Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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Dorn: Peacekeeping games, anyone?

The following has been contributed to PAXsims by Walter Dorn. Dr. Dorn is a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College and the Canadian Forces College. He also serves as a consultant on technological innovation at the United Nations.The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.


So many people play online as warfighters but, in stark contrast, no one plays as peacekeepers. The immediate explanation is simple: there are no such games. But that is a mystery to me. Peacekeeping is more intellectually and ethically challenging, more deeply meaningful, more emotionally rewarding (saving people), and still includes the challenges (and excitement) of combat. So I began to explore the possibilities of peacekeeping gaming which led to publishing of a detailed paper recently: “From Wargaming to Peacekeeping: Digital Simulations with Peacekeeper Roles Needed” (pdf) in the journal International Peacekeeping.


I first asked myself and my research assistants, avid gamers who became my co-authors: what existing games come close to peacekeeping? A search online for “peacekeeping” games yielded some ridiculous results at first. For instance, the game Peacekeeper – Trench Defense describes itself this way:

Fight epic battles, slay endless waves of enemy hordes, and restore the peace! You’re the Peacekeeper, one of the world’s toughest elite soldiers. A relentless onslaught of enemy troops is invading your land. It’s up to you to restore the peace, and what better way to do that than with your huge arsenal of guns?!

Not exactly what we had in mind.

I took heart from PAXsims, which has the best reviews and descriptions of games involving realistic peace processes. Furthermore, the journal-Simulation & Gaming had a whole issue on peacebuilding in 2013, guest edited by Rex Brynen. So I felt that at least I was not alone; others were thinking about similar possibilities.  Rex’s Brynania game, in his eponymous territory, considers peacekeeping as part of the toolbox for conflict resolution. And, his survey shows that his student gamers strongly supported UN-led peacekeeping and mediation over all the other peace process options. But there are no games online to actually practice UN peacekeeping.

I have yet to find a commercial game, on a gameboard or digitally, where UN-style peacekeeping is the focus. Some militaries have experimented with peacekeeping training by reskinning warfighting games, like Arma3 and its more expensive (professional) platform Virtual Battlespace (now at VBS4 from Bohemia Interactive). But with a license fee of thousands per computer per year, VBS4 is beyond the reach of most individuals and peacekeeping training institutions. Besides, a wargame modified into a peacekeeping game will look like just that, not a product built from the ground up to realistically simulate peace operations.

There are a few relevant and exciting games for counter-terrorism and stability operations. But these are mostly US-style operations – think Iraq and Afghanistan, which have hardly proven to be successful models for creating peace. These operations are quite different from UN peace operations, which are based on a trinity of principles that are not usually present in US/NATO stability operations: consent of the main parties to the conflict for the UN deployment; impartiality so that the mission is guided by international law and any peace agreements between the conflicting parties (i.e., the UN should not side with one party and treat the other as the enemy); and the defensive use of force, unlike the frequently offensive character of most stability operations. Still, peace operations can require the use of force if an armed group poses an imminent threat to UN personnel or local civilians. And some elements can definitely be transferred from counter-insurgency (COIN) games like Rebel Inc: Escalation, e.g., learning about power-brokers, civ-mil relations, working with humanitarian actors (while giving them “humanitarian space”), using media coverage as leverage, etc.

We can also learn from the table-top exercises (TTX) that militaries so often play. However, in Canada and its NATO allies, the simulations are centered on a NATO-like alliance. These forces do not have the composition, spirit or integrated nature of the United Nations, where troops from the developed and developing world work alongside police and civilians, all under civilian international control. More importantly, the goal is to win the peace not to win the war. There are a few exercises with strong peacekeeping components, like the Viking multinational exercises held annually by the Swedish armed forces and the Folke Bernadotte Academy. In its day, the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre (1994–2013) in Canada also developed multiple exercises involving UN-led multidisciplinary peacekeeping missions, mostly based in the land of Fontinalis.


Screenshot from the Peacekeeper Game Project.

After searching, researching and writing about the idea of digital peacekeeping games, I wanted to start practicing what I was preaching. But moving from the general idea to even a demonstration game (proof of concept) necessitated a skilled game developer, who was generously provided by M7 Database Services. One game concept is now being developed – see, with explanation and video playthrough. A preliminary demonstration game is also available (upon request to This design and development work showed me the great power of agile object-based game development using assets from the Unity store – for more, see the peacekeeping gaming paper (pdf), specifically the section on “New and Emerging Methods of Game Design and Development.”


Screenshot from the Peacekeeper Game Project.

With this and similar initiatives in progress, it seems that peacekeeping gaming might be moving from vision to reality. Hopefully, game design companies will explore the field and the options. And I also urge the United Nations to explore them, not only for the training but also public education. Digital simulations allow for the easy production of videos to illustrate peacekeeping principles and practices. From my UN experience, I learned why “disruptive technologies” are given that name. Many UN officials recognized the exciting potential for peacekeeping simulation but did not want to disrupt their current work plans, overloaded as they were. Still, there is hope for UN digital innovation, especially as the COVID-affected world seeks to do more online, including peacekeeping training, during and after the crisis.


Screenshot from the Peacekeeper Game Project.

I know the Canadian and international officers I teach at the Canadian Forces College, especially those in my peace operations class, are enthusiastic to engage in peacekeeping simulations. Now would be the time to develop the games or encourage others to develop them. There are options to foster a new gaming genre: work with the gaming industry or with emerging game designers at colleges and universities in their gaming and design programmes.

Peacekeeping games, anyone?

And if the options to develop new games are few, and the development work with the United Nations proves too slow, then there’s more time to do the next best thing: producing more academic papers!


Walter Dorn 

Gaming for Peace conference (Dublin, January 2019)


A Gaming for Peace conference will be held at Trinity College, Dublin on 10-11 January 2019.

Project background

GAP is an EU H2020 funded project which is developing a curriculum of soft skills derived from interviews with experienced military, police and civilian peacekeeping personnel, and the state of the art in peacekeeping relevant soft skills and serious games.  GAP is embedding a selection of peacekeeping relevant soft skills in a digital role-playing game with in-game assessment. The key soft skills are: gender awareness, cultural competency, communication, cooperation, decision-making and stress management.  In-game assessment is reported in individual ‘skills passports’ for players, and the learning metrics have been standardized against international benchmarks. The GAP module (curriculum and game) provides an inexpensive, accessible to all, standardized training in soft skills for peacekeeping and is at the cutting edge of State of the Art in the domains of training for peacekeeping,curriculum development, soft skills, assessment, game design and soft skills standardization.

Call for papers

We invite academic/research/policy papers from researchers from academic institutions, international organizations, training institutes for militaries, police and civilian humanitarian workers, policy institutes, and game designers, in each of the domains and at the intersection of these domains to participate in a conference that is designed to bring together key thinkers from all these domains to share relevant research, network and brainstorm for future innovative collaboration such as GAP.

Key topics:

  • training for peacekeeping
  • curriculum development
  • soft skills
  • assessment
  • serious games design
  • soft skills standardisation
  • training for military, police, NGOs
  • peace education

Abstract submission(400 words):  by July 31st 2018 to []

Notification of accepted authors: September 1st, 2018.

September 30th: Full programme available.
November 30th: Close of registration. Please register at: [link not yet available]

2019: A selection of presentations at the conference will be invited to submit full papers for publication in an edited book volume after the conference.

The conference will also host demonstrations of the GAP game, and special events to bring together key personnel in this area.


Game for Peace: Progressive Education in Peace Operations


As part of its “OnlineFirst” service, the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation has just published a piece by Christopher J. Nannini, Jeffrey Alan Appleget, and Alejandro Hernandez of the Naval Postgraduate School on “Game for Peace: Progressive Education in Peace Operations.” For those interested in the use of simulations for peacekeeping training, the article is very useful reading.

We present a modeling and simulation approach that clearly increases the efficacy of training and education efforts for peace support operations. Our discussion involves how a computer simulation, the Peace Support Operations Model, is integrated into a training and education venue in Kyrgyzstan for a “Game for Peace.” On September 12–23, 2011 members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Training and Education Centers collaborated to instruct a United Nations’ Peacekeeping Operations course at the Kyrgyz Separate Rifle Battalion in Bujum, Kyrgyzstan. Phase II of the course was also conducted on October 17–21, 2011 for members of the Peacekeeping Brigade of the Kazakhstan Army (KAZBRIG) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Although such courses are a mainstay in NATO support in preparing member nations for peace support operations, the application of a computer simulation is unique. We relate the decision to use a computer simulation to support the training event and provide an overview of the methodology for planning and executing the game. Insights from the game about training and educating future peacekeepers and lessons for using computer simulations are instructive for future efforts and mark the way to leverage the advantages of computer simulations.

The article itself discusses how the Peace Support Operations Model has been adapted for use by the United States Partnership for Peace Training and Education Center:

The developers of the PSOM define two levels of decision-making within the game structure: the Strategic Interaction Process (SIP) and the Operational Game.17 The SIP provides a framework by which the political and diplomatic dimensions can be integrated into the exercise to shape the overall strategic environment. The Operational Game describes the process by which game participants make decisions, assign actions to units, evaluate observed changes and effects seen within the simulated environment, and modify unit actions in follow-on decision cycles as the game progresses.

In 2010, the developers identified several potential applications for the PSOM.11 We demonstrate one of the applications, education and training, to support the educational goals of the USPTC and its partners with the Game for Peace during the PKO course in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The educational goals for the course are as follows:

  • introduce the application of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) in PKOs;
  • improve knowledge and skills for applying the MDMP in preparation for and execution of complex PKOs;
  • demonstrate the ability to apply tactical and operational knowledge in a multi-dimensional, complex peacekeeping environment as a member of a battalion or brigade-level staff;
  • demonstrate the ability to plan and deploy units in a PKO;
  • plan and assess the short-term impact of a UN PKO in multi-dimensional, complex PKOs;
  • plan and assess the long-term impact of a UN PKO in multi-dimensional, complex PKOs.

To create the Game for Peace, we selected the Operational Game process as described by the PSOM developers. We modified the process in order to create an exercise that would engage the Kyrgyz and Kazakh military officers and allow them to practice and explore staff decision-making and analysis for a UN PKO.

Participants assume the role of staff officers during the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to the fictional country of Yellowstone:

During the exercise, students play the role of brigade- level staff members deployed as a UN peacekeeping force consisting of three brigade-sized elements. The students enter into the exercise with the forces deployed to the fictitious country of Yellowstone following a second deployment as part of a Relief in Place (RIP).

At the beginning of the game, students assess prepared COAs reflecting unit tasks and commander’s intent as outlined in a baseline operational plan for the scenario. As the exercise progresses, students prepare and assess their own COAs. Instructors present COAs in an abbreviated MDMP. This adjustment to the MDMP allowed students to focus on unit locations, mission, intent, and activities associated with PKOs. In this manner students have the time to assess the COAs using selected measures of effectiveness (MOEs) from the PSOM.

The students evaluate the COAs with respect to five MOEs: security of the population; availability of humanitarian aid; legitimacy of the government; level of criminality within the region: and infrastructure. As the students analyze the COAs, they consider unit activities and desired effects in terms of first-, second-, and third- order effects. A first-order effect is a direct result of an action, with no intermediate consequences between the action and the effect. Additional outcomes that are caused by a first-order effect are known as second- and third- order effects. Consideration of second- and third-order effects during the planning process can help peacekeepers develop more effective and flexible plans.

The Game for Peace consists of several sub-events that, when executed in sequence by the training team, create a week-long, dynamic educational experience. The Game for Peace cycle consists of an introduction to the scenario by the training team, student preparation, several turns of the game, and an After Action Review (AAR).


The authors’ overall assessment of the initiative is very positive:

The Game for Peace offers a modeling and simulation approach that clearly increases the efficacy of training and education efforts for PSOs. The instructor team diversity and expertise created a robust educational experience that enhanced the learning environment for the game participants. The PSOM generated real-time, quantifiable MOEs based on students’ decisions, which facilitated interactive discussion of effects and knowledge assimilation. Emphasis on secondary and tertiary effects elevated key learning points from tactical to operational and strategic insights. Insights from the game about training and educating future peacekeepers and lessons for using computer simulations mark the way to leverage the use of computer simulations to significantly improve the educational outcomes, and core competencies for PSOs.

It might have been useful to have seen more discussion of the comparative advantages—and disadvantages—of using a computer-based/driven simulation rather than a more traditional command post exercise. On the one hand, using the PSOM in this way certainly generates more feedback data faster than a CPX might. On the other hand, that data may be of a form that is rather less like the “real thing,” or otherwise less tweakable. One also risks losing some of the element of human interaction, especially in politically complex multinational operations. (They did build in a student “red team” playing an insurgent opposition, which seems a good move). In most PKOs the actual military peacekeeping mission is a rather marginal humanitarian actor, with the real work in this area done by host governments, autonomous UN specialized agencies, and NGOs. It isn’t clear how much the training model built this into the process either.

The full article is behind the Sage paywall, so you’ll need a JDMS subscription to read it. However you’ll find powerpoint presentations covering some of the same ground here and here.

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