Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: International Studies Association

ISA update #2


Today at the International Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta started off for me this morning with a panel on Strategic analysis in support of international policy-making . This had nothing to do with simulation/gaming—rather, I was there to deliver a paper on “Here (very likely) Be Dragons? The Challenges of Policy‐Relevant Prediction.” I’m not just a  simulations guy, you know.

The afternoon, however, was taken up with a very stimulating four hour workshop session on Simulations and Games in International Relations, organized by Victor Asal (NYU) and Amanda Rosen (Webster).

Victor started us off with a series of quick classroom games designed to illustrate key conceptual and theoretical issues in international relations. Live or Die is a modified rock-paper-scissors game. He highlighted how the game’s outcome illustrated the problems of cooperation under conditions of Hobbesian anarchy. While everyone could win the game if no one challenged anyone else, typically a competitive dynamic soon emerges. That led into a broader discussion of whether the game highlighted the inevitability of social conflict, or whether the outcome was a function of the game setting and procedures. Subsequent games with modified rules introduced issues of capability, alliance behavior, and negotiation. In another game we  examined single-round and iterative prisoner’s dilemma, with modified pay-off structures and rules.

Amanda stressed the need to focus such games on learning objectives, and to link game behavior with course content.


The flag of our beloved Kubian homeland. Black represents the oil wealth under our noble soil; green indicates our verdant fields and forests, as well as the colour of the dollars we hope to earn by selling our newly-controlled natural resources; blue depicts the No-Fly-Zone imposed over our Ancaram oppressors by Hudson; red recalls the blood of our valiant martyrs; and the white star indicates the bonus points we all lost by failing to agree on a peace treaty.

The Ancaram civil war simulation followed. The group was formed into four main teams: the Ancaram government, the break-away Kubese rebels, the regional power of Potomic, and the global superpower of Hudson. A fifth group represented the media. Our collective task was to negotiate a peace agreement. Individual provisions in the agreement needed the support of the three of the four political teams, while the overall agreement needed unanimous support for the final treaty to be approved.

As a member of the Kubian team, we agreed to demand independence (and build state-like institutions), but we were willing to settle for regional autonomy if that included self-rule, cultural autonomy, control over natural resources, and continued command over our military forces (reconfigured as a “national guard”)—in other words, a model much like the current Kurdish Regional Government. Our strategy to achieve this involved fostering good relations with both Hudson and Potomic, while trying to isolate the Ancaram government. This was relatively successful, in that we obtained support from the two external powers for our goals. Increasing external pressure was placed on the government, including military intervention by Hudson. However our failure to effectively engage the Anacram government meant that they vetoed the proposed peace deal—and, under the terms of the simulation, everyone lost.

Ah well, at least I was able to retire from the Kubian Revolutionary Leadership Council to take up a faculty position in the newly-established University of Kubia.

After this came a distribution game, in which each round saw a diminishing number of resources (poker chips) being distributed among the participants using different decision rules (majority vote, resource-weighted voting, and so forth). This could be used in a classroom setting to spark discussion of international political economy or decision rules in international organizations, for example.

Victor then presented a series of ethical vignettes in which small groups discussed several use-of-force scenarios: searching for terrorists in a village, interrogating a captured suicide bomber, and assassinating a senior member of an authoritarian regime with a high risk of civilian casualties. While these certainly sparked discussion, I was a little worried that, unless handled carefully, they potentially legitimized actions that were in clear violation of the laws of armed conflict.

Amanda reviewed a number of online games that could be used in an international relations course. Most of these were relatively straight-forward browser games, which could be played in class or as homework assignments.

Finally, we had a general discussion of simulation and gaming issue that addressed, among other issues, the challenge of large classes, the depth of briefing material in role-play negotiation games, student motivation and preparation, and other best practices.

It was a very enjoyable workshop with some great ideas and excellent facilitation. Some of the materials have appeared (or will appear) on the Active Learning in Political Science website, and I’ll upload here any others that Amanda and Victor send on.

ISA 2016 update #1


This week I’m attending the International Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta. Among the 1,280 panels and roundtables this year, several are devoted to the intersection of games and international relations.

Unfortunately, several of those panels are also scheduled in the same time slot. Consequently today I had to choose between panels on Videogames and World Politics, another on A Look to the Future of Intelligence Education (which included a simulation/gaming paper) and The Role of Simulations in Peace Education. In the end I attended the latter.

The first paper, by Hemda Ben-Yehuda (Bar-Ilan University) and Guy Zohar (Bar-Ilan University) examined “Lessons from Simulations of Regional Crises for the Study of Fanaticism and Peace.”

This study presents lessons from feedback surveys for designing simulations and highlighting the role of fanaticism in world politics. It focuses on nine face-to-face and online simulations of regional crises as an innovative tool to study fanaticism. During interactive exercises, participants confronted fanaticism in historical or current events, mostly on Middle-Eastern topics. Feedback questions guided students to revisit their learning experience covering: (1) Simulation and participant attributes. (2) Cognitive, affective, and behavioral gains in a gradual learning cycle, from preparation, via interactions to feedback. (3) Fanaticism in real and simulated environments. Results indicate that participants identify with their role and team, enjoy and learn but show limited awareness to fanaticism and its challenges. Students see the situation in less extreme terms than it is, regard themselves as moderates and label rivals as extremists. Yet, they view behaviors as a response to extremism, creating a dangerous escalation spiral. Fanaticism is associated with learning but not with accommodation. The way negotiations end appeared unrelated to research variables, with the exception of enjoyment and empathy. The implication for instructors is to employ fanaticism carefully to activate team behavior and advance learning but to remember the limits of control over how rivals conclude simulations.

I had some concerns about the ways in which fanaticism was conceptualized as the central variable here. ISIS certainly fits into that category. In the case of Nazi Germany “fanaticism” certainly drove the behavior of senior Nazi officials and the SS, but the rest of the German armed forces were fairly conventional military pragmatists. The three other examples that were cited—Hizbullah, Hamas, and Iran—strike me as ideological but often very pragmatic, with complex decision-making processes that embody a variety of determinants and orientations.

Michael J. Butler (Clark University) addressed “The Holy Trinity? Integrating and Synthesizing Topic, Debriefing, and Assessment in Classroom Simulations.”

Among the pedagogical challenges confronting instructors who design and employ classroom simulations, two of the most prominent and perennial are debriefing and assessment. While an extensive literature on both topics exists, and numerous useful approaches are available, the daunting task of designing appropriate instruments for debriefing and assessment often results in an ad-hoc approach to each. The proposed paper posits two distinct explanations for this persistent state of affairs, drawn in equal measure from the prevailing literature as well as the author’s own experiences designing and employing in-class simulations. First, debriefing and assessment are frequently and erroneously conceived of as discrete considerations—a fragmented approach which works to the detriment of each. Second, both enterprises are frequently designed and conducted without adequate attention to the structure and form of the simulation exercise itself, generating a ‘one size fits all’ approach to both debriefing and assessment that works against obtaining the desired level of precision and specificity. As a potential corrective to these problems, the paper proposes a two-pronged synthetic approach in which the elements of debriefing and assessment are integrated as well as closely calibrated to the simulation topic and setting.

I think his argument that debrief and assessment techniques need to be tailored to the particular design and purposes of a simulation is, I think, spot-on. With regard to the latter, he discusses the “scant evidence” problem that, until relatively recently, simulation users had little to show beyond gut-instinct that simulations worked. There has been greater attention to objective measurement of simulation impact, but doing so remains a challenge. Butler argued that one-size-fits-all methods (such as pre/post-tests, control groups, or multiple game iterations) may be of limited usefulness, and outlined an approach that uses student debriefing to assess the extent to which learning objectives have been achieved.

Daniela Irrera (University of Catania) delivered a paper on “Simulating EU Institutional Dynamics The TwinSim at the University of Catania.”

The paper discusses a negotiation model focused on EU institutional dynamics and designed for students enrolled in Global Politics and European Studies programs. It was experienced by a group of students from the University of Catania and from the University of Liège, as part of a seminar (Twin Seminar), jointly managed by both Universities. The TwinSim scenario was focused on the appointment of the President of the Commission with the largest and participated consensus. Students experienced the inter-institutional negotiation between the European Council and the European Parliament and had to balance the strategies and preferences of political parties and Member State governments. The TwinSim aimed not only at advancing negotiation skills but also abilities to represent a political strategy and develop long-term political agenda accordingly. The paper is divided into three main parts. The fist is focused on major roles played, the biggest political parties within the EP, member States within the European Council and the designated candidate. In the second, the phases of negotiations are described, including hearings and the election of the President by the EP. The third one reports on the debriefing results and debates major difficulties and frustrations as well as achieved results.

I was pleased to see that a key design feature of the simulation was uncertainty and even a degree of chaos. Real policy-making (and politics) is often a rather messy process.

Luba Levin-Banchik (Bar-Ilan University) discussed “Pop Quiz: Assessing Knowledge Retention in International Relations With and Without Simulations.”

In this paper I examine effectiveness of studying international relations with simulations, compared to active learning without simulations. I utilize a pop quiz on four topics, each taught with a different method: (1) simulation and in-class debriefing; (2) simulation only; (3) in-class discussions and an accompanying research essay; (4) in-class discussions only. I review simulation assessment in publications over the past sixteen years, and suggest pop quiz as a novel assessment tool for simulations. I then present the “Iranian Plane” simulation developed to teach decision-making in crisis situations to international relations undergraduates. I analyze empirical evidence on knowledge retention with and without simulations based on students’ performance in the pop quiz two months after the simulation. The analysis shows that learning with simulation and debriefing together not only attains teaching goals set in advance, but does so better than other methods used. Simulation with debriefing was the most effective teaching mode in terms of knowledge retention, simulation only was almost as successful, but learning without simulation was significantly less efficient.

Finally, Elizabeth Ann Mendenhall and Tarek Tutunji, two graduate students/teaching assistants at Johns Hopkins University, looked at “Ancient and Modern World War Simulations as Supplemental Teaching Tool.”

This paper will examine the benefits and challenges of integrating World Politics Simulation as a teaching tool into an International Politics introductory course. We will be conducting two such simulations designed to be completed in a single fifty minute class session, and which do not require any extra-class preparation from students. Students will be assigned to country-teams and given initial guidelines on which to expand. Half-way through the simulation we will intervene with a critical juncture that the students will need to react to. In one simulation the juncture will reflect an actual historical event, in the other it will be a counter-factual. The two simulations will be on World War One, and on the Peloponnesian War. These two simulations are selected in order to create variance in familiarity with the historical period, socialization time between students, effects of increasing class comfort level, and difference between historically accurate and counter-factual prompts. The simulations will also allow us to examine whether simulations encourage deeper reading of course material. The limited nature of these simulations should also provide comparative insight into the difference between simulations that take up multiple days and those which can be conducted in a single class session.

I’ve often highlighted the value of “quick and simple” classroom simulations that only take up a limited amount of time (two 50 minute classes in this case), and this was a very good example. The game also seemed to be linked very well to the course, reading materials, and learning objectives. The design was simple, used classroom space and student orientation in clever ways, and included some stochastic determination to represent risk and uncertainty (dice to determine the outcome of certain types of moves):

The game implementation for the most part followed our intended game design, however it became apparent that some changes would be necessary to make the game run more smoothly. A few days before section each student was assigned the role of a single actor within a team, such as Pericles or Kaiser Wilhelm.  Students were asked to do the readings with that actor in mind, taking note of the actor’s personality, position, and motivations.  The only assignment that they were asked for was to email the instructor a description of their character’s motivations, the second and third image constraints that they have to navigate, and a strategy for how they intend to behave in the simulation. As facilitators, our pre-class preparation was limited to planning a presentation of the rules, arranging the classroom, and assembling notes about the historical context that might be useful during game play. These notes would include role assignments, maps, the resources and positions of actors, and a list of possible interventions in case the simulation stalled.

Once advanced preparations were made the simulation could be confidently run in a single class session. Before the students showed up, instructors arranged the classroom into islands of tables, each having a placard indicating the political unit of a respective team. To that end having a classroom with movable furniture is advantageous. Students arrive to class without knowing exactly at what point in history the simulation will begin. This was done to prevent students from ignoring earlier parts of the conflict while still allowing alternate outcomes to emerge. In both cases the specific historical starting point was a key turning point that sparked or accelerated the conflict. The instructor begins the class by giving a brief explanation of the rules of the simulation. Following a brief pause for questions, the instructor lays out the historical scenario from which the simulation begins. At this point it may be helpful to call upon students from different teams to give a brief account of their situation at the beginning of the simulation as a collective refresher for the class. With the scenario laid out, the simulation can begin.

After the end of each 5-minute turn, the facilitator may need to restore order to the classroom as students may be spread out among different tables deep in negotiations, alliance making, or planning. A timer with an alarm that is only turned off once all students are back in their seats may be used for this purpose. Students then have a minute to decide on their moves. In the Peloponnesian War simulation moves were publicly declared by students, however because this ended up advantaging teams that went last we moved to the use of action forms in the WW1 simulation. After one minute, the action forms are collected and read aloud by the facilitator, and public moves are recorded on the board. It is helpful to keep track of history so to speak by dividing the board into a table with teams on one axis and turns on another. A public record of the progression of events helps students orient themselves to the developing situation. In parallel instructors keep track of secret orders and plans undertaken by each team on their own sheet of paper. Moves that required an outcome were assigned a likelihood of success and given a roll of the dice before the next team’s move was announced. For example an order to sneak a force of submarines into the Baltic Sea by Britain required a secret dice roll with a high likelihood of success. After all moves are declared and resolved, the instructor declares the start of the second turn and students return to the simulation. The game continues in this manner until the time allotted for the simulation ends.

Jonathan Wilkenfeld (University of Maryland) chaired the session, while Mary Jane C. Parmentier (Arizona State University) and Victor Asal (State University of New York at Albany) served as panel discussants. Following their observations, a more general discussion followed.

There was considerable focus on assessment issues, and the growing emphasis placed on quantitative assessment methods in some of the leading political science pedagogy journals. Victor also raised the issue of how simulation design might shape of bias participant behaviour, and tilt outcomes in certain (theoretical) directions. Was a war simulation, for example, inherently “realist” in its dynamics? I agree that this is a very important point. In my own comments I noted that if student debriefs extend beyond the game outcomes and learning materials to include student critique of the game design itself, there are two potential benefits. First, participants thereby have an opportunity to reflect on the extent to which their actions might be a function of the game design, thus helping to control for possible design bias effects. Second, such an approach encourages participants to think about game design and the modelling of complex phenomenon—something which may be even more effective than simulation itself in promoting concept learning. A third benefit (which I forgot to make at the time) is that such feedback also helps a designer in revising the game design for future use.

All-in-all, a very good session. I look forward to more simulation and gaming goodness at ISA again tomorrow.


Simulation and gaming at ISA 2014


The 2014 annual conference of the International Studies Association will be held in Toronto on 26-29 March, featuring some one thousand papers and more than five thousand participants. Among these, there are more than a few presentations on simulations and serious games. I have compiled a list below, although it may be incomplete.

Attending the conference requires registration with ISA.

Wednesday, March 26

WA21: Experiencing Analytic Tradecraft: Simulations for Education and Training in Intelligence Analysis

Wednesday, March 26, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“TEST Simulation Model: Team Working and Experiential Scenario-based Training”

  • Author: Julian J. Richards (University of Buckingham)
  • Author: Chris Jagger (Managing Director 2creatEffects)

The TEST model provides a learning environment in which students can experience intelligence analysis in relevant scenarios. They can then reflect on their experience and how it enhances their understanding and future performance in analysis. The simulaiton emphasizes that intelligence in today’s world is not just about analyzing but about making operational decisions on courses of action to be taken in the real world. It is also about considering the consequences of such actions on the environment, some of which may be unexpecfted and unwelcome. The simulaiton tests a set of core skills needed by intelligence analysts, which they can deploy in mitigaiton of analytical challenges and pitfalls. Two core skills — creativity and critical thinking — form the core of these skills.

WA21: Experiencing Analytic Tradecraft: Simulations for Education and Training in Intelligence Analysis

Wednesday, March 26, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Spies and Lies: The Perils of Collection (A Simulation)”

  • Author: Kristan J. Wheaton (Mercyhurst University)
  • Author: James Breckenridge (Mercyhurst University)

The collection of information is a core part of the intelligence process no matter how that process is defined. This exercise is designed to allow students to experience not only some of the issues involved in planning and executing collection operations (particularly HUMINT operations) but also to experience how poorly structured collection systems can seriously impair the quality of the overall collection effort as well as the accuracy of the ensuing analysis. The simulation is designed for a class of 20-30 and takes approximately 40 minutes to one hour to run. The simulation puts teams of students in the roles of intelligence operatives collecting information for one of six Balkan nations. Topics to discuss in the after action review include: How well did the initial collection strategy work? How did the strategy change during the course of the exercise? How did the teams use their allies? What techniques did the teams use to get access to enemy information? What would the teams do differently?

WA21: Experiencing Analytic Tradecraft: Simulations for Education and Training in Intelligence Analysis

Wednesday, March 26, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Why Senior Policymakers Value Simulations and Table top Exercises”

  • Author: Randy Pherson (Pherson Associates)

The author draws upon his career as a senior intelligence analyst/manger and his subsequent experience as president of Pherson Associates LLC, which provides innovative training and educational courses to members of the intelligence comunity and the private sector, to assess the reasons that simulations and table top exercises are valued so highly by senior policymakers.


Thursday, March 27

TA05: Visualizing Dynamics of Stakeholder Development with Spatial Representation

Thursday, March 27, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Human Development Dynamics: An Agent Based Simulation of Macro Social Systems and Individual Heterogeneous Evolutionary Games”

  • Author: Zining Yang (Claremont Graduate University)
  • Author: Birol A. Yesilada (Portland State University)

 Combining a system dynamics and agent based modeling approach, we formalize a simulation framework of the Human Development (HD) perspective. First, we build a system of asymmetric, coupled nonlinear differential equations that capture the core logic of HD theory, empirically validated from World Values Survey (WVS) data. Using the framework of evolutionary game theory, second we fuse these endogenously derived individual attribute HD changes over simulated time with Prisoner’s Dilemma in an agent based framework to model the interactive political-cultural effects of heterogeneous, spatial intra-societal transactions. We explore the model’s behavioral dynamics via simulation methods to identify paths and pitfalls towards economic development, cultural plasticity, social change and elite challenging behavior. Our preliminary results show different combinations and magnitudes of economic, cultural, social and political crisis and shocks produce dissimilar cultural, social and revolutionary political behavior with either persistent or transitory positive and negative social externalities.

TA50: Fantasy and Reality? Diverse Approaches to Active Learning in IR

Thursday, March 27, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Roll the Dices! An Empirical Experience Towards the Use of Board Games in IR Classrooms”

  • Author: Mário Afonso Lima (Rio de Janeiro State University)
  • Author: Rodrigo Martins
  • Author: Pedro Araujo
  • Author: Leticia Simões (Inst. Nacionais de Ciência e Tecnologia-Políticas Públicas Estratégia e Desenvolvimento (INCT-PPED) )

Seeking new ways to stimulate students into learning the dynamics of international relations in a long lasting way, this paper will be the result of an experience that will occur next semester of teaching International Relations using board games to assist the learning process. The extra-curricular course with undergrad students proposed to work in a partnership with a traditional course, will seek to explore concepts such as Grand Strategy, the anarchic nature of the international system, prisoner’s dilemma, stag hunt among others. During the semester, at least four board games will be used in order to let the students feel the hardships of the decision-making, the subtleties of diplomacy and the insecurity of an anarchic system. The selection of the four games were made due to its strategic content, its capability of make the players (students) think and the linkage the games have with the IR area. The chosen games are: Twilight Imperium, Supremacy, Senji and A Game of Thrones. The evaluation will be through a series of interviews and essays with the participants and non-participants as a way to measure the impact of using board games in the learning process. So let the Dices Roll!

TA50: Fantasy and Reality? Diverse Approaches to Active Learning in IR

Thursday, March 27, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Orcs and Gnomes Living Together? Realism Through Fantasy in Teaching International Relations Through “World of Warcraft””

  • Author: Andrea M. Lopez (Susquehanna University)

Along with zombies and Harry Potter, the Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft presents a pedagogical tool for exploring theories of conflict and cooperation in IR. The game, played by roughly ten million people worldwide, is set in an anarchical world. In realms where players can target and kill other players’ avatars, all are constantly vulnerable to enemy attack, leading to a Hobbesian situation of brutish and short lives. Even in these most realist of realms, cooperation emerges. Norms are developed; violators punished. Individuals temporarily ally with potential enemies to complete quests, despite the potential that the opponent will defect and kill their character. Organizations are developed as individuals create guilds. This paper examines ways in which World of Warcraft can draw out aspects of realism, neoliberalism, and game theory. It presents findings from a sophomore-level course. Pre- and post-tests were used to discern students’ understanding of the effects of anarchy and causes of cooperation and conflict; findings suggest that use of the game helped students relate to concepts of IR theory better than traditional readings and in-class simulations alone.

TD17: Challenging Our Students and Ourselves: Innovative Approaches to Teaching IR

Thursday, March 27, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

“Teaching IR through popular games, culture and simulations”

  • Author: David Romano (Missouri State University)

A number of easily accessible and popular games, films and books exist to help students understand key concepts of international relations. Games like RISK, Diplomacy, Civilization and others can be viewed as models. Like all models, they simplify the world and focus on certain relational and structural issues while downplaying others. The same is true of fiction such as Game of Thrones and Star Trek. Fantasy and science fiction can prove particularly useful for getting students to think about levels of analysis and the assumptions we rely upon in IR. This paper lays out various ways to adapt these “models” to the IR classroom through experiential learning.

TD17: Challenging Our Students and Ourselves: Innovative Approaches to Teaching IR

Thursday, March 27, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

“Teaching without Textbooks: Narratives, Simulations and Original Texts in the Teaching of an Introduction to IR Course”

  • Author: Lucian Mark Ashworth (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

 Teaching IR to first and second year undergraduates can parallel the distinction in Niebuhr between justice and security. Students find security in simple narratives that neatly compartmentalize ideas, yet this simplification easily slips into the injustice of myths and errors. To do justice to the complexity of IR usually means robbing the students of the security of simple stories. The greatest source of security for the student is the textbook. Many textbooks from top publishers pride themselves in providing a flat-pack course, often complete with PowerPoints and course notes. This security comes at a cost, though. Textbooks are often written in an uncontroversial style that rarely inspires students, and they perpetuate errors. The result may provide security, but does not do the subject justice. In this paper I discuss how an introductory course can be organized without a textbook using techniques that include (i) using provocative and original texts that stimulate debate; (ii) running simulations that allow students to explore both possibilities and constraints; and (iii) the use of narratives that allow the lecturer to introduce and contextualize the areas they wish to cover.

TD56: Popular Culture, World Politics, and New Media – Time, Place, Space, and Race

Thursday, March 27, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

“The American Way of Death? Military videogames and militarised violence”

  • Author: Nick Robinson (University of Leeds)

Videogames matter and they matter for international politics. Videogames have grown to be the largest entertainment sector in Europe and North America, with military games at the forefront of such sales – the last 4 games in the Call of Duty series, for example, have all grossed revenues of over $1bn. Accompanying this growth, scholarship has begun to hypothesis that videogames have important political effects centred on the importance of the so-called ‘military-entertainment complex’, focusing, in particular, on the way in which videogames contribute to the militarization of the domestic realm. Stahl, for example, sees videogames as part of a process in the creation of ‘virtual citizen soldiers’ with citizens increasingly acquiescing in support for military action as their critical faculties are reduced. If true, this is profoundly important, reducing domestic opposition to miiltaristic foreign policy and making the military appear (in Jackson’s words) ‘good, natural and necessary’. Building on a combination of the literature on militarization, the persuasive potential of videogames and interrogating the role of the player, this paper provides a detailed experimentally based approach to this debate in which a framework with accompanying data for the measuring of militarization is presented to the audience.

Friday, March 28

A05: Advancing the Learning Environment in the Digital Age

Friday, March 28, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Assessment Strategies in Simulation Games”

  • Author: Simon Usherwood (University of Surrey)

One of the big challenges in bringing simulations into the classroom is the question of how (or even whether) to assess them. In this presentation, I will consider the underlying logics of simulations, which in turn suggest a number of assessment strategies. These include assessing knowledge acquisition, skills development and critical reflection. Beyond that immediate challenge, the presentation will also throw some light on related questions of feedback and simulation design.

FA05: Advancing the Learning Environment in the Digital Age

Friday, March 28, 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

“Negotiating with Hitler – a World War II simulation”

  •  Author: Victor Asal (State University of New York at Albany)
  • Author: Amira Jadoon (State University of New York at Albany)
  • Author: Steve S. Sin (Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany- SUNY)

What is peace worth? What are people willing to do for power? This simulation asks these questions by putting the students in the position of negotiating with Hitler on December first 1941 when the Germans are clearly winning the war. Students take the role of leaders or the population of countries in Europe and need to wrestle with the ethics of different peace proposals by Hitler’s representatives that present strong ethical dilemmas given that at this point in history Germany is likely to win. We will briefly demonstrate how the game is conducted and discuss the educational benefits of running the simulation.

FB53: Popular Culture and World Politics – Where Time and Place Collide

Friday, March 28, 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

“Recreationalising Violence: Video Games, Drone Warfare and the question of Responsibility”

  • Author: Aggie Hirst (City University London)

 Much has been made in recent years within IR and associated disciplines regarding the relationship between remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UVAs) and popular violent video games. Alongside suggestions that they share much in the way of software, visual graphics, and operation techniques, debate continues as regards the question of the relationship between the ‘real’ and ‘simulated’ violences enacted in these contexts. This paper engages with the question of the relationship between violence and recreation provoked by these related phenomena, exploring the question of what forms of violence are already at work in violent video games, and how this might relate to the use of remotely controlled aircraft as weapons of war. The question is thus posed of wherein violence of violence consists. The paper argues that an important and illuminating problem is that while the ‘real’ corporal violence cannot be responsibly conflated with forms of simulated violence, the supposed innocence or benign character of the latter is significantly overstated in many prevalent accounts. There are, the paper suggests, important intersections to be explored between the recreationalisation of violence and the responsibility for violent acts which become increasingly blurred in the context of drone and game warfare.

FB53: Popular Culture and World Politics – Where Time and Place Collide

Friday, March 28, 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

“Where Time and Place Collide – Towards a Spatial and Temporal Understanding of Videogames”

  • Author: Nick Robinson (University of Leeds)

Videogames have emerged as the largest entertainment industry in the world with crucial implications for world politics. Central to representations within videogames are the themes of time and place. At one level, games say much about the ‘self and other’, which allows for reflection on how different countries represent themselves and ‘others’ through the medium of games. What is particularly striking – which is quite different to film, TV and literature – is that a great many nations are simply absent from games with no national industry telling stories about self or other. Politically, such representations of self and other are crucial – both in terms of what is shown and what is absent. At another level, time is crucial to the study of games – games frequently ‘re-claim the past’ and ‘tell the future’ to offer stories which are politically contentious. For example, the game Call of Duty Black Ops (which grossed revenues of over $1bn) portrays a narrative in which the Vietnam war was ‘justified’ as the Vietnamese were complicit in a plot to unleash chemical weapons on the USA. Videogames are thus not ‘just a game’ having crucial implications for the temporal and spatial aspects of politics.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

“Simulating Shock and Awe: Developing a Simulation of U.S. National Security Policy to Teach Decision-Making under Duress”

  • Author: Matthew Clary (Univeristy of Georgia)

Domestic and international crisis dynamics and management is often a difficult subject to teach to a group of high school or undergraduate-level students. Attempting to convey the sense of physical and mental duress that often exist during times of crisis is extremely difficult through conventional lecturing and discussion. In most cases, the best method to teach such lessons to a classroom of students is through in-class simulations such as Model United Nations. While teaching a course on U.S. National Security Policy, I designed a simulation of the U.S. national security apparatus in order to teach institutional design, decision-making, crisis dynamics and management, as well countless other lessons from material and lessons throughout the course During the simulation, students are presented with a real-time national security crisis that begins as an energy security threat and evolves into a multifaceted crisis that operates within several domains simultaneously. These include domains such as global and domestic terrorism, economic crises and trade relationships, humanitarian interventions, weapons proliferation, energy security, among many others. The fundamental purpose of such a simulation is to place students in the position of real American policymakers to reinforce the lessons and activities covered over the duration of the course.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

 “The Pedagogical Value of Simulation: Model United Nations”

  • Author: Francine J. D’Amico (Syracuse University)

What do students learn from simulations of international negotiation? This paper analyzes the pedagogical value of one type of simulation of global diplomacy, the annual National Model United Nations conference, for undergraduate students of international relations. The NMUN is sponsored by the UNA-USA and the NCCA and held each spring in New York City, with concurrent sessions at a local hotel and concluding sessions at UN headquarters. The conference is attended by over 5,000 university students from around the world. Using content analysis of primary documents and data collected from structured interviews of past participants, this project analyses the learning outcomes reported over a five-year period by student delegates from one participating university.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

“Simulating Peace Negotiations: A Case Study of the Arab-Israeli Conflict”

  • Author: Tina Kempin Reuter (Christopher Newport University)
  • Author: Taylor Ballenger (University of Chicago)

This paper reflects on the use of a simulation of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians in my upper-level undergraduate course “The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Workshop”. The university was commissioned to test an externally developed proposal and implementation plan for peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians (hereinafter “Implementation Plan”). The Implementation Plan goes beyond traditional models of simulations, which aim primarily at illustrating real life events or organizations for learners. The goal in this case is not only to contribute to students’ academic learning and understanding of the conflict, but also to transfer the outcomes of the simulation onto application in reality. As a result, special challenges arose over the past years that will be addressed in this paper. Beyond the introduction of the model, the paper examines three interrelated questions. First, how does the simulation affect the overall class experience and academic learning? Second, how can a classroom situation be designed to closest match a real life situation? And third, how can the simulation outcomes be transferred to “reality”? Past simulations have clearly identified the strengths and weaknesses of the Plan and stressed the need for flexibility and modification of the model.

FC49: Simulation and Pedagogy: The State of the Art in IR

Friday, March 28, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

“Assessing Less Tangible Student Outcomes in Online International Simulatons and Collaborations” 

  • Author: Hemda Ben-Yehuda (Bar-Ilan University)
  • Author: Chanan Naveh (Sapir College Israel )
  • Author: Luba Levin-Banchik (Bar-Ilan University)
  • Author: Mary Jane C. Parmentier (Arizona State University)

This paper focuses on collaborative simulations of world politics conducted online by universities in Israel and the U.S. in 2012-2014. What do students take away from such cross-cultural learning experience? While the assessment of classroom simulations in international studies has received growing attention, the evaluation of simulations in online environment is still relatively new. As the opportunity for international collaborations increases, it is essential to develop rigorous tools to assess how and what students are learning online. The acquisition and retention of information is a common desired outcome, but the less tangible aspects of such experiential learning may be the essential skills for students in an era of globalization. In 2012 we used Facebook to run a simulation of Middle East politics. Observation and post-simulation de-briefing revealed a complexity of outcomes, including emotional responses from students. During the game participants had to cope with complex issues, acquire information, apply critical thinking, prioritize, practice tolerance, be aware of cross-cultural differences and challenge personal views on states, nonstate actors and media organs in world politics. During the 2013-2014 we will run another simulation, this time developing assessment tools, both formative and summative, to evaluate the less tangible learning elements in cross-cultural simulations.


Saturday, March 29

SC60: Modelling Worlds: The Spatial Politics of Economic Simulation

Saturday, March 29, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Modelling Worlds: The Spatial Politics of Economic Simulation

  • Chair: Nathan Coombs (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Discussant: Amin Samman (City University London)


The Spatial Politics Of Modeling Financial Resilience

  • Author: Chris Clarke (Universiy of Warwick)

Governing (Through) Expectations: Inflation Targeting And The Performation Of Rational Expectation Formers

  • Author: Benjamin Braun (University of Warwick)

The Sociotechnical Politics Of Central Bank Modeling

  • Author: Nick Srnicek (University College London)

Performing The Global Order: Algebraic Topology, ‘Big Data’ And The Twilight Of Austrian School Economics?

  • Author: Nathan Coombs (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The Political Consequences of Risk Model Performativity in International Finance

  • Author: Erin Lockwood (Northwestern University)

Frequently held in suspicion by critical scholars, economic modelling and simulation techniques are nevertheless increasingly difficult to ignore. Utilised by international bodies, governments, financial firms, and large corporations, economic models do not only reflect “the economy” but also, as is now well documented, “perform it”. However, the issues raised by this development remain under-explored by academic literature. The way in which such techniques can engender new and unpredictable sociological realities has, in particular, not received sufficient attention as an eminently political problem. Crucially, the simulation technologies now trickling down from government and high-finance to large and medium-sized firms may herald changes in global behavioural patterns, raising profound questions about the spatial politics of simulation with which this panel wishes to grapple. The questions animating this panel thus include: In what ways might simulation techniques affirm the status quo merely by dressing up dominant ideologies in technical drapery? What novelty may their spatial and political possibilities introduce, and what limits might be encountered? And is it possible to utilise simulation techniques for critical purposes, such as proposing new economic alternatives?




Games and simulations at ISA 2012

The 2012 annual conference of the International Studies Association will be held on 1-4 April in San Diego. As usual, it features a small number of papers and panels on simulation-related topics.

SC45: Sunday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM
Roundtable: Re-Enacting Climate Change Talks: Insights from a Simulation Experiment for the Study of International Negotiations

Sebastien Treyer, Paris Institute of Political Science

Francois Gemenne, Paris Institute of Political Science

Grégory Quenet, University of Versailles- Saint-Quentin

Gayané Adourian, Knowtex

Joffrey Becker, SPEAP – Sciences Po


MC45: Monday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM
Simulation and Teaching International Relations

Sponsor(s): Active Learning in International Affairs

Chair Gulriz Gigi Gokcek, Dominican University of California

Disc. Marcelo Mello Valenca, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ)

Crisis Management in Action: Using Threat Assessments to Teach Foreign Policy Decision-Making in the Classroom

Matthew Clary, Univeristy of Georgia

National Security Council: Simulating Decisionmaking Dilemmas in Real Time

Jonathan M. DiCicco, Canisius College

Motivating Civic Engagement: Simulating Congressional Staff

B. Welling Hall, Earlham College

Immersive UN Security Council Role-Play in a Virtual World: An Exploratory Case Study

Naomi Malone, University of Central Florida

Houman A. Sadri, University of Central Florida

Simulating a Foreign Policy Dilemma: The Case of Humanitarian Intervention in “Belagua”

Bob Switky, Sonoma State University


TA22: Tuesday 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM
The Middle East Public Sphere After the Arab Revolts

Quraish”: An Alternative Approach to Video Games from Syria?

Pierre-Alain Clément, University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM)


TD59: Tuesday 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM
Research Methods in the Internet Era


Changing Perspectives on Structural Violence: Some Experimental Findings from the GlobalEd2 Simulation Program

Scott Brown, University of Connecticut

Kimberly Lawless, University of Illinois at Chicago

Nicole Powell, University of Connecticut


WB59: Wednesday 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM
From Physical to Virtual? The 21st Century Battleground

Conflict in the Virtual Battleground: Military Videogames and American Foreign Policy
Nick Robinson, University of Leeds

From Virtual to Real – Simulating Conflict Dynamics in a Global Information Age

Next April, scholars attending the International Studies Association annual conference in San Diego (1-4 April 2012) will be able to attend countless paper panels AND bring about (simulated) Middle East peace by participating in an innovative panel that will combine pre-conference online negotiation and actual face-to-face interaction during the conference itself.

How will it work?

Part One – Connect on Facebook

The simulation begins on Facebook with virtual interactions within and between participating teams. The simulation covers events in the Middle East focusing primarily on the Arab-Israel conflict in 2012. It integrates diplomatic interactions between actors in the region (Egyptians, Iranians, Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians), external powers (Russia, USA), international organizations (EU, UN), and the media (regional, global). Each registered participant is assigned to a specific team and takes part in both intra-team (domestic politics) and inter-team (international relations) virtual interactions through several Facebook sessions during the months of January-March 2012.

Part Two – Meet at ISA 2012 in San Diego

The simulation continues in an innovative panel scheduled for Monday, April 2, 2012 from 4pm-5:45pm at the ISA 2012 annual conference in San Diego with an international conference on the Middle East, where representatives from the virtual teams meet face-to-face. This engagement focuses on conflicts issues that emerged during the Facebook simulation in effort to reach some agreement between participating teams. The simulation will end with a wrap-up discussion on the simulation itself and its utility as a teaching and research tool.

This innovative panel on “From Virtual to Real – Simulating Conflict Dynamics in a Global Information Age” is being organized by Hemda Ben-Yehuda and Luba Levin-Banchik (Department of Political Studies, Bar Ilan University) and Chanan Naveh (School of Communication, Sapir College). Additional information may be found at their simulation website.

For further information, or to register, contact them at Please note that all participants must be registered for the ISA 2012 convention. Registration for the simulation/panel will be open until November 15.

I won’t be at ISA this year, but if anyone does participate in this we would love to feature an After Action Report next year on how it all went.

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