PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: China

Belt and Road matrix game

BeltAndRoadPAXsims is pleased to present a “Belt and Road” matrix game examining Chinese grand strategy, by the ever-prolific Tim Price. The file (which you can download from here) includes a map; counters/assets/markers; briefing documents for China, the US (and allies), Russia, India, and ASEAN states; random event cards; and brief instructions on how to play a matrix game.

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Further guidance on playing, facilitating, and designing matrix games can be found in the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) User Guide, available as a pdf download from The Game Crafter. The full Matrix Game Construction Kit (also available from The Game Crafter) contains everything you need to develop and run matrix games for professional, educational, and hobby applications.

MaGCK

For other games on this and related themes, see:

McGill gaming seminar: three projects

This week the students submitted their game projects for my POLI 490 game design seminar, finally bringing the term to an end. One lesson I learned this year is the need to force students into building a prototype earlier, and therefore allowing more time for play-testing. Constant exhortations weren’t enough, and I think all three teams were surprised to discover how long the play-test/revise/play-test/revise cycle can be, and how many bugs there can be to work out.

Still, I was very happy with the results. The conceptual foundations and core game mechanics of all three games were excellent—indeed, there are some potential commercial designs in here. All three teams want to continue to development over the summer and beyond, and possibly show them off at Connections US and/or Connections UK. What’s more, Brian Train has offered to assist with game development—pretty much a dream come true for neophyte political-military game designers.

 

One Belt One Road

One Belt One Road is a semi-cooperative game that examines Chinese grand strategy, focusing on its current efforts to deepen trade and investment ties in Asia, Africa, and onwards to Europe. Players represent the Ministry of Finance and Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the People’s Liberation Army.  Using financial, diplomatic, and military resources they seek to improve China’s bilateral relations, develop trade agreements, secure military facilities, and—most important of all—secure trade and investment opportunities. An events deck constantly generates new challenges to be overcome, however. Moreover, the three players have slightly different interests, which can impede cooperation.

 

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OBOR Game materials.

 

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Players have a menu of game actions they may take each turn, plus they may also support projects and respond to event cards.

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A game underway.  Eligible projects can be seen at the bottom, current events in the top right. The country displays show current relations with China. India doesn’t seem to be very happy!

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Sample event cards. 

 

 

The Logic of Atrocities: The War in Darfur

This is a mixed area/point-to-point wargame with a twist: the game is designed to show how and why governments and insurgent groups might engage in war crimes, and what might constrain them from doing so. In the game, atrocities can aid military operations, or impede rebel recruitment and resource generation through terror and forced displacement. However atrocities can backfire too. Refugees might themselves become a new source of rebel recruits. Moreover, there is a risk that they could provoke international condemnations, sanctions, or worse. Certain event cards, if triggered, are moved to the “Warn” and “Action” boxes, and if these fill up international action becomes possible. The intended audience here is those interested in mass atrocity prevention. the current version of the game is for two players (Sudan and Darfuri rebel groups), but a planned three player variation will introduce a United Nations player too.

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Game materials for The Logic of Atrocities.

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Sudanese Army (green) and pro-regime Janjaweed irregulars (white) commit atrocities as they advance towards rebel JEM forces that have just seized the town of el-Geneina.

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Sudanese war crimes have provoked condemnation from the United States and African Union—but no real international action action (yet).

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh

The third game is a tactical/operational wargame of the battle for West Mosul in February-July 2017, pitting the Iraqi security forces (and coalition support) against the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). It too uses a mix of zonal and point-to point movement. Before the game starts, each player invests in capabilities and defensive preparations. On the ISIS side these include such things as tunnel networks, human shields, makeshift drones, primitive chemical weapons, IEDs and VBIEDS, bomb factories, weapons stockpiles, enhanced media capability, spy networks, improved training, human shields, and so forth. Units are depicted by blocks, thus providing for some fog of war, and blocks are rotated to show losses and reduced combat capability. Iraqi headquarters units enable loss recovery, additional movement, or combat bonuses. The terrain is both shaped and coded for urban density, which affects stacking and combat: armoured units, for example, are very effective in open areas, but cannot penetrate the narrow alleyways of the Old City. Major roads provide for faster movement—but only if you’ve cleared the neighbouring areas.

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Game materials for We Are Coming, Nineveh. The Iraqi government offensive has just begun.

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ISIS preparations for this game include human shields, tunnels, improved training, and simple chemical weapons.

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The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (Golden Division) advances towards the Old City while elements of the 9th Armoured Division try to clear the major roads and flank ISIS positions to the west.

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Amnesty International raises concerns that coalition drone strikes are causing excessive civilian casualties.

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Meanwhile, advancing Iraqi forces are harassed by makeshift ISIS drones.

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Iraqi forces begin to break into the Old City along the southern bank of the Tigris River (right), while the 9th Armoured Division continues its flanking operations to secure the major roads and cut off ISIS supplies (left). ISIS fighters continue to appear in Iraqi rear areas (bottom), where they are engaged by troops and police.

McGill gaming update

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It has been a good week for McGill University gaming-related activities.

On Monday and Tuesday, I had a very enjoyable (and, I hope, very productive) couple of days at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Alexandria, VA. Much of the time we were discussing the ethics and crisis management simulations IFES is developing to bolster the capacity of election commissions, with the view that it is best to practice these sorts of issues in a safe-to-fail game environment. I also had time to make a more general presentation on the use of simulations and serious games (pdf here). They are a terrific group of skilled and dedicated folks at IFES, and kept me well supplied with coffee and sugary treats.  As you might expect, any place that names its conference rooms after the murder locations in the board game Clue is going to be simulation-and-gaming friendly.

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Wednesday was my weekly conflict simulation design seminar at McGill. We discussed aspects of game design (drawing heavily upon Phil Sabin’s excellent book Simulating War), and the students provided an update on the three group projects they are working on:

  • A wargame examining urban warfare in Mosul (2016-17). We had considerable discussion of how best to represent urban terrain, building types and density, urban population, transportation routes, ISIS defences (tunnels, fortified positions, various types of IEDs, human shields), and other elements in the game.
  • A wargame of the war in Darfur. This is intended to educate human rights workers, diplomats, development workers, and military personnel about the political and military logics of mass atrocity, with an eye to developing appropriate ways to deter and respond to them.
  • A strategic diplomatic/economic/military game of China’s One Belt One Road initiative. This is shaping up to be a semi-cooperative game, in which players represent different Chinese actors (for example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Liberation Army, state-owned enterprises, and the Chinese private sector).

We also heard a student presentation on gaming international humanitarian law. This largely looked at efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to promote greater IHL compliance in video games, including the partnership between ICRC and Bohemian Interactive which saw the release of IHL-themed downloadable content for the ARMA series of tactical first person shooters.

At the end of each seminar, we play a game (or at least part of one, since there is rarely time to finish). This week it was the 3 October 1993  “Lead the Way” scenario from Urban Operations, in which US Rangers and Delta Force personnel try to fight there way through hostile Somali militias to secure the crash site of Super 61 of “Blackhawk Down” fame. The game does a terrific job depicting urban terrain using a combination of hexes (for outside areas) and polygons (for buildings), which is why I had selected it as a demonstration game.

While all seemed to be going well at first for the Rangers, angry Somali crowds began to slow the Americans and growing numbers of Somalia National Alliance militia began to engage US forces. The Combat Search and Rescue team grimly held on at the crash site, using the helicopter wreckage to fortify their position as they drove back waves of attackers. Eventually they started to take casualties and run low on ammunition. Overhead, AH-6 Little Birds provided much-needed fire support, but found it increasingly difficult to get a clear shot at gunmen as the streets grew more crowded with angry local residents. Finally, Somali forces closed in on the Rangers from the west, and a lucky RPG shot took down one American platoon commander and forced the rest of his unit to take cover well short of Super 61.

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The Rangers advance towards the crash site, harassed by angry crowds and SNA gunmen. Minutes later, however, additional militia reinforcements would arrive from the west (left), engaging the rear of the American force.

This week we also finished the annual McGill AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game tournament. This was a optional activity for students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course, and 28 of them chose to take part as one of four teams. There are class participation bonuses for taking part, for being part of the highest-scoring winning game, and for being a member of the highest scoring individual team. In order to provide a similar level of challenge, and also to optimize teachable moments, the Event deck was prepared before each game to present an identical sequence of challenges and opportunities for each group.

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The results of the 2018 McGill AFTERSHOCK tournament.

This year, two of the games were wins, one was a narrow loss, and other was a more substantial loss. This is the third year I’ve run the game for the class–you’ll find last year’s results here.

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This year’s winning team at work in the 2018 McGill AFTERSHOCK tournament.

Finally, we’ve sold most of the tickets for the DIRE STRAITS megagame at McGill on February 25 (although there are still some available, if you’re interested). The scenario video for the game was posted earlier today here on PAXsims.

DIRE STRAITS: the video

On February 25, McGill University will host its 3rd annual megagame: DIRE STRAITS, a game of crisis and confrontation in East and Southeast Asia. The video we will be using to introduce the game scenario is below—assuming, that is, that no one starts a real nuclear war on the Korean peninsula in the next three weeks.

While most of the tickets for the event have been sold, there are some remaining via Eventbrite. We hope to see you there!

Twas the night before PAXmas…

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The PAXsims team of gaming and simulation elves is pleased to present our latest compilation of items on conflict simulation and serious games. Ryan Kuhns and Corinne Goldberger contributed to this latest edition.

Happy holidays!

PAXsims

According to an article in The Independent, China has decided to use gamification to help monitor and encourage political compliance:

As Extra Credits explains on YouTube: “If you post pictures of Tiananmen Square or share a link about the recent stock market collapse, your Sesame Credit goes down.

“Share a link from the state-sponsored news agency about how good the economy is doing and your score goes up.”

Similarly, Sesame Credit can analyse data from online purchases.

“If you’re making purchases the state deems valuable, like work shoes or local agricultural products, your score goes up.

“If you import anime from Japan though, down the score goes.”

Most insidious of all, the app will have real world consequences. According to Extra Credits, high scores will grant users benefits: “Like making it easier to get the paperwork you need to travel or making it easier to get a loan.

Although the ratings are currently optional, the social tool will become mandatory by 2020.

There have even been rumours about implementing penalties for low scores: “Like slower internet speeds, or restricting jobs a low scoring person is allowed to hold.”

The system could also become a powerful tool for social conditioning, as users could lose points for having friends with low obedience scores.

An earlier report by the BBC in October paints a slightly different picture, noting that Sesame Credit is being developed by Alibaba, the Chinese e-Commerce company as both a product linked to their online shopping portals. However, these seems little doubt that Beijing is monitoring such experiments, and hoping to use its own fusion of “big data” from scores of government and other databases as a mechanism of social control.

PAXsims

The latest issue of Infnity Journal 5, 1 (Fall 2015) contains a valuable article by Adam Elkus on “Strategic Logic and the Logical of Computational Modelling:

Computational theories, models, and simulations are revolutionizing countless areas of research.[i] Could they do the same for strategy? Yes, but only if strategic theory’s core concepts and questions can be captured within the logic of computational modeling. This article justifies this argument by exploring why previous attempts at modeling strategy have failed and why different assumptions about modeling could yield more positive results. The article investigates this debate by first examining challenges in strategic theory and why mathematics and models have not been attractive to strategic researchers. Next, it is explained how computational modeling may be of assistance to inquiries in strategic theory. Finally, the theoretical insights of the prior section are practically outlined by a comparative analysis of how research concerns in strategy can be best matched with different styles of computer program design.

PAXsims

Two recent discussions of the GMT COIN wargames have appeared in interesting places: Michael Peck reviews Fire in the Lake (Vietnam) at Small Wars Journal, while on the GrogCast podcast, James Sterret of (Simulations and Exercise Division, Digital Leader Development Center, US Army Command and General Staff College) discusses the COIN system and a number of other wargaming topics.

PAXsims

The folks at Decisive Point have been contracted by the US Army to produce a new game intended to crowdsource the testing and evaluation of future Army combat systems and doctrine:

Decisive-Point was awarded a contract to develop a computer wargame for the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC). The purpose of this wargame is to provide an Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP) environment for the exploration and assessment of future doctrinal concepts and potential organizational and material solutions. While playing the game, users will role-play tactical unit commanders of future combat units at the brigade level and below. They will have the opportunity to explore future operating capabilities as they conduct simulated offensive and defensive operations during a hypothetical future conflict. The potential effects of next generation weapon systems including robotics, electromagnetic rail gun and laser technologies can be explored. The game system will facilitate the collection of combat development data generated by soldiers, analysts, and researchers as they play various user-created scenarios. The game data and player feedback will provide concept developers quick insights into the feasibility, acceptability, and supportability of future combat systems.

h/t Jim Lunsford

PAXsims

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An article by Ruibiao Guo and Kevin Sprague on Replication of human operators’ situation assessment and decision making for simulated area reconnaissance in wargames appears in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (online first 2015).

PAXsims

At ExPatt (the Patterson School magazine of foreign affairs), Maddie Higdon and Lee Clark and discuss diplomatic strategy according to the videogame Mass Effect.

…Welcome to the world of intergalactic relations. This is just one example of the countless nuanced situations that the Mass Effect games ask players to navigate. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and it has intellectual value for developing diplomatic abilities. Think of Mass Effect as a really creative training simulation for negotiators.

The Mass Effect franchise is made up of widely successful video games, books, and comics. A feature film is rumored for the near future.  The franchise explores an incredible universe in which countless alien species interact, negotiate, and wage war with one another. The Mass Effect universe is based on the premise that as alien and human societies develop and begin to explore space, they eventually discover technology left behind by a long-extinct race of all-knowing beings that allows faster-than-light travel. By using this technology, the various species are able to conduct large-scale economic, social, and military relations with one another.

The series focuses on Commander Shepard, a space captain fighting to save humanity from a myriad of existential threats by negotiating alliances with amenable alien organizations. The video games in the franchise gained widespread popularity in large part due to the freedom of choice offered to players. Players can customize everything about the hero, from appearance, gender, and abilities, to personality and diplomatic approach. By customizing the character, the player creates a unique gaming experience because every decision in the game affects the events that unfold.

Shepard must navigate a nuanced and interconnected world where NGOs, representative bodies, militaries, corporations, and militant groups all compete for conflicting goals. Every species has a representative at an intergalactic Council, tasked with making and enforcing galactic law. But beyond this, every species has splinter groups and diverging interests that make cohesive negotiation difficult. Bioware, the game’s developers, really went for the gold in creating a complex diplomatic world to navigate….

PAXsims

On 3-5 March 2016, the Mellon Foundation Project on Civilian-Military Educational Cooperation and the US Air Force Academy conducted a crisis simulation on implementation of an Iran nuclear deal. You’ll find some details here.

PAXsims

At the blog Stohasmoi: What do we Know about IR?, Konstantinos Travlos discusses the use of the classic game Diplomacy in teaching international relations.

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Don’t forget that AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is on sale until December 31. Order now, and save $10!

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 23 October 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Corinne Goldberger and Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.

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1510_n-square_g4c_banner_634pxThe N Square Challenge is offering a $10,000 prize for the best idea for a game on nuclear proliferation:

Nuclear proliferation remains one of the most vexing and complex issues of our time. Though the Cold War ended long ago, today’s nuclear security situation is more volatile than ever.

But with such a huge challenge comes an even bigger opportunity for innovation, and who better to tackle this issue than the gaming community, known for their creativity and collaborative problem solving. A new design competition is calling on innovators to save the world, in real life, by inspiring creative solutions and novel approaches that foster greater understanding of nuclear proliferation and its related safety and security challenges.

Games for Change is looking for ideas for games that address the risk of nuclear weapons.

The N Square Challenge is a $10,000 game design competition, sponsored by N Square, a two-year pilot working to inspire nuclear safety solutions.

The challenge invites anyone, anywhere, to conceptualize a game that will engage and educate players about the dynamics of nuclear weapons risk. No prior game design experience or subject matter expertise is required. You supply the idea, and we’ll design the game.

The winning design idea will receive a $10,000 cash prize!

The deadline for submissions is November 13. You’ll find further details here and here.

N Square is a collaborative effort between five of the largest peace and security funders in the United States: The Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

PAXsims

Asymmetric Games is a website devoted to experimental strategy games. Their most recent offering examines rebuilding a post-apocalyptic America:

Asymmetric Warfare: Nation Building USA is a game that explores the complexity of conflicts that occur in failed states. Rather than look at a current conflict in a country where the basic functions of government have broken down (Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.), this game assumes that the United States is recovering from a debilitating plague. To stop the spread of the plague, the US government had to put the US population under a prolonged quarantine and nuke a few cities where the plague was out of control. Forcing people to stay indoors for several weeks, in turn, caused the economy to collapse. Larger areas of the country have collapsed into anarchy, and millions of refugees are fleeing the fallout of the nuclear strikes. The US has become a failed state. You play a bankrupt US government, and you must reassert control over and rebuild the nation.

Below you’ll find a video highlighting the Asymmetric Games engine used in an earlier game, Baltic Gambit:

PAXsims

Rogue State is a digital game newly released on Steam:

Assume control of a Middle Eastern country recovering from a violent revolution. It is up to you: Forge alliances, grow your economy, invade your neighbors, or pacify your population. Rogue State is a geopolitical strategy game that will force you to always stay one step ahead of your rivals to survive.

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Rumour has it that a well-known British wargamer (and occasional PAXsims contributor) was recently spotted in China too.

China is taking its wargaming and military exercises more seriously, according to Defense News:

China has greatly increased the realism of its Army training, attempting to improve readiness and interoperability, and unearth operational weaknesses.

These trends demonstrate the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) rising self-confidence in dealing with a variety of scenarios beyond its traditional focus of a conflict with Taiwan, analysts said.

Since 2006, the PLA has increased the number of trans-regional exercises, particularly units moving from one military region (MR) to another for training, said Roy Kamphausen, senior vice president for research at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

The PLA has made three key improvements in land warfare exercises, said Li Xiaobing, author of the book “A History of the Modern Chinese Army.”

First, the PLA has moved the exercises out of their training fields like the one in the Beijing region and into actual battlegrounds, including some remote, frontier areas like those in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Second, the exercises have become more practical in terms of real war conditions, such as command, communication and long-distance logistics.

“They even traveled long distance to Russia for a joint land exercise,” he said.

Third, the blue army or enemy force is now better prepared and stronger than the red army or PLA.

“The red army has to fight harder and smarter rather than expecting a guaranteed victory,” Li said. Li once served in the PLA and is now a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

However:

Li said weaknesses of the recent land exercises remind people of the institutional problems of the PLA.

“Politics still has a role in the exercises, including site selection, commander appointments and battle designs,” he said. Problems include economic issues: “Some units were asked to use old weapons before their retirement and ammunition before the expiration dates.”

For more on wargaming in China, see Devin Ellis’ recent presentation on the topic at Connections UK 2015 (video below).

PAXsims

Mark Herman—designer of We The PeopleEmpire of the Sun, Fire in the Lake, Churchill and many other wargames–recently had an AMA (‘ask me anything”) on Reddit. You can read the questions and answers in the Hex and Counter subreddit.

PAXsims

live-like-a-refugee-for-a-weekend-in-rural-ohio-511-body-image-1444867210-size_1000In Ohio, Dr. Jeff Cook organizes an annual Refugee Weekend that aims to Refugee Weekend—an “immersion experience modeled on different refugee situations from around the world.” The event lasts two days and nights:

During one of my more memorable weekends in college, I fled a group of bandits trying to steal my belongings, plucked a scrawny chicken, watched a sheep get slaughtered so we could eat, and narrowly avoided frostbite after spending all day and night outside. In Ohio. In the middle of winter. The experience was called Refugee Weekend, an overnight class exercise meant to show our group of Midwestern, middle-class millennials just what it meant to exist on the margins. It was so cold that I melted the sole of my Army-issue borrowed boot as I tried to get warm at a campfire. Then a group of masked bandits raided camp, again, and I hobbled on an unevenly melted boot for the rest of the night. The hellish experience began on Friday afternoon, and ended in the early hours of Sunday morning—if only real-world refugees had that luxury.

Read more about it at VICE.

On a similar theme, the Webster University Journal reports on another refugee simulation:

The refugee experience tested the students both mentally and physically, just like a real refugee scenario. 

Sara Banoura, a journalism student and member of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement in St. Louis, said she was skeptical when she first read about the simulation. She said she did not know how close to reality it was. 

Banoura said the reflections made by those who participated reassured her that the refugee simulation has the potential to change hearts on and off campus. 

“The Syrian situation is eye-opening to every other refugee situation,” Banoura said. “It’s not just about politics, it’s about humanity.”

PAXsims

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The latest issue of PS: Political Science & Politics 48, 4 (October 2015) contains an article by Kyle Haynes on “Simulating the Bargaining Model of War.”

This article outlines a classroom simulation for teaching the bargaining model of war. This model has become one of the most important theories of international conflict, but the technical notation often used to illustrate it is troublesome for some students. I describe a simple card game that can be integrated into a broader strategy for conveying the bargaining model’s core insights. I also highlight ways in which the game can be modified to focus on different aspects of the model’s logic.

PAXsims

The Journal of Games Criticism is seeking submissions for its January 2016 issue.
The Journal of Games Criticism (JGC) is a non-profit, peer-reviewed, open-access journal which aims to respond to these cultural artifacts by extending the range of authors to include both traditional academics and popular bloggers. The journal strives to be a producer of feed-forward approaches to video games criticism with a focus on influencing gamer culture, the design and writing of video games, and the social understanding of video games and video games criticism.
This issue’s submission deadline is November 15, 2015. See here for submissions guidelines.
PAXsims

…one crowdfunded video game project has stood out to me as a model for cultivating an audience and then effectively meeting its expectations—not to mention delivering a great game in the process. It’s Prison Architectwhich has raised more than $19 million through crowdfunding. Game designers and companies alike would benefit from studying its success.

In Prison Architect, an ambitious business/management simulation from British developer Introversion Software, players design and manage their own penal colony. It wasn’t funded through Kickstarter but through Valve’s game distribution platform Steam, whose “Early Access” program required that Introversion deliver a playable experience before anyone could even donate money. Consequently, Prison Architect’s concept had to be sufficiently fleshed out and coherent to yield a minimal prototype before its creators could ask anyone for money. Second, after releasing that prototype in 2012 Introversion updated the game almost every month with new features and functionality in order to get ongoing feedback from the funders. And third, Introversion never promised more than it could deliver—quite the opposite.

After being available for three years as an open, prerelease “alpha,” Prison Architectwas officially released two weeks ago and appears destined for long-term cult success….

PAXsims

While not exactly connected with conflict, it is all about simulation—so I’ll slip in a quick plug for McGill University’s  Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning, which supports simulated training in the health sciences.

Since its inception in 2006 the Centre has been an important part of the training of health care students and practitioners, having hosted over 110,000 learner visits, more than 60,000 of which have occurred in the past four years. The Centre’s academic team provides simulation-based training to students from McGill’s schools of medicine, nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, and dietetics and human nutrition, as well as to non-McGill health care professionals and to industry.

Using sophisticated simulation technology, life-like mannequins and professional actors as patients, among other tools, the Centre’s users are able to practice a variety of skills from suturing to ultrasound to bedside manner to crisis resource management, clinical decision-making and interprofessional health care.

You can read more about it in the McGill Reporter.

Potomac Foundation: Gaming the South China Sea

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The Potomac Foundation is “an independent nonprofit research organization dedicated to improving the quality of public discourse and national policy formulation”—in part, through the use of wargames and crisis simulations:

The Potomac Foundation’s proprietary Hegemon© platform and methodology offer an interactive simulation and modeling experience to teams of analysts and strategists. Based on open-source and de-classified data points for tactical, operational, theater and strategic levels of analysis, Hegemon allows the participants to work through diverse sets of scenarios, test old assumptions and develop new concepts of operations. Our past and current wargaming clients include the U.S. and allied government agencies, military colleges, national security contractors and the private industry.

One of their most recent games examines geopolitical tensions and rivalries in the South China Sea:

Hegemon is a wickedly interactive multi-player/multi-round geostrategic game devised by the Potomac Foundation. Each player represents a country, fielding certain economic and military resources and possessing (secret) objectives.

Ranged across a gods-eye planetary gameboard, Hegemon is the ‘softwar’ wild-child born of hardcore videogamers and grizzled defense planners. Don’t be fooled by its simplistic initial game conditions; things get tricky, fast. Just as in real life, events build upon themselves like fractals. Players bluff and second-guess others’ intentions, alliances are formed and broken and decisions need to be made in a fog of uncertainty.

This northern summer’s Hegemon simulations centered on the South China Sea. Every game unfolded differently, but the world has a certain ineluctable logic of strategy imposed by objectives, facts on the ground and political will: great powers gonna do great-powering. China looms ever-larger on the South China Sea gameboard tiles; it has the initiative. Because some players secretly fear war and others do not, Hegemon becomes a test of wits where every player suffers from information asymmetry, never sure how their counterparts will react.

Prediction is hard, to paraphrase Niels Bohr, especially of the intentions of other people.

Ten key takeaways from Hegemon:

  1. Wargames’ needn’t involve war. In Potomac’s experience, just half of the South China Sea simulations erupt into violence within 20 years (four turns of five years each). Diplomacy and deal-making are crucial. Personalities matter. With a bunch of navy and air force captains at the keyboard, things often turn kinetic. With political science professors, expect different outcomes.
  2. If China plays a long game with diplomatic initiative, it can win without fighting. Regional nations respect, depend on and fear China, and they are inclined to bandwagon with it. China towers over them in actual power so it can afford to be magnanimous. Over many years consistent Chinese reassurance could work. In that case the U.S. would end up a ‘present but irrelevant’ Asian outsider.
  3. But China may not have such patience, and not every neighbor will join the Sinosphere. In a classic security dilemma, one country’s deterrence is another’s threat. Even as some players bandwagon, others will balance. Under most scenarios Japan sticks with the U.S. alliance. One striking message of the game is how easily Asia could drift toward a bipolar equilibrium. Just about every simulation ends up with some sort of red-versus-blue alignment.
  4. One game outcome that is unlikely is a third bloc of independent or ‘green’ countries. ASEAN is easily divided. Indonesia is a complex and unpredictable actor, something with which Australia, Malaysia and Singapore must all contend. Trust and transparency are rare. Cheating works only once. And don’t go for ‘the fallacy of the last turn.’ The Potomac team never lets you relax.
  5. Vietnam is hard to read. It cares about its coastline and will defy China’s unilateral domination of the South China Sea. But it also must share a land border with Beijing, and Hanoi might bargain away some of its objectives for a reduced Chinese presence in adjacent military regions.
  6. So might Moscow, and that’s where things start getting really interesting. Although it is not a South China Sea state, Russia’s alignment affects the power balance in the region. It is a major weapons supplier too. Ultimately the moves in Hegemon express themselves in configurations of bases, ships, missiles, etc. There’s no sure thing, but a preponderance of modernized local forces is needed to win each battle sequence. Russian hardware helps.
  7. A new Pacific war would look an awful lot like…the last Pacific war? In nearly all simulations the front becomes the first island chain. Taiwan is ‘the cork in the bottle’, but only for as long as it resists reunification. The Philippines is prime real estate. Although a small economy, it’s a vast archipelagic space of 100 million people, thousands of islands, and airports and harbors galore.
  8. Therefore, if the U.S. is to exert influence in the South China Sea, it will need strategic depth across the Philippines. It must re-learn the lessons of island chain warfare. Runway repair sappers will be busy. The U.S. may also need to replicate China’s own A2/AD tactics. China will have toys on its South China Sea tiles, but these also make targets. As the game unfolds, there’s an unmistakable feeling that bases and battle groups become tripwires that the U.S. and China are daring each other to ping.
  9. Hegemon feels rushed and urgent. That’s an artificial but necessary limitation of the game. At times it’s more crisis management than grand strategy. But quick moves do happen in real life. A year ago China didn’t have major Spratly Island bases. In 1962 JFK had days (or hours) to deal with the Cuba nuclear crisis.
  10. Don’t overlook the nuclear possibility. Tactical nuclear weapons are militarily useful if they succeed as an escalation-stopper. That’s a scary bet to make in a chaotic high-stakes confrontation. The threshold for small nukes is alarmingly low (about 20 tonnes of TNT equivalent, which looks like this). But would anyone really use them? That’s the whole point of Hegemon’s devilish dilemma: you’ll never know.

h/t Ryan Kuhns

PAXsims Goes to Carlisle

Barracks-e1376937377369I will be attending the upcoming China Futures Wargame at the USArmy War College Feb. 18-19. The game is unclassified and will focus on a strategic look at the US-China relationship outside the traditional Asia Pacific AOR (i.e. Africa and latin America). The event should be interesting, and there will be high quality attendees including some of my China expert colleagues Michael Swaine from the Carnegie Endowment and Will Norris from Texas A&M, as well as NIC wargame master Dan Flynn. I will plan to report as appropriate.

–Devin

Simulations miscellany, Easter weekend edition

As you keep a wary eye out for Easter bunnies and killer rabbits this weekend, here are some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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U.S.-Navy-Aircraft-carrier-theodore-roosevelt

At the Wargaming Connection blog, Paul Vebber has been discussing the development of the Fleet Power Project, a  prototype operational naval game currently in beta testing. The project is sponsored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, the Navy Warfare Development Command and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center:

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the development of FBS as we move from the Beta phase to a final product. That product is not a “game” in the shrink wrap sense, but a “toolbox” of related game systems that can be used at various scales (e.g. 24nm, 32nm or 48nm per hex and “Game Days” divided into 8, 6, or 4 operations phases.)

There are provisions for “open” face-to-face play or “closed” umpired play, and 2 main levels of complexity: a “basic” level for scenarios 3-4 days in length, that leaves out many of the complications of logistics and “friction”, and keeps the “chrome” of column shifts and player decisions to a minimum; and an “advanced” level that can theoretical be used for games of a month or more, but is best for about 2 weeks (where higher operational-strategic decision-making issues become significant).

This adaptability is meant to demonstrate the advantages of a manual game over “black box” computer simulations and allow an analyst or educator to tailor the “playability vs detail” to best achieve the objectives desired. The underlying tables for generating “situational awareness” in an area of interest (a radius around an “OpArea” marker), determining if an encounter occurs when units are in proximity to each other, and then resolving engagements that result are set up as a set of linked excel spreadsheets. The hex scale, certain assumptions about how effective units are at the subtasks underlying the “SA, Encounter, Engagement” model, and what the “steps” are between the various “CL’s”[capability levels]  are can be entered as inputs, and the various tables will update themselves.

He also notes:

Fleet Battle School is an operational level game depicting naval operations in the maritime domain. The purpose of the game is to provide a “sandbox” for the exploration of the relationships between naval capabilities, information, and decision-making.

Central to these relationships is an understanding of how the components that make up a Fleet’s combat power can be orchestrated to seize and hold initiative, then exploit it to achieve operational objectives that enable accomplishment of strategic goals.

The game is played at the “high tactical/low operational” meaning you are worried about “major muscle movements” of your forces – where to establish operating areas to patrol or strike from, and when and how you move between them. Unlike “low tactical level” games like Harpoon, where you “drive individual ships around” so as to unmask particular weapons systems, and make specific “Tactical Action Officer” weapons system employment decisions’ in the Fleet Power game system your role is the “Task Force Commander” with a variety of air, surface, subsurface and other assets under your control. You can get out your “1,000 mile screwdriver” and try to get in the cockpit, but the more you do that, the more you compromise your understanding of the “big picture” and making it harder to maintain situational awareness (SA) in your current OpAreas – and contribute to increasing the degree of “friction” within and between your units.

See his posts on the topic so far:

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At GrogHeads, CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory offer some insight into “Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games,” based on a survey of game players.

GrogHeadsTab3

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The TIDES (Transformative Innovation for Development & Emergency Support) website contains a lengthy account by Amy Gorman of last month’s  American Red Cross Global Refugee Simulation and Conference:

This six hour simulation did not completely immerse you into the life of a refugee; the traveling would be longer, the rebels scarier, the threats more tangible, the loss more real, and the future less known. However, it created moments where the participants felt glimpses of the same emotions and concerns that I would imagine a refugee would. It also took us through the steps of a refugee from fleeing to crossing the border to the immersion into refugee camp life. It gave us all an opportunity to gain understanding, respect and empathize more with the people who go through similar situations. It’s one thing to look at refugees from the comfort of a developed nation. It’s something else to be one.

You’ll also find a summary of the event by the American Red Cross here.

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1_123125_2097085_2097294_2100086_040505_hardgames.gif.CROP.original-originalBBC News reports on a recent study that finds that aggression among video game players may be shaped not just by game content, but even more so by the game interface:

Feelings of aggression after playing video games are more likely to be linked to gameplay mechanics rather than violent content, a study suggests.

Researchers carried out a range of tests, including making a non-violent version of popular game Half-Life 2.

Games modified to have counter-intuitive, frustrating controls – leading to feelings of incompetence – produced more aggressive reactions.

The study from the University of Oxford, however, believed it was the first to look at the impact gameplay mechanics had on aggression.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The research sought to establish whether it was violence in games which made players feel more aggressive, or a combination of other factors.

Six separate studies were carried out.

One of them involved modifying Half-Life 2 – a critically-acclaimed, but graphic, shooting title.

The researchers created a modified version in which rather than violently removing enemies, the player would instead “tag” foes who would then evaporate.

This version was tested alongside the normal, violent version.

However, only some of the gamers were given a tutorial before playing the game so they could familiarise themselves with the controls and game mechanics.

The researchers found that it was the players who had not had the tutorial who felt less competent and more aggressive, rather than people who had played the more violent version of the game.

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BBC News also reported back in January that China has introduced a new video game aimed at corruption:

A computer game launched in China encourages players to zap corrupt officials with an electric prod, it appears.

The game appears on the Chinese People’s Daily website – the official news outlet of China’s Communist Party, and is based on the same idea as Whac-A-Mole, the popular 1970s arcade game.

“Everyone has a responsibility to fight corruption and embezzlement!” the game declares. When the action begins, a range of authority figures poke their heads out of one of eight prison cells, and the player has to give them a jolt from their mouse-controlled taser.

Their sins range from greed (an official with a bag of cash) to lust (a drooling bureaucrat in a pink suit). Gamers lose points if they hit virtuous police officers by mistake, however.

It isn’t the first game of its kind. Another, entitled “Incorruptible Fighter”was launched by the Chinese government some seven years ago.

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The University of Roehampton has introduced an online game to help promote its Masters in Public Health programme:

This interactive simulation depicts the aftermath of a major natural disaster and its potentially catastrophic impact on public health. With buildings and infrastructure destroyed in the earthquake, the 30,000 residents of the capital, Lake City, are living in a temporary tent camp by the river. The disease has already claimed its first victims, but nobody can pinpoint the cause of the outbreak.

Although fictitious, Save Manresa depicts a potential scenario you could face when working in the field of public health and shows how people from a diverse range of backgrounds can work together to combat public health issues.

Save Manresa: Public Health Simulation

Are you ready for the challenge?

Put yourself in the drivers seat and help us stop the outbreak in Manresa. Use your skills and understanding to help improve the lives of others. You’ll gain a glimpse into a career in public health – and how you could make a difference in resolving health problems in your community, regardless of your background or experience.

You don’t need any previous knowledge of health issues — your success will be based on your knowledge, reasoning, and sense of judgment. Just choose your team. Decide what actions to take and when. And make the right choices to identify the disease and stop it from spreading. But be quick. The lives of thousands of Manresans are in your hands!

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Michael Peck interviews Sid Meier, designer of the highly successful Civilization series of computer games, at Foreign Policy magazine.

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guns_dice_butter_small_logoUPDATE: Oops, I almost forgot to mention the latest edition (#20) of the Guns, Dice, and Butter podcast.

0:00 Episode Intro and Preview

0:13 Conversation with Phil Eklund, designer of High Frontier, Pax Porfiriana  and 28 other games covering the human (and pre-human) experience.

1:22 War by Other Means: Panel discussion with Jim Doughan, Mark Herman and Brian Train regarding the other “7 M’s”  of warcraft—besides the 3 traditional “M’s” of combat – machetes (irregular), machine guns (conventional) and missles(strategic)—that support the BIG “M” (morale) in making and waging war: message (casus belli – manufacturing it and maintaining it) , media, money, mercenaries (mercs/brownshirts/proxies/little green men), mayhem (attacks on opponents fabric of society), Mi5/Mi6 (spycraft) and Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (Clausewitz’s “have a good pen” – diplomacy – internal/external).

2:12 Conversation with Brian Train, regarding his recent DTP design on the Ukrainian Crisis and other bits and bobs

2:36 Wrap up: What’s on my wargaming plate (using wargames in school), Eklund’s “Nature bats last”, B.H.Liddell Hart’s “Lenin had a vision of fundamental truth when he said the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the mortal blow both possible and easy.”, shout-outs and what not.

Brian’s comments include the story of how he and I first met  three decades ago, and then how we re-met via Small Wars Journal. While he recounts our epic micro-armour battles at the UVic Wargaming Club in the early 1980s, he somehow fails to mention our nostalgia game in Montréal last year, the infamous Battle of Namgang (aka “The Battle of the Cauldron of Death”)…

simulations miscellany, 3 August 2013

History-of-Sim-part-2

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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