Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: humanitarian training

Connections North 2021 videos

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:

Distributed gaming

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

A panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in professional gaming, featuring Brianna Proceviat (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre), Lynn O’Donnell (Dstl), Paul Strong (Dstl), Yuna Wong (IDA), and Sebastian Bae (RAND/Georgetown University). Connections North is a proud supporter of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

Serious games for humanitarian training: The Movie

Yesterday, Tom Fisher (PAXsims and Imaginetics) and Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulation and Training) spoke about their work on serious game for humanitarian training. If you missed it, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society has posted the video of the event to their YouTube channel.

GUWS: Fisher and Stevens on serious games for humanitarian training

On July 28, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society and PAXsims will cosponsor a virtual presentation by Tom Fisher (Imaginetic) and Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulations and Training) on serious games for humanitarian training. They are the authors of a recent report on Serious Games: Humanitarian User Research, conducted for Save the Children UK. The study, completed in January 2020, explored the potential of games-based learning for humanitarian training in Jordan and Kenya via a series of workshops in Amman and Nairobi. Among the issues addressed are the effectiveness of games-based learned, the strengths and weakness of analogue and digital gaming, and best practices.

Tom Fisher is President of Imaginetic Simulations + Design, a serious games, training, development, and design firm based in Montréal, Canada; and an associate editor of PAXsims. With over 30 years of scenario design under his belt, and 15 years of games-based learning and serious games design and development experience. Tom’s design and development products have been used in training and analysis around the globe, from Aftershock to MaGCK, as well as numerous projects for the World Bank, NATO, and over 100 international agencies, universities, companies and NGOs.

Matthew Stevens is Director of Lessons Learned Simulations and Training a professional development training firm for humanitarian workers with a focus on simulations and serious games. Matthew has worked with refugees and migrants globally since 2008, from downtown Cairo to the Peruvian Amazon. Before returning to Canada in 2017 to found LLST, he served as Country Director for an INGO in Amman, Jordan, delivering online higher education to displaced youth.

The online presentation will take place from 6pm to 8pm Eastern. Registration is via Eventbrite.

McGill: Gaming humanitarian crisis


On Wednesday, November 20 I’ll be speaking to the Games and Gamification for Human Development and Well-being (GHDW) working group at McGill University on “Gaming Humanitarian Crisis” (17h30-18h00). This will be followed by a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game (18h00-20h30).

The event will take place on the 1st floor of the Education Building (3700 McTavish).

Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.


Humanitarian and Disaster Response Simulation Training

Humanitarian U will be running a humanitarian training course and simulation in the Vancouver area on 19-22 October 2017. You’ll find full information below.

Van SimEx flyer_A

simulations miscellany, 3 August 2013


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

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AFP recently featured a report on humanitarian training simulations, and the role they can play in preparing humanitarian workers for growing challenges in the field:

Go, go!” shouts a soldier at five Red Cross aid workers crammed into a 4×4 truck speeding into the woods as explosions go off nearby, sending up plumes of white smoke.

The scene feels menacing and real. But it is in fact taking place far from an actual battlefield and just a stone’s throw from a city renowned for its international peace efforts, in one of the safest countries on the planet.

Welcome to Alpesia, an imaginary land created by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 15 years ago in the woods of Geneva. Here the Sequane Liberation Front rebels are facing off against the authorities in a “conflict” tailored to teach new aid workers how to face the increasingly dangerous world they will soon be ushered into.

Nearly 200 participants, who have to be between 25 and 35 years old, pass the simulation test each year before joining a profession where armed attacks, kidnappings and hospital bombings are becoming ever more prevalent.

In the Swiss woods, they get a taste for what life could be like on mission: military checkpoints, visits to destroyed hospitals and a refugee camp — all within eight days of practical and theoretical training.

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The New York Times (2 August 2013) has a long report on “The Dog-Eat-Dog World of Model UN.”

 This is not F.D.R.’s Model United Nations, that rigid simulation of General Assembly protocol and decorum. Conferences like this one in Philadelphia, hosted by the club at Penn, have turned MUN, as it’s called, into a full-fledged sport, with all the competitiveness and rowdiness that suggests. Today, there are official sponsors, a ranking of schools and, much to the chagrin of traditionalists, non-U.N. role play.

MUN’s roots are older than the United Nations itself. In 1927, Harvard invited nine colleges to a simulation of the League of Nations, nearly a decade after that body’s creation in the wake of the First World War. Today, anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 high school and college students in this country attend Model U.N. each year, according to the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

In classic MUN, students represent the positions and values of assigned countries, adhering to official protocols when speaking, negotiating and drafting resolutions. Consensus is important, and the process of arriving at innovative solutions to global problems the goal. That is still the prevailing model. But a new breed of Model U.N., popular among student-run clubs at elite universities, has a distinctly different philosophy. Their “crisis committees” focus on a single historical event (the 1929 Atlantic City conference of crime bosses, for example) and fantasy recreations (“Star Wars,” “Harry Potter”). Participants battle it out in four-day conferences in hopes of winning a coveted gavel, awarded to the strongest member on each committee, and schools with the most “best delegates” top the new rankings.

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HGWellsThe BBC (2 August 2013) offers a look at “Little Wars: How HG Wells created hobby war gaming,”

It is a century since HG Wells published the first proper set of rules for hobby war games. There’s a hardcore of gamers who are still playing by his code.

Pine tips are stuck in the grass to represent trees. Roads are laid out with trails of compost.

This is the Battle of Gettysburg, with Union soldiers on one side and Confederates on the other. But the soldiers of this new Gettysburg are 54mm (2in) tall and mostly made of plastic.

The battle is taking place between a group of enthusiasts in a garden at Sandhurst military academy under the rules of Little Wars, devised by HG Wells in 1913.

War was then looming in Europe and Little Wars was both an expression of Wells’s passion for toy soldiers and to his fears over the coming slaughter. The science fiction author even believed that war games could change attitudes.

“You only have to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be,” wrote Wells.

But this is looked on with disapproval by some modern war gamers, who prefer theoretical bombardments worked out with distance tables.

Phil Barker, a celebrated deviser of modern games, acknowledges Wells’s role in “showing it could be done – and giving grown men an excuse to play with toy soldiers”.

But he adds: “Combat was based on shooting solid projectiles at the figures. Today, this would be discouraged because of the risk of someone getting a projectile in the eye, but it was the chance of damage to the finish of lovingly home-painted figures that led to the switch to less lethal dice.”

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Given both  continued Sino-Japanese suspicions stretching back to before WWII and continued territorial disputes between the two countries over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands/Tiaoyutai/Pinnacle islands—what you call them depends on which claim you are advancing—it is hardly surprising that they have become the subject of a video game. According to The Diplomat (2 August 2013):

 Chinese video game, designed in part by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and originally intended as a training tool for soldiers, allows gamers to engage in all-out war against foreign enemies. An early version of Glorious Mission generated a fair share of controversy when it appeared to pit virtual soldiers against the U.S. military.

Today, a more recent version of theCall of Duty clone received an update, containing a new mission – a siege of the contested Diaoyu Islands – a move that embodies China’s shifting of aggression from America to its Asian neighbor and past colonizer, Japan.

Disputed islands between China and Japan have become the centerpiece of diplomatic tension in Asia. Called the Diaoyu Islands by China and the Senkaku Islands by Japan, bitter territorial disputes over ownership of the rocky outcroppings have sparked mass protests in both countries. Chinese nationalists went as far as burning and looting Japanese-owned businesses in China last year, following a Japanese government announcement that it would purchase and nationalize the uninhabited islets.

Glorious Mission Online’s latest downloadable content (DLC) gives Chinese gamers a chance to virtually evict Japanese “invaders” by force – aided by China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and an arsenal of military weaponry.

“Players entering the game will fight alongside Chinese armed forces and use their weapons to tell the Japanese that ‘Japan must return our stolen territory!’” read a press release on the game’s website,according to the South China Morning Post.

The video trailer for the scenario can be found here:

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MST_magazine_2013_lrWith regard to professional military training and simulation, the latest issue (3-4/2013) of Military Simulation & Training can be found here.

Simulations and their use in the humanitarian sector


This guest post has been written for PAXsims by David Hockaday of the Emergency Capacity Building Project.

Simulations and their use in the humanitarian sector

The Emergency Capacity Building Project (The ECB Project) [1] is a collaboration among six of the world’s largest International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and is specifically designed to improve the skills and competencies of the national staff of the six participating agencies and other stakeholders at the national level. This skills improvement process is called “capacity building”. The ECB Project has been working over the past six years to build the capacity of national staff to carry out faster and more effective emergency responses.

There are many approaches to capacity building national staff which the ECB Project has used. This includes training on a specific standard or tool, hosting learning workshops or learning events, and organising real time evaluations, after action reviews and simulations.

Simulations and drills are used in all walks of life to test and prepare specific skills and competencies – whether it is for the emergency services, health professionals, military or airline pilots – and the humanitarian sector is no different. Simulations provide an excellent opportunity to build relationships, test individual competencies and provide a safe learning space for participants to try out new behaviours or approaches.

ECB-Project-case-study-simualting-the-worst--front-cover_cropped89118The ECB Project recently finalised a collaborative simulation case study with other key stakeholders in the humanitarian sector, which yielded some interesting conclusions.

Perhaps of most significance was the implicit finding that simulations are increasingly recognized by NGOs, the United Nations (UN), donors, governments and the broader humanitarian community as a highly effective and engaging way of increasing disaster preparedness and building staff capacity.

As a result significant progress has been made in the humanitarian community in the way that simulations have been resourced, prioritized and used as a preparedness tool – from the creation of the ECB Project’s Simulation Administrators Guide, to the development of the United Nations Inter-Agency Emergency Simulation guidebook (UN-IAES) and the more recently drafted Local Government simulation piloted by the Philippine National Disaster Management Agency with assistance from the World Food Programme.

In addition, the United Nations Inter Agency Standing Committee (UN-IASC) developed a roster of trained simulation experts which is available for use by others within the humanitarian community.

These are all good examples of how the sector is increasingly professionalising, codifying and sharing resources and guidance on simulation design and implementation.

The most interesting finding from a human resource perspective was that across the board and without fail, simulations present an excellent opportunity for relationship and trust building. Relationships and trust are so critical in humanitarian responses and can be the difference between failed and successful coordination, and in turn can determine the ultimate success or otherwise of the overall response. The fundamental objective of the simulation in a humanitarian context is to ultimately pre-position relationships, in the same way that I/NGOs might try to pre-position vital stocks of mosquito nets, water purification equipment or sanitation kits.

The study found that there were four common reasons or objectives for holding a simulation:

  1. To identify the skills of an individual staff member that need to be strengthened before an actual disaster occurs.
  2. To develop and practice preparedness and contingency plans.
  3. To develop and practice organisational preparedness and relationships.
  4. To build organisational capacity.


While the stakeholders and organisations involved across the six simulations varied greatly (for example from a simulation held in Madagascar at the national level involving national government officials, UN officials and other key stakeholders, to a simulation held in a disaster vulnerable community in the Philippines, with community members and local NGO staff) the study revealed that successful simulation designs shared four common key elements:

  1. Trained and skilled facilitators.
  2. Injects [2] to help move the fictional scenario along and to test different components of planning, preparation, and coordination.
  3. A debriefing session held after completing the simulation where the key lessons from the event are captured.
  4. The development of an action plan, (individual, organisational or institutional) that outlines how the capacity or skills gaps identified during the simulation and debrief, will be addressed.

The study also revealed four common lessons about implementing successful simulations.

  1. Choosing the right simulation for the context (i.e. simulating a cyclone response in a cyclone vulnerable location helped to provide realism),
  2. Ensuring the right people and stakeholders are in the room,
  3. That good planning improves a simulation
  4. And that management commitment and appropriate budgetary support are also key factors in a successful simulation

kenyasimFor managers within the humanitarian community there are valid concerns about increasing frequency of disasters [3] and growing impact on human life and economic systems [4]. This means that being well prepared for an emergency response in a timely and effective manner is even more critical for reducing the impact of the disaster, saving lives, and ensuring a smoother recovery.

In this respect simulations offer humanitarian managers an excellent tool to develop staff skills and capacity, test procedures and contingency plans, build relationships and trust and bring a greater degree of predictability into humanitarian planning and response.

To see the full case study in detail, please click this link ECB Project Simulation Case Study: simulating the worst to prepare the best. For more information and resources on ECB Project simulations please visit

[1] The Emergency Capacity Building Project is a collaboration, now nearing the end of its second phase (2008 – 2013), between six of the world’s largest International Non-Governmental organisations CARE, CRS, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision. The purpose is to improve the speed, quality and effectiveness of emergency response through targeted staff capacity building initiatives.

[2] A “direct inject” is a stimulus or catalyst provided by the simulation administrator to provoke a response or reaction from simulation participants. Direct injects can come from e-mails, telephone calls, situation reports, disaster data, role players and actors. An “indirect inject” is catalysed by participants following their preparedness plans, contingency plans or standard operating procedures

[3] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Session Concept Paper “World Conference on Disaster Reduction.” January 2005. Pg 1.

[4] Guha-Sapir D, Vos F, Below R, with Ponserre S. Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2011: The Numbers and Trends. Brussels: CRED; 2012


UPDATE: The report is now also available in French and Spanish.

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