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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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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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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.

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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”)…

Simulation miscellany, 28 January 2014

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Some recent news on conflict simulations and serious games (and, occasionally, other stuff) that may be of interest.

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They’re as busy as ever at GrogHeads. First, there is still time to vote in the 2014 “Readers’ Choice” awards for the best games of the year. Also, they are always on the lookout for academic and analytical contributions on wargames and related subjects. Go check it out.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education this week features an article by Anastasia Salter on “Alternate Reality Games in the Classroom“:

It can be hard to get a clear picture of ARGs without participating in one directly. Alternate Reality Games typically start with a rabbit hole: a website URL for a fictional company embedded in a movie ad campaign, a strange interruption in a video clip on YouTube, a series of street art images with a Twitter hashtag, or some other method of alerting potential players that a story is starting. From there, players typically follow a trail of clues presented by the game’s puppetmasters. You can find out more about games going on now through the Alternate Reality Gaming Networkand the Unfiction ForumsBrooke Thompson has a great quickstart guideon how to play ARGs that can help you get started. Most of the games are marketing promotions, but they still often include great examples of using mysterious websites, codes, social media, geocaching and flash mob events to play a story. These same techniques can be scaled up or down to a classroom or conference….

h/t Brian Train

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The proceedings for last year’s History of Games conference are now online. There is also a special issue of Game Studies with papers from that conference

h/t TAG

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Kotaku has an interesting discussion by Paolo Pedercini of the forthcoming game Prison Architect:

Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration? As video games mature and tackle more serious topics, players and developers should be aware of the values embedded in their systems.

Prison Architect is an upcoming game by Introversion Software, a British independent company. Dubbing themselves “the last of the bedroom programmers,” Introversion played a key role in the renaissance of independent game development, producing a string of critically acclaimed titles and paving the way for digital distribution of third-party games on Steam.

Among their previous releases is one of my favorite games ever: Defcon, a spine-chilling, eerily beautiful multiplayer real-time strategy game in which players engage in a Cold-war era nuclear conflict. Each Defcon game culminates in a slow-motion Mutually Assured Destruction scenario. Whoever suffers the least amount of megadeaths is the winner.

Prison Architect is also tackling a dark subject, a subject that deserves special attention and defies any ‘it’s just a game’ kind of dismissal.

As the name suggests, the player is in charge of designing (but also managing) a private penitentiary. The gameplay is reminiscent of sim games from the ’90s, most notably Bullfrog’sTheme Park and Theme Hospital: a mix of construction, zoning, research, resource and staff management….

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Do you have a lot of ill-gotten gains you need to turn into safe, useable cash? The blog Criminal Genius is featuring the “Keno Laundromat,” a weekly money launder challenge/tutorial simulation.

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The deadline to submit abstracts for consideration at the 82nd Military Operations Research Society Symposium is Thursday, 14 February 2014. Registration is now open.

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Red-Team-This-RTJThe Red Team Journal continues to add to its list of “The Laws of Red Teaming.” Check out the current list.

Simulations miscellany, 8 September 2013

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Some recent items on games and simulations that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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gaming-research-2The folks at GrogHeads have started a new monthly column for academic-focused research on games and wargames:

Hobby games and gamers – especially in the strategy gaming and wargaming world – have rarely been the subjects of much serious published research inquiry.  And yet, some of us know from personal experience that such research is, in fact, being conducted in graduate schools and academic institutions all over.  Distinct from marketing analyses in that they are not focused on improving commercial performance, these studies are frequently conceptualized and executed by members of the broader gaming community who are seeking to fuse their love for the hobby with an academic persuit in the social sciences or humanities.

Although there are a few academic outlets for such research – the journal Simulation & Gaming springs to mind – not every paper was written with the intention of journal or conference submission.  Nevertheless, the research is still interesting and useful, and for GrogHeads everywhere it is certainly relevant.  Papers shared may inspire better research by later investigators, and the ideas discussed may help designers and developers craft better games.

Here at GrogHeads, we’re kicking off a new monthly series on Research and Gaming.  The first of these papers was published in early August, and we plan to follow with one each month.  And we’d like you to submit your research to us.  We’re not a peer-reviewed journal, but we do have some academics on our staff and among our “Friends of GrogHeads” network that include PhD’s in history, political science, and business, as well as other grad degrees in social sciences and the humanities.  So if you’ve got something interesting that you want to share, here’s your chance.  Email us your papers at research-at-grogheads-dot-com . Make sure you include all of your citations and footnotes in the document, and attach any graphics as separate files.  We will also need a short bio from you about who you are and how people can contact you.  One great way for people to contact you is to create an account in our forums, so that you can join any discussions of feedback that go on there.  We even have an area dedicated to references and research.

A few caveats, of course:

  • Do not send us something you’re hoping to see presented at a conference, or in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Do not send us something you expect to try to claim on a CV when you’re hunting for a future academic job
  • Do not send us blatant marketing, political, or religious tracts
  • Do not expect detailed, in-depth critiques of your work from our advisory team, but do expect a lot of questions from our audience, many of whom do not have a great academic background, and for whom there will need to be some gentler discussion of the finer points of how your research got to where it is.

So please send us your tired, huddled research projects yearning to breathe free, and let’s share them with the wider gaming audience.  Who knows what great insights they may spawn for someone else to build on, what feedback you’ll get to improve your own work.  Either way, it’ll be in the public and being discussed, which sure beats languishing on a digital shelf somewhere, next to the Ark of the Covenant.

Their first piece, by Brant Guillory, examines “Entrepreneurship in the Hobby Games Segment of the Publishing Industry.”

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The various slides and presentation recordings from the recent Connections UK professional wargaming conference are now online at the Connections UK website.

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JDMSAn article by Andrew Collins, John Sokolowski, and Catherine Banks  on “Applying Reinforcement Learning to an Insurgency Agent-based Simulation”  will appear soon in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.”

A requirement of an Agent-based Simulation (ABS) is that the agents must be able to adapt to their environment. Many ABSs achieve this adaption through simple threshold equations due to the complexity of incorporating more sophisticated approaches. Threshold equations are when an agent behavior changes because a numeric property of the agent goes above or below a certain threshold value. Threshold equations do not guarantee that the agents will learn what is best for them. Reinforcement learning is an artificial intelligence approach that has been extensively applied to multi-agent systems but there is very little in the literature on its application to ABS. Reinforcement learning has previously been applied to discrete-event simulations with promising results; thus, reinforcement learning is a good candidate for use within an Agent-based Modeling and Simulation (ABMS) environment. This paper uses an established insurgency case study to show some of the consequences of applying reinforcement learning to ABMS, for example, determining whether any actual learning has occurred. The case study was developed using the Repast Simphony software package.

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Strategic Crisis Simulations, a student-run organization at George Washington University, will be conducting “Shattered Resolve: A Simulation of Conflict and Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula” at GWU from 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM on 14 September 2013. You’ll find registration details here.

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How might a  zombie elf help you get to college? The New York Times explains.

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The University of Denver sponsored an international humanitarian crisis simulation exercise over the 2013 Memorial Day weekend. You’ll find a very good video of the event below.

Grogheads: The “Distant Plain” interview

Over at the Grogheads wargaming site,  Brant Guillory has posted an excellent interview with Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke, the codesigners of the forthcoming game of insurgency and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, A Distant Plain (GMT Games).

The lengthy interview is in two parts. In addition to providing much detail on the game, it also offers insight into the challenge of game design for COIN operations:

Great stuff! There is also a GrogHeads discussion forum for the topic.

simulations miscellany, 14 June 2012

For no particular reason at all, it’s the lolcat edition of simulations miscellany—with recent news on games and simulations that may be of interest to our readers:

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The folks at NDU’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning offer a “demo strategic game” online, in which players can choose a course of action in response to a terrorist threat. (It may have been on their CASL website a while, but I’ve only just noticed it.) Go give it a try.

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Volko Ruhnke’s long-awaited boardgame of insurgency and counterinsurgency in Colombia, Andean Abyss, is likely to be shipped by GMT Games next. While you’re anxiously awaiting your chance to play a drug lord or right-wing paramilitary, you can have a look at the final version of the rulebook and playbook on the GMT Games website.

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Also on the insurgency/counterinsurgency theme, over at Grogheads Christopher Davos has posted the second part of his “developer’s diary” for The Long War, a strategic card-driven game about the current war in Afghanistan. There’s also a forum to discuss the game concept.

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It’s an old thread (2009) but a good one: if you’re thinking of using the classic board game Diplomacy in the classroom, have a look at this informative post (and subsequent discussion) at BoardGameGeek.

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Speaking of games of nations, Reddit user “Lycerius” has been playing the computer game Civilization II (1996) for ten years—that is to say, the same game of Civ II over 10 years:

I’ve been playing the same game of Civ II for 10 years. Though long outdated, I grew fascinated with this particular game because by the time Civ III was released, I was already well into the distant future. I then thought that it might be interesting to see just how far into the future I could get and see what the ramifications would be. Naturally I play other games and have a life, but I often return to this game when I’m not doing anything and carry on. The results are as follows.

  • The world is a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation.
  • There are 3 remaining super nations in the year 3991 A.D, each competing for the scant resources left on the planet after dozens of nuclear wars have rendered vast swaths of the world uninhabitable wastelands.

-The ice caps have melted over 20 times (somehow) due primarily to the many nuclear wars. As a result, every inch of land in the world that isn’t a mountain is inundated swamp land, useless to farming. Most of which is irradiated anyway.

-As a result, big cities are a thing of the distant past. Roughly 90% of the world’s population (at its peak 2000 years ago) has died either from nuclear annihilation or famine caused by the global warming that has left absolutely zero arable land to farm. Engineers (late game worker units) are always busy continuously building roads so that new armies can reach the front lines. Roads that are destroyed the very next turn when the enemy goes. So there isn’t any time to clear swamps or clean up the nuclear fallout.

-Only 3 super massive nations are left. The Celts (me), The Vikings, And the Americans. Between the three of us, we have conquered all the other nations that have ever existed and assimilated them into our respective empires.

-You’ve heard of the 100 year war? Try the 1700 year war. The three remaining nations have been locked in an eternal death struggle for almost 2000 years….

The epic game has provoked much discussion online, both in terms of strategy for ending the war and with regard to the situation that has developed on his virtual earth after a decade of game play.

(Interestingly, part of the fascination here is that the game is a digital one, where the “half-life” for continuous play is expected to be quite low due to the eventual obsolescence of software or the lure of upgraded editions or subsequent more sophisticated competing games. By contrast, there would be quite a few manual pen-and-paper role-playing games that have been going for two or more decades without attracting attention from NPRThe Guardian, The AtlanticForbes, news agencies, and hundreds of electronic gaming and technology publications and blogs.)

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Tiltfactor is “a conceptual design lab that researches, designs, launches, and publishes games and interactive experiences related to technology and human values” founded by Mary Flanagan. It produces some very interesting games, including POX—a game that educates about vaccination and group immunity. Now they are introducing ZOMBIEPOX, a zombie-themed variant of that same game. The reason for doing so isn’t just because they’ve seen the blood-spattered writing on the apocalyptic wall, but rather to see whether reconfiguring a health education game with a zombie theme will affect the way players accept and learn from it:

…ZOMBIEPOX is an evolution of POX: SAVE THE PEOPLE®, which was originally conceived as a game of disease control that came out of a partnership with the Mascoma Valley Health Initiative to stop the spread of misinformation concerning the effects of vaccination.

Previous research at Tiltfactor has found that players can apply concepts and systems thinking learned through playing POX: SAVE THE PEOPLE to problems outside the game. Currently, Tiltfactor is conducting research to examine the gameplay and learning outcomes of ZOMBIEPOX and how the zombie narrative compares with the original POX: SAVE THE PEOPLE game….

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