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Serious Games Forum 2020 report

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Clara Ruestchmann.


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The second edition of the Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections series of wargaming conferences—was held on the 27th of January at the War College in Paris. Organized by Serious Games Network-France, the event gathered more than 250 attendees, hosted five conferences and six workshops packed in one day.

The conference was based on the same model as the first edition, with plenaries in the morning, games and workshops in the afternoon and a “gaming hackathon” during the day. Apart from the increasing number of attendees (+25%),  more students (defence-security and management mostly) took part and there a larger proportion of women (27%). There was also all-day participation of journalists coming from Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Agence France Presse, a 4-star Army General, and new partners such as Air Force School, CASDEN bank, My-Serious-Game digital training companies.

Morning Plenaries

After an introduction by Patrick Ruestchmann, president of Serious Games Network-France, who welcomed the many speakers coming from France as well as the UK, US, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Caroline Brandao (French Red Cross) and Colonel Sébastien de Peyret (Army) were invited on stage to launch the first conference regarding the opportunities resulting in the use of games. Defense journalist Meriadec Raffray helped run the morning plenaries.

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The first panel started with Caroline Brandao, in charge of the humanitarian international law in the legal department of the French Red Cross, offered an overview of the use of serious games in her organization. The Red Cross developed several games in order to address the issues surrounding the violations of international humanitarian rights. Some games were coming from the gaming hackathon held during the first edition Forum. These games address both the internal training of the Red Cross organization and outsiders such as military corps or college / students. The Red Cross tends to include new technologies in serious games, creates partnership with the video game industry (e.g. Fortnite) and turns to the use of virtual reality. One of their latest projects aims to raise awareness regarding the reunification of families after a crisis (in case of armed conflicts as well as natural catastrophes) using VR to simulate situations and help prepare and train rescuers.

Colonel Sébastien de Peyret, responsible for the Army BattleLab is also the designer Urban Operations. For Sébastien, it is crucial that the player is placed in a position of decisions making in a restricted time scale/period. Only the player has a restricted knowledge of his action’s consequences as well as the unexpected hazards generated by a situation. It is essential to be facing an opponent in the game in order to oppose a real adversary’s intelligence and to gain experience. The goal isn’t to learn how to navigate the rules but to adapt to its opponents. Most importantly, Sébastien insisted on the After Action Review to analyze the game session afterwards in order to add critical views, identify the risks that have been taken and the mistakes committed in the safe environment of the game.

Both speakers pointed out this essential element: game mechanisms in serious games and wargaming are reflective supports of strategic and critical thinking of a given situation, still they are predictive tools.

The second conference introduced Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. (USAF Research Lab) who questioned how serious games can help comprehend the dynamics of conflicts. From the initial spark with the very first Connections US 26 years ago to his last book On Wargaming, Matthew developed the idea that wargaming helps make decisions more quickly and more effectively. It also helps identify the problems which should be paid attention to. If a computer program simulating a crisis can be run very fast and multiple times in order to see the different possible outcomes, in wargames the outcomes depend on the actions of others. Therefore, it can bring light to many different aspects of conflict dynamics, not only in terms of military efficiency but also in terms of economic, social or political outcomes. Matthew gave an introductory thank you to French audience, pointing out our long history as allies in time of despair.

The third panel questioned the perspectives in the future of wargaming with analysts Sarah Grand-Clement and James Black of RAND Europe. After giving an overview of their organization in the gaming community, the panelists pointed out that games can be used in a variety of ways : as analytical tool (to help think about possible futures), as stress-testing strategies (providing scenarios in a safe environment to try out situations), as policy decisions supervisors (to ensure that policy makers and decisions are adapter to the complexity of reality) or as an interactive experience (in order to allow people to educate, train and engage with the issues at hand).

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RAND conducts a variety of different games, from strategic exercises for senior decisions makers (with a 3-years contract with the UK Royal College of Defense Studies), to regionally focused games to understand emerging treats and opportunities (with a game questioning threats to international cooperation and security in the Arctic) as well as table-top exercises to explore future scenarios for emergency situations (with for example the European Union CDP -capability development plan) and applications of gaming techniques to non-defense sectors (with the government of Estonia to help understand and prevent cybercrime).

According to Sarah and James, gaming remains relevant to address complex defense and security questions but needs to continue evolving, in terms of technology and application fields, in order to stay relevant. Finally, they mentioned that, beyond technologies issues, there are social issues about how to democratize gaming so that new generations will be able to take hold of it and adapt it to their problematics. Sarah and James suggest the need to expand gaming beyond the defense community, to encourage younger people to engage in gaming and to increase diversity in gaming

The fourth conference introduced Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud de Peretti, Pierre Razoux and Christophe Maresca around the question of how to talk about games in your organizations.

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Pierre Razoux, research director at the IRSEM, suggested that serious games encourage a player to put him/herself in someone else’s head, thereby helping them to better understand their reasoning. He suggested games need to be as accessible as possible when introduced in a professional or educational context. The game must be fairly quickly explained for participants coming from different backgrounds and experiences.

Arnaud de Peretti, army officer currently analyzing operations in the Middle East, is also the game designer behind Normandy 1944 for iPad (Wars and Battles) and is working on a new game about The Hundred Years War with Asynchron. He postulated that wargames help to visualize and concretize tensions both inside the army (navy, army and air force) and with the opponent. He suggested that wargames have the potential to integrate a diplomatic component, even though diplomats are still most often missing from wargaming sessions.

Christophe Maresca, Gendarmerie Nationale Colonel and presently operation chief of the Region Île de France, co-edited the game Krise with Pytharec, on the problematics of public order in an urban environment. The game scenario reproduces the tragic events at the Arc de Triomphe with the Yellow Vests movement and Black Blocs violent protesters. Christophe brought focus on the danger of eurocentrism in the creation of games and what can be called the “cognitive distortion” which requires to bring to the light beforehand the possible distortions that exist with both the creator of the game and the players.

Ending the morning with a fifth session, Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College London) talked about the wargaming network started a year ago. Last year Professor Philip Sabin gave his insight, along the ones from Major Tom Mouat, regarding this soon-to-be initiative. Created in 2018 at KCL, the Wargaming Network aims to improve tools to address defence challenges and is representative of the UK’s efforts to reinvigorate wargaming. The network deploys convening functions (workshops, lectures), supports individual staff project, creates programs for analytical wargaming (in order to train students and experts), supports external partners and look for social networking evolutions by bringing communities together such as academics and policy makers. With her more academic background, Ivanka argued that moving wargaming more into the academic direction and bringing together the learning and pedagogical purpose and the innovations and research possibilities of wargaming is essential.

On to gaming

The afternoon gave the attendees opportunities to participate to 6 workshops :

  1. Gaming Antimicrobial Resistance, by RAND Europe
  2. Demos of Digital Training (ipad / PC), by My-Serious-Game
  3. Game Design, by Pascal Bernard (among many others, designer of Time of Legends: Joan of Arc
  4. Learning Strategy with games with Philippe Lepinard (University Paris-Est-Créteil, Economical Sciences) and some of his (quite) young students, Enguerrand Ducourtil with Krise by Pytharec (public order), Patrick Ruestchmannwith Resilience (public policies and crisis management), Sébastien de Peyret with Urban Operations by Nuts! and Pierre Razoux with FITNA by Nuts!
  5. CyberWar Megagame, designed by David Delbarre, putting into conflicts nations, GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), NGOs, and others.
  6. Cyber simulations of attacks against a bank network with Luc Mensah (ISE-Systems) and Hacklihood boardgame with David Noury.

 

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Second Gaming Hackathon

Throughout the day, two teams of Pantheon-Sorbonne students were asked to produce a draft for a game regarding near-Space topics. Those games should address defense, environmental or economic issues. Antoine Bourguilleau, author of a soon-to-be release book on the history of wargaming, managed the two groups in order to get the best results in only a few hours. The jury of this Gaming Hackthon (Caroline Brandao, Matthew Caffrey, Christophe Mareseca) gave its appreciation of the projects the two teams came up with. Students presented their projects, prizes were given and this event slot led us to the end of the day.

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Toward next year

For the closure of the Forum, General Jean-Christophe Cardamone (vice-director for the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale) gave a encouraging speech with emphasis on the increasing popularity of serious gaming / wargaming among various professional sectors as well as the recognition of efforts such as Decision Defense (a wide audience game for the new take on the National Service, by Pytharec) or Matrix-game like Paris 2024 (Olympics and Paralympics in Paris) with the General Secretary for National Defense.

Overall, first edition of this Connections-France was a test to assess the interest of French organizations toward serious gaming. Second edition gives us full green signal to continue and expand, with contacts in Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany. National press coverage is already very positive, which give Serious Games Network-France good exposure in order to prepare the next step.

Post-Conference Survey

Still on-going at this date (Feb 2nd), the results gathered about 29% replies with observations for the future edition :

  • 36% rated the content as ‘excellent’ and 41% rated as ‘very good’, 14% as ‘good’, 9% as ‘average’
  • 70% want more gaming time
  • 60% suggest a 2-Days forum
  • Topics suggestion for upcoming event loom toward economic warfare, AI, cybersecurity, education, social and humanitarian topics
  • Most attendee’s suggestions ask for more meet and greet with participants / speakers.

Serious Games Forum 2020 (Paris)

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The next Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections wargaming conferences—will take place on January 27 at the École Militaire in Paris. Over two hundred participants attended last year.

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Further information and registration details can be found at the link above. For details of the previous conference in December 2018, see this PAXsims report by Juliette Le Ménahèze.

Serious Games Forum 2018 conference report

This report is written by PAXsims research associate Juliette Le Ménahèze. All pictures are courtesy of the Serious Games Network.


 

image.pngThe first edition of the Serious Games Forum was held on 3 December 2018 in Paris. The event was hosted at the War College (École Militaire) by the Serious Games Network (SGN) – France, and supported by a number of associations. The event was attended by 200 people, and counted no less than 30 speakers and workshop facilitators.

The morning was dedicated to conference panels, organized around two themes: a first general panel on wargaming, and a second focusing on the benefits of wargaming for business.

First, Patrick Ruetschmann (SGN President and the Forum’s main organizer) welcomed everyone and explained how the day was to unfold.

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General reflections on wargaming

Historian and wargame designer Pierre Razoux spoke on the use of wargaming at the War College strategic research institute (Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire – IRSEM), where he leads the “regional questions – North” research cluster. IRSEM distinguishes itself from other French think-tanks by resorting extensively to wargaming, which still lacks recognition and is seldom used in France.

Professor Philip Sabin then explained the reasons why King’s College London, where he teaches wargaming, is establishing a Wargaming Network (WN). The aim of the WN, which he co-directs with Ms Ivanka Barzashka and for which the inaugural lecture was held the day following the conference, endeavours to advance wargaming as a tool for innovation and education to address current security challenges. King’s has a rich history of wargaming, and through the WN they seek to further still their position as a hub for the growing community of students and staff studying and applying wargames. He discussed the importance of wargaming as an active learning tool for King’s students, who through playing and designing wargames further their understanding of conflict dynamics. Moreover, there is a growing understanding in the defence community that wargaming is a powerful tool, by providing a ‘safe fail’ environment.

Colonel Christophe de Lajudie offered his perspective on whether or not we should refuse digital wargaming. Unfortunately I was not able to attend this talk.

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Wargaming for business

Dr Sara Ulrich spoke of business wargaming, especially in the context of Deloitte crisis management. She is a Director of Deloitte’s UK Crisis Management & Resilience practice leading Contingency Planning for Strategic Risks (Brexit currently) and also Scenario Planning, Simulations and Wargaming.

According to her, business wargaming has capability in four areas:

  • Future preparedness wargames: they allow the company to explore its potential future and get a better understanding of the unknown
  • Issues & crisis preparedness simulations and wargames: they are designed to support a company’s high impact events, issues or crisis plans preparedness.
  • Learning & training wargames: they are designed to help practice and rehearse skills and understand others’ (clients, competitors, regulators, etc.) perspectives
  • Key decisions business wargames: they are designed to support a company’s planning, testing or stress testing of key decisions or important challenges.

Then she explained that Deloitte organizes its wargames in the following way: the client team is faced with the red teams, comprising competitors, as well as the market and regulators, and the control team.

She offered a few examples of wargames organized at Deloitte: three for clients, and an internal wargame for Deloitte’s senior managers.

  • “Global pharma companies wargame workshop” organized for a drug launch
    • Two global pharma companies formed a partnership to co-launch a new drug in two regions. The drug was undergoing phase 3 clinical trials with the results expected to be published soon. The drug was set to launch in two regions. The biggest concern was that the outcome of the clinical trial could demonstrate that the new treatment is no better than current drugs already on the market. The client engaged Deloitte to help assess the potential impacts of various trial results (phase 1, the wargame itself), and to develop a detailed mitigation plan (phase 2). The two “maximum change” scenarios were explored.
  • “Broadband company full market business wargame” to predict competitors’ moves
    • This client was facing an increasingly competitive environment as the ecosystem, regulatory and market landscape continues to evolve. They thus engaged Deloitte to run a 2-day wargame to bring to life the competitive market.
    • Day 1 focused on 2017-2018: Increased fixed line competition and threats of substitution to 4G wireless products and Wi-Fi offerings. During the debriefing session they identified the possibility of a market shock: two competitors may merge due to pressure on growth.
    • Day 2 focused on the future period 2019-2023. It started in the following way: Increased demand for higher broadband speeds due to advancements in technology and looming 5G release poses a substitution threat. Relying on the precedent day’s debriefing findings, they also introduced a market shock, with a new player entry. The debriefing session identified the key threats for this client, what the response strategies should be, relying on the consultant’s’ expertise and on participant reflections. Finally, they were able to detail an action plan.
  • “Negotiation skills business wargame for Deloitte University”
    • The 1-day game was organized for Deloitte Senior Manager level participants with aim to enhance their negotiations skills. The war game used a negotiation model which is based on the Harvard model of negotiation, and involved role-played negotiation meetings. War game materials were pushed to participant teams through an online platform, which drove the wargame and replicated real life decision making. Teams were scored on tasks through the platform, and on face-to-face meetings. These scores were aligned to the negotiation framework for in-day feedback.
  • “Major oil company business wargame” for a future joint venture
    • A major oil company engaged Deloitte to develop a Joint-Venture wargame event in order to bring typical JV risks and challenges to life. The event was themed around “Back to the Future”, taking participants from 2030 to 2016, with a focus on a different JV challenge at each move. Dynamic injects such as newspaper articles, voiceovers and holograms were delivered over the course of the day using Greenhouse technology.
    • The six client participants were divided in two: three focused on the downstream and the three others focused on the upstream. They had to prepare strategic JV responses to scenarios sent by the control team, who would constantly introduce updates and material. Additionally, a team of experts was present to input advice when requested, and role play different stakeholders. They were instrumental in providing key insights during the debriefing session.

I tremendously enjoyed this talk, because it was very practical and detail-oriented. It provided a fresh and dynamic outlook on wargaming and I believe it provided participants with a clear idea of how they could use wargames for their own business needs.

Major Tom Mouat then spoke of what business can learn from wargaming. He started with a reminder for all the participants of what wargaming is about. First wargaming is a great training, and training is about making us better at what we already know, but also about understanding ourselves and making ourselves better. Moreover wargaming is about shared understanding and imagination, competition and adversarial thinking, and understanding victory and learning from defeat. He particularly emphasized that last point.

Tom Mouat then quoted Thomas C Shelling: “The one thing you cannot do… is to make a list of things you never thought of”. That is counterable through wargames. He also reminded us that after the treaty of Versailles was signed, the German army was deprived of a proper army and their actual military exercises were limited. They thus resorted to wargames for training, with a terrible efficacy.

A major danger in the military and the business world alike, is the phenomena of groupthink, in part induced by a rigid hierarchy that makes it hard for lower level officials/ employees to questions their superior’s decisions. It leads to imitation based on previous decisions and limits the possibilities for innovation, reinterpretation, and so on.

To groupthink he opposed the wisdom of crowds. Groups can be better at estimation than individuals. Groups indeed bring a diversity of opinion, decentralized expertise and independence of thought. This advantage is nullified if formal hierarchy is maintained among group members. Another point to consider is that best predictions come from conflict or contest.

He also discussed the usefulness of roleplay in predicting outcomes: one study found that rolepays had a 62% chance of accurately predicting outcomes, far better than a single expert (31% correct) or a game theory (32% correct).

Moving on to business, he identified business benefits from wargaming: analysis of competitor, customer and supplier behavior; new product introductions, market entry scenarios, or development of new businesses; impact of changes in market environment; and simulation of negotiations.

Finally, Tom Mouat reminded us that wargaming isn’t about the “game” (which business people who are not familiar with the practice fail to understand)” Wargaming is about practice, an attitude of mind, getting input from everyone, in an organisation that values innovation, with the goal of exploring ways to make the “other guy” fail, and above all gaining a clear understanding of “what do we want to achieve?”.

Walter Vejdovsky, head of group M&As at Capgemini, discussed the benefits of wargaming for one’s organization. He opened his talk with a quote illustrating the benefits of wargaming: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” (Confucius).

He identified the major common traits of the military and business:

  • a pyramidal command structure (whether explicit or implicit in the case of businesses)
  • Limited intelligence on the enemy or the competitors, and internal intelligence/ reporting bias
  • Friction and uncertainty
  • Competition
  • The human factor: the morale is key, and stress, emotions and commitment of any decisions (although businesses face lesser risks)
  • Multidimensional goals: in the military, victory is determined with a mix of losses, geographical control and political factors; in business, the “value” of a corporation involves numerous factors.

Lunch followed, and the major part of the afternoon was dedicated to the game fair, divided in 6 workshops: (1) contemporary games (2) conceive games (3) cybersecurity (4) humanitarian and civil security (5) use for formation (6) history of wargaming.

Each workshop was run twice in the afternoon and comprised of one or two introductory talks, followed by a couple simultaneous games. Running Rex Brynen’s AFTERSHOCK humanitarian crisis game, I unfortunately did not get the occasion to explore the other workshops and games.

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image.pngIn the humanitarian and civil security workshop, Russell King spoke (in French!) of his experience in emergency planning at the British National Health Service (NHS), its crucial importance, and how simulations can lead to positive planning improvements.

Dr Sophie Cros (Panthéon-Sorbonne) then spoke of an experiment she ran with policemen and firemen after three days of formation to crisis management. She ran one realistic and one unrealistic crisis simulation. She noted that the unrealistic simulation had generated a lot of stress among participants, whereas the other did not. When put under stress, individuals showed that they did not completely assimilate what they had learned during the 3-day workshop. The unrealistic, stress-inducing simulation was thus best fitted to spot potential shortcomings of individuals’ trainings.

After the talks the games could take place. I was supposed to run two sessions of AFTERSHOCK but could only run the first one for I was short on participants during the second session. Participants seemed to enjoy the first session, and during the second session I instead explained the game and its uses to a few people who approached me and seemed very interested, be they students, humanitarian personnel, or military personnel. They expressed the wish to see a French version of the game published. (A French translation of the rules and player aids is, however, available on BoardGameGeek.) 

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The last part of the afternoon was dedicated to the results of a hackathon ran jointly by Sciences Po and the French Red Cross. Three teams of Sciences Po students thus presented the game they had designed in just a few weeks for the Red Cross, on the theme of International Humanitarian Law.

The first team had designed an app-supported cyber security wargame, loosely modelled on battleship. The red team tries to find the position of the blue team’s security system and attack it. Both players have to answer cyber security-related questions on the app in order to advance or block the adversary.

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The second team had designed an app-supported game as well, which was semi-collaborative as each player had its own agenda while working towards a common goal for the Red Cross, and one player could even be a secret enemy. The scenarios, agendas of the protagonists, but also the number of turns were randomly generated by the app, making it highly replayable.

The third team had designed a boardgame modeling an emergency issue in a fictive city plagued by civil war between two groups. The game thus comprised three players, The Red Cross and the two fighting groups. Each fighting group had the objective of taking control of the city (seizing the city hall being the main objective), while the Red Cross’ objective was essentially to save as much of the city’s population as possible.

All these games seemed very well designed and enjoyable, and I was truly impressed with what they had managed to achieve in just a few weeks.

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Following that, Tom Mouat, Pierre Razoux, Patrick Ruestchmann, Eric Jacopin and a Red Cross representative took questions from the audience. Finally, it fell to General Carmona, vice-director of the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale, IHEDN), to make a few concluding comments on the conference.

Overall, it was a very productive and stimulating day. As a French national, I must say I was particularly happy to witness the first French edition of a Connections-like conference, and proud of what had been achieved. I want to salute Patrick Ruetschmann’s hard work in putting together such an event practically on his own. The participants too were very dynamic and passionate about their subject.

Moreover, I was impressed and extremely satisfied with the greater gender-parity and proportion of young people compared with other wargaming events I had had the chance to attend in the past. The collaboration between Sciences Po and the Red Cross, and the partnership with a master’s program partly taught at the War College itself were decisive in increasing the number of young participants. I particularly appreciated that Sciences Po students were able to present their games. It sent a strong signal that the young were able to produce smart, fun and instructive wargames.

I hope to see more of this in the 2019 edition, that promises to be more ambitious with at least two days of conference.

Juliette Le Ménahèze 

Serious Games Network video report

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A video overview of the recent Serious Games Network conference in Paris is now available via youTube.

Careful viewers will catch sight of PAXsims associate editor Tom Mouat (who was one of the speakers) and PAXsims research associate Juliette Le Ménahèze (running a game of AFTERSHOCK). Juliette is writing up a conference report soon for PAXsims.

h/t Patrick Ruestchmann 

Registration is now open for the Serious Games Forum 2018

SGF-advert2_edited-2.pngRegistration is now open for the Serious Games Forum 2018, to be held at the War College in Paris on 3 December 2018.

This free event will bring together military, civil and academic professionals using Serious Games to share their ideas and experience. Debates with our wide range of speakers will give you a better understanding of theses tools.

Designers and users of theses games can take this opportunity to expand their network and share ideas.

Find out more about Serious Games through practice. Experiment by yourself a wide range of Serious Games on many subjects, from security and crisis management to business strategy.

Serious Games Forum 2018 (Paris)

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On 3 December 2018 the École Militaire (Paris) will host a Serious Games Forum, devoted  to the use of wargames and other serious games in the defence, civil, and research domains. Think of it as Connections France.

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You’ll find further details at the Serious Games Network France website.

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