience in multiple teaching and training settings, the chapter identifies common challenges to debriefing and suggests ways to approach them, including ideas for designing debriefing structures. As an organizing technique, it provides a series of functional steps for conducting a debrief. The chapter concludes with a section on ideas for tailoring debriefing for the context of university education and executive workshops and for specific audiences based on the academic discipline, background of participants, native language, and culture.

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Coordination-meeting-at-the-OPM,-URCS-table---Simualtion,-kampala,-June-2013-300x226The Emergency Capacity Building Project provides a brief update from a multi-agency simulation held in Uganda earlier this month.

The simulation was supported by the ECB Project following a request from consortium partners in Uganda, including the Office of the Prime Minister and UN agencies.

The aims of the simulation were:

  • to test national coordination mechanisms
  • to test communication between stakeholders
  • to test capacity to respond to floods and landslides
  • to draw lessons that could support real life responses

Over forty participants attended the simulation, including representatives from UN agencies, INGOs and the Office of the Prime Minister. Following the simulation, a plan of action was agreed upon which addresses the areas identified during the event that need improvement.



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