Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Statecraft

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 28 February 2016


PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that might be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.


Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Ian Hopper discusses the value of military simulations in communicating the complexities of warfare:

I am entering my fourth year teaching military history and I have found that my students have no problem learning about the fog of war and the friction of war, but they understand them only as abstract concepts. They struggle to appreciate how uncertainty, misinformation, and miscommunication played a crucial role in a given historical war or battle. Likewise, they fail to grasp how the immense logistical challenges of warfare can derail even the simplest operations in the present. It is for this reason that each of my military history courses includes a substantial war simulation: when my students take on the role of actors in an historical conflict it transforms their understanding not only of the specific war we are simulating but of warfare in general.

He makes a point (often made by Philip Sabin) about the particular value of historical simulation:

The military and academics interested in international relations often simulate future conflicts. Such simulations require highly speculative assumptions. These assumptions are extrapolated from what we think we know about past conflicts. There is little military and academic interest in simulating past conflicts, however. Refighting past wars is generally left to the enthusiasts, not serious-minded professionals.

But recreating and refighting historical wars has real usefulness. We know a great deal more about the reality of past wars and therefore can craft far more credible simulations for them than we can for the future; this factor alone makes them more realistic than any future simulator could be. Simulating past wars also allows us to reinterpret them and thereby challenge what lessons the actual past can teach us about what to expect in future conflicts. It is better to recreate and re-remember the last war than to refight it in reality.


8052575_300x300.jpgWe’ve previously covered the debate regarding the educational effectiveness of the Statecraft international relations simulation: you’ll find a link to Gustavo Carvalho’s highly critical article in International Studies Perspectives here, and a rejoinder from the game’s designer here.

In a follow-up (prepublication) article in Social Science Computer Review, Nilay Saiya explores the controversy and concludes that Carvalho’s finding were largely due to the way the game was used in the classroom, rather than the design of the game itself:

This brief article weighs in on a pedagogical debate concerning the didactic usefulness of an online international relations computer simulation called Statecraft. In a 2014 article, Gustavo Carvalho, a teaching assistant at the University of Toronto, claimed, based on the results of a survey he administered to an international relations class that used Statecraft, that the simulation had little to offer students as a teaching tool. In a rebuttal, Statecraft creator Jonathan Keller took Carvalho to task for not employing the simulation properly, which biased his results. While Carvalho only presented results for one class, the present analysis reports on survey responses of students over six different classes which used Statecraft from 2013 to 2014. The results call into question Carvalho’s findings and suggest that the context and curriculum matter as much as the simulation itself when judging the pedagogical value of computer-mediated learning tools.

The entire episode underscores that the educational effectiveness of games and simulations is in very large part a of how they are used—and that a given game can have substantially different effects if used in different ways or different contexts.




In The Atlantic, Daniel Hertz discusses how games like SimCity reflect popular (mis)perception about urban planning.

Like most city lovers of a certain age, I spent many hours as a kid playing SimCity. For readers who are tragically uninitiated, SimCity is one of the iconic computer games of the 1990s, though newer versions have been released as recently as 2013. Playing as mayor (or, really, dictator, but more on that later), you shepherd the growth of a city from its very first streets to towering skyscrapers—assuming you aren’t wiped out by tornados, fires, or aliens. By enticing thousands and thousands of people to plan commercial, industrial, and residential districts for their virtual towns, the creators of SimCity have probably done more than anyone in the history of the world to introduce basic principles of zoning to the public.

Recently, I started playing a successor to SimCity, Cities: Skylines (or CS, as I’ll call it). CS is very much like SimCity, with some added details (at least compared to the last version I played) and much better graphics. But unlike when I was 10, I can also appreciate that CS, like SimCity, has a whole host of assumptions about how cities work, and how urban governance works, built into the gameplay—assumptions that are both frustrating as a player and fascinating as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about real urban planning and governance. While all games that simulate real life are of course drastically simplified, the way that they’re simplified often speaks to the actual worldview of the people who design and play them. With that in mind, here are some notes on the assumptions that undergird urban-planning video games such as SimCity and CS…

Even though it’s just a computer game, Cities: Skylines has a lot to teach us about the unstated premises of our urban-planning conversations, and demonstrates how those premises profoundly shape what our cities can look like. When we assume the necessity of a given way of regulating cities, assume away the messiness of people and their relationships, assume away politics, and ignore major costs, we miss an awful lot of what urban-planning debates should be.


In his blog on gaming, Matt  Leacock discusses the growing number of cooperative games available:


Dividing the two gives the percentage of products featuring cooperative play. It’s no imagined effect—something changed in 2009. Prior to the release of Pandemic, products with a cooperative play element accounted for 2 to 4% of the total. The style of play has been growing ever since. In 2015 the style appeared in roughly 12% of all the listed products.

Keep in mind this is only compares the number of titles with this play style—it’s not a comparison of total sales. I’d expect that coops would still be dwarfed by strictly competitive games. But it does show that willingness of designers and publishers to create games with this style of play has grown significantly since 2009.


At the Active Learning in Political Science blog, recent items have included a guest post by Kevin Pallister describing his international economic globalization simulation.


Meanwhile, at his blog Ludic Futurism, Brian Train has posted the slides from his recent presentations at the RAND Center for Gaming in Washington DC on commercial irregular warfare/counterinsurgency simulations, and how civilian wargames can contribute to the development of professional games.



Writing in the North American Simulation and Gaming Association newsletter SIMAGES (February 2016), Tom Fennewald discusses semi-cooperative game design:

I wanted to design a game that would foster moral debates between participants about when they thought players should act in their own self-interest or act in group interest. This topic is extremely relevant to the real world teamwork dynamics that many organizations maneuver on a day-to-day basis. Yet, competitive and collaborative games did not foster moral discussions about self vs. group interest—player choices of who to help when were always simplistic and dictated by the win conditions of the game.

To solve this design challenge, my colleague Brent Kievit-Kylar and I began to play with the notion of an independent goal—a way for a player to be successful or unsuccessful regardless of the performance of fellow players. The game we developed, Troubled Lands, (formally The, positioned each player to play a different role: Farmer, Rancher, or Lumberjack. Each role has a leaderboard that tracks points across a set of games (for instance a dozen participants playing a single iteration of Troubled Lands in four groups of three players each).

I invite you to think about the kinds of messy real-world negotiation that organizations and teams face on a daily basis in order to succeed at their work. Think about what elements of this experience—whether it’s how to maneuver multiple competing interests or how to learn how much trust to give others—that you want to simulate and ask yourself:

  • What is the experience I am trying to simulate?
  • Will a competitive or collaborative game simulate this experience?
  • If not, what rules, mechanics, and win conditions will help me to simulate this experience?
  • Have I positioned players to make hard choices about whether and how much they will work together with their fellow players?
  • And finally, have I given players the time, space, and incentive to negotiate and deliberate with one another in lively ways?

I have found these questions productive as I design games that go beyond competition and collaboration to simulate the messy real-world negotiations that occur in our jobs and geopolitics.

AFTERSHOCK gets a mention in the article too.


Iranian television recently aired video of a Hizbullah sniper killing ISIS fighters in Syria.

It turns out, however, that the images were actually taken from the video game Medal of Honour. You can read more about it from France 24 (who first reported the story) or in Ha’aretz.


According to the New York Times, boardgames rule in Toronto cafés.

In walkable Toronto, every major street seems to offer a space for playing old-fashioned tabletop games, with drinks and snacks on the side. Several, like Castle Board Game Cafe near the University of Toronto, evoke dorm lounges with plain chairs and soft couches.

There are so many of these game rooms in Toronto that the popular metro culture site BlogTO named its top 20 local board-game cafes two years ago, and commenters have been noting new ones ever since. Toronto has become a model of how popular these games can become across a single city. At least a dozen dedicated board-game cafes have popped up around the United States, including in Manhattan, Boston and Los Angeles.

More than the Canadian winters fuel the cafes’ ubiquity here, cafe owners agree. Certainly geek culture has grown more mainstream. The TV blockbuster “Game of Thrones” and its board game variations play a role. European strategy games like the Settlers of Catan have carved inroads into the North American market. And the irreverent Cards Against Humanity has become such a runaway hit that its stock at Snakes & Lattes Annex takes up an entire sales wall. The cafe hosts monthly game developer nights so creators can test the next big things. “We’ve seen the evolution in Canada,” said Aaron Zack, a Snakes & Lattes partner. “It’s not about labeling yourself as a geek. It’s literally about having fun with your friends.”

As for Montreal, we’re currently holding the city’s second annual games festival, Festival Montréal joue.


Don’t hold your breath for something similar in Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has forbidden chess. According to the New York Times:

Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has declared the playing of chess “forbidden,” calling it a waste of time and money that creates hatred between players.

In a fatwa, or religious decree, issued in response to a question from a caller to a Saudi television show, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said that the game was “the work of Satan,” like alcohol and gambling, despite its long history in the Middle East. Chess is played across the Arab world.

A member of the Saudi Chess Association, Musa BinThaily, took to Twitter on Thursday to defend the game, saying that it had nothing to do with gambling and that the association had held 70 events in the kingdom. He posted photos of Saudi players at the group’s events, including one that showed members of the group posing with a prince from the United Arab Emirates.

The Guardian also has more on the story.



Every Single Solidier is a digital game company that produces counterinsurgency games. They’ve already published one, Vietnam ’65, and they have another in development that looks at the early stages of Afghan campaign, Afghanistan ’11. You’ll find the developer diary here.


Published last year,  Models of Strategic Reasoning: Logics, Games, and Communities (Spring 2015) explores strategic reasoning from a  variety of perspectives:

Strategic behavior is the key to social interaction, from the ever-evolving world of living beings to the modern theatre of designed computational agents. Strategies can make or break participants’ aspirations, whether they are selling a house, playing the stock market, or working toward a treaty that limits global warming. This book aims at understanding the phenomenon of strategic behavior in its proper width and depth. A number of experts have combined forces in order to create a comparative view of the different frameworks for strategic reasoning in social interactions that have been developed in game theory, computer science, logic, linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive and social sciences. The chapters are organized in three topic-based sections, namely reasoning about games; formal frameworks for strategies; and strategies in social situations. The book concludes with a discussion on the future of logical studies of strategies.

The book is coedited by Johan van Benthem, Johan, Sujata Ghosh, and Rineke Verbrugge.


UPSEThe American Political Science Association is looking for a new editor/editorial team for the Journal of Political Science Education.

The Journal of Political Science Education is an intellectually rigorous, peer-reviewed journal that publishes evidence-based and theoretically informed scholarship on teaching and pedagogical issues in political science. It aims to represent a full range of empirical and philosophical questions, issues, and approaches relevant to political science education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including research on teaching methods, pedagogical innovations and techniques, classroom activities, educational assessment, and curriculum development. It welcomes work from diverse methodological perspectives, and work that represents levels of analysis ranging from classroom-based studies to inter-institutional and cross-national comparisons. The journal supports research that engages with the broad scholarship of teaching and learning and improves the quality of teaching and learning in the discipline.

Proposals are due by 1 April 2016. You’ll find additional details here.


The Winter 2015/16 issue of the vlog/podcast Game, Play, Learn! is now available:

Our new episode has a segment on using the Sims 4 for learning about human behavior, social and economic systems, and design; a segment about using Valiant Hearts to learn about WW1; a manifesto on the future of learning; a segment on using Democracy 3 to learn the workings of politics and policy implementation; plus, I summarized all the great news, events, job postings of the past 3 months in the field of games and learning.

The Pedagogy of Statecraft

The following post was contributed by Jonathan Keller (James Madison University). For an earlier PAXsims summary of Gustavo Carvalho’s forthcoming article, see here.

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The Pedagogy of Statecraft

I would like to thank Rex Brynen for the opportunity to join this conversation on his excellent blog. A good discussion has been provoked by the forthcoming International Studies Perspectives article by Gustavo Carvalho entitled “Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: Using Ready-Made Computer Simulations for Teaching International Relations.” The article focuses on one class’s (largely negative) experience with the Statecraft simulation at the University of Toronto and generally casts doubt on the effectiveness of Statecraft as a teaching tool.

UnknownAs the creator of Statecraft, I read this article with great interest. Statecraft is certainly not a perfect simulation, and I am interested in feedback on ways in which it can be improved. I was disappointed to discover, however, that Carvalho had employed Statecraft in at least four ways that were directly counter to the explicit instructions we provide to professors. These instructions are not arbitrary, but are the result of over a decade (now approaching 15 years) of observing the pedagogical impact of different Statecraft design choices in a variety of IR courses. The instructions were designed to maximize Statecraft’s pedagogical effectiveness and to prevent precisely the sorts of negative outcomes this class experienced. Specifically, in the Toronto class that was the subject of the ISP article, (1) students were not incentivized to learn the simulation rules through the online manual quizzes, (2) the all-important grading system (which encourages realistic behavior) appears not to have been used, (3) countries and student roles were not set up properly before Turn 1 began, leading to widespread confusion, and (4) the instructor materials (lecture outlines, assignments, etc.) that are essential for helping students make sense of their Statecraft experience are nowhere mentioned in the article and appear not to have been used.

ISP has decided to include my rebuttal alongside Carvalho’s article in print. This forthcoming article is entitled “Misusing Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: A Response to Carvalho.” This article provides context regarding Statecraft’s design, instructions for use, and pedagogical intent that were missing from the Carvalho piece, so that readers may gain a more complete picture of what Statecraft was intended to do and how it is designed to work.

I encourage PaxSim’s readers to read this rebuttal, which should be available soon on ISP’s “Early View” if it is not already. But here I’d like to highlight briefly three pedagogical lessons that the Toronto experience (and my own 15-year history developing Statecraft) suggest regarding the use of simulations.

First, grading criteria greatly affect students’ behavior and should be carefully calibrated to produce the dynamics the instructor wishes to illustrate. The clearest lesson from the early trials of Statecraft (1999-2002, back when it was a purely “paper and pencil” simulation) was that unless students are given incentives to behave like real world leaders, Statecraft will quickly degenerate into entertaining but unrealistic global warfare, with a heavy emphasis on nuclear weapons. One student described an early version of the simulation as “college kids with nukes.” The current Statecraft grading system is a result of this experience, and it gives tangible incentives for students to pursue the range of goals that have historically motivated real world countries (national prestige/distinctiveness, domestic development, cooperation on transnational issues, and imperial conquest), without telling students which of these goals they must pursue. Since Statecraft assigns students to countries using a foreign policy attitudes survey, there will always be a mix of hardline countries, pacifist regimes, and so on. The “Historians’ Verdict” award was introduced specifically to curb unrealistic resort to nuclear warfare, and when used it virtually eliminates nuclear war in Statecraft. In the last 10 years of using the recommended grading system (described in detail in my forthcoming ISP article), about 40% of my “worlds” have avoided war altogether, and only one nuclear weapon has ever been launched. I encourage instructors to tweak the default grading criteria to achieve the type of “world” they want their students to experience, but they should be cautious about diverging too far from these thoroughly tested criteria. The extraordinary bellicosity of the world described in the Carvalho article, together with the omission of any mention of the grading system, indicates that the recommended grading criteria were not used.

Second, precise verisimilitude with the real world should not necessarily be the primary goal of IR simulations. Yes, some degree of realism is necessary in order to illustrate key concepts and replicate the core dynamics of world politics. But if a given run of Statecraft produces outcomes that diverge from real-world outcomes, this should not be an occasion for despair (as the Carvalho article seems to suggest) but presents a golden opportunity for reflection and critical thinking. If a class finds itself locked in conflict spirals and the UN is impotent, the instructor can ask students what factors are driving the conflict and under what conditions these processes are likely to be replicated in world politics. He or she can ask students whether these outcomes approximate the predictions of realists or liberals, and can encourage them to consider whether their classroom experience with an ineffective UN parallels the limitations of the real UN, or whether the actual UN has more influence than the Statecraft version, and why. This is how Statecraft was designed to be used, as evidenced by the many discussion questions and paper assignments (provided to instructors using Statecraft) that ask students to actively critique the assumptions behind the simulation design and compare their classroom experience with their observations of world politics.

Finally, no matter how well designed a simulation is, student learning will be stunted if the simulation experience occurs in a vacuum. It is still the job of the instructor to make clear the connections between students’ simulation experience and class material. Statecraft is intended to be fully integrated into IR courses through lecture, discussion, exams, and paper assignments. (All of these instructor resources, including 39 pages of lecture outlines on 13 different IR topics, are included with Statecraft). It is therefore not surprising that Carvalho’s students—who, based on his article, were not exposed to lectures or assignments making sense of their Statecraft experience—expressed skepticism about the utility of Statecraft as a teaching tool. As Carvalho notes (p. 13), “Simulations and video games do not replace good textbooks and content material, and they need to be carefully interwoven with lectures if they are to be effective educational tools.” On that point, we are in complete agreement.

Hopefully the upcoming publication of Carvalho’s piece and my response in ISP will continue to generate productive discussion on the pedagogy of IR simulations. I believe that the Toronto class experience in spring 2012, when properly understood, offers constructive lessons about the limitations of simulations as standalone teaching tools and the ways in which Statecraft can most usefully be employed.


Jonathan Keller is Associate Professor of Political Science at James Madison University.  He received his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 2002.  His research and teaching interests include political psychology, foreign policy decision-making, U.S. foreign policy, and research methods.  His work has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, International Studies Quarterly, Political Psychology, Conflict Management and Peace Science, and Foreign Policy Analysis.



Carvalho: Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous

logo-large-330x329Gustavo Carvalho, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, has an interesting article appearing soon in International Studies Perspectives on the use of computer simulations in an international relations classroom—in this case, the online educational game Statecraft. He warns, based on use of the game in an introductory international relations course at U of T, that such games may not necessarily be very effective, and may also be less versatile in the classroom than non-digital “manual” games:

Video games have become a hot topic in education. To their proponents, they enhance the interactive and active aspects of learning. In addition, mass-produced off-the-shelf video games promise a cheaper and more convenient approach to education, being quick and easy to set up, in contrast to the extensive time commitment that goes into designing a simulation from scratch. My paper uses our experience with Statecraft, a commercial off-the-shelf IR computer simulation tailored to the educational market, as a proxy to discuss the educational usefulness of commercial strategy video games in general. Our experience recommends that we be cautious and reflective in the use of ready-made games for teaching. More to the point, it is still not clear which benefits, apart from convenience, commercial computer simulations bring to our classes that cannot also be provided by old-fashioned, low-tech customized simulations, whether designed by instructors or in collaboration with students.

The full text of the article is behind a paywall, but for readers who don’t have access to the journal here are some of the major points he makes, together with some comments of my own:

In view of how much they relied on the lectures, it is of some concern that only slightly over a quarter of the students said that the simulation helped them understand IR theories and concepts much (23.91%) or very much (4.35%), while close to a third (32.07%) ranked their experience only as average. Likewise, although a little more than a quarter of the students said Statecraft improved their engagement with the course readings (29.3%), a quarter felt that the improvement was average (25%), and almost half of them felt that it improved their engagement little (23.37%) or nothing at all (21.74%). Not surprisingly, given the status quo bias of Statecraft, only slightly over a fifth of the students said the simulation changed their previous views on international politics (21.19%). In a more positive tone, however, close to half of the students said Statecraft improved much (32.07%) or very much (13.59%) their engagement with the lecture and tutorials, while less than a fifth (19.02%) recorded an average change in engagement.

Much depends, of course, on how a game is integrated into curriculum, and especially how it is briefed and debriefed. That being said, the numbers aren’t very impressive—even more so when one considers that they are self-reported learning effects, which tend to be a more generous appraisal of game effects than objective learning measures (such as impact on test scores). One also needs to consider opportunity costs. It isn’t enough that a game have learning effects—it also needs to have learning effects that are greater or different from those that would be generated by a similar amount of time devoted to lectures, tutorials, readings, films, or other ways of examining the course material. It is an observation that international relations scholars James Robinson, Lee Anderson, Margaret Hermann and Richard Snyder made almost half a century ago in a seminal research article in the American Political Science Review, but which often gets lost amid contemporary enthusiasm for the gamification of learning. (It should be noted, however, that a 2013 paper by Chad Raymond on Statecraft reports much more positive learning experiences—again suggesting that much may depend on how any give game/simulation is used in the classroom.)

While it is often assumed that games-based learning is more attractive to students, Carvalho has some words of caution based on his classroom experience:

In contrast with the expectations of some scholars (Weir and Baranowski 2011:450), my first takeaway point is that computer-based simulations may in fact be unattractive to students, particularly those that do not feel at ease playing video games…. One student summarized this problem poignantly: “(…) I found that I got lost very quickly. Not being used to computer games I had to take more time to get acquainted with the rules and on top of trying to understand what was going on [at] my screen, I had to connect that with what I was learning.”

He also later notes that, based on the results from his class survey,  “commercial video game simulations appeal more to those students who already enjoy playing them outside of the academic environment.”

The author’s second takeaway from the experience relates to the issues of course design and other learning methods raised above:

My second takeaway point is that there is a careful balance to be struck between simulations, particularly video game-based ones, and traditional learning tools, such as lectures and tutorials. Simulations and video games do not replace good textbooks and content material, and they need to be carefully interwoven with lectures if they are to be effective educational tools (Aldrich 2009). Moreover, simulations and video games may also be detrimental to the experience of students who prefer traditional learning methods (Asal 2005:361) or feel uneasy in intense social situations.

His third major point relates to the problem of “realism” versus playability, a constant source of debate among conflict simulation designers:

My third takeaway point is that the trade-off between complexity and playability, important for games in general, is crucial in educational simulations. Game designers may feel tempted to increase the complexity of a game, or the amount of variables and elements that the players need to deal with, in order to make it seem more “realistic” (Sabin 2012:21). This seems to have been the case with Statecraft. Our data suggest that many students had trouble with the number of variables they had to control and with the choices they had to make in every turn of the game.

Gus also discusses the need for an educational game to be easy to play and run:

My fourth takeaway point is that off-the-shelf or commercial computer products may present serious technical challenges to course instructors. In the case of our experience with Statecraft, many software glitches had a direct impact on the performance of the countries, a serious problem for a simulation that relies too much on conflict-based game dynamics. In our case, the bugs and glitches were not serious enough to derail the simulation, but they may have been detrimental to our educational goals in the course, and particularly to the experiences of students that were not gamers to begin with

His fifth major point is a very important one, relating to the way in which any game models the “real world,” and the need to be aware of the potential message this sends to students:

My fifth takeaway point is that, when using commercial video games for teaching purposes, we need to be aware of the concepts and ideas that they either explicitly or implicitly transmit to the players. Game designers may be uncritical when choosing game mechanics or may be more concerned with making the game viable from a commercial point of view. Either way, their choices may not be equally useful in helping the students to better understand political science and IR, and some may actually be counterproductive to the goals of our courses.

In the case of Statecraft, it is difficult to say whether its designers had strong views about IR theories or were attempting to emulate successful games such as those in the Civilization and Age of Empires series.[13] Either way, as a result of their design choices, Statecraft ended up as a tragic caricature of international politics, to the detriment of its pretense realism. Instead of depicting the nuances of international politics, with the real trade-offs behind decision-making and the high costs associated with conflict, the game dynamics behind the simulation pushed the students to behave with the testosterone-infused logic of the stereotypical male gamer, including the “trash talk” and “trolling” that are associated with it. This is supported by the survey, with more than two-thirds of the respondents ranking the level of realism of Statecraft as average and lower, and was highlighted by the nuclear wars that occurred in two of our simulated worlds.

This is a widespread problem. We raised similar concerns a few years ago in a review of the manual, book-and-roleplay IR simulation  International Relations in Action: A World Politics Simulation. We also pointed to the problem of exaggerated levels of international conflict  in our recent review of the computer game Masters of the World

One final point in the article that is worth underscoring is how serious games in the classroom can positively affect inter-student dynamics:

…an interesting, and usually neglected, part of the entertainment factor of group simulations such as Statecraft is their social or community-building aspect (Aldrich 2009; Hofstede et al. 2010:830–832). In private conversations, some of my students noted how the simulation had actually brought them together and helped them connect with other students in their tutorials, a welcome change in our current environment of huge (and increasing) class and tutorial sizes.

This is a point my own students frequently make, with the friendships forged in the simulation often enduring for years after (or, in one notable case, resulting in marriage!)

All-in-all, an excellent piece, and well worth a read.

In the World of Simulations, Who Needs A Business Degree?

PAXsims is pleased to present some thoughts on the value of simulations in political science from Joe Jaeger, CEO of the online international relations simulation Statecraft.

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When I first entered college I immediately started thinking about the degree I wanted to achieve. This, for the most part, was based on the career I wanted to pursue. At the time, I chose Political Science because I knew I either wanted to be a lawyer or a special agent for the FBI.

My parents immediately approached me recommending I pick a more technical degree. My first love is political science and I am truly fascinated by it, however, I chose to double major and pick up a business administration degree as well.

The fact of the matter is, a huge portion of employers in our economy are simply not interested in Political Science majors. They have the preconceived notion that the degree breeds thoughtful writers and researchers. These characteristics, while valuable, are not needed as much as the managers and problem solvers that many believe can be found in the business and economics fields.

NLP_negotiationsWhy is it that Political Science students don’t have the opportunity to problem solve and see the effect of their decisions as related to the political dynamics of a country and the world? These students learn about each regime change, every war, incredibly difficult decisions made by the president and cabinet members, and they research and make arguments as to the reason why these people made these decisions. Yet they are not given the chance to actually practice decision making in a way that the business community finds valuable.

As we operate and manage Statecraft, we see thousands of students every semester negotiating, budgeting, strategizing, preparing and implementing military campaigns, forging trade agreements, and problem solving on a weekly basis.  We hand-pick our interns from the best presidents we see using the simulation. In order to be successful in Statecraft a student needs to have an in-depth understanding of International Relations concepts, but they also need to be able to apply them to their country’s choices while leading their team in a highly competitive world where other countries are actively trying to sabotage their strategies. There was not one assignment or class activity throughout my entire business degree that required the intense strategizing, negotiating, and problem-solving that students in Statecraft must endure.

What most professors in the field don’t know is that many of same concepts taught in International Relations are actually taught in business. Take prospect theory for instance: everyone in our company has to learn many of the concepts students interact with every semester in International Relations. In learning about prospect theory our CFO said, “what is this finance term doing here?” In finance, prospect theory is the notion that people value gains and losses differently.


Mirror imaging can create a false impression to a business about the projected actions of another business, which can cause a potentially ineffective strategy. Compellence, Deterrence, problems of credible commitment, comparative vs. absolute advantage, tragedy of the commons, bureaucratic politics, the organizational process, group think/polarization, motivated bias, attribution bias, relative vs. absolute gains, shadow of the future, the prisoner’s dilemma, and countless others all are relevant business strategy concepts actually taught during the senior year of many business degree programs.

In sum, simulations give political science professors the opportunity to immerse students in experiences that will prepare them for a wide range of employment opportunities. The more simulations are used in the social sciences a greater the number of students will choose to major in a social science field.  We’ve already seen students put their accomplishments in Statecraft on their resume, and as a businessman I truly think they should!

Joe Jaeger

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.

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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.

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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!

IR theory and virtual worlds

At the Bretterblog, Felix Haas asks (in the original German, or in English via Google Translate) a very good question—why haven’t more political scientists used interaction within massive multiplayer online games to study theories of international relations?

I’m certainly aware of very little work in this area, although one of our recent PhD graduates in psychology, Michael King, did use my annual civil war simulation at McGill to examine possible relationships between personality type and the use of violence. You’ll find a few of his findings here (there’s more in his actual PhD thesis).

For one attempt to connect IR theory and multiplayer online simulation, have a look at the Teaching with Statecraft blog, which discusses how to teach international relations using Statecraft. Statecraft is a multiplayer strategy-and-resource game for classroom use, with a rather Civilization look-and-feel: players develop productive assets, trade, build (and use) military forces, engage in espionage and terrorism, research technologies, and so forth. In many ways, therefore, it is similar to Brock Tessman’s International Relations in Action manual/book-based simulation, but with the greater complexity that a computer enables. It is also different from the Open Simulation Platform in that it is much, much less scriptable, and has most interactions automated through programmed algorithms (rather than having these determined by the moderator). The Statecraft website contains a number of useful suggestions as to how classroom game play can be used to illustrate key theories in international relations, as well examples of course outlines, class lectures, and assignments that integrate the simulation.

While Statecraft is configured as a teaching tool, it seems to me that—provided data is collected from player interactions appropriately—it could also be used as a research tool. Statecraft and similar simulations could thus be used to generate data on patterns of strategic behaviour drawn from repeated play (for example, when do players “balance” or “bandwagon“?) and also used for experimental methods (how, over large numbers of plays, does altering key variables or relations affect behaviours and outcomes?)

At some point—when time allows—we’ll arrange for a trial of Statecraft so that we can report back our impressions.

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