PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: simulation and gaming miscellany

Cards Against Humanit… arian Aid. Really.

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For those of you cynics out there who have been waiting for the gamification of the aid world’s dysfunction – wait no more. We give you: Jaded Aid the satirical card game based on Cards Against Humanity (TM), but with cards specific to appalling corruption, malfeasance, abuse, failure, and greed from the realm of development assistance.

So far the cards remain under development, but the article is worth a read, if for nothing other than two gems:

  1. the idea came about at Board Room, the wonderful but absurdly elitist Dupont Circle board game bar (when the Bank has you grounded you have to get your Catan fix somewhere, right?).
  2. The initial kickstarter was oversubscribed within 24 hours. That’s how disillusioned the development community is… OK, and how much fun they are willing to have at their own expense.

PAXSIMs promises that when the “Jaded Aid” CAH pack is released, the associate editors will convene some DC testing sessions and post a review on the blog.

Simulations miscellany, 11 October 2013

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If you missed the last NDU Roundtable on Innovations in Strategic Gaming, the video of the event is now available online via Livestream. The two powerpoint presentations are also available:

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck interviews Larry Bond on the late Tom Clancy, and his use of the popular naval wargame Harpoon to help plot his books. You’ll also find discussion of  “Tom Clancy, Gamemaster” by Matthew Kirschenbaum here at PAXsims.

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Also by Michael Peck, have a look at his pieces on Arab-Israeli wargames both at Foreign Policy magazine (“The Guns of October“) and The Forward (“War Games Depict History of Israel and Challenge Players To Win Conflict“).

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The latest issue of Military Training & Simulation 5 (2013) is available via the Halldale Group.

simulations miscellany, 12 August 2013

 

Some recent material on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to our readers:

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The folks at Reacting to the Past historical role-play project are in the process of transitioning to a new publisher, which may temporarily affect the availability of their published volumes:

As the new academic year approaches, we wanted to reach out to everyone in the RTTP community with important information about the availability of Reacting to the Past Series games for the Fall 2013 semester. The Reacting to the Past Series is currently in transition to a new publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, and is temporarily unavailable for purchase. We are confident that our relationship with W.W. Norton & Co. is going to be a successful one, but we must remain focused on quality and be willing to accommodate to industry-standard timelines.  Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that printed versions of the nine (previously published) RTTP game books will be available to purchase by September 1. Therefore, we have implemented a new policy to ensure that instructors will be able to obtain game materials for Fall 2013 courses. All instructors planning to teach a published game should follow this alternative procedure.

As noted at the link above, RTTP will make their simulation materials in the Fall 2013 term via an encrypted PDF version of the student game book(s).

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The preliminary programme for the 7th European Conference on Games Based Learning (Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, Porto, Portugal, 3-4 October 2013) is now available.

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Eversim—the same people who produce Masters of the World and Rulers of Nations—also produce iScen, a software programme that allows you to create netowrked interactive multimedia training modules. Currently only available for PCs, version 2.0 (in development) will also be available in a Mac version.


A free evaluation version is available from their website. (If anyone with some experience in educational simulation wants to review this for us, drop us a line.)

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These two papers aren’t new, but were only posted to the Social Science Research Network earlier this year:

  • Zapalska, Alina and Brozik, Dallas, A Model for Developing and Evaluating Games And Simulations in Business and Economic Education (December 19, 2008). Zbornik radova Ekonomskog fakulteta u Rijeci, časopis za ekonomsku teoriju i praksu – Proceedings of Rijeka Faculty of Economics, Journal of Economics and Business, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2008, pp. 345-368. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2268452
  • Ebner, Noam and Efron, Yael, Little Golano: An International Conflict Management Simulation (2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2237985

Simulations miscellany, 6 August 2013

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Some recent simulation and gaming items that may be of interest to our readers:

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The May/June 2013 issue of the US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office (M&SCO) M&S Newsletter is now out. You’ll find it here.

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Brian Train (insurgency simulation designer par excellence) has a thoughtful discussion with Tom Grant (of the I’ve Been Diced game blog, whose PhD was on insurgency before he turned to other things) on the challenges of designing counter-insurgency wargames via Brian’s own Ludic Futurism blog.

Brian will be among those presenting at the Connections UK wargaming conference at King’s College London next month.

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According to the Washington Times, US Republican politician Newt Gingrich has growing doubts about the US ability to export democracy:

Mr. Gingrich supported the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he said he has increasingly doubted the strategy of attempting to export democracy by force to countries where the religion and culture are not hospitable to Western values.

“It may be that our capacity to export democracy is a lot more limited than we thought,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich at times has expressed doubts about the U.S. capacity for nation-building, but he said he now has formed his own conclusions about their failures in light of the experiences of the past decade.

“My worry about all this is not new,” Mr. Gingrich said. “But my willingness to reach a conclusion is new.”

Mr. Gingrich said it is time for Republicans to heed some of the anti-interventionist ideas offered by the libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, tea party favorite and foreign policy skeptic.

I think it would be healthy to go back and war-game what alternative strategies would have been better...” [emphasis added]

It is nice that Gingrich has such confidence in the ability of professional wargaming to deliver such answers, but here’s the thing: they can’t. It might be possible to use policy games to explore some of the things that might go wrong in democracy-promotion—although you can probably do that even more effectively in a simple seminar-style BOGSAT discussion. We certainly can’t wargame what would definitively “work,” however, because the social science just isn’t there to support unambiguous judgments. On the contrary, both scholars and the intelligence community are still searching for greater clarity as to how complex political processes like regime change and political transition unfold.

Any wargame requires an underlying model of cause and effect. If our knowledge of cause and effect is fuzzy—as it so often is with social and political processes—one needs to treat with considerable caution any predictions derived therefrom.  (h/t Red Team Journal)

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MW7The September/October 2013 issue of Modern War magazine is out. There are articles on the Vietnam War, the Second Congo War, Robert Thompson’s work on counterinsurgency, and the US Army National Training Center, as well as shorter pieces on game design, weapons systems, and other topics.

The  wargames included in this issues are designed by Eric Harvey, and examine two 1967 Vietnam War operations: “Snoopy’s Nose” (riverine action in the Mekong Delta) and “The Iron Triangle” (an offensive against Viet Cong bases and tunnels northwest of Saigon).

simulations miscellany, 3 August 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The video trailer for the scenario can be found here:

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

simulations miscellany, 30 April 2013

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Some recent items on serious games and simulations that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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A revised version of Stephen Downes-Martin’s presentation on “Adjudication: The Diabolus in Machina of War Gaming” (presented at the 2011 Connections conference, and also featured here in PAXsims) has now been published in the Summer 2013 edition of the Naval War College Review.

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The University of Minnesota will be holding a humanitarian crisis simulation and field exercise from 31 May to 2 June 2013. This seeks to train participants to:

  • Understand common good practice, minimum standards, and how to improve the effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian program implementation.
  • Achieve humanitarian-based outcomes by using resources efficiently and effectively.
  • Develop collaborative skills, coordinating people and organizations at times of heightened complexity and risk.
  • Operate safely and securely in a pressured and changing environment.
  • Develop personal management and leadership skills.

You’ll find further information and registration details here.

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The Public International Law & Policy Group will be holding a training session on “negotiating and drafting provisions related to natural resources in a peace agreement” for legal and policy practitioners on May 3 in Washington DC. The day-long session will include a negotiation simulation. Prior sessions in the series have included ceasefires, power sharing arrangements, transitional justice, and security sector reform. For more information, visit the PILPG website.

simulations miscellany, 27 January 2013

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With absolutely no predictability whatsoever, PAXsims once again brings you various and sundry items of gaming news,. This time we have quite a few interesting scholarly articles in the mix:

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In the  International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations 4, 2 (2012), Mark Pearcy discusses “America’s Army: “Playful Hatred” in the Social Studies Classroom.”

America’s Army is a first-person “shooter” online video game produced by the U.S. Army and freely available on the Internet. Ostensibly a recruitment tool, the game constitutes a “mimetic” experience that encompasses real-life Army codes, regulations, and behaviors, approximating an authentic military experience, including realistic missions that involve violence. This article considers the educational role of such mimetic games, practical impediments to its inclusion in classrooms, and the conceptual demands the use of such games may place on teachers and students. Additionally, this article considers the ideological barriers and arguments against the educational use of games like America’s Army. Finally, this article connects the experience of America’s Army to Douglas’ (2008) concept of “playful hatred,” calling for a reconceptualization of the term towards a more competitive and pedagogically useful approach.

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In Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, 6, 1 (2012), Henrik Schoenau-Fog exploresTeaching Serious Issues through Player Engagement in an Interactive Experiential Learning Scenario.”

In order to inform about a serious subject concerned with the tragic consequences of being a victim of war in an interactive narrative game-like experience, it is essential to design a scenario which engage the participants despite the grave content. This paper thus focuses on how player engagement and playfulness can be applied to drive participants through a non-pleasurable experiential learning scenario in order to communicate serious topics. By investigating the concept of engagement in games, a framework of player engagement will be described. The framework has been used in a case-study to aid the design of an application – the “First Person Victim” – which is intended to be used in combination with an in-class discussion in order to address the serious topic. An evaluation of the scenario indicated that theme related feelings like hopelessness, fear, loneliness, and chaos are experienced by engaged participants and that there is a potential for using the scenario as a tool in teaching.

As the article discusses, this is done through the development of a “First Person Victim” video game which “places the participant in the role as a civilian in a war torn country during an airstrike, where it is possible to explore tragic and dramatic events.”

During the entire experience, the participant’s narrative construction depends on encountering several different audiovisual events varying in tension (Fig 2). There are in total 42 events organized in six scenes, each with seven events. These events can be audio events (e.g. a phone call or cries for help), audiovisual graphical events (e.g. an exploding building), texts (e.g. sms-messages) or video recordings of real actors placed the 3d world.

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Fig. 2. (a) Meeting a smuggler. (b) Woman being harassed. (c) Rockets hit the City

An ‘Interactive Drama Experience Manager’ (Schoenau-Fog et al. 2010) organizes the various events by selecting the next possible events based on the users’ navigation in the environment as well as causality. For each scene there is one less event to encounter, so in the first scene in an apartment it is possible to encounter seven events, in the next scene on a street there are six events and so on. The final events are all concerned with tragic endings, and users have no options for happy endings. The scenario is mediated through the game engine Unity (2011) by inverting first person shooter (FPS) conventions so it is not possible to use weapons or engage in combat. However, the participants can be shot at, hit by rockets or explosions and step on mines, but in order to let participants encounter as many events as possible before the discussion, it is not possible to die. There is no explicit goal defined by the scenario, as it is the intention to let participants define as many intrinsic objectives as possible in order to keep them engaged through the emergent narrative.

Some participants found the experience engaging, and wished to continue—but others did not.

The main objective of this study is to evaluate engagement in the FPV application and the results show that 40% clearly wanted to continue playing, while 32.5% did not want to try again and 27.5% were in doubt. The survey and observations show that the engaged respondents, who wanted to try again had the desire to continue due to intrinsic objectives, activities related to exploration, solving problems, experimentation and experiencing the characters and story. Moreover, they also wanted to continue mainly because of the theme and positive elements from the game design. The evaluation furthermore investigates the affect experienced by the students, as the mediation of feelings related to the topic is important for the communication of the theme. The engaged group reported the experience of more feelings related to the theme than both the group of respondents who were in doubt and the group who did not want continue.

The group who did not want to continue playing reported that it was mainly due to game design issues and technical problems while feelings related to the theme were not as frequently reported as in the other groups. While most of the students in this group state that they did not feel anything in particular, the findings show that engaged students report that the FPV triggers negative feelings, which are related to the theme, and that they want to continue even though those feelings are not fun, enjoyable or pleasurable.

The findings thus suggest that this affect can be the result of the activities introduced in the PEP framework – e.g. exploration and experiencing the characters. Since there is nothing explicit to accomplish in the FPV, the affect encountered is not intended to include positive feelings such as satisfaction, triumph or closure, which is usually related to accomplishments in game experiences. However, disengagement can also be a sign of successful communication of the theme, since negative emotions related to the content can make participants not wanting to try again. For example, one teacher who did not want to continue stated that she felt afraid and powerless: “I felt a lot like a victim. […] that loneliness… I felt bad.” (Female, 42)

The study finds some potential educational value in the FPV, but provided it is appropriately debriefed and integrated with curriculum.

Another goal of the evaluation in this study is to investigate the potential for using the FPV as a tool in teaching. Findings of the survey show that the engaged students reported that they learned something related to the topic more frequently than the other groups. Moreover, a majority of the students who were disengaged state that they did not learn anything related to the theme. When discussing the experience with the classes, both students who were engaged in the experience and students, who did not want to try again participated in the discussions. Although there was a risk that the self-selective sample of the discussion could result in that only the engaged students would contribute, the discussion showed that also students who were not engaged during the experience of the FPV participated actively. However, the factor of social expectancy could also have affected the outcome of the discussions, as students might want to answer “correct” during the interview, especially because one of the designers, who is a refugee himself, was present at the discussions.

During the post-game interviews, teachers state that applications such as the FPV could have potential in teaching as an initiator for in-class discussions about a theme. Some of the teachers mentioned that there were examples of students, who usually never contribute to discussions (especially the “quiet boys”), who took active part in the discussions after the experience.

The findings from the discussion and teacher interviews supports the idea that an in-class discussion and debriefing is important and valuable for learning as it makes learners reflect on another level, which is no always achieved during the experience. However, a comparison with a group of students who did not have a post-game discussion would be needed to verify this impression.  The results furthermore suggest that the FPV can be seen as a successful exemplification of how learners in a designed experience (Squire 2006) can gain knowledge of serious issues by “doing and being” (ibid. p.32) in an experiential learning scenario.

Methodologically, this is a very serious and thoughtful piece of scholarship, and well worth a read.

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The third issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing came out late last month, with articles on “Creativity Rules. How rules impact player creativity in three tabletop role-playing games,” “An Embodied Cognition Approach for Understanding Role-playing,” “A tale of two cities: Symbolic capital and larp community formation in Canada and Sweden ,” and “The self-perceived effects of the role-playing hobby on personal development – a survey report .”

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Want to know how best to teach agent-based simulation? C M Macal and and M J North have some suggestions in the Journal of Simulation (2013).

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In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation, Susannah J. Whitney, Philip Temby, and Ashley Stephens offer “A review of the effectiveness of game-based training for dismounted soldiers“—and find the results rather disappointing:

Computer games are increasingly being used by armed forces to supplement conventional training methods. However, despite considerable anecdotal claims about their training effectiveness, empirical evidence is lacking. This paper critically reviews major studies conducted in the past decade that have examined game-based training with dismounted soldiers. The findings indicate that these studies are characterized by methodological limitations and that the evidence regarding the effectiveness of game-based training for this military population is not compelling. Furthermore, due to methodological limitations with the studies, the possibility of negative training effects cannot be discounted. The paper concludes with implications for the scientific and military communities, as well as recommendations for the conduct of future studies in this area.

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If you haven’t yet read the December 2012 issue of the M&S Newsletter, published by the Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office of the US Department of Defense, now’s your chance.

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Michael Peck is in search of women. More specifically, in the wake of the recent US decision to (finally) open combat roles to women, his latest gaming column at Forbes asks “Are Female Soldiers Coming to Video Games?

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Issue #3 of Modern War (January-February 2013), complete with a game of near-future coalition operations against Somali pirates (and Somalia).

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This year’s Serious Play conference will be held on August 20-22, 2013 at Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA—and they are looking for speakers.

SEATTLE – Jan. 22 2013 – Submissions are now being accepted from professionals who create games or sims or lead game programs for the education, corporate, military, healthcare or location-based market to speak at Serious Play Conference. The annual gathering for leaders in the industry will be held August 20 – 22, 2013 at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash., just outside Seattle.

A new feature of the conference will be four pre-conference workshops on Monday, August 19 designed as introductory sessions for new serious game program directors, workforce and talent development professionals and K-12 educators and university faculty:

  • How to Integrate Games into the Classroom – created for heads of school districts, curriculum specialists and cutting edge teachers
  • Using Location-Based Games – designed for Instructional designers, museum education departments, non-profit organizations and entertainment destination professionals
  • Using Games to Grow Talent, Train and Engage Employees – aimed at IDs, HR and organizational development, military and government workforce managers
  • Building a Serious Games Curriculum – geared toward faculty of higher education institutions interested in adding serious game degree programs

Speakers at both the main conference and the various workshops will share their expertise and outline critical success factors in game design. Industry analysts will discuss the latest industry trends and how best to take advantage of current market needs.

The submission form is located online at www.seriousplayconference.com/speakers

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The Stack Academie 2013 gaming convention will be held on 3-5 May in Montréal. Volko Ruhnke (designer of Wilderness War, Labyrinth and Andean Abyss, and codesigner of the forthcoming A Distant Plain) and Brian Train (designer of Algeria, Arriba Espana, War Plan Crimson, and a great many others, and the other codesigner of A Distant Plain) will be guests of honour. More details here.

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simulations miscellany, 20 January 2013

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A few items of recent interest from around the conflict simulations and gaming world:

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In a newly-published article on “Games, Claims, and New Frames: Rethinking the Use of Simulation in Negotiation Education” in the Negotiation Journal 29, 1 (January 2013), Daniel Druckman and  Noam Ebner find that role-play simulations aren’t necessarily an especially effective way of teaching about negotiations:

Negotiation educators have long considered the use of role-play simulations as an essential classroom teaching method, and have had high expectations regarding their suitability and efficacy for teaching. In this article, we review the literature to examine the degree to which simulations deliver on these perceived benefits, finding that simulations enjoy only limited advantages over other teaching methods.

On the other hand, their research suggests much greater teaching effectiveness when students are asked to design, rather than just participate, in such simulations:

We note three trends that have developed as part of this reevaluation process: improving the way simulations are conducted, deemphasizing the use of simulations as a teaching tool while seeking new methods, and finding paradigm-changing uses for simulations. With regard to this last trend, we describe our own experiments assigning students to design their own simulations, rather than participate in them as role players. Among other benefits of the design method, we found that designers showed greater improvements in concept learning and motivation than did role players.

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While on the subject of academic journals, I’m told by a reliable source that the forthcoming issue of the Middle East Journal will contain a review essay on Middle East-related games, with reviews of four boardgames about conflicts in the region: Oil War—Iran Strikes, Persian Incursion, Battle for Baghdad, and Labyrinth.

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Game The News has recently released Endgame: Syria, a game about the ongoing bloody civil war in that country. The game is available as an Android app, or can be played online at the developer’s website.

It won’t be available for Apple products, however, since Apple refused to carry it in their app store. As Michael Peck reported at Forbes:

…the company was told that Endgame: Syria was rejected because of guidelines “forbidding games that ‘solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity’”, according to a statement by Auroch Digital. Tomas Rawlings, the game’s designer, said “we had hoped that Apple would be more nuanced in how they applied this rule, but we got a bit worried when it had been in submission for around two weeks without a decision – we then figured that because of the controversy of using the gaming medium to cover an ongoing war meant passing the game had become an issue for them.” Apple could not be reached for comment.

You’ll find further coverage of Apple’s decision at The Guardian. Russia Today ran a story on the game too, offering a mild critique of the underlying politics:

 

Meanwhile, at the Political Violence @ a Glance blog, Erica Chenoweth (University of Denver) offers a few broader thoughts on the issue:

1. The game is meant to approximate “real life.” Why would this approximation yield satisfaction to players? Is it because they want to learn how to be better rebels?

2. The game was developed in two weeks! If this kind of technology — where news aggregation can be translated into artificial intelligence and then repackaged into a real-time civil war simulation — proves valuable, it opens a host of new opportunities for rebel groups and opposition movements in general. I’ve discussed before the inherent difficulties of strategic planning facing non-state actors: they rarely have the time, resources, manpower, or space available for realistic simulations. But if games like Endgame: Syria become more ubiquitous and speak to ongoing civil conflicts, simulations may eventually prove to be ample substitutes for real war games.

3. If the latter hypothetical were to come true, then here’s an interesting research question: does war-gaming improve rebel performance in civil war? Governments certainly seem to think that war games help their own forces’ military performance. But it remains to be seen whether this perception would extend to rebel military performance. My hunch is that this would be largely contingent on the level of coordination and organizational discipline within the rebel group — which is noticeably lacking in Syria. But where rebel groups are well-organized, easily accessible tools like this may provide opportunities for more strategic (rather than just tactical) approaches to fighting. I can see why Apple would be dubious of approving the game.

4. Apple rejected Endgame: Syria. Is this because of technical specification problems, or because they do not want to put their brand behind something that trains people to be better rebels? If the former, then the rejection’s not a very interesting story. But if it’s the latter, here is an interesting example of a powerful corporation anticipating a moral hazard down the line.

As you’ll see in my comments on Erica’s blogpost, I think that Endgame: Syria has some limited value as a newsgame that illuminates for its players some of the strategic choices faced by the opposition. However, it certainly isn’t the sort of game that would develop useful tactical, operational, or operational skills. Equally, while there are a few digital games out there that could sharpen warfighting skills (such as Steel Beasts or Arma 2), I don’t see much evidence that this has ever been a significant factor in contemporary civil wars, notwithstanding the oft-quoted (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) comment by Libyan rebels in Misrata in 2011 that they had honed their combat abilities playing Call of Duty.

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WPGJohn Hunter’s book World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements is now available for preorder. It will be published on April 14.

In John Hunter’s classroom, students fearlessly set about tackling global problems—and discovering surprising solutions—by playing Hunter’s groundbreaking World Peace Game. These kids—from high school all the way down to fourth grade, in schools both well-funded and under-resourced—take on the roles of presidents, tribal leaders, diplomats, and military commanders. Through battles and negotiations, standoffs and summits, they strive to resolve a sequence of many-layered, interconnected scenarios, from nuclear proliferation to tribal warfare.

Now, Hunter shares inspiring stories from over thirty years teaching the World Peace Game, revealing the principles of successful collaboration that people of any age can apply anywhere. He offers all of us not only a forward-thinking report from the front lines of American education, but also a generous blueprint for a world that bends toward cooperation, rather than conflict. In this deeply hopeful book, a visionary educator shows us what the future of education can be.

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Robert Hossal is thinking about the challenges of developing a “universal” insurgency simulation, into which localized variables could be plugged so as to simulate particular conflicts. You can follow Part I of his thoughts of the subject here at his SmartWar blog.

simulations miscellany, belated 2013 New Year’s edition

IMG_0863We’ve been a bit slow posting material over the last couple of weeks, what with the holidays and all. (I’m also happy to report wargames were received under the Christmas tree.) Now, however, we’re back in the saddle—and hence this, our periodic PAXsims round-up of simulation-related news. Happy 2013!

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MOWThe new edition of Geopolitical Simulator 2—Masters of the World: Geopolitical Simulator 3—will be released by Eversim between January 15 and February 15, and is now available for preorder.

Masters of the World, Geopolitical Simulator 3, includes a number of new features, including a multi-country game mode, new map construction items (pipelines, high-speed train lines, ports, etc.), new laws (nationalization; taxation by brackets; regulation of abortion, physician-assisted suicide, marijuana consumption, and more), the ability to create your own international organizations, televised appearances, debt management including rating agencies and international lenders, new commando troops, new playable countries, and new scenarios.

You’ll find our positive review of the previous version of the game here.

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Military-Sim-feature-Point-of-Attack-1-610x468At PC Gamer last month, Tim Stone explored “Ten military sims that are answering the call of duty.”

While a PC Gamer Editor’s Choice logo on the front of a wargame or simulation box might be a cast-iron Fun Guarantee, it doesn’t mean you’re about to purchase a product that will help you understand or stay alive on a modern battlefield. To be sure of that you need to seek out one of The Camo Club – the select band of titles so steeped in realism, today’s armies use them as training tools.

The men with the buzz cuts and big pockets began utilising videogames back in the early ’80s. One of the first recruits was arcade classic Battlezone. Struck by the parallels between hunting vector-graphic hover-tanks and UFOs in a 3D battlespace, and hunting T-72s and Hind gunships on a Cold War battlefield, the US Army persuaded Atari to adapt their coin- op for instructional purposes. Two ‘Bradley Trainers’ were eventually built. Featuring 20th century targets and weapons, and AFV-style control yokes rather than joysticks, the machines were designed to assess and sharpen the skills of Infantry Fighting Vehicle gunners – a fact that could explain why movement options were restricted to turret traversal.

Today’s military classrooms are awash with PC-based games. Cheap and convenient compared to field exercises, versatile 3D simulations and map-based strategy titles are helping teach our troops to do everything from pilot aircraft and operate tanks, to lead infantry platoons, plan counter-insurgency operations, and organise logistics. Those careworn warriors on the evening news – the ones dashing from Chinooks, crouching behind mud walls, or poring over laptops in tented HQs? At some point in their careers, they’ve probably sat in front of a monitor wondering whether to push on, pull back, or check GameFAQs for a walkthrough….

The PC games discussed include  Harpoon, Tacops, Decisive Action, Future Force, Close Combat, VBS, Combat Mission, Point of Attack 2, DCS: A-10C, and Steel Beasts Pro.

* * *

A forthcoming article by Håkan Söderberg et al in the The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation will ask “In video war games, are military personnel’s fixation patterns different compared with those of civilians?” The answer is: apparently not.

For combat personnel in urban operations, situational awareness is critical and of major importance for a safe and efficient performance. One way to train situational awareness is to adopt video games. Twenty military and 20 civilian subjects played the game “Close Combat: First to Fight” on two different platforms, Xbox and PC, wearing an eye tracker. The purpose was to investigate if the visual search strategies used in a game correspond to live training, and how military-trained personnel search for visual information in a game environment. A total of 27,081 fixations were generated through a centroid mode algorithm and analyzed frame-by-frame, 48% of them from military personnel. Military personnel’s visual search strategies were different from those of civilians. Fixation durations were, however, equally short, that is, about 170 ms, for both groups. Surprisingly, the military-trained personnel’s fixation patterns were less orientated towards tactical objects and areas of interest than the civilians’; the underlying mechanisms remaining unclear. Military training was apparently not advantageous with respect to playing “Close Combat: First to Fight”. Further research within the area of gaming, military training and visual search strategies is warranted.

Although the findings have multiple explanations, they potentially do raise some important questions about video-game based tactical military training, given that the visual cues, muscle-memory responses, and so forth of game playing can be quite different from those in the field.

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The folks at Statecraft have posted two videos of their classroom international relations simulation online, showing how both instructors and students set up the game to play.

Statecraft appears to be a very thoughtfully-designed, polished product. We won’t be able to bring you a full review, however, since the folks there are reluctant to let us have a play around with the software.

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The NGO Seeds of Peace recently held a dialogue meeting of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian youth that involved, among other things, a simulation of the forthcoming Israeli elections. You’ll find details here.

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Meanwhile, Ms. Riley’s A Block Honors Global Studies class held their own simulated Middle East Peace negotiations.

We haven’t the faintest idea who or where “Ms. Riley’s A Block Honors Global Studies class” is, but they seem to be having rather more success with it than the actual Middle East process-formerly-known-as-peace.

* * *

Finally, Adam Bemma has put together a radio report on the annual “Brynania” peacebuilding simulation that I hold each year at McGill University. The civil war there will be continuing again in April of this year in POLI 450/650. Have a listen!

simulations miscellany, 14 December 2012

miscellany

Some recent items of interest on conflict simulations, serious games, and similar stuff like that:

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Recent research by E.D. van der Spek finds that introducing elements of surprise can substantially improve learning outcomes in serious games. According to a forthcoming article by van der Spek, Herre van Oostendorp, and John-Jules Ch. Meyer in the British Journal of Educational Technology:

Abstract

Serious games show great potential, but many fail to live up to that potential. One way to improve serious game design could be to introduce surprising events linked to the instructional material. We modified our serious game for triage training, called Code Red Triage, to include three surprising events pertaining to decision-making moments in the triage procedure. Forty-one participants were divided into two groups: one group played a version of the game with the surprising events, and the other group played a control version of the game. A pre-posttest design showed no significant difference in engagement and surface learning, but did show the participants in the surprising events condition obtained significantly superior knowledge structures, indicating that surprising events in a serious game foster deeper learning.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic:

  • (Very little.)
  • That serious games often fail to reach their potential.
  • That a surprising event can lead to a better comprehension of text.
  • But that a narrative background in a virtual learning environment led to worse learning.

What this paper adds:

  • A thorough, single-blind, controlled empirical experiment on the effects of serious game design on different factors of learning and engagement.
  • That introducing small surprising events in a serious game leads to improved deep comprehension of the instructional material.
  • That this intervention has no ostensible effect on engagement.

Implications for practice and/or policy:

  • Surprising events should be introduced in a serious game to improve learning.
  • Serious game designers should therefore carefully consider how to embed instruction in the game narrative.
  • Research in serious game design is worthwhile (and highly needed) because it can lead to better serious games.

You’ll find a pre-print (but gated) link to the article above, or you can read his 2011 PhD thesis on Experiments in  Serious Game Design: A Cognitive Approach.

* * *

Defense News discusses how “More Realistic Avatars Could Revolutionize Training” by incorporating the individual characteristics of participants into the simulation process.

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The Pearson Centre recently provided a media team to act as journalists in the Canadian Armed Forces “Maple Resolve 2012” exercise:

In mid-October, a team of twelve media specialists from the Pearson Centre’s Community of Experts participated in Canadian Army’s Maple Resolve 2012 exercise, providing media simulation services to the exercise Media Cell. The exercise, which took place at the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, Alberta, was the biggest field exercise in Canada this year, involving over 3,000 troops and 900 vehicles.

The media team works together to replicate the process of gathering information by interacting with the training audience, and creates the daily print and electronic products that cover the operation. These media products provide perspective on how a mission is perceived at home and abroad, and can also be a valuable source of information and intelligence.

The products – daily television news updates and several print sources, reflecting in-theatre, Canadian and international news sources – were disseminated to the training audience and exercise control staffs. Military commanders and their public affairs teams were expected to be proactive in dealing with the media as part of a broader information operations strategy.

The Wainwright training area represented a region within the fictitious failed state of “West Isle”, in a scenario based on a UN-sanctioned intervention by an international taskforce including Canadian and other elements. Other civilian role-players supported the realism of the exercise by representing local populations, community leaders and humanitarian aid workers. This was complemented by state-of-the-art weapons effects simulation technology to represent the dangers of conflict. Throughout the exercise, media team members faced the risk of being “killed” or “injured” by virtual gunfire or improvised explosive devices….

One wonders if, for full realism, whether the simulated reporters had a simulated bar.

* * *

At The Peasant Muse, Jeremy Antley muses on attitudes to, and player experiences of, digital and manual games in “Coding Mystique vs. Banality of Cardboard.”

* * *

The undead walk in Guilford! Simon Usherwood (University of Surrey) has developed a simple zombie pandemic simulation for his international relations students, intended to address negotiation dynamics. You’ll find discussion of it here, at the Active Learning in Political Science blog. While you’re at it, also check out his How to Do Simulation Games website.

* * *

If you are considering attending the Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference (to be held this year at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton Ohio), you might want to help the organizers plan the event by complete this online survey.

* * *

Ernie Gygax and Luke Gygax—sons of the late, great Dungeons & Dragons (co)inventor Gary Gygax—are among those bringing out a new new tabletop gaming magazine called Gygax, under the TSR imprint. This seems likely to bring with it a whole bag-of-holding of potential legal complications. As GeekNative reported last month:

But… wait. This isn’t the TSR that was bought by Wizards of the Coast and which previously published Dungeons and Dragons. As it turns out, Wizards of the Coast let the trademark lapse in 2003 (they’re expensive and hard to defend if you’re not using them).

A company called Hexagonist registered a new trademark for TSR in late 2011. Right now,Hexagonist.com redirects to GygaxMagazine.com.

A chap called Jayson Elliot owns the sites. It turns out that he’s not running Gygax Magazine himself, although he’s the editor. Also on the project are Ernie Gygax, Luke Gygax, Tim Kask, James Carpio and Jim Wampler.

Gary Gygax’s gamer sons are on board with the project and, of course, can use their own name for the magazine.

After the news broke that there would be a Gygax Magazine and that some of the Gygax family were involved, Gail Gygax wrote to EN World to say;

I wish to clear up any confusion I am the proper owner of the use of the name of my late husband, E. Gary Gygax. And furthermore would ask respect from his public and children from his first marriage, who are fully aware I own all rights to the use of his name and likeness, and all intellectual properties.

We have previously informed Jason Elliot of my ownership rights.

I can understand the enthusiasm for this project and will remain neutral in regard to its merits however, not at the expense of the Gary Gygax Estate, which represents his wishes.

There’s also the Gygax Memoiral Fund. They’re now involved in the communication around the magazine too. In response to a tweet from David Flor, Dianne Curtis the Coordinator for Educational Programs and Special Projects at the Gygax Memorial fund (and sister-in-law of Gary Gygax) said;

Thank you so much for bringing this project to our attention. We are aware of a group from NYC, which includes Jayson Elliot, that bought the TSR trademark. Not sure if they can legally use it in the way they want to.

In answer to your question, Gail Gygax, Gary’s widow, represents Gary Gygax’s estate, and is the sole owner of all trademark for the name and likeness of Gary Gygax.

With regard to this magazine, we were approached by Jayson Elliott’s group about a year ago and were not interested in a business relationship with them, as they presented no specific business plan for this magazine, yet were requesting use of the trademark. Therefore, this magazine does not have any legitimate endorsement by the representative of the Gary Gygax estate or Gygax family.

As Morrus at EN World notes there is no one using the name “Gary Gygax” in this project. It may be overly simplistic to say the Gary Gygax Estate does not support the Gygax Magazine without knowing who or what exactly the “Gary Gygax Estate” comprises of, their remit and views….

You’ll find more in this long thread at EN World.

simulations miscellany, 8 December 2012

We’re pleased to present the latest news on conflict simulation and serious gaming, gathered by our world-wide PAXsims network of reporters (that is, the two of us). Suggestions for other items to include in the future are always welcome!

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guns_dice_butter_small_logoThe latest edition of the excellent gaming podcast Gun, Dice and Butter features a panel discussion on gaming insurgencies with some of the biggest names in the field:

Welcome to Episode X of Guns, Dice, Butter.

0:01 Intro

0:06 Conversation with Mercury Games: Richard Diosi (Doc Stryder) and Kevin Nesbitt

0:32 Panel discussion with Mark Herman, Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke regarding insurgencies and wargames: Wide ranging discussion examining wargames that model insurgencies (see website for link to games on insurgencies and national/strategic will games), political dynamics of insurgencies and insurgency games in the pipeline from this group of designers (A Distant Plan {Afghanistan}, Fire on the Lake {Vietnam}, etc).

2:18 Wrap up

* * *

Defense News reports that an old boardgame is making a new comeback:

ORLANDO — In the midst of a flashy I/ITSEC floor full of simulators running high-definition visuals, one product hearkened back to a simpler era of wargaming.

“Ranger,” a 30-year-old solitaire board game based on the tactics and techniques used by the Army’s elite soldiers, is being turned into a computer game for laptops and tablets.

The game’s inventor, Bill Gibbs, is working with the Orlando-based company Engineering and Computer Simulations on the application, which is slated to be available by download in early 2013.

The original “Ranger — Modern Patrolling Operations: Swamp Terrain” included two maps, 24 missions, and, for those who haven’t attended Ranger training, a booklet on tactics and procedures.

Gibbs said he has extensively researched and revamped the tactics to reflect changing times, and the gear now matches contemporary loadouts. But he said he was surprised to find few other necessary changes.

“The actual concepts and doctrine and principles were all still the same,” Gibbs said.

The digital version will let users control and plan for a mission, including squad reconnaissance, platoon ambushes or raid patrols. While a player might flip through pages of the play booklet in the board game, the digital version pops the information up on the screen.

Other features will include a patrol record log, tactical and map views, and a way to freeze the patrol during the mission.

Future editions of the game will include a downed-pilot mission and gameplay set in different terrains such as mountains and deserts.

Gibbs is also working with ECS to change the interface and adapt the game for the iPhone; that version should be available in April.

* * *

Red Team Journal has started to compile a somewhat tongue-in cheek (but oh-so-true) list of the “Laws of Red Teaming.” They’ll all be very familiar to professional pol-mil gamers.

* * *

According to the Washington Post, the US and Chinese militaries held a tabletop exercise on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief last month.

* * *

The blog War Studies Publications recently featured an interview with Prof. Philip Sabin (King’s College London) on “conflict simulations, ancient warfare, and airpower. You’ll find it here.

* * *

The folks at Wikistrat have posted to their website a summary of their latest “Wikistrat crowdsourced simulation” on “Pakistani Nukes Go Loose.” Despite the name, there really isn’t much simulation here—rather, it is simply an analytical summary of crowd-sourced discussion and scenario-generation on the topic, all wrapped up with some flashy jargon and graphics. Analytically, that might well be a very good way of generating some interesting thinking. However, it also highlights the use of the term “simulation” itself as a marketing tool, something we’ve commented on before here and here.

 

Simulations miscellany, 15 October 2012

PAXsims is pleased to present its occasional summary of recent (and sometimes not-so-recent) simulation-related news from around the world:

* * *

Don’t have rubber dice in your pocket when you address a military audience? Perhaps you should! Graham Longley-Brown explains why.

* * *.

The CBC’s Brian Stewart sees something significant in the growing number of Iran wargames and crisis simulations conducted by US think-tanks:

In the headlines, the possibility of war over Iran’s nuclear program flares up and then fades, hot one week, cool the next. But behind the scenes the war-gaming by global crisis experts has taken on new urgency.

These strategy-and-tactics simulations, which can be found over much of the think-tank universe these days, are much about war, but certainly no game.

Their objective, using all available data and intelligence, is to analyze in advance what’s likely to happen should Iran cross Israel’s so-called red line, the point where it is felt to be only a few months away from being able to build a nuclear weapon.

This means often exhausting debates over questions such as: What happens if Israel attacks Iran on its own? Or acts with U.S. air support?

What would be Iran’s reaction in either case, and would such an attack end the Iranian program, or merely steel its resolve and delay it a few years?

Then there are the questions like: How badly would the world’s economy be shaken? And what are the broader strategic implications for global politics?

You may think these are just navel-gazing exercises. But I always view these flurries of Washington war-gaming seriously because every modern U.S. war has been preceded by just such a mobilization by think tanks and foreign policy magazines setting out the prognoses of former diplomats, conflict resolution advisers and retired military commanders on any looming conflict….

Pointing to the dangers highlighted by many of these wargames, Stewart concludes by warning “we may just never game war enough, before we make it”.

* * *

In the meantime, those interested in conducting their own US-Iran simulation in the classroom can find some helpful ideas in an article by Charity Butler on “Teaching Foreign Policy Decision-Making Processes Using Role-Playing Simulations: The Case of US–Iranian Relations” in the May 2012 issue of International Studies Perspectives:

Most undergraduate courses on foreign policy discuss important models and explanations of foreign policy decision making, such as the rational actor, organizational process and governmental politics models, and groupthink. It is often difficult for students to fully understand how to apply and use these concepts to analyze foreign policy decision-making processes. One way to encourage such analytical thinking is to have students utilize various models to explain a specific event. While this is a useful task, students often gain a greater level of comprehension when they are evaluating a decision-making process in which they have personally taken part in. As such, role-playing simulation can be a very effective tool in helping students learn to understand and, more importantly, apply these various decision-making models and explanations. This paper presents an example of how simulations can help teach these concepts by presenting specific information regarding a simulation of US–Iranian relations.

* * *

Another article from the forthcoming special peacebuilding issue of Simulation & Gaming is now available ahead-of-print from the SAGE website (subscription required). This time it is by Roger Mason and Eric Patterson, on “Wargaming Peace Operations.”

Today’s military personnel fight against and work with a diverse variety of nonstate actors, from al-Qaeda terrorists to major nongovernmental organizations who provide vital humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, the nontraditional battle spaces where America and its allies have recently deployed (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq) include a wide range of activities quite different from classic military campaign. How can the United States and its allies train its military personnel to think through the intersection of issues regarding working alongside and against nonstate actors, particularly in culturally sensitive environments? This article describes one such approach, the development of a war game for peace, designed for U.S. military officers and now utilized in the classrooms of several military colleges. More specifically, the article describes how reconstruction and stabilization operation decisions are modeled and worked through in the highly religious environment of contemporary Afghanistan through the use of an innovative board game, suggesting that this model can be applied to many other scenarios and classroom environments.

The Afghan provincial reconstruction game described in the article was previously reviewed at PAXsims here. Given the way things seem to be headed in Afghanistan, the designers may have to develop a Taliban-themed game a few years from now…

* * *

The Guardian (8 October 2012) reports on a recent UNICEF UK emergency response simulation.

* * *

At the blog HiLoBrow, Joshua Glenn ponders H.G. Wells and “War and Peace Games.”

Simulations miscellany, 6 October 2012

Once again, PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent tidbits of gaming and simulation-related news.

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The current election campaign for State Senate seat #25 in Maine has been rocked by the shocking and scandalous news that Democrat candidate Colleen Lachowicz plays an orc rogue in World of Warcraft. According to a press release issued by the state Republican Party:

Candidate’s Bizarre Double Life Raises Questions

– October 4, 2012

Posted in: Press Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: David Sorensen, 207-205-7793
Communications Director, Maine GOP

Democratic Senate Candidate Colleen Lachowicz’s Disturbing Alter-Ego Revealed

 Online comments raise questions about candidate’s fitness for office

AUGUSTA – Colleen Lachowicz, the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 25 (Waterville), has been living a time-consuming double life as a member of the World of Warcraft community. World of Warcraft is an online gaming network where people play a fantasy role-playing game in an imaginary world called “Azeroth.”

Today, Colleen is playing at level 85–the highest level one can attain. Studies have found that the average World of Warcraft gamer is 28 and spends 22.7 hours per week playing.

Her character in the game is called “Santiaga,” an Orc Assassin Rogue, and Lachowicz lives vicariously through her, making comments about World of Warcraft and other topics on the liberal blog, The Daily Kos. Here is a sampling of Lachowicz’s comments:

“So I’m a level 68 orc rogue girl. That means I stab things . . . a lot. Who would have thought that a peace-lovin’, social worker and democrat would enjoy that?!”

“Yes, I am seriously slacking off at work today. And I called my congresswoman’s office today. And told them I would probably be calling everyday.”

“I spent my day leveling my alt — an undead warlock…”

“I’m lazy, remember?”

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I may have to go and hunt down Grover Norquist and drown him in my bath tub.”

“Or my dream from election season last year where John McCain sat at my childhood dining room table and I reamed him a new a**hole about Sarah Palin.”

“I like to stab things and I’m originally from NJ…. what’s your f***ing point?!”

“Do not send me a campaign contribution or I will have to stab you! Seriously!”

“Yes, join us! We’re progressive… in fact we joke about being a socialist guild.”

“I love this diary because it sums up the teabagger mindset.”

“These are some very bizarre and offensive comments, and they certainly raise questions about Lachowicz’s maturity and her ability to make serious decisions for the people of Senate District 25,” said Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen.

The Maine Republican Party will make an effort to give voters all of the information about candidate Lachowicz. To that end, the party has established a website, www.colleensworld.com, where people can see Lachowicz’s online activity for themselves. In addition, a series of mail pieces will be sent to the voters of District 25, including the one below.

Voters should have all the information they can obtain about those who choose to run for office. The Maine Republican Party will present that information to them and let them decide who is most able to represent them effectively.

You’ll find more of the story via Reuters, BBC News, Jezebel, and Kotaku.

We at PAXsims are, needless to say, completely and utterly shocked that anyone would ever play a rogue in a role-playing game, or show any affinity for orcs whatsoever. Certainly we would never do anything as ridiculous as that. No sireee.

* * *

At the website mental_floss, D.B. Grady offers a brief overview of 5 Fictional Countries Where the U.S. Army is Trained to Fight.

When the U.S. Army trains for battle, it strives for immersion and realism. To help prepare soldiers for the overwhelming nature of invading a country where the language is unknown and the culture is mostly alien, the U.S. Army invents fully realized countries, from international dynamics to currency. Here are a few fake countries where the United States is prepared to fight.

To that list we could add the Republic of Florabama, where I’m proud to have once role-played (a rather murky) part of the opposition movement that brought President Ortega to power. Below is one of the rather tongue-in-cheek videos we generated during the exercise.

* * *

GAMEON-ARABIA’2012, the 3rd annual Pan-Arabic Simulation and AI in Computer Games Conference, will be held at the Arab Open University in Muscat, Oman on 10-12 December 2012.

* * *

Virtual Mediation Lab (a project devoted to “mediation skills development around the world with Skype”) recently featured a blogpost about Kristen Drucker’s continuing peaceconferencing  initiative, which uses the Open Simulation Platform. (h/t Skip Cole)

* * *

The Educator’s Edition DVD of the video World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements (together with Facilitator’s Guide) is now available. For more on the project and John Hunter’s work, see the website

* * *

Two more articles from our forthcoming special peacebuilding issue of Simulation & Gaming are now available “online first” from SAGE:

In this article, the authors discuss the development of the SUDAN GAME, an interactive model of the country in the time period leading up to the Sudanese referendum on the secession of the South. While many simulations are designed to educate about their subjects, the SUDAN GAME is intended to be a prototype for policy making via gameplay. It is implemented within COSMOPOLIS, a massively multiplayer online game that is currently undergoing development. In this article, the authors discuss the game’s design and how it can be used for policy development, with a focus on the underlying model and some discussion of the COSMOPOLIS implementation. They situate the game relative to other games that have crowdsourced serious problems and discuss the meaning of the policy solutions and collaboration witnessed along players. They conclude with a discussion of future development to be done to improve and expand upon the concepts used in their game.

This article reflects critically on simulations. Building on the authors’ experience simulating the Palestinian-Israeli-American Camp David negotiations of 2000, they argue that simulations are useful pedagogical tools that encourage creative—but not critical—thinking and constructivist learning. However, they can also have the deleterious effect of reproducing unequal power relations in the classroom. The authors develop this argument in five stages:
1. They distinguish between problem solving and critical theory and define critical thinking—something not done by the simulation orthodoxy.
2. They describe the Camp David simulation. This is their contribution to the relatively small corpus of literature on simulating Palestinian-Israeli relations.
3. They review the constructivist learning and peer teaching accomplished through their simulation. This section is notable because it is authored by a graduate student who participated in the simulation as a meaning maker.
4. They review the manner in which simulations promote creative, not critical, thinking, and reproduce asymmetrical power relations.
5. They reflect on the overall utility of simulating the Camp David negotiations in the classroom.

A subscription to S&G is required to access the full text.

simulations miscellany, International Talk Like a Pirate Day edition

Since September 19 be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, the Captains and crew o’ PAXsims be pleased to provide ye with a collection o’ simulation swag from around the vast seas of the interwebs:

* * *

Defense News be reportin’ on the use of zombie-based training scenarios in the military, government, and private sector. Grrr, arrrgh, yarrrr!

* * *

Defense News also be reportin’ on computer-based counter-IED training:

A virtual drill sergeant could soon be barking orders at U.S. military service members learning to find and mark improvised explosive devices (IEDs), one of the major threats to troops in Afghanistan.

The hand-held detector edition of Improvised Explosive Device Gaming and Modeling Environment, I-GAME, is a laptop-based virtual trainer that troops can use to practice proper dismounted IED-clearing procedures. It features 17 kinds of IED threats, several sweeping devices such as the Minehound, a first-person view to develop terrain awareness, and a virtual drill instructor to keep troops on track and correct their sweeping methods.

The trainer aims to put users into a realistic virtual mission, where they can go through a vulnerable area and practice proper clearing formations and procedures, culminating with marking a threat….

* * *

Michael Peck, prolific scallywag that he be, has penned another piece on GCSC’s crow-sourcing of ideas for their new stability operations simulation in his shiny new War Games column at Forbes. Blimey!

* * *

Chairman of the US Join Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and his mateys here be walking all over a large map of sorts, havin’ a parley about future US national security challenges from all manner of shifty bilge-rats and scurvy ne’er-do-wells. He seems to be a-standing on Russia what’s more, either pondering the global “Pussy Riot” crisis of 2017, or perhaps seeing if he can really see Sarah Palin’s window (ahoy, it be in the other direction).

Belay that—according to the New York Times, he be a-thinkin’ more about homeland defence:

“Strategic seminar” is the name Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has chosen for these daylong sessions, which were not exactly a war game more than a tabletop military exercise, and unlike anything the Pentagon has done to plan its future.

Shortly after being sworn in as chairman last October, a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, General Dempsey said the military was confronting “a strategic inflection point, where the institution fundamentally re-examines itself.” The seminar project he started fits his goal: to try to build the right military force for five years from now — and not be driven by the budget cycle into a series of year-by-year decisions.

The overarching question is whether the Pentagon’s war plans need to be rewritten to take into account how the military has been affected by a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now by orders to shrink to fit mandated budget cuts. While the list of potential adversaries and the rising threats remain classified, the assessments from the sessions already are reshaping military planning. Initial findings have been presented to President Obama by General Dempsey, officials said.

One realization is that under any situation in which the United States is in an armed conflict within five years, American territory most likely would be attacked as part of an adversary’s actions, regardless of where the major fighting was focused overseas. That attack might be direct, by missile, or more asymmetrical, as in terrorism or via a computer-network cyberattack.

“In the future, our homeland will not be the sanctuary it has been,” General Dempsey told a recent military conference, during which he pulled back the curtain — a bit — on the strategic seminar project.

As a result of that seminar, General Dempsey said, the military’s Northern Command, responsible for defending United States territory, has begun work with the Department of Homeland Security, the F.B.I. and other domestic agencies to assess how potential demands for military forces overseas might affect security at home, and how any shortfalls could be resolved.

Another lesson from the seminars is that the Pentagon might have to organize and deploy forces in a different way than war plans now dictate if there is another major conflict overseas and simultaneously a significant attack at home, or the need to manage a catastrophic, domestic natural disaster.

“We assumed a conflict someplace, and we flowed the forces required to that conflict,” General Dempsey said. “We created a scenario where the homeland was attacked — or even if it wasn’t attacked, where there might have been some natural disaster. And it was remarkable.”

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Arrrr, in the “this not be new, but worth reading” department, we’ll be splicing the mainbrace to a handsome piece by Kesten Green and J. Scott Armstrong on “Role thinking: Standing in other people’s shoes to forecast decisions in conflicts” in the International Journal of Forecasting 27, 1 (2011). In it they be showin’ that while “role thinking” be no better than a squiffy swabbie in producin’ predictions o’ human behaviour, “role-playing” has measurable positive effects on yer predictive accuracy:

When forecasting decisions in conflict situations, experts are often advised to figuratively stand in the other person’s shoes. We refer to this as “role thinking”, because, in practice, the advice is to think about how other protagonists will view the situation in order to predict their decisions. We tested the effect of role thinking on forecast accuracy. We obtained 101 role-thinking forecasts of the decisions that would be made in nine diverse conflicts from 27 Naval postgraduate students (experts) and 107 role-thinking forecasts from 103 second-year organizational behavior students (novices). The accuracy of the novices’ forecasts was 33% and that of the experts’ was 31%; both were little different from chance (guessing), which was 28%. The small improvement in accuracy from role-thinking strengthens the finding from earlier research that it is not sufficient to think hard about a situation in order to predict the decisions which groups of people will make when they are in conflict. Instead, it is useful to ask groups of role players to simulate the situation. When groups of novice participants adopted the roles of protagonists in the aforementioned nine conflicts and interacted with each other, their group decisions predicted the actual decisions with an accuracy of 60%.

Although the journal version be hidden behind a paywall, ye can find an ungated version o’ their paper here. Free loot! Yo-ho-ho!

simulations miscellany, 12 August 2012

A few recent items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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I’ve updated the links to various report on the Connections 2012  interdisciplinary wargaming conference at the Wargaming Connection website. Even if you missed the conference, you can find out what happened.

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PAXsims gets a shout-out in an article on crowd-sourcing ideas in the military at the Training & Simulation Journal.

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According to “learning guru” John Seely Brown, businesses would be better to hire a World of Warcraft player than it is to hire a Harvard MBA:

While he’s right about the collaboration skills and inventiveness that can characterize some high-end play, and I do think people are often inappropriately dismissive about the skills and social element of MMORGs, I do think (as a moderately experienced WoW player myself) that he’s rather overselling it—unless, of course, your business model involves a lot of ganking newbies.

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Back in April 2012, the Rockefeller Foundation and Institute for the Future ran Catalysts for Change, a “a 48-hour online game to engage people around the world to reimagine the future of poverty and global well-being.” The summary report of that exercise is now available.

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The preliminary programme is now available for the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference, which will be held 7-10 November 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. You’ll find full details here, and registration is here.

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My colleague Neil Caplan passed on a recent piece (coauthored with Wendy Pearlman, Brent E. Sasley, and Mira Sucharov ) on “History, Rationality, Narrative, Imagery: A Four-Way Conversation on Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict” in the Journal of Political Science Education   8, 3 (August 2012). What does that have to do with games and simulations? Well, they are mentioned a couple of times in the article as teaching techniques:

Simulations are games in which students are (often) divided into groups representing specific actors, and sometimes individual students are given specific roles within the unit. The groups then interact with each other in the process of working toward a specified outcome (e.g., a peace agreement, a conference communique ́, etc.). The benefits to simulations have been highlighted at length elsewhere (for some discussion see Sasley 2010). Here, I would like to add that it is the ‘‘real life’’ experiences that such games provide to students that benefit them.

Let me explain by an example. In a recent class I divided students into ‘‘Israel,’’ ‘‘Fatah,’’ ‘‘Hamas,’’ and the ‘‘United States.’’ Their task was to reach the broad outlines of a written agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. This was complicated by the fact that the Palestinians were composed of two factions. What was most interesting about this simulation was that the students came very close to achieving their goals; in fact, with another two or three minutes they would have.

Hamas was composed of hardliners and moderates (not always helpful descriptions, but conventional and easy to work with in this case). They had major disagreements with each other, until one group began to plot the overthrow of the other group to take over the organization. The group that planned the coup was the one that would have signed a final agreement. Time ran out before they completed their takeover; however students were so excited by this part of the simulation that they continued to discuss it for the rest of the course.

What is interesting about this outcome is that it reflects real-life disagreements within the Hamas leadership. Certainly students could have read about this, but feeling it as they did—and generating the excitement that it did, as evidenced by evaluations and after-simulation comments to me—provided them with a real sense of the complexities and pitfalls inherent in any interactor relationship.

Interestingly, a forthcoming article in Simulation & Gaming by Sean McMahon and Chris Miller will argue that simulations of the Arab-Israeli conflict also have potential ideological biases that could be seen as problematic:

This paper reflects critically on simulations. Building on our experience(s) simulating the Palestinian-Israeli-American Camp David negotiations of 2000, we argue that simulations are useful pedagogical tools that encourage creative—but not critical—thinking and constructivist learning, but can also have the deleterious effect of reproducing unequal power relations in the classroom. We develop this argument in five stages. First, we distinguish between problem-solving and critical theory and define “critical thinking” – something not done by the simulation orthodoxy. Second, we describe the Camp David simulation. This is our contribution to the relatively small corpus of literature on simulating Palestinian-Israeli relations. Third, we review the constructivist learning and peer teaching done through our simulation. This section is notable because it is authored by a graduate student who participated in the simulation as a meaning maker. Fourth, we review the manner in which simulations promote creative, not critical, thinking and reproduce asymmetrical power relations. Fifth, we reflect on the overall utility of simulating the Camp David negotiations in the classroom.

The latter piece will appear in a special issue of Simulation & Gaming on “simulations and games to build peace,” coedited by Gary and myself.

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Finally, what serious wargamer hasn’t wondered what are the optimal siege tactics for taking Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle? (h/t @MahmudNaqi)

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