On Saturday 6th May, the Western Approaches Tactical School was once again operational in Derby House for a celebration of the wargaming Wrens of WATU and the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. Analysts and wargamers from WATU’s direct-descendant organisations—Dstl, the Maritime Warfare Centre, and HMS Eaglet—took up the roles of WATU Wrens, RN Convoy Escort, and dastardly U-Boats, joined by folks from Defence Academy Shrivenham, US Navy, McGill and York University.
Our WATU Wrens and players were a mix of new wargamers and old hands, men and women, professional and hobby wargamers, serving and retired naval officers, and academics.
The challenge on the Tactical Table was the night of 6th/7th May, 1943. A moderate sea, bright moonlight, and intelligence reports of five U-Boats operating in the vicinity of (the entirely fictional) Convoy ONS 506, a slow convoy comprising 12 ships sailing for Halifax. Escort Group B7, consisting of HM Ships D1 (destroyer and Senior Officer Escort), L1 (Black Swan class sloop), and Flower class corvettes P1, P2, P3, and P4, were in Night Escort Six disposition. A substantial wolfpack attack developed at midnight, beginning the game with the torpedoing of the merchant ship in column 3 row 2.
Here’s what the first view-giving looked like, and the same plot from the Wren’s perspective:
The gap in the convoy is our sinking merchant ship. Where could the U-Boat be that fired the torpedo? How many other U-Boats are making an attack? Their tracks are plotted in red pen to hide them from the players. The U-Boat positions are highlighted on the right for clarity, the star is a mischievous shoal of fish.
The first view-giving included the burning wreck of our merchant ship and a surfaced U-Boat sighted at the rear of the convoy. L1 closed for an exchange of gunfire, here is their (and other’s) orders:
Our players had a copy of the relevant parts of the Atlantic Convoy Instructions, including Op: RASPBERRY, which was quickly ordered and developed two asdic contacts at the front of the convoy.
Our Wrens made use of the adjudication tables to decide which of the in-range radar (all of them at this range), asdic and visual contacts to report. Here’s a few turn’s worth of contacts for L1, and a large stack-o-signals:
Oh goodness, there were signals. There were so many signals. WATU had a team of three Wrens and an RN Yeoman handling signals: players handed in signals to be sent, the Wrens copied them to all recipients, and delivered them after some transmission delay. In our game, Lynn O’Donnell handled everything, and our players sent so many signals that we ran out of paper. Here’s a few of them:
While all this was going on, visitors to the museum were grilling Paul and Lt Phil Roberts RNR (Rtd) about the game and the history:
Meanwhile, some familiar faces, and actual submarine warfare officers, were busy plotting the demise of our convoy, upstairs in Admiral Sir Max Horton’s office. While submerged, they didn’t get a look at plot, when surfaced they could peek out the window down onto the plot in the Map Room. Their orders and contacts were sent over the museum’s wifi:
How did our Escort Group do?
It was carnage in the convoy! Six merchant ships lost. But the Escort managed two creditable depth charge attack runs, one of which forced the target to the surface in what was likely to be its death-throes. They also avoided depth charging the shoal of fish (which was mostly down to failing to get an asdic contact rather than good judgement…)
Here is the 1943/2023 edition of the After Action News, hot off the press:
See also Report of Proceedings from MacKay, RNWR, in command of sloop L1, here.
How realistic was the game?
Well, there are a few reasons why the U-Boats had the upper-hand:
Firstly, in the interests of a fun time for all, our U-Boats all started within 2,000 yards of the convoy. In reality, U-Boats tended not to attack simultaneously like this. Particularly not when using pattern-running torpedoes (as we were), because of the risk of friendly-fire incidents.
Second, we only played 12 minutes of game-time, and an engagement is typically 30 minutes plus. Knowing we were unlikely to play out 20 minutes, we started in-media-res with the U-Boats well inside radar contact range and the extended screen. It’s likely at least some of our U-Boats would have been caught further from the convoy, allowing time for interception before they were able to get off any torpedo shots, which would have improved the score sheet for the convoy somewhat.
Third: the score sheet seems to favour the U-Boats, but one U-Boat was probably not going to survive the next 2 minutes, and the other two were not going to cause too much more trouble for a time. If the game had gone on longer I think we would have seen the tide turning in favour of the Escort.
Finally, the losses seem pretty high, but our convoy was extremely small (for convenience, and for interest—a bigger convoy would mean spending most of the game steaming to get near-enough to contacts to do the fun stuff). The whole point of the convoy system was that the losses were similar regardless of the size of convoy; a bigger convoy would have lost proportionately fewer ships.
In terms of the gameplay: it was certainly a lesson in communication between the Escort players, to co-ordinate a response to contacts without the screen descending into magnet-ball. The outcome of actual attacks were pretty realistic: with a lethal range of only 7 yards, depth charge attacks were about 10% effective. U-Boat kills generally came from hunting to exhaustion, which Escort Groups could not afford to do—this is why Support Groups were introduced in March 1943. We didn’t have enough players and Wrens to support more than six in our Escort, so even if we’d played longer, the chances of killing the submerged U-Boats were small.
I want to thank the Western Approaches Museum for hosting our game and giving us free-run of the Map Room, and about thirty Dstl & MWC folks who took part in the playtest/training games as well as the Big Event. It was pretty special to play a Derby House Principles wargame in the actual Derby House. I had an absolute blast. So did Tom’s U-Boat (har dee har) !
It’s the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, and back in 1943, the 6th May marked the turning-point where we stopped losing and started making life so difficult for U-Boats that for a time they withdrew from the Atlantic entirely, and when they returned (in September 1943) they never again had the upper-hand.
So what better time to recreate the Western Approaches Tactical Unit wargame at WAHQ again?
Formed in 1942 to solve the U-Boat problem in the Atlantic, WATU was staffed almost entirely by women, and men unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury. The Wrens came from all walks of life and all across (what was then) the Empire, and were responsible for teaching the Allied navies convoy escort tactics: how to find and sink U-Boats.
When WATU demobbed, Cpt Roberts gifted the ships to the Wrens as souvenirs: Leading Wren Helen Coop’s ship has been scanned using photogrammetry, turned into CAD, and lovingly recreated by Ian Greig.
In grey is a test-print with a filament printer, in translucent is a print from a UV-setting resin printer, and one laser-cut from wood, ready for painting:
Actual game chits:
Leading Wren Helen Coop left us a treasure-trove in her scrapbook, including chits from actual WATU wargames played by Cpt Johnny Walker’s support group:
Nothing changes in wargaming: after rolling a 1, Cdr Wemyss would like a new gun crew please :-P
In the 2018 game we used a crude movement template to help with plotting, and mostly ignored turning circles. This was partly a simplification to help the players (WATU had the distinct advantage that their players came knowing how to command their ship and plot it on a chart! Our players were liable to try impossible things), and partly due to a lack of data. Since then I’ve found a lot more photos with details of the plot, and hunted down data on period ships which was not easy to find.
The result is this Rather Excellent [TM] recreation of the plotting protractor, laser-cut by Ian Greig. They work magnificently well and look amazing. Figuring out what they were from a handful of WATU photos might be my favourite bit of wargaming geekery :-)
Actual adjudication tables (probably):
Chris Carlson dug up some post-war ASW tables which are probably a later version of the WATU adjudication tables. One of the big mysteries of the WATU game has been how all that stuff happened, since the pre-war (1921 & 1929) RN War Game rules are not the WATU game (it’s a fundamentally different game that’s been mistaken for the WATU game by some because it mentions “screens”, but it’s very clearly talking about putting down screens on the plot to screen the surface ships from each other when they’re out of visible contact, not viewing the entire plot from behind a screen to obfuscate the U-Boat tracks on the plot), and the contemporary descriptions forget to mention how you adjudicate an attack. Even these tables don’t really explain how they’re used, but they fit broadly with the assumptions we made for the 2018 game, which is pleasing!
Well…all except one thing: we used D100s, and it turns out that because dice were too new-fangled (or D100s were hard to come by in 1942, or the Temperance Movement had words), WATU used a 1 to 100 tombola.
I appear to have bought one large enough for Raspberry to go to sea in… stop by WAHQ during the game and you can draw the fate of a U-Boat, Escort, or merchant ship from the adjudication tombola :-)
Big Heritage, who run the WAHQ museum, acquired a U-Boat during lockdown, and are busy renovating it and creating a Battle of the Atlantic Museum across the Mersey from WAHQ.
The original plan for this game was for the U-Boat players to play from the actual U-Boat, but the new museum is still a building site, so instead we’re bringing some of the U-Boat artefacts over to WAHQ for the day. Our U-Boat players have been practicing with attack discs to get their firing solution. We’ll see if they’re able to sink anything!
The International Kriegsspiel Society is the world’s largest, online association dedicated to Kriegsspiel. It unites over 750 members from all over the world in the passion of studying, discussing and playing Kriegsspiel.
The International Kriegsspiel Society is an open, welcoming, inclusive and diverse community. Wargaming and especially Kriegsspiel as we understand it, focus on people, diversity of thought and perspectives, on learning from others, and reflecting about preconceptions and established concepts of thought.
The International Kriegsspiel Society is open to everyone interested in the game, no matter the experience level or background. Kriegsspiel is easy to play, hard to master, as players don’t need to know any rules!
Our mission is to preserve Kriegsspiel, to make it accessible to enthusiasts, hobbyists and practitioners, to provide extensive resources to study and play Kriegsspiel, and to contribute to the development of new Kriegsspiel systems.
In order to reach these goals, we encourage every personinterested to learn more about and play Kriegsspiel to join the community, no matter their experience level, social, educational, national or religious background, age, or gender.Although we keep being positively surprised by the communication culture of our community, our moderation policy is dedicated to firmly ensure that this remains to be the case. We pledge to keep the IKS a space where you can be you, without the toxicity or inappropriate attention.
The “Third Nuclear Age” research project is driven by the desire to provide the first systematic study of how disruptive technologies and renewed geopolitical rivalries are challenging and recasting the nature of nuclear risks and global nuclear order. The project is designed to build global intellectual capacity and train the next generation of experts on this issue, utilise novel methodologies, including war-game simulations exercises, and will hopefully provide the centrepiece for a whole new generation of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work on nuclear affairs. More detail on the project can be found at: https://thethirdnuclearage.com. The work is funded by the European Research Council, grant number: 866155.
The Archipelago of Design believes in inclusive leadership and the value of mobilizing the widest diversity of frames and identities for designing novel approaches to security challenges. We strongly support the Derby House Principles in our efforts to develop serious games that advances design mindsets in defence and security organisations of NATO members and partners. Diversity and inclusion is critical for designing games that resonate with a broader range of security professionals and champion inclusive leadership in their organisations. We wholeheartedly encourage our partners to endorse the Derby House Principles and support this noble cause in their wargaming and serious game efforts.
Dstl has highlighted their commitment to diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming with a new video and accompanying article.
Dstl Head of the Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC) Mike said:
The first step is to recognise the issue and to commit to do something about it.
The Derby House Principles were co-created by a Dstl wargamer and Dstl – all of Dstl, not just the wargaming centre – was an early signatory.
We are committed to ensuring the Defence Wargaming Centre is an inclusive environment. We display the Derby House Principles prominently in the DWC and brief them to players at our games in order to make clear that we are an inclusive environment. We include diversity and inclusion in our training and development.
He went on to say they were looking at the barriers to diversity and inclusion in how we design our games and are seeking to address them. And we encourage our partners to value diversity and inclusion – including encouraging them to update their software to represent more diverse armed forces.
Slitherine Software adopted the Derby House Principles in September.
We have been playing and working in wargames for over thirty years and we’ve witnessed a slow and steady shift to a more diverse audience. As players, the move to a more diverse and inclusive environment has opened the market to a wide range of opportunities, and it’s happening at an organic and consistent pace. As professionals, we also have a corporate responsibility to boost this shift with our hiring opportunities, our ability to open career possibility, and our active efforts to promote inclusion in professional wargaming. We are delighted to adhere to the Derby House Principles as a testament to efforts in the present and commitment to our plans for the future.
Iain McNeil, CEO Slitherine Software UK Ltd
The Derby House Principles have been endorsed by more than thirty major professional organizations, defence establishments, and research institutions, as well as professional wargame designers, developers, consultancies, and companies. If your company or organization would like to join this growing list, contact us for more details.
Nick Pett, a senior civil servant in the UK Ministry of Defence, gave an outstanding talk recently on how to be an ally to the LGBT community.
I want you to watch it. And I want you to apply his sentiments to women and BAME/BIPOC and disabled wargamers as well.
To paraphrase his excellent example of what being an ally means:
It can’t all be about straight white non-disabled men asking marginalised people “What can I do to make your life better? And if you could just talk me through your trauma in order to educate me that would be really helpful thanks.”
It’s beholden on me to make it my work to develop my allyship so that it’s not about expecting the people experiencing discrimination to talk about it and explain it and help me—there’s stacks out there that I can look at and listen to and absorb without it adding to the load of marginalised people.
I think a lot of people talking about allyship would love to sell something that feels really cosy and overwhelmingly positive, that you’ve just got to slap a badge on and stick something in your signature block, and every year post something on social media about Pride happening or Black History Month, and never actively do anything that is any of the -isms. And I’m not selling that, because it’s rubbish. I think allyship is and should be hard work. And you have to think carefully about how much you can call yourself an ally, particularly if nobody marginalised in wargaming would agree with you.
If you’re going to claim allyship you need to be working at it every day: I didn’t come out of the womb understanding what it’s like to be a woman or LGBT or BAME/BIPOC or disabled. I’ve spent a long time trying to learn. I’m reading books about their history and their presence and that’s the kind of thing that I commit to doing because if I’m going to try and represent people I need to understand them and their lives. You should know and understand that the vast vast majority of what is out there that you will come across casually without any effort at all is cis-gendered heterosexual white and non-disabled and is casually if not deliberately phobic and discriminatory in a variety of different ways.
If you as a marginalised wargamer are to be confident in my allyship then you ought to be able to see it everywhere I go. You should be able to see me and hear me and know my allyship wherever I am. You will know my allyship because I wear it on me somewhere all the time—and I don’t think these are empty symbols unless the behaviour that comes behind undermines them. I want people to be able to see that women, LGBT, BAME/BIPOC, and disability communities are something that I love and support and want to protect and celebrate.
Signing up to the Derby House Principles means:
Representation: striving for parity of women and minorities in your wargames and at your wargames, events, conferences, panels, socials, working groups, etc. And not just in admin and junior roles.
Opportunities: mentoring, encouraging, and opening doors for women and minority wargamers. Celebrating their achievements and actively seeking out their contributions.
Support: fighting for women and minority wargamers’ rights to equality; pushing back whenever you see women and minority wargamers not being treated with respect; not standing for words and actions that demean women and minority wargamers. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
Here’s your starter for ten of things you can watch to help you be a better Derby House Principles ally:
Hannah Gadsby on drawing the line between good and bad:
For those of you who missed the Connections North professional (war)gaming conference back in February, we are pleased to finally present the videos from that event. All of the conference presentations are included, except three (either to the speaker’s organization declining approval, or in one case me forgetting to hit “record” in a timely fashion). The question and answer sessions are NOT included.
Canada Gaming Update
Discussion of professional wargaming and policy gaming in Canada, featuring presentations by Scott Roach (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre), Murray Dixson (Defence Research and Development Canada) , Scott Jenkinson (Australian Army), Michael Donohue (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Cole Petersen (Vaccine Rollout Task Force/Canadian Armed Forces). Presentation by Madeline Johnson (Global Affairs Canada) not included. Chaired by Rex Brynen (McGill University).
Designing Assassin’s Mace and ZAPAD
Keynote presentation by Col Tim Barrack (US Marine Corp Wargaming Lab).
Wargaming in small defence communities
Panel on “wargaming in smaller defence communities,” with presentations by David Redpath (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre) and Sue Collins (NATO ACT), chaired by Ben Taylor (DRDC). Presentation by Anja van der Hulst (TNO) not included.
Gaming in the humanitarian and development sector
resentations on “Gaming in the humanitarian and development sector,” COVID-19″ by Amanda Warner (consultant), Gautham Krishnaraj (Laval SimEx), and James Maltby (Save the Children UK). Presentation by Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulation and Training) not included due to recording error, although slides can be found here:
Presentations on “Distributed Gaming” by Pete Pellegrino (US Naval War College), Louise Hoehl (NATO), and Emily Robinson (Defence Research and Development Canada), chaired by Tom Fisher (Imaginetic).
So long and thanks for all the fish (gaming fisheries conservation)
Presentations on “So long and thanks for all the fish” (gaming fisheries conservation) by Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada).
Gaming the Arctic
Presentations on “Gaming the Arctic” by Stephen Aguilar-Millan (European Future Observatory) and Vårin Alme (FFI), chaired by Rex Brynen (McGill University).
Using games for command decision support
Iain McNeil (CEO Slitherine Software and Matrix Games) discusses on “Using Wargames for Command Decision Support.”
Hybrid warfare in the time of COVID-19
Presentation on “Gaming hybrid warfare in the age of COVID-19” by LCol Ronnie Michel (German Army) and Shiho Rybski (European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats), chaired by Ben Taylor (DRDC).
Diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming
Update: it’s been brought to my attention that this post has been interpreted as a criticism of Connections Online. That was not my intention. I apologise for upset resulting from my lack of clarity, and would like to draw everyone’s attention to the better-than-average stats for speaker representation at Connections Online, and the wider D&I efforts made by members of the organising team. I meant only to take the subject of WATU as a jumping-off point for a broader conversation about how all of us in wargaming have a part to play in improving representation.
Another Connections event comes around…and the initial vision of the panel I’m asked to speak at is to have a bunch of straight white men explain how women won the war and the importance of diversity.
Why is it so hard? Why are wargaming leaders still reacting with surprise when someone points out the abject lack of diversity in their plans, and sitting back helplessly waiting for women and minorities and heroic allies like Tom to come and diversity! for them instead of taking personal responsibility?
I love that people are talking about WATU. I love that men are talking about what women and lesbian and refugee and Indian and Muslim and Sikh and Hindu and disabled wargamers achieved with WATU. But guys: you absolutely have to stop congratulating yourselves on how awesome WATU was in place of doing anything to address the diversity problems in wargaming today.
It’s as simple as: straight white men, you have to step back and yield the floor.
If you support diversity and inclusion in wargaming you have to recognise that means you personally—as an over-represented straight white male—have to give up some of your time in the spotlight and make space for women and minorities to take the floor.
It’s not about someone else will take the hit so there’s diversity but I still get to speak 100% of the time I want to, it’s realising that when you personally hold forth on a subject, you personally are silencing a woman or minority wargamer by hogging the space—and you personally have to honestly consider:
Have I said enough already? Can I yield the floor to let someone else speak and not die (psychologically, professionally, literally—since we’re talking about scarcity and threat-focused mindsets.)
Does she/he/they know more about this subject than I do?Don’t be a Mansplainer, don’t presume to know more about a subject because you once held a book about it, don’t assume women and minority wargamers are less-qualified, less-experienced, or only here to do the secretarial work.
Does she/he/they have a different perspective to the same-old-same-old that straight white men have been focusing on since forever? Chances of this are extremely high. Women and minority wargamers experience so much in life that straight white men are oblivious to because it doesn’t happen to straight white men. That’s literally the unknown unknown you need to shut up and listen to, to learn something you didn’t already know.
Is she/he/they perfectly capable of making the exact same point I was going to make, thus scratching my itch that it be aired and making space for other people to contribute? Win win win. Seriously, what is wrong about this? The only reason not to like this scenario is if you’re more interested in who scores the conversational points than the actual furthering of knowledge/understanding/wargaming.
And before you cry “This is silencing men! The outrage!”
Of course that’s not what I’m advocating.
An idealistic rule of thumb: you have two ears, one mouth. If you’re a straight white man you could try yeilding the floor to women and minority wargamers 50% of the time you would otherwise speak. Yeilding just means giving other people who don’t normally get to speak the opportunity to go first—you may find they say everything and more you wanted to hear, you may learn something new.
Bare in mind, cognitive bias is such that when women make up 30% of a group they are perceived to be in the majority, and when they speak 17% of the time they are preceived by men to be dominating the conversation—so I think it’s incredibly safe to say just stopping to think and maybe letting a woman or minority wargamer go first is not going to cause the breakdown of society. You’d have to try excessively over-the-top hard to actually make space for women and minority wargamers to dominate a conversation—ignoring the fact that women are way more conscious of taking up more than fair space in a conversation than men are, and will yield the floor out of politeness before it’s genuinely silencing men.
That feeling you have? Of tensing up slightly at the thought of being silenced, the scarcity and threat-mindset, the need to be heard? The unfairness of it? …women and minority wargamers feel that all the time when straight white men interupt us, talk over us, don’t invite us to be speakers at conferences, have all-male panels discussing obviously women/minority interest subjects, or complain that wargaming should not be about gender or sexual orientation or skin colour or disability. Newsflash for you straight white men: it already is about those things, you just don’t notice it because you’re in the favoured group and don’t experience the being sidelined, ignored, discounted, and told to shut up and act like straight white men or go somewhere else if you don’t like it. Have you ever had to deal with work e-mails responding to your research/paper/presentation that is not engaging with content at all but an attack on your personhood, intelligence, legitimacy, and right to exist in wargaming? Because I have, and other women and minority wargamers get that while straight white men get to Advance Straight To Go and only discuss the merits of their work.
Before you cry “This is woke nonsense, unfairly priviliging minorities!”
Just stop. Stop and think about the ugly ugly thought behind the knee-jerk reaction to efforts to increase women’s and minority representation: that they’re taking our opportunities and giving them to under-qualified, inexperienced people instead. Presuming that women and minority wargamers couldn’t possibly be equally—if not more—qualified and experienced than straight white men.
I have a First in rocket science. Yuna Wong has five degrees. Look at WATU: everybody loves to say WATU was Roberts’ brainchild, his genius—he never rose above Captain, WATU was the highlight of his career. Syed Ahsan, Number One at the Bombay Tactical Table, went on to head the Pakistan Navy and hold senior government positions. It’s the same dynamic as the Tuskegee Airmen: barriers to entry for minority folks select for exceptional participants. Until gender parity and proportionate representation of minority wargamers is universal, across the board, at every wargaming conference and event, and discriminatory behaviour is a thing of the past, there is literally no danger of diversity efforts privilidging underqualified minority wargamers at the expence of mediocre straight white men.
I’m down with this, what can I do?
Use inclusive language: it signals to women and minorities that the space is welcoming. Historically these spaces were not, and the omission of women and minorities are welcome in the invite was deliberate, so it’s not enough to have changed your mindset without changing the language you use too. @ManWhoHasItAll would not be such delicious satire if we didn’t all buy into gendered presumptions about so many things.
If you don’t say “anyone who identifies as a woman” then trans women will not know if you mean they are just as welcome. If you don’t even make the barest minimum effort of “Please get in touch if you have accessibility needs so we can make this work for everyone” then you’re sending a message to disabled wargamers that we’re not even interested in trying when, in fact, you have a legal (and moral) obligation to make reasonable adjustments.
Allow women and minorities the space to step up—hold back the stampeed of men, because men will apply and volunteer and show up even when you explicitly say this is an opportunity for women. Don’t allow men to fill up all the spaces before women and minorities have had the chance to beleive you really mean they’re welcome. It’s not enough to say you accepted submissions regardless of gender etc, you actually have to make an effort to ensure diversity.
Invite women and minority folks directly—don’t assume a general announcement or group e-mail will actually come across as, “Yes, you! Reading this now, I want you!” Approach them directly, personally. If you don’t know who to ask, ask other people to recommend women and minority wargamers you could ask. Six degrees of separation, people.
If you—straight white man—are invited as a speaker or audience member, ask the organisers: how many women and minority speakers do you have? Are they here as experts in their own right, or are you just using them to facilitate men? Refuse to participate in manels. Refuse to participate in all-white panels. Point them at women and minority wargamers you want to hear from instead. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
Look at your panel, and your event as a whole: who are your speakers? Are they all men, are they all white, are they all straight/cishet, are they all non-disabled? …do they all look like you, in other words.
Doesn’t seem like a thing to you, because all you see are people like you, and unconsciously that gives your brain a rush of I belong here vibes. For women and minority wargamers it’s sending a message of exclusion. If you’ve ever been the only white person in a room, or the only man in the room, or the only non-disabled person in the room, or the only straight person in the room, you’ll understand it’s not about hostile behaviour or the intention to exclude, but that it feels uncomfortable to you because you stick out like a sore thumb.
You need diversity in your organising committee to get buy-in from diverse speakers and a diverse audience.
It is an absolute delight to join Women’s Wargaming Network gatherings and see 50/50 white and non-white attendees—in large part because Yuna Wong’s visible presence as founder of the network signals to black and asian wargamers this is a place you are welcome and wanted and will be respected. That’s at least half-a-dozen not-white US wargamers you could look to instead of piling all your diversity hopes and dreams into “Yuna! Come fix us, diversity for us!” That’s a whole cohort of smart, capable, diverse wargamers you could actively raise up instead of ignoring in favour of the same old guys.
Straight white men: diversity does not happen by magic. It does not happen by good intentions alone. It happens by conscious and constant effort by you personally. You have so much power to set the tone and influence others by your behaviour—you are already doing it. The question is who do you want to include?
Read more about the Derby House Principles for diveristy and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
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?
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.