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Tag Archives: McGill University

UNSOC Northland

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No, it’s not the latest UN peacekeeping force. Rather, UNSOC is Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos, the latest megagame from the fevered mind of mad genius Jim Wallman.

UNSOC is nor ordinary megagame, you see—instead, it is the world’s first wide-area megagame, with interlinked games being played simultaneously in eleven cities in five different countries. In Montreal, we’ll be playing the peaceable country of Northland, faced with a sudden and terrifying menace spreading from South-of-the Border:

Northland is a generally nice (if sometimes smug and self-righteous) place, known for its cold winters, hockey, doughnut shops, poutine, and polite do-gooders prone to apologize for the slightest transgression. As the country celebrates its birthday on July 1, however, this peaceable place may face its greatest threat ever.

South of the Border, something is happening. There are reports of violence, chaos, and panic well beyond the violence and chaos of daily life there. Military units are being mobilized, and this time not to invade some foreign country. Some even claim that undead hordes have taken to the streets in search of human brains—or, at the very least, free national health care. How much longer will it be before the urban nightmare moves north?

The game happens to fall on Canada Day, so that’s appropriate. Our game will be rather smaller than our last two games (New World Order 2035 and War in Binni). However it should be just as enjoyable for those many Canadian gamers who enjoy the complex interplay between federal-provincial relations and an impending apocalypse.

In the Montreal area on Canada Day, and interested in participating? Email me for more details, or buy a ticket at Eventbrite. We’ll be getting an early start, of course, to synchronize with the various European games.

Reflections on (another) McGill megagame

Last year (in)famous megagame designer Jim Wallman made a trip to frozen Montréal to run New World Order 2035 at McGill University, with some one hundred or so players taking part. It was a big success.

Last week Jim made a return visit for War in Binni, this year’s McGill megagame. Again, approximately one hundred persons participated in the day-long event, most of them McGill students. The event was cosponsored by PAXsims, the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM), and the McGill Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA).

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War in Binni has been run several times before elsewhere, notably at last year’s Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference at King’s College London. The theme of a civil war in a fictional country in West Africa was of particular interest to students, including those in my POLI 450 and POLI 650 peacebuilding courses. We’ll be running our own even larger, week-long Brynania civil war simulation later in the term. However, unlike the Connections/KCL version, the game at McGill included a significant “weird science” component, with a touch of both Lovecraft and Indiana Jones. The event was held in excellent space New Residence Hall, including a large ballroom, two conference rooms, a foyer (and cloakroom), an integrated audio and data projectors. The staff were helpful as ever.

I should also note that almost half (41%) of our our participants were women—and, moreover, they all paid to participate. This was similar to last year. Those who argue that women are somehow uninterested in political-military gaming clearly have no idea what they are talking about.


We started off with a basic orientation to the game from Jim. Rules and maps had been posted online before the game, and individual role briefings had been emailed to all players about a week beforehand.

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Action at the map table, as the Clewgists celebrate a victory.

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Map Control (me), pointing.

While the government, various rebel groups, and regional actors vied for territory and influence, shady international arms dealers sold weapons to the highest bidder, the UN Security Council met in emergency sessions, and humanitarian aid workers struggled to cope with a growing flood of refugees.

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The United Nations Security Council meets.

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Heavy fighting takes a heavy toll on civilians, forcing many to flee.

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The Clewgists mourn the destruction of their sacred grove by a rival militia.

Three archaeological digs were also at work in the war-torn country. These soon uncovered increasingly unusual findings. These included evidence of alien technology, and various occult items with mysterious powers.

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An archaeologist briefs the French ambassador.

Little did the players know that, hidden among the participants were a small group of secret cultists. This group managed to obtain key objects from the digs, perform a dark ritual, and summon an Elder God of unspeakable power. The huge creature appeared atop Mount Clewg, and began to rampage through the country, destroying everything in its path.

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An extradimensional creature appears atop Mount Clewg.

The international community responded with a barrage of cruise missile attacks and bombing strikes, but these did minimal damage. Researchers at McGill University utilized one of their archaeological finds to slow the thing’s progress. Regional powers revealed that they had all been secretly researching WMD, and unleashed chemical weapons and radiological missiles. However it was the Kingdom of Gao, in alliance with Christian and Muslim rebel groups and the local Clewgist tribal insurgents, that inflicted the most damage, severely damaging the creature with an alien death ray before a suicidal charge by the Clewgists destroyed the evil abomination.

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Militias (and Gao) unite to destroy the terror.

As all this was happening, the government of Binni—afflicted by plummeting domestic political support and the assassination of the President—finally agreed on peace terms with the main opposition alliance. Peace had come… but at what cost? And what does the future hold for Binni?


Overall I thought that Binni went even better than NWO 2035. There were, perhaps, several reasons for this.

First, everyone seemed to internalize their roles very quickly, and game play was generally credible and “realistic” (or as realistic as it can be in a game featuring alien technology and an Elder God).

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The Global (later, Galactic) News Network at work.

Second, our Global News Network team did a terrific job of getting information out to the players. The GNN website contained a few in-depth stories, most of which had been written in advance by the Control team to be released during the initial game turns.  Most news was carried on the GNN Twitter feed. Special “breaking news” announcements were made over the audio system, sometimes only a few seconds after the event had occurred. The GNN team also did an excellent job of investigative reporting, using covert reporters and in-country teams to considerable effect. They resisted the temptation to report rumours as facts, or believe or print everything they were told.

I know from previous large games how important the media role is. It also requires players who understand their importance in the game process (acting, in some senses, as an element of the Control team), and enjoy acting as journalists: verifying, investigating, uncover secrets, and breaking important stories.

Third, War in Binni had fewer rules than NWO 2035, and game systems were generally more simple and straight-forward. This allowed players to focus on role-playing and interaction rather than understanding rules, and facilitated the sort of creative, emergent gameplay that is at the heart of a successful megagame.

We’re already thinking ahead to next year’s game, which will (in view of the player enthusiasm it generated) continue the “Binni” theme.

GTB Logo 01.jpgThe Republic of Binni has been through incredible times and is now is recovering from the traumatic events of the ‘War In Binni’ – the previous McGill Megagame.  The country’s civil war ended when the repressive government collapsed soon after the assassination of the hated President Ancongo.  Under a new constitution, semi-autonomous Christian, Muslim, and Clewgist provinces were established in the south, east, and west of the country, all led by a weak federal government headed by former members of the opposition alliance. The Hand of God insurgency has been suppressed—but its supporters lurk in the shadows, plotting acts of terror.

In addition to the major political changes it has experienced, Binni was also the nexus of a series of remarkable events that has challenged humanity’s understanding of the Universe.  Ancient alien structures have been uncovered, and a powerful transdimensional entity was brought into our world causing havoc and destruction before being destroyed itself. Shortly after the creature was vanquished, several rifts appeared in the time-space continuum in the surrounding area. These gateways seem to connect to alien worlds and other dimensions. There is no telling what remarkable discoveries are waiting to be made—or what terrible entities might use the portals to threaten Earth itself.

In ‘Gateway to Binni’ rival factions and the government must try to build a stable nation and find ways of addressing some deep-seated communal tensions.  Meanwhile the country has become of even greater interest to the international community, as regional and great powers consider the potential power and perils of the transdimensional gateways. Can the factions in Binni leverage that interest into direct benefit for themselves and their supporters? And just who ended up with all those mysterious alien artifacts dug up during the War in Binni—and what do they actually do?

“Simnovating” in the health care sector

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These past two days I have been fortunate to participate in some of the very successful Simnovate 2016 conference on health care innovation, organized by the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Innovative Learning at McGill University.

Yesterday I presented a very brief overview to the conference of the role that gaming can play in stimulating and encouraging innovation (Powerpoint). That was really just a warm-up, however, for the two-hour workshop I facilitated today on serious games for policy analysis (Powerpoint). Together with my gaming colleague Vince Carpini, we discussed both the insight that can be derived through gaming techniques and the essential questions that need to be addressed in designing and implementing such a game:

  1. What is the topic and purpose of the game?
  2. Who are the participants (and audience)?
  3. Which roles and functions need to be represented?
  4. Which general game approach will you use (and why)?
  5. How will you foster reflection and analysis? Collect data? How will this be used?
  6. What resources will you require?

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The participants then broke into four groups, and each group worked collaboratively on developing a game idea. These were then briefed back to the session. Although my presentation had focused on gaming for policy analysis, groups were welcome to work on other types of ideas as well—after all, we didn’t want to stifle their innovative spirit!

  • The first game idea sought to develop empathy and communication skills in medical personnel. It did this through a system of briefing cards that could be used either in quick classroom games or a more complex role-play exercise. To avoid distorting their behaviour, players would initially be told that the simulation was intended to sharpen and assess clinical skills rather than interpersonal ones.
  • The second game group proposed an online multiplayer emergency management game to train staff on the steps involved in handling mass casualty incidents. Linked by voice and text, participants would manage everything from initial triage, treatment and referral at the incident site through to handling and treatment of incoming patients in the hospital
  • The third game proposal was designed to pre-test ideas for reducing emergency room crowding and wait-times. Participants would be drawn from hospital management, ER staff, non-ER ward personnel, and others. The idea here was to use a game mechanism to identify potential second and third order effects that could result from changes in facilities or procedures.
  • Finally, the fourth group developed a proposal for a social impact game. This would be an app playable on a smartphone in which the player would triage and treat patients in a fictional ER. The game itself would be fun and engaging, with cartoon-like characters and setting. However it would be intended to serve an educational purpose by sensitizing the public to ER procedures, helping them to understand wait times for non-urgent cases, and encouraging the use of other facilities (clinics, GPs) for non-urgent, non-serious cases.

As you can see, the participants generated some great ideas. Everyone seemed to be very engaged throughout the workshop, and I was certainly impressed by the energy and innovation that emerged from each of the groups.

Reflections on a megagame

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On February 20 more than one hundred participants gathered at McGill University for Montréal’s first ever megagame: New World Order 2035, designed by Jim Wallman. NWO2035 wasn’t a serious game, to be sure: during almost seven hours of play, this particular future involved—among many other things—a nuclear attack by terrorists against New York, aided by a rogue Turkish defence minister; a multinational corporation willing to threaten the world with space-based bioweapons; a secret Brazilian hunter-killer satellite programme based in Antarctica; genetically reengineered dinosaurs; an Australian plot to influence the UN Security Council with mind-control drugs; a global warming treaty; a hyperactive Vatican, solving major global problems; the launch of the USS Trump, one of two American orbital battlestations; and Japan’s creation of a sentient artificial intelligence. The latter, known as Mycroft, promptly hacked the world’s high-tech militaries in an effort to end war, and/or possibly enslave humanity.

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Setting up at 8am.

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Jim gives the pre-game briefing.

Overall I thought it went very well indeed, and I certainly had a great time. Feedback from most participants has been very positive too.

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The game underway.

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Science!

NWO2035 also provided some insight into the challenges of running mass-participation games:

  • The Control team was key. Ours was outstanding, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Many thanks are due to Kaitlyn Bowman (UN), Claire Sinofsky (Americas/Pacific), Karen Holstead (Europe/Central), Ruth Gopin (Africa), Isabelle Dufresne-Lienert (Media), Merouan Mekouar (Corporate), Vince Carpini (Science), and Tom Fisher (Economic).
  • Megagames are chaotic by nature, the rules are flexible, and player creativity is encouraged. We saw that at NWO 2035 too. However, I think we might have done a slightly better job of adapting the game to the audience. Most megagames have a very high proportion of hobby gamers (who are perhaps more inclined to study the rules and briefings in depth before the game), and a significant proportion of veteran megagamers who know what to expect. By contrast, fewer of the participants were hobbyists, most were students, and almost none had played in a megagame before. Consequently when we next run a  game like this for a similar audience, it would be worth spending more time orienting players, and streamlining some game mechanisms to make them easier or more intuitive.
  • Turn length will shape not only game pace, but the entire atmosphere of the event. We deliberately ran a quite fast clock, with turns taking a maximum of 40 minutes, and the various phases usually lasting 5-10 minutes. Had we made the turns longer we would have had more thoughtful and coordinated actions, perhaps—but at the cost of the frenetic buzz that characterized almost all of the game. Personally I rather liked the hectic nature of it all.
  • The media role is an essential one, but presents particular challenges too. In NWO2035 I thought that the Global News Network did an outstanding job, reporting simulation news via blog, tweets, and live announcements. However, some of the media team felt that they weren’t full participants, but instead were largely limited to rebroadcasting press statements provided to them by the players. We should have been clearer that they were under no obligation to report everything, and that they were free to set their own journalistic agenda. We might have also explained more fully the various investigatory tools they had available to them to uncover the many secrets and conspiracies in the game. I also know from more than a decade of running the equally large Brynania civil war simulation that the press role is one that isn’t for everyone: some participants love breaking an important story, while others would prefer to do the sorts of things that states and other overtly political-military actors do.
  • Be prepared for technical problems. We encountered dodgy VGA cables, a data projector that would randomly shut down, and a wireless mic that ran out of batteries part way through the game. Fortunately spare cables, a flip chart, and shouting allowed us to overcome those problems. I forgot to properly charge my GoPro too, which was annoying.
  • The staff at New Residence Hall were extremely helpful throughout. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue.

I’ll encourage other members of the “Control Illuminati” to post their own reflections. If we run another McGill megagame next year we’ll also be sure to announce it first here at PAXsims.

You’ll find further reflections here:

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GNN at work.

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Post-game debrief.

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“New World Order 2035” megagame at McGill

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On February 20th, McGill University will be hosting New World Order 2035, a day-long megagame in Montréal by none other than (infamous) game designer Jim Wallman:

It is the year 2035… and it is no longer the Earth that we once knew. Countries around the world face resource shortages, the social and political challenges presented by new technologies, population pressures, migration and refugee crises, and rapidly accelerating global warming—as well as an alarming breakdown of international cooperation.

Up to one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decisionmakers, international organizations, scientists,  corporations, journalists, rebels, organized crime, and others. While they may or may not chart the future course of human civilization, it is sure to be a engaging day full of political intrigue, conspiracies, and crisis.

For those new to megagaming you’ll find a report on one such game in the British newspaper The Independent here, and a video report at the blog Shut Up & Sit Down here (and here and here). No prior experience is required, beyond a willingness to enjoy yourself with 100 scheming people in several large rooms while confronting the most pressing global issues of the 21st century

Space is limited, so you’ll need to buy your tickets soon via Eventbrite. Registration costs $35 for McGill students, and $60 for others (+ticketing fee). Boxed meals are available to those who purchase one in advance, or participants are welcome to bring their own lunches.

New World Order 2035 is coorganized by PAXsims and the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill, and cosponsored by the Political Science Students’ Association and International Development Studies Students Association.

The NWO2035 Facebook page can be found here.

 

 

Simulating the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon

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Last month I had the pleasure of running a classroom simulation on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon at the University of Exeter with Prof. Mick Dumper for his POL 2046 course on The Refugee Crisis in the Modern World. Gamers extraordinaire Tom Mouat and Jim Wallman came down for the day to assist, along with graduate student Abigail Grace. Today I ran the same simulation at McGill University for some of the students in Prof. Megan Bradley‘s POLI 359 course on the international refugee regime, together with a few from my own POLI 450 course on peacebuilding. This time ICAMES graduate research fellow (and teaching assistant) Ecem Oskay was there to help.

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The Exeter Control team, complete with empty sack of goat food.

Both simulations involved around two dozen students. Both simulations went very well, I thought.

A variety of roles were represented in the simulation:

  • The Lebanese Prime Minister, plus various cabinet ministers (from the Future Movement, Phalange, Hizbullah, Free Patriotic Movement, Progressive Socialist Party) and the Lebanese Armed Forces. This gave some differentiation in terms of portfolios and responsibilities, and also recreated some of the political and sectarian tensions between the “March 8” and “March 14” coalitions within the Lebanese government.
  • Various UN agencies (UNHCR, UNRWA, UNICEF, and World Food Programme)
  • A (fictional) local charitable association.
  • Human Rights Watch.
  • The European Union ambassador (representing the donor community more broadly).
  • The refugees themselves. Each of these had a different back story in terms of geographic origin, occupation/social class, family needs and situation, sectarian affiliation, and political views. One was a female-headed household.  Two of the refugees were secretly opposition organizers, for the Free Syrian Army and ISIS. Some were Palestinian refugees from Syria, rather than Syrian citizens.
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The Lebanese cabinet makes a joint announcement, hoping to dampen down sectarian tensions. (Exeter)

In designing the simulation I wanted to avoid a simple seminar-type negotiation exercise in which the stakeholders all sit down around a table and try to achieve an agreement on something. For a start, such an approach wouldn’t generate the sense of overbearing crisis that Lebanon feels, a small country hosting some 1.2 million refugees from the bloody and dangerous civil war in neighbouring Syria. In addition, it would also misrepresent the dynamics whereby refugee policy emerges. Refugees do not, as a rule, play any sort of direct role in policy formulation. Instead, their actions and coping strategies provide the context.

Consequently, this simulation was really two linked simulations in one.

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The Lebanese Armed Forces questions refugees, looking for evidence of militants and paramilitary activities. (McGill)

At one level, refugees were tasked with simply trying to survive. Each hour they would have to make choices about how to try to earn money (beg? work illegally in Lebanon? try to cross back into Syria?), where to live (a squatter camp? a squalid flat? a middle class apartment?), and what additional goods did they want to buy (basic durables? medicine? forged papers?) Choices had consequences–they might be arrested, deported, or shot crossing the border, or their children might get ill from poor accommodations.

The refugees sit in their make-shift shelters while aid workers undertake a needs assessment. (Exeter)

The refugees sit in their make-shift shelters while aid workers undertake a needs assessment. (Exeter)

The refugees were also given tarps, ropes, cardboard, old carpets, and other materials and were required to construct their own makeshift shelters in the classroom—which at one point were then torn down by angry Lebanese farmers seeking to reclaim their fields. They were required to undertake manual labour, representing the sort of unskilled jobs refugees typically take: in Exeter this consisted of endlessly moving furniture from one end of the classroom to the other and back again, while at McGill they had to carry heavy bags up and down four flights of steps. In their spare time they might beg, or protest, or even smuggle weapons.

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Refugees build shelters near the United Nations compound as a member of the Control team looks on. (McGill)

Each hour a random event card would be drawn. Some of these were good: relatives in Europe might send money, or a refugee might reconnect with old friends. Many others were negative: agonizing moral choices, sexual assault, sickness. Refugee resiliency was tracked with tokens. If refugees ran out of these their coping skills were sharply diminished, or they were instructed to just sit and sob in their shelters until someone offered them some help. Throughout, all of the refugees kept handwritten diaries of their experiences.

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The Lebanese Army arrests a refugee. (Exeter)

Everyone in the simulation was provided with lunch—except the refugees, who were expected to “buy” it with their meagre simulation income. Depending on their luck and decisions, some didn’t eat for hours, and others not at all. Refugees were also prohibited from sitting in chairs or accessing their telephones or laptops unless they “paid” to use these too. Their rooms were often plunged into darkness, unless they illegally connected to the Lebanese power grid. In Exeter we opened the windows on what was a cold and damp day to increase the refugee discomfort level (it was -18C in Montreal, which didn’t really make that a viable option).

This unfortunate refugee didn't make it—shot by Syrian border guards. (McGill)

This unfortunate refugee didn’t make it—shot by Syrian border guards. (McGill)

The aid actors had some resources (cash, food, other items), but not enough. The UN in particular had to register the refugees and undertake a needs assessment to make sure that the most vulnerable received priority.

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Angry refugees protest their treatment. (McGill)

At another level, this was a more traditional policy simulation. The UN team was tasked with drawing up a comprehensive refugee strategy to which the Lebanese government might agree. The Lebanese government was concerned not only with this, but also with a number of other challenges that cropped up (a bomb attack, jihadist suspects hiding in a Palestinian refugee camp, complaints that the Syrians were pushing Lebanese workers out of jobs, crime, illegal electrical connections, a measles outbreak among the refugees—among others). The EU sought to promote a more effective response to the refugee crisis, and had some funds to support this. Human Rights Watch tried to raise human rights issues with Lebanese policymakers and the international community. The refugees were largely absent in any direct sense from these discussions and negotiations, although their choices or even protests fundamentally shaped the policy environment.

All of the policy actors were expected to take notes and minutes, and prepare formal presentations or reports that were submitted during the simulation.

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Officials listen to a presentation by Human Rights Watch. (Exeter)

In both the Exeter and McGill simulation runs, the Lebanese grew increasingly concerned at the economic, political, and security challenges presented by the refugees. The UN proposed an integrated refugee strategy after several hours of consultation, but in both cases the Lebanese government rejected the proposal and called for further discussions.

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The Lebanese cabinet poses for a photograph, shortly after rejecting UN proposals and calling for further discussions. (McGill)

In both simulations, despite significant local and international aid, the refugees felt they largely had to fend for themselves, and grew resentful that more wasn’t done to help them. In the debrief, many of the well-meaning internationals were rather surprised to hear this.

In the debrief session we were careful to identify the artificial aspects of the simulation—for example, more simulated than real refugees were involved in paramilitary skullduggery, and real refugees would be less likely to organize protests for fear of arrest or deportation. But there were also many, many realistic outcomes that we could point to and discuss. The refugees in particular got a sense of marginalization and vulnerability, but also how refugee communities could organize to help each other in sometimes small but important ways.

This was not a simple simulation—it was 6-7 hours of intense activity, involving a 3-4 person control team. However, those who participated seem to find it well worth the time spent.

2014-15 Disaster and Humanitarian Training Response Program

The Humanitarian Studies Initiative has announced the general details for their 2014-15 Disaster and Humanitarian Training Response Program, to be held at McGill University in Montréal. This consists of weekly classes starting in October, and a three day field exercise in May 2015:

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A review by June McCabe of the May 2013 version of the SIMEX (field simulation/exercise) was published by PAXsims here, and covered in a CBC news report here. Some of my other students took the May 2014 version, and also came back with glowing reports (“incredible,” “wonderful,” and “fantastic” were among the terms used). The price hasn’t yet been announced, but in 2013 the cost was $1,075 for the course and and additional $850 for the SIMEX.

This is not a formal McGill University credit course. However, current McGill students (only) in political science or international development studies can arrange to take the full course for credit as POLI 490 or INTD 490. Contact me by email for details.

Student interactive simulation-writing in political science

A storyboard in development.

A storyboard in development.

A few months back we mentioned Inklewriter here on the blog, a ” free tool designed to allow anyone to write and publish interactive stories.” This term I had a chance to try it out for class assignments, specifically as an alternative option for the group research paper assignment in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course at McGill University. Usually this paper takes the form of a “best practices” analysis of a common peacebuilding challenges, such as dealing with the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, or donor coordination. For those who decided to go the Inklewriter route, they were told to develop an interactive story or adventure that would serve to illustrate best practices, explore particular sets of operational challenges, or otherwise illuminate the material we had covered in class in an educational way. Because of the experimental nature of the assignment, they were asked to submit both a development diary documenting the design process, as well as the Inklewriter project itself. They were also given a two-week extension.

Four groups (about 15% of the class) opted to try their hand at Inklewriter. All, I think, did a very good job—especially since they were working in uncharted territory for the course. All four groups volunteered to have their projects posted to PAXsims, so you’ll find each of them below, together with their design notes.

One of the storyboards in development.

Another storyboard in development (and gradually taking over someone’s room).

All groups found storyboarding  a complex yet illuminating plot line with multiple decision points to be a challenge—especially since the various choices presented to the reader/player had to be subtle and non-obvious. After all, there’s little point in an interactive story if the decision points are all a choice between something obviously sensible, and something obviously stupid. There were some minor quirks in the software which, at times, made it a little difficult to work with—although everyone overcame these without any help from me. The biggest challenge, I think, was having to write interactive stories about field operations in fragile and conflict-affected countries when few if any of the students had spent any time dealing with such issues in real life. Experienced aid workers, diplomats, and peacekeepers might therefore have some quibbles about how particular institutions or processes portrayed in each assignment (and these are the raw assignments too, as submitted for grading and without any subsequent tweaks). The bigger picture here is the way in which this medium can be used to create vignettes and scenarios, and the ways in which the generation of these encourage students to undertake research, think about causal relations and critical junctures, and portray them in interactive form. None of the students had any prior simulation-writing experience.

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Humanitarian Negotiation with Armed Groups (design notes)

  • by Tiphaine Monroe, Toader Mateoc, Taylor Steele, and Bushra Ebadi 

This project explores the difficult of securing humanitarian access in areas of ongoing armed violence, building upon the Guidelines on Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups (2006) developed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. One interesting innovation by this group was introducing an element of chance into the outcomes. Since the software doesn’t allow for it, they achieved this through the simple solution of occasionally having the reader roll a six-sided die.

In this simulation, you are a senior member of the OCHA, and you have the task of developing and implementing a proposal to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in the United Federation of Petrichor, a nation riven by civil discord on the continent of Northern Tiffleton.

Petrichor is a former Western colony that has enjoyed independence since 1956, but due to simmering ethnic tensions stemming from colonial times, the country has fallen into periodic chaos. Currently, the country is suffering from episodic fighting with occasional breaks in the violence, mostly between the government led by President Martin Steed-Asprey, leading industrialist, and the rebel group Minabwa led by Damocles Lafleur, son of a farming family that had their land confiscated by the government in an earlier episode of ethnic tension.

The colonial power only dealt with the President’s rebel group; as such, the rebels’ original motivations were to have increased political representation and to have more equitably distributed economic growth, but the conflict itself has led to further deep-seated racism and enmity between the two groups. Further adding to complications, the two groups are also divided by separate religions, though this does not form the basis of the conflict. You will discover more information after you make contact with your intermediary throughout the following adventure.

Before you begin, we recommend that you have on hand both the OCHA manual on humanitarian negotiations with armed groups, specifically the worksheet for mapping characteristics of armed groups, as well as one six-sided die.

At certain points in this game, despite your best efforts, the result will be at least partially up to chance, much like real life. We wish you patience and success as you navigate the complex field of humanitarian negotiations!

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Hard to Handle: A DDR Story (design notes)

by Daniel Stysis, Jess De Santi and Kegan Chang

This simulation addresses many of the challenges of disarmament, demobilization,  and reintegration programmes, including cheating, female combatants, and the need to find suitable civilian employment for ex-combatants. It also captures some of the never-ending meetings, coordination challenges, stakeholder consultations, and confidence-building requirements of peacebuilding by forcing the player to meet with many different actors—often more than once—before achieving their goals.

The country of Badnok has recently been the subject of a major civil war. The Gand, a minority ethnic group in the country, founded a resistance movement against the dominant ethnic Lothan ethnic group. Naming themselves the Gand Liberation Front, they fought the regular army for nine bloody years, with both sides committing major human rights violations. Now, however, mutual exhaustion by both sides has allowed a peace treaty to be brokered, and it will be necessary for aid agencies and the United Nations to help set Badnok on the road to peace.

You are the head of cantonment camp 18, located outside of Basin City, a mid-sized city located somewhat inland from the coast. As part of the peace agreement, armed groups are voluntarily surrendering themselves to the process of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration.

Your responsibilities entail the running of the camp itself while securing possible avenues for employment for the demobilised soldiers at your camp. You must also attend coordination meetings with other NGOs operating in the area and as part of the service delivery team at your own camp. Finally, you must report back to your superiors at headquarters.
Mideast-Syria_Horo-1-635x357

Aleppo: The Mother of All Battles (design notes)

by Tracy Atieh, Alexander Arguete Iskender, Thibault Charpentier, and Louise Duflot

Here the reader/player is just trying to survive, as the Syrian civil war rages around them. It isn’t always clear what the best choice: flee, or stay in place? Join a side, or stay neutral? When death comes, it comes as suddenly, and finally, as a sniper’s bullet.

You have chosen to play under Ahmad Munzer, also known as Abu Omar. You are married with Leila and are the father of three children: your elderly son Omar age 12; your daughter Nour age 10, and your youngest Karim.

You live in the Eastern district of Tariq al-Bab, and work in the Souk al-Madina market, the largest covered market in the world, where you sell clothing. As 80% of Aleppo’s population, you are part of the Sunni majority.

The uprising began on 15 March 2011 with popular demonstrations that grew nationwide by April 2011, but Aleppo remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protest. However, you can feel the tension escalating around you. You know it´s getting closer… All you can do is continue with your daily life

OR

You have chosen to play with the Haddad family living in Homs, in the Hamidiya neighbourhood. Your name is Rida, you are 43 years old, you are Christian. You have 2 children (1 daughter of 13 years old named Yasmina and 1 son of 17 years old named Zein). Your wife’s name is Sima.

Like every morning, you drive your children to school before going to work. You have two ways to get there, the fastest and the safest, which one do you choose?

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Chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (design notes)

by Kushal Ismael, Joya Mukherjee, Regan Johnston

In this simulation, the player/reader must try to deal with various challenges arising from M23 militia activity in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reader is given the option of playing through the story as two quite different characters. Also, the simulation recognizes that perfection is rarely achieved in the field: a player needs to only succeed two out of three times for the mission to be deemed a “success.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been plagued by decades of violence. Millions have been displaced or have died as a result of the conflict between the Congelese Government and various groups of rebels. 5.4 million lives have been lost since 1998. 2.4 million people have become displaced and 1,152 women were raped daily (2012)….

The history of this story begins in 2008 when the violence intensified and a new rebel group, M23, formed.

One of the main IDP camps in region is Mugunga III, run by the UN in North Kivu, a few kilometers west of the large city of Goma. 30,000 IDPs reside in the camp, with more coming in each day as they flee the violence. The camp’s demographics include thousands of rape victims, ex combatants, and former child soldiers. Conditions in Mugunga III are deplorable as rebels have broken into the camp several times, stealing the limited food rations that Mugunga III has.

These are just some of the notable problems you will have to deal with in your adventure.

THE ACTORS: PICK ONE TO BEGIN YOUR ADVENTURE

UN Field Officer: You are the head of Mugunga III, responsible for reporting to UN headquarters in Kinshasa on the conditions at the camp. You have worked here since 2009 and you hope to finish your service on good terms. You are responsible for coordinating relief efforts between the various NGOs that work at the camp as well as ensuring that relations with the local government remain on good terms.

Radio Okapi Journalist: You are responsible for writing stories from Mugunga III to broadcast on Radio Okapi. You are one of 200 staff of Radio Okapi, which is funded by the United Nations and Hirondelle, a Swiss news agency.

 * * *

What did students think of the assignment? The feedback I received was  overwhelmingly positive:

We definitely think that it should be an option for future classes. Maybe there should be a few more constraints around the project, just make sure groups are working along the way and together. We had a great experience working on the game together and we learned a lot. We know that future classes would definitely enjoy this project and perhaps even find new software that could enhance the conflict simulation further.

All in all, I’d recommend it as an option – I think that it’s entirely possible a group will be able to come up with a better project if they can learn from our mistakes. The only recommendation I would really make is just ensuring that they have a chance to look through the projects this year for an idea of what to expect.

I think the assignment was a very engaging and thorough learning experience, it took us a long time but really deepened our understanding of the situation and was therefore very insightful so keeping it as an assignment option for the course would be a great idea since the format is also very flexible and any kind of games can be created.

Regarding the option of having this as an assignment option, I highly recommend it. It gives the students the opportunity of approaching civil conflicts from a different point of view.

In comparison with the group paper, the games really gives you the opportunity of working together and not just dividing the parts. Because of the nature of the software, constant communication is needed because:

  1. Even if in theory it coud be used in several computers at the same time, the software glitches.
  2. The software doesn’t give you the opportunity of adding new parts.

I learned a lot from this assignment. It required not only the ability to solve problems relating to conflict, but also an understanding of how conflict in and of itself might arise. I believe that students in future classes might gain quite a bit from this.

 I think offering the project to future students would be useful (it may be best to make them choose a narrow topic and have them start at the very beginning of the semester). I don’t know if other options are available, but a more friendly software could make the process more efficient.

Working on this game was very exhilarating, and although the software wasn’t easy to use from time to time, I’m sure the four of us were able to gain a lot from it. Just like in the class SIM, we really identified to our character, and – in a way – his fight for survival became ours.

I really believe you should offer this assignment option to future poli450 students. It gave us the opportunity to be creative – something we generally don’t find in other polisci classes.

Given the quality of the output and the feedback I received, I certainly will be making this an option for future classes.

h/t Many thanks to POLI 450 students for making their assignments available for the blog.

Persian Incursion 2013

As I’ve noted in a couple of reviews (here and here), the game/rules engine in Persian Incursion provides a powerful combat model of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear or oil facilities. As a manual, “cardboard” wargame it is also very easy to tweak. With that in mind, I’ll be running a version of the game this Friday at McGill University with some political science graduate students, plus an Iran analyst colleague. Although game-playing is part of the reason for doing so, I also want to use the session to explore some of the issues involved in any possible Iranian military action, and then collect some feedback on how useful participants found the process.

The game will be set in the here and now of 2013. This means that the initial opinion settings will mirror the current diplomatic environment, and the upgrades available to the players will be restricted to those that Israel and Iran might plausibly have obtained by March 2013.

Moreover, as detailed below, the Syrian civil war raises the possibility of an Israeli strike overflying Syrian airspace, rather than having to use the northern (Turkish), central (Jordanian), or southern (Saudi) route. The Syrian route would be risky, exploiting the relative weakness in Syrian SAM defences between Damascus and Homs as well as the severe degradation of Syria’s air force and integrated air defence system caused by two years of civil war. On the other hand, it would not depend on the political acquiescence of the country being overflown, an aspect which otherwise constrains potential Israeli use of other possible routes.

Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple. Source: Sean O'Conner, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link).

Above: Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with long-ranged S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple and the Damascus-Homs gap in medium-range systems readily apparent. Source: Sean O’Connor, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link). Video below: Syrian rebels overrun a S-200 SAM site. Several early-warning sites may also have been destroyed.

Political Opinion

israelunThe following initial political opinion settings are used at the start of the game:

  • Iran -8
  • Israel +10
  • China -6
  • Jordan 0
  • Russia -3
  • Saudi Arabia/GCC 0
  • Turkey -1
  • UN/rest of world -2
  • USA +2

iranunThe “ally actions” listed in the rules (p. 11) include some rather unlikely possibilities. Consequently, they are replaced with the following:

  • China: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase the GPS jammer or laser dazzlers upgrades for its nuclear facilities at a cost of 1 MP. 
  • Russia: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase up to three S-300 batteries at 1 military point (MP) each; R27ER1 AAM upgrade for 1 MP.
  • Jordan: If Israeli ally, Iran suffers -10% penalty to terrorist attacks.
  • Saudi Arabia: If Israeli ally, provides covert support for Israeli strikes. Israel adds 10% to SAM suppression and +1 to CGI fighter rolls when using southern route.
  • UN/rest of world: Use rules as written.
  • US: If Israeli ally and Iran has attempted to close Strait of Hormuz, roll for US airstrike against Iran each turn (p. 11). If Iranian ally, game ends immediately as US diplomatic pressure forces Israel to halt its air campaign.

In the latter case, being an Iranian “ally” doesn’t, of course, mean that the US is actually allied with (or even friendly with) Iran—rather, it just signifies that the US is deeply opposed to Israeli actions.

Most of the “arms sales” rules are not used because, even if China or Russia were to sell Iran additional military hardware, they could not be fielded effectively in the timeframe covered by the game.

Other ally effects listed elsewhere (p. 27) still take effect.

Player Upgrades and Reinforcements

These are set as follows to reflect current real-world conditions, but with some potential for “unknown unknowns”:

  • The Iranian player may purchase any and all air defence systems upgrades, countermeasures/EW defences, additional Tor-M1 batteries, and up to one battalion of Sejil-2 MRBMs. Iran may also purchase EM-55 naval mines, although these do not represent any particular weapons system but rather an increased Iranian investment in combat systems for use in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran may not purchase Pantsyr S1E SAM/AAA batteries, S-300, Buk-M1, or HQ-9 SAM batteries, or any air-to-air missile upgrades.
  • The Israeli player may purchase all upgrades except AIM-120D AMRAAMs.
  • Neither player may gain extra-national reinforcements, although Israel can still benefit from ballistic missile defence assistance from US Aegis class cruisers under appropriate circumstances

Central Route

In the Persian Incursion rules, Jordan is assumed to be unwilling to intercept any IAF strike transiting its airspace. Instead, the US attitude is what counts—especially given (then) US control of Iraqi airspace.

jordanprotestsBy 2013, things have changed. The US no longer controls Iraqi airspace, and Iraq itself lacks the capability to effectively control or even monitor it. On the other hand, the “Arab Spring” has rendered the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan more sensitive to public criticism. Repeated Israeli overflights of Jordan could create serious domestic political problems for the regime. Israeli destabilization of Jordan, in turn, wouldn’t go over very well in Washington.

Indeed, under some extreme circumstances one can even imagine some limited Jordanian military response to Israeli actions. (If this seems farfetched, consider how Jordan entered the 1967 Arab-Israeli war—a war it knew it would lose—when it became clear that failure to do so would severely undermine the monarchy’s political position.)

Consequently, the following modified rule will be used:

Israel may overfly Jordan at any time if political opinion there is 0 (neutral) or better. However, whenever it does, Iran rolls 3 dice on the Jordanian opinion track, and one on the US track.

Syria Route Special Rules

Syrian rebel fighters pose on a destroyed tankUse the following procedure should the IAF choose to use the Syrian route, reflecting the need to deal with whatever functioning Syrian air defences are encountered en route.

The Syria route counts the same as the Central route for the purposes of tanker support and targets that can be struck.

  1. First, Israel may conduct a Suter EW/cyber attack against Syrian air defences.
  2. Next, roll a D100 for each of the five Syrian SA-200 long-range SAM batteries that cover the Israeli route. These have a 33% chance of being able engage in-bound Israeli aircraft, and 66% chance of engage out-bound (return) aircraft. A failure to obtain a sufficient result indicates that these batteries have been overrun by Syrian opposition forces, redeployed to other areas or duties, or are otherwise incapable of responding.
  3. The IAF may conduct SAM suppression missions as usual, or target them with airstrikes.
  4. Surviving Syrian SAM batteries may then engage Israeli aircraft.
  5. After this, dice on the GCI Fighter Table to see whether any Syrian aircraft are able to intercept, subtracting 3 from the result. The IAF may conduct fighter suppression missions. The Iranian player may not spend MP to augment Syrian air defences. The Israeli player gains +1 for every one (not two) MP spent on suppression of Syrian air defences.
  6. Roll D100 to determine the type of intercepting aircraft: 01-50 MiG 23MLD, 51-85 MiG-29, 86-100 MiG 25. The Iranian MiG 29 aircraft data card is also used for Syrian MiG 29s. (Jeff Dougherty kindly generated Syrian MiG 23 and MiG 25 weapons data for the scenario, which I’ve incorporated into these modified aircraft cards at right—click the image to download).

Persian Incursion Syrian MiGsUse of the Syrian route by the IAF would likely give Iran around 60-90 minutes of advance warning of the inbound strike packages. Subtract 5% from the effectiveness of IAF SAM suppression missions in Iran, and add 1 to the GCI Fighter Table when determining Iranian fighter interceptions.

Each time the Syrian route is used the Iranian player may roll 1 die against either the Russian, Chinese, or UN/rest of world opinion tracks.

One small (but non-zero) risk of using the Syrian route is that Damascus might launch its own retaliation against Israel, and that the situation could then escalate out of control.

If at any time the Israeli players rolls a natural 12 while conducting a SAM suppression, SAM strike, fighter suppression, or air-to-air engagement, Syria responds. Roll a d6:

  1. Syria vociferously condemns Israeli actions. Iran gains 1 PP (political point).
  2. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 MP (military point).
  3. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 IP (intelligence point).
  4. Syria organizes hasty terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 50% chance of success.
  5. Syria organizes major terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 80% chance of success.
  6. Syria launches limited missile strike next turn (treat as 6 ballistic missiles). If any of these hit with a die roll of natural 12, further escalation takes place. The game ends immediately as the IAF is retasked with striking Syrian chemical weapon facilities.

Hizbullah

While Persian Incursion includes rules for Iranian-backed terrorism against Israel, this seems to represent small-scale bombings, infiltrations, international terrorism, or perhaps Palestinian Islamic Jihad being encouraged to fire a few rockets from Gaza. It certainly doesn’t address Hizbullah’s potential involvement in the conflict, with its arsenal of an estimated 30,000 rockets.

hizbullahI don’t think it is inevitable, or even particularly likely, that Hizbullah would become overtly involved  is Israeli-Iranian hostilities through large-scale attacks from Lebanon—doing so would be deeply unpopular in Lebanon, even among its Shiite constituency, and also leave the organization open to a major Israeli riposte. The slow collapse of the Asad regime in Syria has likely rendered Hizbullah even more risk-averse. However, if the Iranian regime were feeling especially vulnerable it could pressure Hizbullah to act, especially in the context of an extended Israeli military campaign.

Modelling this in the game is tricky, because a major Israeli-Hizbullah war would, in many ways, be an even bigger military operation than an Israeli attack on Iran.

If the Iranian political opinion track is at 7 or higher, or Israel has attacked this turn for a third or subsequent time during the game, Tehran may spend 2 PP and press Hizbullah to attack Israel in a substantial and direct way. The base chance of success of convincing Hizbullah is 50%, plus  10% for each additional 1 PP spent.

Once Hizbullah has entered the war, a “Lebanon War Phase” is added after the Strategic Events Phase in each morning turn for the duration of the game. Israel must commit at least 1 MP and 1 aircraft squadron to the war effort. It may allocate additional MP/IP and additional aircraft squadrons. After it has done so, roll 2D6.

  • Add 1 to the total for every 2 MP/IP allocated to the Lebanon campaign.
  • Add 1 each additional aircraft squadron.
  • Add 1 if Israel purchased an expanded Iron Dome system.

Because of the Syrian civil war Iran has little capability to assist or resupply Hizbullah during the fighting.

Consult the following table to ascertain the effects of the war that day:

  • 2: Hizbullah rockets rain down on northern Israel and points further south. Iran gains 3 PP, and may roll 4 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 3-4: Iran gains 2 PP, and may roll 3 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 5-6: Iran gains 1PP, and may roll 2 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 7-10: Iran may roll 1 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 9-10: The war generates greater Western support for Israel. Israel may roll one die on the US or UN/rest of world opinion track.
  • 11-12: Hizbullah casualties mount. Israel gains +1 to all future rolls on this table (this effect is cumulative).
  • 13+ : Hizbullah suffers severe damage. Iran loses 2 points (PP, MP, and/or IP—Iranian player’s choice), and Israel may roll 1 die on the Iranian opinion track.

Israeli aircraft allocated to Lebanon are assumed to be engaging in airstrikes during the morning and afternoon phases, and test for breakdowns at the end of the latter.

Other Rule Modifications

In general, we’ll be using the full rule set. However, use of  simplified target profiles makes mission planning much quicker, and also allows more effective use of the quick strike chart that the game designers have made available. Resolving aircraft breakdowns/repairs will speeded by using the additional charts for this developed for this.

Rather than treating SAM suppression missions from planned airstrikes at SAM sites as different things, any suppression mission that exceeds its necessary roll by 30% or more is assumed to have permanently destroyed the battery (in the case of older SAMs relying on a single radar system) or half the battery (with more modern SAMs with multiple radars). Players may still attack airfields.

McGill: Visiting Fulbright Chair in International Development Studies

This isn’t directly games-related… but it could be.

A one semester Visiting Fulbright Chair in International Development Studies will be available at McGill University for the 2013-14 academic year. The primary focus is democracy and democratization, but that doesn’t preclude those who are interested in simulations as a mechanism for either understanding or teaching about political and economic development. Applicants must be US scholars with a PhD (or equivalent professional experience).

If you’re at all interested, feel free to drop me a line to learn more about the city and university. (Although I’m affiliated with ISID, I’m not involved in the selection process. And no, I have no idea what the red shopping cart is supposed to represent.)

The McGill peacebuilding simulation

During the most recent run of my Brynania peacebuilding simulation at McGill University, a camera crew from the university followed the sim and put together a documentary report. You’ll find the result below.

CBC Radio on Brynania 2011

Rosemary Quipp covered the most recent Brynania simulation for CBC Radio. You’ll find her report here.

This year, the class generated 11,424 email messages (all of which I had to read), in addition to hundreds of hours of face-to-face meetings, IM, Skype, phone conversations, tweets, and everything else imaginable. I’m still recovering….

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