Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses. In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.
This past week was the first ever Connections Global conference—that is, the annual Connections US professional wargaming conference, but organized as a virtual, online event because of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The conference ran for five full days, and featured over fifty presentations, panels and keynotes (split between two virtual rooms), plus associated online gaming and social events. I don’t know how many people registered in total, but keynotes typically had in excess of two hundred participants. The event was cosponsored by CNA, which also provided technical expertise to make it all work.
From a technical point of view, I thought it went really well. Zoom proved easy to use and reliable. There were few hitches. I enjoyed the ability to listen to a speaker, ask questions (using the Q&A function) through the moderator, and have discussions with other participants via the text chat. I did find that if a presentation was less interesting to me, I tended to multitask, answering email or doing other work while semi-listening to the conference. Unlike previous conferences, moreover, I didn’t take detailed notes for this report–I was either too engaged with the presentation via questions or discussions, or doing something else in the background.
I found the social events were less effective, with the exception of the one meeting of the Women’s Wargaming Network I attended (having asked to attend, lest anyone think I was crashing their space).
This question of how well the conference format worked will be important for other conferences that are going virtual because of the pandemic, including Connections North in February 2021. I was very pleased. Some others I know, however, found it a little unengaging to watch a speaker via Zoom from the privacy of their own home. The organizers have asked attendees to complete a survey and we will see what that indicates. Attendees are also welcomed/encouraged to leave thoughts in the comments below.
Connections US is one of the cosponsors of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. On the plus side the Principles were referred to frequently in presentations or discussions, badges and icons made appearances, and they were referred to in the rotating intermission slides. On the negative side, a little under 15% of the participants were female (by my rough count), and only 10% of the panelists and presenters were. Visible minorities were also underrepresented. Digital conferences, because of their ability to bring in speakers from anywhere in the world, ought to have an easier time being more inclusive. This point was brought up several times, and the organizers took it on board. I think we’ll see even greater efforts in this direction in future both here and elsewhere.
Although I attended the entire conference, the two-room format meant that I only saw and heard half the presentations. No one should feel slighted, therefore, if a pick a few personal favourites:
On Monday, I was especially impressed with the lively panel discission on building capacity in the university. In an earlier talk, ED McGrady also had some very interesting things to say about on adjudication.
On Tuesday, Graham Longley-Brown‘s talk about his practitioners guide to wargaming (which you can see here) covered a lot of fertile ground. Hank Brightman‘s presentation on Urban Outbreak 2019 and pandemic gaming was timely and useful.
On Wednesday,the keynote by Phil Sabin was outstanding, highlighting the ways in which many of wargaming challenges of today are rather different than the sorts of issues grappled with by the women and men of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WW2. Sawyer Judge‘s very articulate presentation on wargaming as an art and science won widespread plaudits. I actually disagree with some of what she argued: I’m not sure debating the art vs science is very useful, and instead think that wargaming should be thought of a humble methodological tool much the same as other research techniques in the social sciences. However, it it was a excellent example of a talk that stimulated a great deal of valuable discussion.
On Wednesday, Pete Pellegrino’s presentation on distributed gaming was excellent, to the point that I had colleagues discussing it in emails even before he had finished speaking. (He recorded it too.) He (and, the previous day, Sawyer) also set the standard for clear and effective presentations at the conference, so I am officially proposing the Pellegrino-Judge Unit (PJU) to be the official measure of visual, verbal and overall information clarity in PowerPoint wargaming presentations. It should be noted that PJU scores are not only inversely correlated with the amount of text and logos crammed on a slide but also the number of military acronyms. In any sort of global conference, 98% of the latter should be banned. Half of your fellow national services DKWTDASF (Don’t Know What The Damned Acronym Stands For), let alone your foreign or non-military colleagues. Those receiving low PJU scores are strongly recommended to go and watch this. Chad Briggs also had a number of insightful things to say about the design and execution of wargames during COVID-19.
On Friday, in addition to Tom Mouat’s pithy comments on AI and expensive new toys, I very much enjoyed Jeffrey Sugden’s presentation on course of action generation with machine learning and Andrew Reddie’s talk about the SIGNAL project on nuclear signalling, use, and escalation. I took part in “Connections international” panel discussion together with Matt Caffrey (Connections US) and Colin Marston (Connections UK). In addition to summarizing past and future Connections North events, I also updated everyone on the status of the Derby House Principles. However, I will address the latter in a future PAXsims post, since there is a lot going on.
There was a lot of other valuable material at the conference which I haven’t mentioned—this is just a list of my personal favourites from among the presentations I attended.
Overall, I think it was a very successful event. Kudos to the organizers, who adjusted well to the challenges of a once-in-a-century global pandemic and adapting the conference to the digital realm.
PAXsims has previously reported the development of a matrix game entitled After The Apex by Ben Taylor and Ben Williams. The game allows players to explore the challenges faced by the fictional country of Bretonia as it seeks to chart a course to toward the new normal once the first wave of COVID-19 infections had passed.
The developers have now been working with Anja van der Hulst of TNO to build a dilemma game based upon the same scenario. The dilemma game is implemented in software and allows the solo player to make a series of policy decisions based upon dilemmas faced but the Bretonian government. A range of advisors will offer perspectives on the issue and provide different rationales for accepting, or not, the proposed policy. The player is left with the decisions as to what to do.
The dilemma game plays much more quickly than the matrix game and so allows some of the same issues to be explored in a shorter time, but without the rich interpersonal interaction. This may be a better design choice for some applications. Those attending next week’s Connections professional wargaming conference will have two opportunities to play the dilemma game and to meet with the developers. A fuller write up will follow on PAXSims after the conference.
In response to the global pandemic, this year’s Connections US interdisciplinary wargaming conference will be held on 10-14 August 2020 as a 100% virtual/online conference and as a truly Global Connections, with hours convenient for participants from the west coast of the US and Canada through the UK and Europe.
Content will include a keynote by, former deputy secretary of defense Mr. Robert Work, seminars, speaker panels, and working groups on subjects from wargaming pandemics, AI in wargaming, wargaming and innovation, wargaming and education and more. Online wargame demos, play-throughs and labs will also be available.
Due to new Naval wide (which includes the USMC) base access regulations following shootings at Navy bases USMC Quantico has had to disinvite Connections US 2020. Connections US 2020 will now be hosted by CNA in Arlington, VA, August 11-14, 2020. Note the one week shift to the right. For more details go to the Connections website at https://connections-wargaming.com/
The next Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections wargaming conferences—will take place on January 27 at the École Militaire in Paris. Over two hundred participants attended last year.
Further information and registration details can be found at the link above. For details of the previous conference in December 2018, see this PAXsims report by Juliette Le Ménahèze.
At Connections 2019 we held a working group (WG2) to explore the future of wargaming. We approached the problem several different ways. First, several members of the working group contributed fictional stories describing what gaming might look like in the future. Second, we had baselining briefs on future technologies, including virtual and alternate reality technologies and artificial intelligence. Finally, we did a scenario planning exercise with the working group attendees at the conference. This process resulted in a wide-range of different ways to think about, and predict, the future of gaming.
The working group was co-chaired by Mike Ottenberg and Ed McGrady, with stories contributed by Sebastian J. Bae, Michael Bond, Col. Matt Caffrey (Ret.), Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin, Dr. ED McGrady, and Dr. Jeremy Sepinsky.
PAXsims is pleased to present the report of the “Wargaming the Far Future” working group, ably assembled by Stephen Downes-Martin. This 276 page (!) document contains the papers written by the working group, their discussions while they wrote and refined those papers from November 2018 to June 2019, and the discussions at the workshop held during the Connections US Wargaming Conference in August 2019.
Our most potent power projection and warfighting capabilities, developed in response to current and near future threats, are technologically advanced, hugely expensive, and have half- century service lives. The first of these characteristics gives us a temporary and possibly short lived warfighting edge. The second grants our political leaders short lived economic and political advantages. The last characteristic locks us into high expenses in maintenance and upgrades for many years in order to justify the initial sunk costs as though they were investments. This combination forces us onto a high-inertia security trajectory that is transparent to our more agile adversaries, providing them with credible information about that trajectory while giving them time to adapt with cheaper counter forces, technologies and strategies.
We must therefore wargame out to service life, the “far future”, to ensure our current and future weapons systems and concepts of operations are well designed for both the near term and the far future. However a 50 year forecasting horizon is beyond the credibility limit for wargaming. The Working Group and the Workshop explored and documented ways that wargaming can deal with this horizon.
Papers and comments are contributed by Stephen Aguilar-Milan, Sebastian J. Bae, Deon Canyon and Jonathan Cham, Thomas Choinski, John Hanley, William Lademan, Graham Longley-Brown and Jeremy Smith, Brian McCue, Ed McGrady, Robert Mosher, Kristan Wheaton, and of course, Stephen himself.
A message from Tim Wilkie (National Defense University):
This year’s Connections conference will be hosted by the Army War College and held at the Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, PA, August 13-16. Since 1993, Connections has brought together practitioners from all aspects of the wargaming field to learn from each other, share best practices, and grow the discipline. We seek to “advance and preserve the art, science, and application of wargaming,” and we do so through a variety of events at each year’s conference, including speaker panels, workshops, working groups, game demonstrations and playtests, and more. We welcome every background: military and civilian, educators and analysts, government and commercial hobbyist press, U.S. and international. Our participants use gaming for research, analysis, education, and to inform policy, and there is much that we can learn from one another.
On behalf of my conference co-chair and the founder of the Connections conference, Matt Caffrey, I am pleased to announce that registration for Connections 2019 is now open. You can reach the registration form from the conference website.
The website also contains additional information about the conference, including the draft agenda, directions, hotel information, and more.
Connections is an interdisciplinary wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming. Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields. By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.
Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome. The 2019 conference theme is Futures of Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on wargaming future events, advances in wargaming techniques, wargaming to train future leaders, and related topics are especially encouraged.
Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at this link (which contains additional information).
It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker. More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2019 can be found at the conference website: https://connections-wargaming.com/
Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online. For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact Tim Wilkie (National Defense University).