PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

KCL wargaming update

Ivanka Barzashka of the Wargaming Network, School of Security Studies, King’s College London has sent around an update on the news and activities at KCL:

King’s Wargaming Network aims to advance wargaming as an academic discipline. In support of this aim, we are pleased to introduce new staff and students focusing on wargaming-related research, and a new programme of educational activities funded by the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy’s Education Fund and the Department of War Studies.  

New Faculty and PhD Students  

Dr David Banks joined the Department of War Studies in Aug 2020 as Lecturer in Wargaming and Academic Director of the Wargaming Network. He has designed wargames for education and research on topics such as diplomacy, crises, terrorism, and cyber security. His current research investigates the linkage between theory and rules in game design. Dr Banks is the first faculty member at a civilian university to have wargaming in his title.  

Arnel David and Boukje Kistemaker started PhDs on wargaming topics in Jan 2021 at the Department of Defence Studies and the War Studies Department, respectively.   

Academic Promotions  

Dr Aggie Hirst has been promoted to Senior Lecturer at the Department of War Studies in recognition of her empirical research on the phenomena of play and immersion, and the US military’s use of wargames and simulations for teaching and training purposes. Her projects have been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy.  

Analyst Training for Strategic Analytical Wargaming  

The WN runs a co-curricular programme to train postgraduate students, research staff and faculty to support Principal Investigators in data collection and analysis of wargames used for research purposes. The 2020-2021 programme focuses on ensuring data quality and research ethics in the shift from in-person to online wargaming to support a Centre for Science and Security Studies research project. Ten new trainees were selected through a competitive 3-stage recruitment process.

Short Courses on Wargaming in Education and Research for PhD Students, Staff and Faculty 

The WN launched two new wargaming courses for faculty, staff and postgraduate research students across the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy. The courses respond to an increased demand for educational and analytical wargames beyond the School of Security Studies.  

Wargame Design and Analysis Module for Master’s Students 

The Department of War Studies approved a new module for master’s students, which will be co-convened by Dr Banks and Dr Hirst. This module enables the next generation of security and defence analysts to understand and apply wargames as part of their security studies toolkit. 

Public Lecture Series on Wargaming Scholarship The WN launched an online public lecture series that features authors of new and noteworthy scholarly publications on wargaming. The next speaker is Dr Jacquelin Schneider who will discuss on 1 Apr 2021 the use of wargames as experiments to understand cyber and nuclear stability.

Bae and Kearney: Wargaming to sharpen the tactical edge

At the US Army War College’s War Room, Sebastian Bae and Paul Kearney discuss using wargaming to sharpen the tactical edge.

Educational wargaming is increasingly prevalent in the pedagogical toolkit but remains concentrated at the higher levels of Professional Military Education (PME). Advanced PME institutions like the U.S. Army War College and the Marine Corps War College are admirably expanding game-based learning in their curricula. In contrast, educational wargaming remains generally underdeveloped and underutilized in the operational force. The majority of educational wargaming is confined to the classroom, far removed from frontline units. At the tactical edge, wargaming is generally limited to the military planning process and course of action analysis. The rare employment of educational wargaming within tactical units is episodic and limited in scope. Thus, to systemically reap the dividends of educational wargaming, the Joint Force should aim to reestablish the tradition of educational wargaming within tactical units. Success depends on senior leadership support in the form of institutional funding and enduring partnerships with wargaming organizations.

The use of wargames to teach both tactics and strategic thinking lies at the heart of professional wargaming. Wargames provide a dynamic environment to explore and examine a variety of challenges and concepts along the strategic, operational and tactical levels. As an educational tool, wargaming fosters critical thinking and innovation, but most of all, it helps prepare tactical leaders for future challenges.

Read the rest of what they have to say at the link above.

Rubel: Whispers from wargames about the “grey zone”

At War on the Rocks, Barney Rubel discuss how wargames can “whisper” things that are outside their intended focus or parameters. In particular, he suggests that US wargaming has long been focused on conventional military power rather than asymmetric conflict and hybrid warfare—but if one had been playing close enough attention, the importance of these latter issues was often evident in the way the games played out.

A key characteristic of the scenarios used in post-Cold War games run by the U.S. armed services is the asymmetry in conventional military strength between “blue” and “red” players. Blue was always the United States, with red normally being a “rogue” country like Iran or North Korea. In such games, the scenarios created a competitive dynamic of the weak against the strong. That dynamic resulted in difficulties for umpires who attempted to adjudicate game moves. While blue players couched their moves in terms of Army divisions, aircraft carrier battle groups and Air Force wings, red players focused on things like political operations and special operations forces, because that is what they had at their disposal that offered some glimmer of hope. In other words, blue was trying to resolve the dispute with conventional forces while red attempted to side-step such force and directly address the dispute at the political level. Normally, game objectives focused on the use of conventional military force at the operational level, so umpires had to somehow reconcile the asymmetric nature of red and blue player inputs. The result was usually that red stratagems were not allowed their intended effects so that game play could proceed, and umpire assessments were couched in operational terms blue players could interpret.

It is the nature of red moves and the way umpires dealt with the asymmetry with blue that produces the whisper. What it was saying is that red would avoid direct challenge to blue strategies and that blue, in terms of both players and umpires, would attempt to fit such asymmetry within its conventional force superiority paradigm. The reasons for this are important to understand because they have implications for the defense and security community. It is important to note that I observed this phenomenon across many games over a period of years and, to be honest, did not grasp its significance until recently, so the purpose here is not to assign fault but to alert the defense community to the nature of game whispers.

Blue players and umpires were responding directly to game objectives, which were generally oriented on issues connected to the application of conventional military power. This in itself constituted a set of blinders for game players, umpires, and analysts, but in a broader sense reflected the aggregate perceptual constraints of the defense community. Threats were and still are defined to a significant extent in terms of conventional military aggression, whether a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a North Korean invasion of South Korea, or a Russian invasion of the Baltic countries. In the post-Cold War environment, these scenarios — major contingency operations, as they are called — dominated U.S. military planning. Their purpose was not only to provide a basis for force structuring and development, logistics, and command and control arrangements, but also for assessing the potential utility and cost-effectiveness of proposed platforms, weapons, and systems. Even after the 9/11 attacks, when counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations emerged as the principal day-to-day focus of defense, conventional scenarios still guided force development and thus continued to maintain the perceptual constraints of the defense community. A combination of factors served to create such channeling of focus. First, conventional force development is where the money is, so there are powerful institutional incentives for the services to justify force structure, and that means conventional warfighting capabilities. Second, it is not only natural but prudent to base planning on worst-case scenarios, which throughout history have featured conventional military aggression. Third, the creation of strong conventional forces, in conjunction with nuclear forces, is thought to constitute a robust deterrent to aggression. All of these are compelling reasons to focus on conventional warfare in wargames.

He notes, however, that “Blue consistently misinterpreted red signalling, leading to escalation of the scenario crisis that might have been otherwise avoided.”

This was mystifying until I “heard the whisper.” Blue was defining the problem/dispute through the lens of conventional military superiority. It was very much a case of the old saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The effect not only shaped blue’s moves — it distorted its perceptions of red signaling. Red kept trying to signal how important to it the issues in the crisis were, but blue kept ignoring or misinterpreting those signals.

In other words, “The games were whispering that, as Carl von Clausewitz claimed, policy dominates warfare. The side with the biggest army does not always hold the strongest hand in a dispute in which a fight to the death is not an option.”

Dozens of military wargames conducted over the past four decades have all produced a similar whisper despite differences in objectives, designs, and players. There is a profound difference between the weak and the strong that most definitions of asymmetry in warfare fail to capture. While the games might not have precisely indicated the possibility of China’s island-building or a Russian seizure of Crimea, they tried to alert us to our own perceptual limitations and thus to our vulnerability to surprise. This is not to ascribe negligence on anyone’s part, individually or corporately, but to sensitize the defense community to the deeper and more subtle aspect of wargames. Forewarned about the incentive of the weak but hostile to find ways around U.S. military superiority, we might have been able to forestall or counter gray zone operations more effectively. Two-sided games of the kind I describe here set up arenas of human competition that can reveal “unknown unknowns.”

It’s an important point: we need to be sensitive to insights generated by wargames, beyond those we hope or expect to find.

It also points to a weakness of wargaming, in that we too often find what we expect or want to find. As I have argued before, these framing effects may be so powerful that they essentially overpower the actual results of the game. In the Dire Straits experiment, for example, we showed that game analysts can come to very interpretations of exactly the same game. All of this underscores the recent call by Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath for greater attention to assessing the actual effectiveness and utility of wargaming.

Interestingly, I have found in “grey zone” wargames that Blue sometimes over-interprets actions and events as hybrid warfare, when some of it is rather less nefarious or more routine. I’m also rather cynical about the terms gray zone and hybrid warfare altogether: it’s hard to think of any point in the history of human conflict when this sort of stuff wasn’t a key part of international relations (the British East India Company, for example, being a much more successful version of the Wagner Group in many respects).

This might also be a good time to revive that most important of all PAXsims game designs, Jargon Wars!

Government Matters: Wong on wargaming at the Department of Defense

Yuna Huh Wong (Research Analyst in the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses) is interviewed at Government Matters on wargaming at the US Department of Defense. You’ll find the full video here.

Sepinsky: Rigorous wargames vs effective wargaming

At War on the Rocks, Jeremy Sepinsky (CNA) addresses “Is it a wargame? It doesn’t matter: Rigorous wargames vs effective wargaming.

We need to stop telling ourselves that the key to a better wargame is to add more detail. Some of the most rigorous, well-researched wargames I’ve participated in have struggled to create any lasting impact on the sponsors. Yet many of my ad hoc, quickly assembled, and lightly adjudicated wargames have created exactly the lasting impacts that we are looking for: sponsors thinking hard about future plans, policies, or objectives. Why? Because a rigorous wargame is usually not the same thing as effective wargaming. Without sponsors who understand the role of wargaming within their organization’s priorities, even a great wargame will often become a simple exercise of telling the players what they already know. The wargaming community can and should be better, but the community and its sponsors need to address the critical element that allows a wargame, whether deeply rigorous or hastily assembled, to also be effective wargaming: the ecosystem — the personal networks, cycle of research, follow-on activities, and continued intellectual engagement with the insights that emerge from it.

Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath raise questions about the quality of defense wargames in these pages, noting, “Much of what the Department of Defense calls wargaming is not actually wargaming.” They are quite right — but that’s not necessarily a problem. Wargamers will debate till they are blue in the face about what is and is not a wargame. It does not matter. For those of us who deliver wargames to sponsors in the Department of Defense or other government agencies in support of current priorities, these semantics have little value. If the players or sponsors are better equipped at the end of the wargame to do the things they need to do, then there is value in the activity. Nothing else matters.

You can read the rest of the article at the link above.

Connections: on the power of empathy

Raspberry the WATU Wren bear and Smuggie, mascot of Connections North, proudly sporting Derby House Principles pins
Get your own adorable Wren bear from the RN Museum online shop!

Something that came up again and again in the excellent Connections North diversity panel discussion was the importance of empathy as a skill for wargamers:

  • Yuna Wong raised it as one of the top five skills she’d look for in a wargamer, and it’s certainly been my experience that the people who are great to work with are the people who get all the work
  • Paul Strong raised it in the power of narrative (and all wargames are a form of collaborative storytelling), pointing to the advent of the novel as a means for social change by giving people new perspectives
  • Brianna Proceviat raised it in answer to a question from Cath Jones about educating people about diversity and inclusion by flipping the power dynamic

And everything I’ve done this past year in support of the Derby House Principles has been successful because of empathy.

Isn’t it beautiful that what works to improve diversity and inclusion is the exact same thing that makes people good wargamers?

What is empathy?

Teressa Wiseman defines four attributes of empathy:

  • taking another’s perspective
  • staying out of judgement
  • recognising emotion in other people
  • and communicating that understanding

Key skills for helping a friend in a difficult time—and equally in red-teaming a hostile power without falling prey to stereotypes, reading the other players, and contributing to the game analysis and insights.

Why does it work for D&I?

Some years ago, I had to fight hard to get reasonable adjustments for dyslexia. Just a screen-reader, nothing earth-shattering, but between being good at my job and the perception that real dyslexics are functionally illiterate, it was incredibly difficult to convince people of my need. Facts and figures made no impact on people who perceived me as perfectly capable. What I needed was a way to make them feel how difficult and frustrating and exhausting it was to be working so hard to keep up.

Enter stage left a serious game about dyslexia, where, through the magic of science, I make a room full of otherwise competent adults lose the ability to read, write, and speak coherently, to remember anything, to recognise familiar objects, and even tell the time. It’s hilarious and stressful and eye-opening, and it literally works because it is a lesson in empathy.

Wargame instructions in English but with the words broken in all the wrong places to make it really difficult to read
What’s wrong, you can’t read these very simple wargame instructions? Are you stupid?? ;-)

People come away from this workshop having experienced dyslexia. Having felt the glare of the spotlight on them trying to read when reading is hard, or trying to make a coherent argument when they can’t find the words they want, or having stared and stared and stared at something that makes no sense at all while everyone else just gets it.

It literally changes people’s perception of dyslexia and disability (non-ironic feedback includes: “This saved my marriage. I thought my husband was doing all these things just to annoy me.”) And it does it because it makes people feel what it’s like. I don’t tell people dyslexia is frustrating, I make them frustrated. And the lesson sticks because it gets encoded with that powerful emotion…and also because it’s an absolute blast and a compelling magic trick they want to tell everyone about.

Enter the Derby House Principles

One of the first things that came up in Derby House Principles conversations was how to help smaller wargaming organisations talk about diversity when they don’t have anyone to speak to the experience. 

The diversity card deck, inspired by Tom Mouat’s excellent Migrants card deck, is the diversity missing from the room. Players draw a card and relay the vignette to the group in the first person, as if it happened to them. That act of imaginative empathy: what if this happened to me? is followed by a group discussion of whether the same situation plays out differently for them and why. For a lot of men, it’s genuinely the first time they’ve even considered that these things happen, or what it would feel like to be on the receiving end. And it’s had such a massive impact on the culture where I work. 

We went from a place where well-intentioned men would respond, “I’m sure it’s not like that,” whenever I said this is my experience as the only woman in the room, to one where they genuinely realised there could be another perspective. And it didn’t just convert the good-eggs. People who harrumphed loudly at the idea of the card deck found their wives or girlfriends looking over their shoulder, saying, “Yes. Yep. That too. Oh my god all the time. And that one,” and the clouds parted, the heavenly choirs sang, the god rays shone down, and they realised (gasp) all women and minorities are human beings with thoughts and feelings just like their significant other—and that people they care about suffer these indignities and incivilities and injustices all the time too. It has meaning because they’ve connected it to someone they care about, not the ‘other’.

Walk a mile in our shoes

Another big inspiration for me in experiential learning is Jane Elliot’s anti-racism work. It works because she makes people feel discrimination:

And Brenda Romero’s mechanic is the message games: the Middle Passage, Trail of Tears, the Irish Game, and most famously Train.

And the same leap of imaginative empathy is at work in the RPG Dog Eat Dog by Liam Burke. (More on my project to use that to start conversations about discrimination here.) What’s stuck with me most about the games we’ve played so far is that it’s the role-playing that makes it real to straight white non-disabled men—it’s feeling that awful sense of this is wrong and I am powerless, and tying themselves in knots managing the emotions of the dominant group when they’ve never had that perspective before, and being disabused of their naive ideas that minority groups just haven’t done it right so far and here comes a white/male saviour to show them the way… it’s the role-playing that makes them open their eyes and really hear what women and minorities have been saying. It’s the act of imaginative empathy that teaches. 

Empathy is why nobody who plays this game can forget it.

How do we make more connections?

Another point made in the diversity panel was that the heavy lifting of D&I should not be left—or piled on—to the minority wargamers. That, by virtue of being the only woman, or BAME/BIPOC, or LGBT, or disabled person in the building, everyone expects them to lead on D&I and be the diversity, and do the hard work so everyone else can congratulate themselves that its being done without getting their hands dirty.

The biggest challenge of all of this has been how do I get men to talk about women’s issues, straight people to talk about LGBT issues, non-disabled people to talk about disability issues, white people to talk about race. Too often a minority person is left to do all the talking, all the leading, all the fixing. Silence is complicity. Even when I write an essay about exactly that…folks talk about it in private where nobody will disagree, not in public spaces, not to minority wargamers, not where it will make a difference.

Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s strength

The first time I saw the needle move was when a straight white man in a position of authority admitted on a VTC that he’d read a blog on Black Lives Matter and wanted to comment to show support but panicked because he didn’t want to say the wrong thing. That admission of vulnerability, I wanted to do better but I didn’t know how, opened the floodgates for others who’d been silent, who supported D&I but didn’t know how to show their support and were afraid to intrude on a space they didn’t think was theirs.

Men: you have so much power to set the tone and start these conversations, just by saying I don’t have all the answers but I want to learn. Worry less about saying the wrong thing. You only have to say I see you, I’m listening.

Make it easy for allies to show their support

Derby House D20 pin badge

The Derby House pins look great so people want to wear them. 

I learnt the power of ally badges presenting to the board of executives. It just so happened a good number of them were wearing LGBT Ally badges. Walking into that intimidating space and seeing those silent messages of support—completely unrelated to the topic I was presenting on—was magic. Seeing people wearing Derby House pins—or “I’m not a dickhead” badges, as they’ve come to be known—is knowing who your friends are in a room full of strangers.

Get your pin here.

The hardest work of all

It’s possible to talk someone out of bigotry. Watching some of the D&I trolls see the light—go from posting misogynist nonsense to amplifying Derby House Principles messaging—has been a delightful, heartwarming, life-affirming D&I soap opera. It’s also been hard hard work. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a good-enough person to be able to meet trolling and bigotry with the compassion and kindness and patience required. Not because I don’t agree it’s the right way to achieve change, but because I’m human and flawed and quite frankly because it’s hard to treat people with the respect and dignity and compassion that they do not show in return. Being on the receiving end of trolling and just vile comments on PAXsims does not make me all that disposed to generosity towards the marginal comments and well-intended-but-oblivious comments and idiot-but-not-actually-bigotted comments.

Jamil Zaki: It can be really exhausting to empathise with people who are different from us. Especially if they have opinions that we might fear or abhore.

Laurie Santos: Now I try really hard to be an understanding person. And I truely beleve in the importance of Jamil’s battle for kindness. But almost every day I see some view online that makes me see red. When people seem to be so hateful, it’s really really hard to see them as deserving of my compassion or my emotional energy. I was surprised that the guy who literally wrote the book on empathy got exactly what I was saying.

Jamil Zaki: Trust me, I feel that way all the time. I still remember when the New York Times had this whole very sympathetic portrayal of a family in Illinois that happened to be Nazis. And I remember a detail where they were trying to humanise this family by talking about how they cooked their pasta and I just remember thinking “I don’t want to hear about your Nazi pasta. I don’t want to humanise you.” It’s exhausting to connect. And it’s especially exhausting to connect with people who say things that are awful and that don’t really deserve a platform.

[…]

Laurie Santos: I want to make sure that all this empathic labour is a bit more evenly distributed. That the hard work of deep connection doesn’t just fall to historically marginalised groups who’ve long been on the recieving side of all the injustice; these are the folks least likely to have the emotional bandwidth to make connections.

Listen to the whole Happiness Lab episode here.

Ok, but what can I do?

Empathy is a learnable skill, an improveable skill. Do it to be a better wargamer. Do it for a better wargaming culture. Do it for better wargame outputs. Do it for whatever reason you like, but please hear Yuna and myself when we say women and minorities cannot carry the whole D&I load for all of wargaming.

Listen to the follow-up Happiness Lab episode for an excellent guide on how to be a better ally.

Read about the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

IDA endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

We are pleased to announce that the Institute for Defense Analyses is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) is a private, nonprofit corporation headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. IDA’s mission is to answer the most challenging U.S. security and science policy questions with objective analysis leveraging extraordinary scientific, technical, and analytic expertise.

People

IDA empowers the best scientific and strategic minds to research and analyze the most important issues of national security. The diverse mix of professionals provides IDA with the multidisciplinary talent and expertise it needs to respond the many challenges brought to us by our sponsors. The exceptional creativity and determination that our research staff brings to their work with IDA’s sponsors and each other is the foundation of IDA’s reputation for excellence.

Sponsors

IDA works solely for U.S. Government agency sponsors on critical national security and science policy issues; we do no work for industry. Our current sponsors include the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security; Veterans Administration; and National Security Agency. Through our Science and Technology Policy Institute, we support the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

UPDATE: You’ll find the full IDA statement on the Derby House Principles here.

If your organization would like to join those supporting the Derby House Principles, please contact us.

But we don’t treat women or minorities any different here!

Now that the dust has settled on my Wavell Room and D&I in 2020 essays, I thought I’d address a couple of the points raised in response:

Straight white men have diversity too!

Yes, so do Ford Escorts. The red ones fade a bit, a family car gets more battered than a single-owner/occupant. But real diversity is having Vauxhalls and Puegots and Volvos and Fiats and Landrovers on the road. And “but what about men! Men are diverse” is just another way to shut down diversity conversations by keeping the focus on the people already in the majority.

The point of all these D&I conversations is that diversity of thought—which we all agree is good for wargaming—comes from diversity of experience, and while straight white men do have different life experiences, there is an order-of-magnitude difference in the life experiences of BAME/BIPOC people, disabled people, LGBT people and women: because they live in different neighbourhoods, go to different schools, come from different cultures, experience different challenges day-in-day-out, and have to deal with things that straight white men barely even acknowledge exist.

But the bar isn’t higher for not being a straight white non-disabled man!

Oh realy?

Men (which, let’s face it, is 98% of you reading this): how often have you published an essay in a respected professional space and been met with a torrent of personal attacks, none of them addressing the points raised in the essay, all of them determined to prove YOU’RE WRONG to say any of it because you’re an idiot, because you’re a woman, a lesbian, the wrong class to be properly disabled, not disadvantaged enough, leftist, a victim, a commie, should be doing the dishes, know nothing about professional wargaming or war, and—apparently worst of all—can’t even make it clear you’re talking about professional wargaming not hobby gaming…by publishing in The Wavell Room: contemporary British military thinking. I’m dyslexic and even I’m left wondering which part of the website’s banner is difficult to read ?

Honestly men, how often do you receive hate for doing your wargaming job? Actual shut up and sit down hate, not polite or even heated academic debate, not I disagree so stop talking, actual nothing to say about the essay we’re just objecting that you’re speaking at all. I wasn’t even saying anything particularly controversial: that, when wargaming, we should respect the other players. Playing to win is fine; playing to win at all costs—to make the other people around you feel small—is not ok. It sucks to be on the recieving end of it, and it lessens the value of the game for all the reasons we use serious games.

Why is that even controversial? Treat each other with respect and dignity, like fellow human beings.

To which, a small and defensive minority of men lost their minds that my essay was not treating them with respect: that I used bad language, that I was offensive and confrontational. Again, I’m the dyslexic here, and it is remarkable to me how many people had trouble parsing the “arguing against D&I is” in arguing against D&I is the masturbatory indulgence of straight white men. To be clear: nothing in that sentence says all men, or all white men, or all straight men, are jerking off in wargames (except Jeffrey Toobin). But then, the people objecting loudly to the executive summary were just using “omg a woman used naughty words! I am offended!!” to justify arguing against D&I. Surprise.

And if you’re going to argue the language was the problem, not the message: 

a) none of the words I used were actually swearing. Also there was an editorial process, and the language was deemed appropriate for the site and for the message, not gratuitous, not wanton, not offensive.

b) where is your moral panic over the actual swearing and foul language and vile attacks against my personhood in the comments in the Wavell Room, on twitter, or on PAXsims?

c) when you object to a woman “swearing” by actually swearing yourself in angry comments, boy do you look childish.

d) claiming the moral highground (the language is the problem!!) while abjectly failing to take the moral highground (I object to the language but want to engage on the points being made) is laughable, by the way.

The truth is it’s all Rule One: if the language was made acceptable there would just be something else they’d find fault with because it’s not the language that’s the problem, it’s the challenge to unquestioned male domination and the idea that men can’t just behave as they like when they like without consequences.

We have to talk about how angry women and minorities feel

I want to talk about power and comfort, specifically who has it and whose we are more concerned about, as evidenced by our actions. This might not be a comfortable conversation, but let’s think about it by way of an analogy to comedy:

while the popular conversation keeps talking about the victimhood of comedy, punching up, and punching down, I don’t think those terms are what applies at all. There is a much simpler way of framing the conversation of the goals of comedy, and it was said by the brilliant W. Kumau Bell:

“Who do you want to include? Who do you not want to include?”

These two questions are at the center of pretty much everything. From the way we use signifiers, to the politics of being PC, to the vehemence of being anti-PC, to who you want to make laugh in an audience. It’s all that simple question: who do you want to include? Because that’s when you start looking at your morality and your shape of interest. For instance, who do you want your joke to make feel more comfortable: a rapist or a rape victim? Answer however you wish, but it speaks to what you’re trying to do.

Film Crit Hulk, PC Culture vs The Big Joke

Who do we want to include?

A small and defensive minority seem to think D&I is about excluding straight white men from wargaming in general and opportunities in particular. As far as I can tell there’s a deep-seated fear, particularly among hobby wargamers, that a queer woman has the power to take wargaming away from them and that my goal in life is to CONTROL HOW WARGAMERS ARE ALLOWED TO THINK…through the medium of an essay that literally—explicitly—made the point that domination in gaming is bad and not what I stand for.

Not to mention how laughable the idea is that a single woman is in any way able to exclude 98% of wargamers from wargaming. Or the part where the majority of my wargaming colleagues and friends are straight white men: men I like and respect and enjoy working with, who have mentored and supported me, and given me amazing opportunities to grow as a wargamer.

D&I is not about excluding men. It’s about not excluding women and minorities—who face considerable barriers to entry not faced by straight white non-disabled men.

A big theme in the diversity card deck is anger. Anger at not being listened to. Anger at not being treated like credible human beings or the subject matter experts that they are. Anger that it is literally not safe to be a woman in wargaming/NatSec at times. And above all, anger at a system that is more interested in the comfort of straight white men than the victims of their bad behaviour.

A system that requires women and minorities to put up and shut up or get out—change teams, roles, projects, capabilities, divisions, or sacrifice their careers, to escape.

I’ve heard from so many people who’ve said their bully wasn’t dealt with because:

  • he’ll be deploying as a reservist soon, and likely won’t return to the group or in a leadership position (haha, of course he did)
  • he’ll be taking early retirement soon (nope: still here)
  • it’s just how he is (boys will be boys)
  • he’s like that with everyone, it’s nothing against you personally
  • leadership/management didn’t hear the request for help to deal with the situation—assumed the victim was capable of dealing with it themselves, rather than thinking about why the issue had been raised in the first place.

Privilege and the comfort of straight white men

Privilege is being able to choose not to think about this, to choose when you think about this, and to put it down when you don’t like it right now.

Meanwhile, let’s think about

… the constant efforts women [and minorities] end up having to expend in managing, maintaining, and adjusting the egos of oblivious and self-important men, involving the continual work of imaginative identification, or interpretive labour. The work carries over on every level. 

Women [and minorities] everywhere are always expected to continually imagine what one situation or another would look like from a male point of view. Men are almost never expected to do the same for women [and minorities]. 

So deeply internalised is this pattern of behaviour that many men react to any suggestion that they might do otherwise as if it were itself an act of violence.

David Graeber

I think people assume I am brave and unafraid to be vocal about D&I in professional wargaming. The truth is it is frightening and stressful, and speaking out like this has been career-limiting for me in the past. I am scared. I am angry. And I know from personal experience that there’s only so much a woman can push back before being put soundly in her place. I want that to change.

Psychologists created a study in 2015 to examine what happens when women and men become angry during jury deliberations.

They created a simulation that echoed the classic film Twelve Angry Men, in which a lone juror, Henry Fonda, gives an impassioned and angry plea for the innocence of an accused man. In the simulation, one “holdout” refuses to fall in line with other jurors and does not rein in his (or her) anger. 

The “Henry Fonda” juror did well in influencing his peers. But “Henrietta Fonda” was not nearly as successful. 

When men expressed anger, the subjects found them credible and changed their own opinions. But the angry women were seen as too emotional, so their arguments did not persuade the other “jurors” to change their minds

Men can convince others that the cause of their anger is appropriate, and can persuade others to accept their arguments. An angry woman rarely gets that opportunity. 

Why women and anger too often collide

Men more often associate anger with feeling powerful, while for women anger is associated with powerlessness.

Anger is silent and isolating, destructive and even frightening.

Anger is a powerful emotion—it warns us of threat, insult, indignity and harm. But across the world, girls and women are taught that their anger is better left unvoiced.

Anger is reserved as the moral property of boys and men. It is a civic virtue in white men, criminality in black men, and distained in women. [And it’s ingratitude in disabled people.]

Women are taught to swallow their pride.

Anger is conveying what’s important to us—but people are more likely to get angry AT women for being angry than address their concerns. Men are rewarded for displaying anger, women are punished.

It is a system designed to disadvantage women when it comes to defending themselves and their own interests.

Societies that don’t respect women’s anger don’t respect women. The danger of it [to men] is that it shows how seriously we take ourselves. And that we expect other people to take us seriously as well.

Watch the rest of this TED talk here.

Women and minorities are angry at being unjustly treated.

They are right to be angry.

Men: your focus should be on working your hardest to dismantle the man-made and man-supported system that is causing the anger, not policing their emotions. 

That means stopping to think about whether the real cause of your anger is that the thing was said or done by a woman stepping outside the bounds of “acceptably feminine” by refusing to do all the emotional labour for you.

That means calling out misogynist and homophobic and transphobic and ablist and racist behaviour when you see it—in wargaming spaces, in comments, on twitter, in person.

That means amplifying the voices of women and minorities when they speak to their experiences of discrimination.

That means telling women and BAME/BIPOC and LGBT and disabled wargamers that you value their existence, their humanity, their right to take up space, and their contributions to wargaming—not just assuming folks know you’re a decent human being who thinks this stuff without ever publically expressing it.

The standard you walk past is the one you accept

I like this ballsy statement from former Chief of the Australian army, Lt Gen David Morrison:

If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. […] The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those, who by their rank, have a leadership role.

To everyone who liked and RTd my Wavell Room essay

Thank you, I appreciate the support. 

Talking about D&I in safe spaces among people that you know won’t disagree with you is a start. It’s not enough. 

How many of you pushed back against the trolls and the misogynism and homophobia directed at me for doing my job? (Shout out to Rex Brynen and Jeremy Sepinsky for being absolute heroes in the Wavell Room troll pit.)

How many of you read my new year essay—literally about how silence from the majority who support D&I is part of the problem—and said nothing to me, or in public, or to other women and minority wargamers in support?

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Make your standard the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

Wong and Heath: Is the (US) Department of Defense making enough progress in wargaming?

At War on the Rocks today, Yuna Huh Wong and Garrett Heath ask whether the US Department of Defense is making enough progress in the quality and effectiveness of its wargaming efforts.

Five years into its reinvigoration, the military’s interest in wargaming remains strong. Strategy writing teams in the Pentagon extensively wargamed candidates for the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Demand has only increased for approaches that can help senior leaders think through everything from technologies such as artificial intelligence and cyber to fully fledged concepts such as the joint warfighting concept and joint all-domain command and control. Wargaming plays a key role in these activities and, despite its limitations, few practical alternatives exist.

Yet, if wargaming continues to be one of the few tools available to better prepare the U.S. military for the future, is wargaming, as conducted by the Department of Defense, up to the task? There are four questions the department needs to answer before it will know.

First: Is the quality of existing defense wargaming sufficient? Is the overall defense wargaming enterprise able to support the present challenges in concept development, analysis, capabilities development, and professional military education?

A second key question for the department to answer is whether wargaming does in fact improve learning and innovation. The truth is that we have little to no empirical research that shows wargaming promotes learning, creative thinking, or problem solving — at either the individual or organizational levels.

A third question for the department to answer is whether there is sufficient wargaming capability and capacity across the defense enterprise to support current and future wargaming needs.

This leads us to the fourth question the department needs to answer: What is the state of the wargaming workforce, and does it need to modernize this workforce, in terms of backgrounds, skillsets, and professional practices? 

It’s a very valuable discussion that raises some very important questions—you should go read the entire piece at the link above.

Army University wargaming tournament, 15 March

Army University will be hosting an online wargaming tournament on 15 March, with a possible extension to March 16 if need be. Everyone is welcome to take part.

Please let Dr. James Sterrett know if you wish to take part by 1700 ET on 13 March, so they can set up the competition grids. It will be a Swiss-style round robin tournament.

  • The game to be used will be Battle for Moscow (Victory Point Games edition). The rules can be found here.
  • Games will be played via VASSAL (download here), using this module (BFM.vmod “Alternate (VPG Remake)”).
  • Communications will be via Discord, with a channel link to follow closer to the time

Simulation and gaming publications, January-February 2021

PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.


Sang-Hyun Ahn, Jitae Kim, Il-Moon Chung, Jeong Eun Lee, “Domestic and Foreign Case Studies of Virtual Drought Exercise,”  Journal of Engineering Geology (December 2020) [in Korean].

Drought has repeatedly occurred due to the climate change effect. The government is working on ways to reduce drought damage and is conducting drought exercise. This study analyzed drought literature and exercise cases in the United States, Australia and Korea. Based on the analysis results, the study suggested considerations in selecting exercise types which are workshop, tabletop exercise and functional exercise, and process of the drought exercise. The results of the study can be used as an effective tool to prepare the virtual drought exercise. 

Rex Brynen, “Virtual paradox: how digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming,” Digital War 1, 1 (2020).

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

Andreas Haggman, “Imagining and Anticipating Cyber Futures with Games,” in A. Ertan, K. Floyd, P. Pernik, T. Stevens, eds., Cyber Threats and NATO 2030: Horizon Scanning and Analysis (NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, 2020).

This short chapter considers the relationship between games and futures, with specific focus on cyber security. Games and gamification have received renewed attention in both academia and industry over the past ten years. Within this broad field, the genre of wargaming occupies a significant but often underappreciated space.

Unlike what some observers might argue, wargaming is not just an activity for history anoraks with an overly keen interest in the past. Wargaming can indeed be used to better understand historical events, but it can also be used to explore the dynamics of the present or employed as a highly imperfect crystal ball to gaze into the future. When done right, wargaming can be a powerful tool to engage audiences with little subject matter expertise or game playing experience.

Three core arguments are made in this chapter. First, wargames can provide structure for players to imagine futures. Second, wargames can prepare players for the future by enabling them to anticipate emotions. Lastly, cyber wargames should avoid the trap of becoming enamoured with the technolo- gy of cyber security.

The chapter is grounded in diverse literature, drawing on material from cultural studies, strategic studies, modelling and simulation and history. Readers will find theoretical insights into the uses of games alongside prac- tical advice for those seeking to use wargames in a cyber security context.

Shang Jiang, Wenxia Wei, Yanlin Wu, Rui Tang, Qingquan Feng, Daogang Ji, “War Chess as Hierarchical Learning Environment,” 13th International Symposium on Computational Intelligence and Design (2020).

This paper introduces GWCLE (General War Chess Learning Environment), a general machine learning environment based on hexagonal wargaming. Hexagonal war chess, when utilized as machine learning challenge, is naturally a multi-agent problem with the intelligent interaction of human or machine. The GWCLE supports hybrid engine, allowing credible simulation for kinds of war chess, which provides hierarchical training framework for massive agents control problem. The agent can be trained with designated level of war chess data and transferred bottom-up or top-down. For training on the whole deduction, we build the database to store refined replay data. Our framework is able to support agents to be trained in tactical and strategic level simultaneously. GWCLE offers a hierarchical perspective of the war chess simulation, allowing researchers controlling the granularity of action and time step.

Thorsten Kodalle, Terra Schwartz, David Ormrod, C. Sample, K. Scott, “A General Theory of Influence in a DIME/PMESII, ASCOP/IRC Model,” Journal of Information Warfare 19, 2 (2020).

The leading question of this paper is “How can one conceptualise influence warfare in order to simulate it?” The authors discuss the foundational aspects of theory and model of influence warfare by building a conceptual framework. The framework forms a prism with three axes along the DIME/PMESII/ASCOP dimensions. The DIME concept groups the many instru- ments of power a nation-state can muster into four elements: Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics. PMESII describes the operational environment in six domains: Political, Mili- tary, Economic, Social, Information, and Infrastructure. ASCOPE is used in COunterINsurgen- cy (COIN) environments to analyse the cultural and human environment (the ‘human terrain’) and encompasses Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organization, People, and Events. Addition- ally, the model reflects about aspects of Information Collection Requirements and Information Capabilities Requirements (ICR2)—hence DIME/PMESII/ASCOP/ICR2. The paper focuses on building a framework for the problem space of influence/information/hybrid warfare and intro- duces the idea of the perception field, understood as a molecule (gestalt or shape) of a story or narrative that influences an observer. This molecule can be drawn as a selection of vectors that can be built inside the DIME/PMESII/ASCOP prism. Each vector can be influenced by a shielding or shaping action. These ideas are explored in the context of an influence wargame.

Robert Körner and Astrid Schütz, “It is not all for the same reason! Predicting motives in miniature wargaming on the basis of personality traits,”  Personality and Individual Differences 173 (April 2021).

Despite the increasing popularity of miniature wargames (MWGs), research on this pastime is still scarce. We aimed to understand how personality is related to motivations for playing MWGs. A world sample of 8590 MWG players was tested with the Ten-Item Personality Inventory to assess the Big Five and the Trojan Player Typology to measure gaming motivations. The latter scale was used for the first time in non-video-game players and showed good psychometric properties. Results showed several significant associations between personality and motivations for engaging in these games. People who played MWGs to socialize were high in openness and extraversion. Players high in agreeableness did not want to compete and did not emphasize winning as an important factor. People who played to escape from everyday problems reported high levels of neuroticism. Story-driven gamers described themselves as open and agreeable. Clearly, personality is relevant for predicting the attractiveness of MWGs, and the game has different aspects of attractiveness for different groups. The results help to better explain the phenomenon of MWGs and highlight the role of personality in this pastime. Avenues for future research such as the use of behavioral measures in playing MWGs are discussed.

Miriam Matejova and Chad M. Briggs, “Embracing the Darkness: Methods for Tackling Uncertainty and Complexity in Environmental Disaster Risks,” Global Environmental Politics 21, 1 (February 2021).

Environmental systems are complex and often difficult to predict. The interrelationships within such systems can create abrupt changes with lasting impacts, yet they are often overlooked until disasters occur. Mounting environmental and social crises demand the need to better understand both the role and consequences of emerging risks in global environmental politics (GEP). In this research note, we discuss scenarios and simulations as innovative tools that may help GEP scholars identify, assess, and communicate solutions to complex problems and systemic risks. We argue that scenarios and simulations are effective at providing context for interpreting “weak signals.” Applying simulations to research of complex risks also offers opportunities to address otherwise overwhelming uncertainty.

Daniel F. Oriesek, Jan Oliver Schwarz, Winning the Uncertainty Game: Turning Strategic Intent into Results with Wargaming (Routledge, 2020).

This book is about the challenges that emerge for organizations from an ever faster changing world. While useful at their time, several management tools, including classic strategic planning processes, will no longer suffice to address these challenges in a timely and comprehensive fashion. While individual management tools are still valid to solve specific problems, they need to be employed based on a clear understanding of what the greater challenge is and how they need to be combined and prioritized with other approaches. In order to do so, companies can apply the clarity of thinking from the military with regard to which leadership level is responsible for what and how these levels need to interact in order to produce a single aligned response to an outside opportunity or threat. Finally, the tool of business wargaming, while known for some time, proves to be an ideal approach to quickly and effectively bring all leadership levels together, align them around a common objective and lay the groundwork for effective implementation of targeted responses that will keep the organization competitive and in the game for the long run.

The book offers a comprehensive introduction to business wargaming, including a historical account, a classification of different types of games and a number of specific real-world examples. 

This book is targeted at practicing managers dealing with the aforementioned challenges, as well as for students of business and strategy at every level.

Matthew A. Schnurr and Anna MacLeod, eds., Simulations and Student Learning (University of Toronto Press, 2020).

Simulation-based education (SBE) is a teaching strategy in which students adopt a character as part of the learning process. SBE has become a fixture in the university classroom based on its ability to stimulate student interest and deepen analytical thinking. 

Simulations and Student Learning is the first piece of scholarship that brings together experts from the social, natural, and health sciences in order to open up new opportunities for learning about different strategies, methods, and practices of immersive learning. This collection advances current scholarly thinking by integrating insights from across a range of disciplines on how to effectively design, execute, and evaluate simulations, leading to a deeper understanding of how SBE can be used to cultivate skills and capabilities that students need to achieve success after graduation.

James Smith, “New Research into the History, Theory and Practice of Naval Wargaming,” The Mariner’s Mirror 107 (2021).

It is largely overlooked today that naval war- gaming was a major contributing factor not only to the development of British naval thought but also to strategic theory. In academia and in government, naval wargaming has often been disregarded and its importance to the development of the art and theory of war neglected. It has been viewed purely through the eyes of a land narrative. The disparity between land and sea wargaming rose to prominence in 2016 when the author regenerated naval wargaming in the War Studies Department at King’s College London, which was met with an array of suspicious questions, often from historians. Projects on the history of wargaming and its many branches have been undertaken previously by the wargaming community, but they failed to set their research in a wider context. They had become reliant on the same, often secondary, sources as a cornerstone of their understanding of the history of naval war- gaming. To their consternation, these were some of the factors behind why wargamers continued to face the same questions repeatedly on the role and function of wargames. They often failed to demonstrate that naval wargaming was both a practical tool and an enabling agent for the disciplines and topics that it has supported. Examples could have been easily shown from the wider narrative of wargaming, and their interpretation was not just dependent on the classified wargaming found in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century defence practice. With this in mind, the Society for Nautical Research supported a project to fill a gap in knowledge and address these issues in a scholarly manner. Addressing these multide of imbalances, the research has identifed that naval wargaming became an essential tool to support not only historical discussion of naval topics and questions, but was also critical to the development of strategic theory. This report summarizes the initial findings.

Hanchao Wang, Hongyao Tang, Jianye Hao, Xiaotian Hao, Yue Fu, Yi Ma, “Large Scale Deep Reinforcement Learning in War-games,” 2020 IEEE International Conference on Bioinformatics and Biomedicine (2020).

War-game is a type of multi-agent real-time strategy game, with challenges of the large-scale decision-making space and the flexible and changeable battlefield situation. In addition to the military field, it has played a role in fields including epidemic prevention and pest control. In recent years, more and more learning algorithms have tried to solve this kind of game. However, the existing methods have not yet given a satisfactory solution for the war-game, especially when preparation time is limited. In this background, we try to solve a traditional war-game based on hexagon grids. We propose a hierarchical multi-agent reinforcement learning framework to rapidly training an AI model for the war-game. The higher-level network in our hierarchical framework is used for task decision, it solves the credit assignment problem between agents through cooperative training. The lower-level network is mainly used for route planning, and it can be reused through parameter sharing for all the agents and all the maps. To deal with various opponents, we improve the robustness of the model through a grouped self-play approach. In experiments, we get encouraging results which show that the hierarchical structure allows agents to learn their strategies effectively. Our final AI model demonstrates that our methods can effectively deal with the challenges in the war-game.

Nan Wang and Miao Shen, “Foreseeing the Subversive Influence of Intelligent Simulation Technology for Battle Example Teaching,” International conference on Big Data Analytics for Cyber-Physical-Systems (2020).

It is an important research project that exploring battle example teaching is how to serve the fight and drill preferably. The simulation territory has introduced artificial intelligence, virtual reality and cloud computing at present, the simulation based on these techniques will bring far-reaching influence for battle example teaching. The intelligent simulation technology will remodel analysis factors of battle example, reconstitute research idea of battle example, overturn the research of battle example. The battle example teaching methods based on intelligence confrontation, scene recurrence and fight chess manoeuvre will show itself, and it will help researchers capture victory inspiration from battle example, feel command art in virtual confrontation and excavate defeating mechanism from retrospect research.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 February 2021

PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Many thanks to Scott Cooper, Aaron Danis, Bruce Pennell, Hans Steensma, and others for suggesting material for this latest edition.

The Connections North 2021 professional (war)gaming virtual conference is on 19-21 February—and ticket sales close on Thursday, so hurry up and register! A copy of the conference programme can be found on the registration page, and the Zoom link for the conference will emailed to all registrants a day before the conference starts (if you haven’t received it already).

At the LECMgt blog, Roger Mason discusses commercial wargames and experiential learning.

In military organizations, the use of wargaming is a tempting approach to introduce learning and engage discussion. The most readily available pool of games is the hundreds of titles available from the commercial wargame industry. Is it feasible to use commercial off the shelf (COTS) games as learning platforms? What type of learning is possible, and to what extent can it occur? What about the underlying game mechanics sometimes referred to as the Black Box? Are they an insurmountable problem in employing commercial games?  

To evaluate these questions, it is important to examine the issues of the Black Box, evaluate how the end user may learn from games, explore what COTS games can provide, and finally offer a hybrid solution or game requirements not met by COTS products. To begin I think it is important to deal with the most common obstacle presented by critics of commercial games, the Black Box problem.

In case you missed the announcement back in December, the UK Ministry of Defence is establishing the Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC), based on the US Department of Defense model. According to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace:

The Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC) will encompass war gaming, doctrine, red teaming and external academic analysis.

It will focus and enhance existing efforts, work closely with Defence Intelligence and look across all areas of defence, especially doctrine and the equipment choices we are making.

The latest quarterly report (Fall 2020/Q1 FY2021) of the US Naval Postgraduate School’s Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI) can be found below. It addresses NPS wargaming courses, outreach, conference presentations, publications, thesis research, and other work.

According to Breaking Defense, the US Department of Defense “will include climate change-related issues in its National Defense Strategy  and war gaming, a major change driven by President Biden signing of an executive order today instructing the government to begin tackling climate change on a wider scale.”

Biden’s order directs the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to include climate risk assessments in developing a new National Defense Strategy, due in 2022, along with the Defense Planning Guidance, the Chairman’s Risk Assessment, “and other relevant strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes.”

The order gives the Pentagon and other federal agencies 120 days to produce “an analysis of the security implications of climate change (Climate Risk Analysis) that can be incorporated into modeling, simulation, war-gaming, and other analyses.”

On 15-19 March, the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) will offer a certificate course in cyber wargaming, taught by Ed McGrady and Paul Vebber.

Through a combination of lectures and practical exercises focusing on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues, we will examine the challenges of cyber gaming. Students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy and will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.

On 6-8 April, MORS will offer a course on gaming emergency response to disease.

This three-day course will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response and will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. The objective throughout the course will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. The current pandemic is a reminder that disease can produce unusual, unique, and difficult challenges for decision-makers at all levels of government.

Back in December, students at the Institute of World Politics found themselves fighting—in virtual Iaq:

On an early December Saturday, ten students in Professor Aaron Danis’ Violent Non-State Actors in the Contemporary Security Environment course (IWP 683), joined by another of Prof. Danis’ students and four IWP undergraduate interns, played the first virtual iteration of a wargame about the summer 2014 crisis when ISIS forces broke out of Syria and overran a sizeable chunk of northern Iraq, to include the major Iraqi city of Mosul.  Unlike the previous three times this wargame was played in class, this one had to be played out over Zoom.

“It took some indispensable help from the professional wargame team at the U.S. Army War College, but we were able to get the essence of the game into an online format,” said Prof. Danis.

In a typical game, students and interns represent one of six teams: three state actors (the United States, Iraq, and Iran) and three non-state actors (ISIS, the Kurds, and the Sunni tribes of Iraq).  Each team develops a strategy using the tools of statecraft prior to the game that they then apply against live opponents who are either working with or against them.  “The strategies are graded based on content and how well the teams implement them,” said Prof. Danis.

Each game turn represents 2-4 weeks of real time, so a full 6-turn game will cover the 6 crucial months when the United States, Iraq, and its new Coalition allies tried to stem the ISIS tide before the group could take Baghdad.

You can find out more about the ISIS Crisis matrix game here at PAXsims.

If you missed the Connections Netherlands conference back in December, here’s an after action report:

The Sheffield Telegraph featured an interesting article last month on the use of miniatures for air raid preparedness training during World War Two:

But when is a toy soldier not a toy soldier? The answer; when a world war is looming and it becomes a vital training aid to help Britain prepare for the terrifying ordeal of the Blitz.

In April 1937, in response to the growing threat of conflict in Europe and the aerial bombing of civilians in the Spanish Civil War, the government decided to create the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) service. Its job would be to protect civilians from the danger of air raids as well as help those caught up in the bombing.

During the next 12 months this volunteer organisation swelled to over 20,000 members. Training was based on the experiences of both World War I and the Spanish Civil War, with aerial bombing and gas attacks seen as the main threats. It also became clear that ambulance and other medical services would need to train with ARP wardens in advance of the predicted heavy casualties.

The best way to do this was through live exercises on the streets of towns and cities across the country. However it was thought that such exercises would have a detrimental effect on the morale of the civilians they sought to help and protect, bringing too close to home the fears of aerial bombardment. So the next best idea was to perform tactical exercises within the confines of offices, church and drill halls using miniatures.

At this point two toy companies entered the scene; William Britain, and Taylor and Barrett. Both were established and hugely successful manufacturers of lead model figures. Indeed by 1939 Britain’s was the biggest maker of toy soldiers in the world….

The National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffiled holds some of these in its collection. See the article for more details.

Does your wargaming organization encourage diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming? Then you might want to join the many supporters of the Derby House Principles. We still have some Derby House Principles pins left too!

Liberating Mosul (solo edition)

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Mosul (2019) on Netflix—a fictionalized account of a real-life Iraqi SWAT team that fought against Daesh (ISIS) from the fall of Mosul in 2014 through to the liberation of the city in 2017. It’s an excellent, gritty movie. Filmed entirely in Arabic, it places the Iraqi security forces at the centre of the story: US and coalition support is only mentioned a few times and one Iranian military advisor makes a brief (and memorable) appearance. Indeed, during the actual campaign in Iraq and Syria, 99.5% of those who fought and died against Daesh were Arabs and Kurds.

Not surprisingly, the movie often comes to mind as I’ve been playtesting the optional solitaire rules for We Are Coming, Nineveh! As regular readers of PAXsims will know, WACN is a tactical/operational game of the liberation of West Mosul. It was first developed by two students in my conflict simulation class, Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer. I later joined them as a codesigner, as did Brian Train. While things have been slowed by the pandemic, Nuts! Publishing plan to release it by the end of this year. You’ll find previous reports on the project here and here.

Normally, WACN is a two player game. In the solitaire version, the player assumes control of Iraqi forces against an automated Daesh defender. First, the ISF player decides what additional assets and capabilities they will bring to the battle. The initial deployment of Daesh forces is then randomized, but in a way that reflects the group’s major tactical priorities: a last-ditch defence of the densely-built Old City, with enough units and IEDs elsewhere to preclude rapid encirclement, complicate ISF planning, and promise some difficult fights and tactical surprises. The use of blocks and rumours (dummy counters) means that the ISF player is rarely sure of the enemy’s exact dispositions.

Thereafter, game play alternates, with Daesh actions controlled by a deck of “military council” cards. These usually direct two or three sets of Daesh action each turn, from ambushes and counterattacks, through to indirect fire, quadcopter (drone) attacks, snipers, tunnels, human shields, and so forth. Some of these depend on Daesh’s supply situation, and others seek to identify weak spots in the ISF lines.

For the ISF, it is essential to cut off external supply routes into the Old City and destroy key assets (such as leadership, arms aches, and IED factories). Coalition ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance assets) and precision fires can be very helpful indeed if used carefully. But so too are things like training, improved logistics, casualty evacuation, explosive ordinance disposal, and old-fashioned human intelligence (HUMINT). Indeed, while the battle for Mosul had some key high-tech elements, most of the gruelling, house-to-house fighting would have been familiar to veterans of Stalingrad, Seoul, or Huế—a point that the movie brings out well.

Details from yesterday’s game can be seen below. (Note that this is my rather heavily-used playtesting copy, and not representative of the artwork that will appear in the published version.) The ISF has secured coalition air, artillery, and UAV support, augmented its logistics capabilities, and deployed some Popular Mobilization Forces in addition to the Iraqi Army, police, and Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS).

Military Council cards determined what Daesh did each turn. The initial advance went well, with some Daesh forces brushed aside quickly.

However, Daesh had a few surprises up its sleeve—on top of the challenges of conducting military operations in a major city. Below, veteran Daesh defenders emerge from a hidden tunnel to attack Iraqi police in a rear area.

Things began to bog down. The Iraqi Army severed the enemy’s supply lines, only to see them reestablished for another month after a Daesh counterattack.

Most of the fighting in the Old City was conducted by forces from the elite CTS “Golden Division.” However, one memorable scene from Mosul was replayed as an Iraqi police SWAT team and Iranian-advised PMF forces found themselves together—possibly trading cigarettes for ammunition, as in the movie.

The fighting here was gruelling, with some CTS units suffering over 70% casualties (as they did in real life). The local Daesh commander was ultimately cornered just north of the al-Nuri mosque, but precious weeks were lost taking these final positions.

The collateral damage from the fighting was also heavier than expected. When points were tallied at the end of the game, Daesh had lost control of the city but won a political victory.

Wargaming in the era of telework

At the Modern War Institute (West Point), Yuna Wong discusses “going virtual: wargaming in an era of telework, travel restrictions, and social distancing.”

One of the many ways that COVID-19 has impacted the US Department of Defense is in its wargaming activities. Typically conducted in person, wargames face challenges from travel restrictionslarge-scale shifts toward teleworksocial distancing measures, and state and local lockdowns that affect the defense industry. Wargames are also often classified, and classified work has faced particular challenges during the pandemic—although it has given rise to classified telework.

There are significant limitations of using many of the same approaches we have always used, just now in the virtual space. Additional thought and better design are required to improve the virtual wargaming experience and to gain the full advantages that distributed wargames may offer. As we have all discovered, virtual events come with their own set of challenges. The lack of face-to-face engagement takes away many of the benefits from traditional, in-person wargames and tabletop exercises. Zoom fatiguedistractions in the home; bandwidth and connectivity issues; anxiety, frustration, and boredom from social isolation; plus general pandemic stress all hamper participants’ engagement. Multiple, day-long tabletop exercises and wargames are impractical and ineffective when simply moved to Microsoft Teams without additional adaptation.

What, then, can wargamers do in light of these difficulties with virtual gaming?…

You’ll have to read the her article to find the answers.

Simulation & Gaming (February 2021)

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 52, 1 (February 2021) is now available. It is a special symposium edition devoted to escape rooms.

  • Editorial
    • Escape Rooms: A Novel Strategy Whose Time has Come Desiree
      • A. Díaz and Timothy C. Clapper
  • Articles
    • Toward Defining Healthcare Simulation Escape Rooms 
      • Mindi Anderson, Lori Lioce, Jamie M. Robertson, Joseph O. Lopreiato, and Desiree A. Díaz
    • Ensuring Educational Escape-Room Success: The Process of Designing, Piloting, Evaluating, Redesigning, and Re-Evaluating Educational Escape Rooms 
      • Heidi Eukel and Briyana Morrell
    • Escape Room Blueprint: Central Orientation Contagion Crisis 
      • Jill L. McLaughlin, Jessica A. Reed, Jody Shiveley, and Stephanie Lee
    • A Community Pediatric Camp Escape Room: An Interactive Approach to Applying Real-Life Critical Thinking Skills 
      • Syretta Spears, Gabriel M. Díaz, and Desiree A. Diaz
    • There is no I in Escape: Using an Escape Room Simulation to Enhance Teamwork and Medication Safety Behaviors in Nursing Students 
      • Dawn Sarage, Barbara J. O’Neill, and Carrie Morgan Eaton
    • The Impact of an Escape Room Simulation to Improve Nursing Teamwork, Leadership and Communication Skills: A Pilot Project 
      • Beatriz Valdes, Mary Mckay, and Jill S. Sanko
    • Escape the Simulation Room Jennifer E. Sanders, Jared Kutzin, and Christopher G. Strother
      Shocking Escape: A Cardiac Escape Room for Undergraduate Nursing Students 
      • Briyana Morrell and Heidi N Eukel
    • Can You Escape? The Pharmacology Review Virtual Escape Room 
      • Miranda Michelle Smith and Rebecca G. Davis
    • Operation Outbreak: A Periop 101 Exam Review Escape Room 
      • Ashley N. Frederick and Jessica A. Reed
    • Escape the Womb: A Maternal Emergency 
      • Lori Hardie, Amanda Gill, Stephanie Lee, and Jody Shiveley
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