PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: COVID-19

Gaming the supermarket supply chain: pandemic edition

500ec6d3-ebb7-4b39-bba2-ee682125d5e2-HEB.jpg

H-E-B is an American privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 350 stores throughout the U.S. state of Texas, as well as in northeast Mexico. An article today in Texas Monthly discusses how they prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic—using, among other things, tabletop exercises.

On January 15, Wuhan’s Municipal Health Commission announced that the novel coronavirus was spreading via human-to-human transmission. 

Justen Noakes: So when did we start looking at the coronavirus? Probably the second week in January, when it started popping up in China as an issue. We’ve got interests in the global sourcing world, and we started getting reports on how it was impacting things in China, so we started watching it closely at that point. We decided to take a harder look at how to implement the plan we developed in 2009 into a tabletop exercise. On February 2, we dusted it off and compared the plan we had versus what we were seeing in China, and started working on step one pretty heavily.

Craig Boyan: Starting in January, we’ve been in close contact with several retailers and suppliers around the world. As this has started to emerge, we’ve been in close contact with retailers in China, starting with what happened in Wuhan in the early couple of months, and what kind of lessons they learned. Over the last couple of months, [we’ve been] in close contact with some of our Italian retailers and suppliers, understanding how things have evolved in Italy and now in Spain, talking to those countries that are ahead of us in the curve. We’ve been in daily contact, understanding the pace and the change and the need for product, and how things have progressed in each of those countries.

Justen Noakes: We modeled what had been taking place in China from a transmission perspective, as well as impact. As the number of illnesses and the number of deaths were increasing, obviously the Chinese government was taking some steps to protect their citizens, so we basically mirrored what that might look like. We also took an approach to what we saw during H1N1 in 2009, and later got on top of it. Our example was if we were to get an outbreak, specifically in the Houston area, how would we manage that, and how would we respond with our current resources, as well as what resource opportunities would we have.

Craig Boyan: Chinese retailers have sent some pretty thorough information about what happened in the early days of the outbreak: how did that affect grocery and retail, how did that affect employees and how people were addressing sanitization and social distancing, how quarantine has affected the supply chain, how shopping behavior changed as the virus progressed, how did companies work to serve communities with total lockdowns, and what action steps those businesses wish they had done early in the cycle to get ahead of it.

The important take-away here is NOT the use of serious games for pandemic preparedness, but rather how serious games were one part of a much broader analytical process. This involved lessons-learned from previous emergencies, qualitative and quantitative data analysis, and crowd-sourcing ideas and inputs—plus an agile process of making decisions. It many ways it reminds me of the successes of the Royal Navy’s  Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WW2. This didn’t just involve wargaming anti-submarine warfare, but also gaining insight from statistical analysis of convoy losses, qualitative interviews with escort commanders, multiple intelligence sources, subject matter expertise—all embedded in an institutional context that was responsive to their findings.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

KWN: Online workshop on gaming the pandemic

KWN

Ivanka Barzashka, Director of the Wargaming Network at King’s College London, has announced an online workshop on (war)gaming the current COVID-19 pandemic:

We will postpone Strategic Wargaming Week to a later date to focus on using wargaming techniques to understand the impacts of the pandemic and to inform decision makers and the public.

We are convening an online workshop on 1-2 April 2020 to understand how wargaming methods:

(1) have contributed to research and education of health-related crises,

(2) could be used to understand the short and long-term effects of the current pandemic and how to address them,

(3) could be used to educate and train decision makers and the public.

We are inviting presentations on past projects relevant to the current problem, as well and proposed future projects. Those who submitted a proposal under the previous call and wish to present their ideas are kindly asked to resubmit their pitches.

The deadline for abstracts is 25 March 2020. Please submit your proposal here.

You will be informed by 27 March 2020 if your presentation is selected.

If your organisation is interested in supporting potential projects, please get in touch.


For further resources, see PAXsim’s COVID-19 serious gaming resources page

Operation POMPEY WiiDOM

The following was contributed to PAXsims by Sally Davis.


 

After 5 days in quarantine I found a way to get out of the house without spreading the plague to my building-full-of-elderly-neighbours. It turns out you can connect Wii hardware to a PC by Bluetooth. I’m using the WiiBuddy API to get hold of the input in Unity:

  • The balance board returns a Vector4 with the load on each of the four load sensors (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right). A quick bit of maths identifies individual steps, and while the player is stepping, the character walks forward.
  • The wiimote returns a Vector3 for roll pitch and yaw. I’m using pitch to rotate the character left/right, to copy the Wii Fit cycling game where you hold the wiimote sideways like bike handles.

Then I’m using MapBox‘s Unity SDK, which lets me stream in outstandingly optimised OpenMaps data within the bounds of the camera view. I’ve got a really basic setup going at the moment, using flat terrain and satellite imagery. It’s extruding buildings where the data exists—turns out that’s not many in Portsmouth (and, hilariously, Spinnaker Tower is rendered as a generic towerblock), but major cities are pretty well modelled.

At the moment it doesn’t care where you walk, so I can set out across the ocean, and walk through buildings. It’s awfully tempting to turn this into a Godzilla Simulator. As a 1-day “can I escape Wii Fit Island and go for a walk somewhere new?” experiment, I’m declaring operation POMPEY WiiDOM a success as-is.

I’m going to tidy things up, replace the somewhat inappropriate character artwork (I happened to have characters for a wargame lying around), and add some game mechanics like counting distance travelled and flags to collect. Then I’ll see about releasing an copy for the Good of Humanity in these strange times.

 

“Flattening the Curve” COVID-19 matrix game

FlatteningTheCurve.jpg

From deep in his secret social distancing bunker at an undisclosed but secure location, mysterious matrix game guru Tim Price has put together yet another matrix game: Flattening the Curve. This examines the current COVID-19 pandemic, with five players/teams: the UK government, the general population, the World Health Organization, the US government, and “mishaps and markets.” To apply it to any other national case, replace the UK player with your own national government.

The package includes background materials, briefing, and game components. A pandemic timeline is used in place of a map, although you can supplement this with a map if you feel the need to represent localized events or actions. Remember that it is a matrix game, so you are meant to modify for your own purposes!

In addition, PAXsims has put together a a growing list of COVID-19 serious gaming resources, including game icons, examples of other pandemic gaming, and guidelines on “do no harm.” If you want to learn more about matrix games, there is further information available both here at PAXsims and at Tom Mouat’s matrix games webpage. In cooperation with The Game Crafter we have also made the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MGCK) available at cost for professionals involved in pandemic gaming, although you don’t need it to play this or any other matrix game.

MaGCK

Gaming the pandemic: Do No Harm

FIRST-DO-NO-HARM-1024x555.png

We at PAXsims believe that serious games are a very useful tool in the analytical or educational toolbox—if we didn’t, we wouldn’t put so much effort into this website and all of our other game-related activities. However, I often find myself warning about the limits of games too. They aren’t magic bullets. In some cases, moreover, they’re not even an especially useful tools.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. PAXsims has tried to be helpful by making a number of gaming resources available. Others have done the same, notable the King’s Wargaming Network, which is offering to support appropriate gaming initiatives.

As we collectively grapple with the unfolding global crisis, however, I thought it prudent to also highlight some the risks of serious pandemic gaming. As I will argue below, while serious games have a great deal of utility, they can also be counterproductive. We thus all have a moral responsibility to make sure (as they say in the humanitarian aid community) that we DO NO HARM with our work.

First of all, there’s the modelling problem. We have to be very humble in assessing our ability to examine some issues when so little is known about key dynamics. Related to this is the “garbage in, garbage out” problem. Our data is often weak. The excellent epidemiological projections published by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team have been very useful in spurring states to action, but in the interests of avoiding confirmation bias we also need to recognize that some epidemiologists are raising concerns about the adequacy of the data used in such models. We need to make the robustness of our game assumptions to clear to clients and partners. Be humble, avoid hubris, make assumptions and models explicit, caveat findings, and don’t over-sell.

Second, playing games with subject matter experts (SMEs) can pull them away from doing other, more important things. I’ve done a lot of work on interagency coordination, where there is a similar problem: coordination meetings are great, but when you add up the time that goes into them they can actually weaken capacity if you aren’t careful. Of course, you can run games with non-SME’s, but then the GIGO problem is exacerbated.

Any gaming generally needs to be client-driven. Do the end-users of the game actually find it worthwhile? What questions do they want answered? This isn’t a universal rule—it may be that gaming alerts them to something that they hadn’t considered. But do keep in mind the demands on their time, institutional resources, and analytical capacity.

We also have to recognized that the much-maligned BOGSAT (“bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table”) is sometimes preferable to a game, when the former is run well. For a game to be worth designing and running it has to be demonstrably superior to other methods, and worth the time and effort put into it. There is a reason, after all, why the CIA’s Tradecraft Primer: Structured Analytic Techniques for Improving Intelligence Analysis warns that gaming techniques “usually require substantial commitments of analyst time and corporate resources.”

We need to debrief and analyze games carefully. The DIRE STRAITS experiment at Connections UK (2017) highlighted that the analytical conclusions from games are often far from self-evident, and that different people can walk away from the same game with very different conclusions.

Messaging for these games matter. The public is on edge. Some are dangerously complacent. Some are on the verge of panic. One wrong word, and suddenly there’s no toilet paper in the shops. If you don’t consider communication issues, reports from a game could feed either a “don’t worry it’s not that bad” view or a “my god we’re all going to die” response in the media and general public.

We also have to beware of clients with agendas, of course [insert everything Stephen Downes-Martin has ever written here.]

We need to be careful of both uncritical game evangelism and rent seeking—that is the “it would be cool to a game/games solve everything” over-enthusiasm, or “here’s a pot of money, let’s apply for it.”

In short, in a time of international crisis, we need to do this well if we do it. In my view it generally needs to respond to an identified need by those currently dealing with the crisis—or, if it doesn’t, there needs to be a good reason for that. They’re busy folks at the moment, after all.

UPDATE: I did a short presentation on this for the recent King’s Wargaming Network online symposium. My slides can be found here: DoNoHarm.


For more on gaming the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Pandemic response game icons

In order to assist the designers of pandemic response serious games, I have compiled and prepared a set of 68 COVID-19 themed game icons. These are available in zipped folders in three graphic formats: jpgs, pngs, and transparent pngs.

We typically use these in conjunction with 25mm or 37mm disks, the latter being the size included in the Matrix Game Construction Kit. These can be formatted for 3/4″ and 1″ Avery labels respectively using Avery’s excellent online design application and label templates. However, you can use them in any way you wish for the purposes of education and scenario analysis relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For further resources, see PAXsim’s COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

King’s Wargaming Network support for COVID-19 serious games

KWN.png

Ivanka Barzashka, Director of the Wargaming Network at King’s College London, has announced a programme of grants to support serious gaming on the current COVID-19 global pandemic:

King’s has an important opportunity and responsibility to use our research expertise in support of the international response to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak. This goes beyond efforts to find treatments – for example into the effects of the outbreak on mental health (including through isolation), broader social and economic questions for society, the functioning of healthcare systems (including in developing countries). How can wargaming contribute to these questions?

King’s College London is offering pilot funding for King’s Wargaming Network research teams to engage with strategic partners on rapid research on this topic. Through the King’s Together programme, we will offer grants of up to £20k for groups of researchers to start work, across all disciplines.

Proposals are due 18 March and decisions will be announced on 20 March. Please contact me as soon as possible if you have an idea for a project.

Ivanka Barzashka
Director, Wargaming Network
School of Security Studies
King’s College London

The PAXsims team stands ready to assist applicants—email us if we can be of help. Please note that this is a time for client-driven, needs-driven serious gaming: it isn’t useful to propose projects that do not meet identified needs, which distract attention from more urgent tasks, or which consume human resources (such as subject matter expertise) better used in other ways. 

%d bloggers like this: