Saturday, December 25, 2010

Job opening at the CASL

Christmas brought the Center for Applied Strategic Learning a job posting for a Research Analyst. Closing date is on January 5th. CASL is the gaming center at National Defense University, serving a variety of audiences with strategic policy games. If you read this blog and find any of this stuff interesting, maybe this is the job for you!

UPDATE: The deadline for this job posting has been extended until January 19th.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Alex Pang and the future

I met Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a self-described "historian and futurist of science," at a recent conference. He has some interesting ideas about the potential use of gaming in communicating scenarios (of the type generated by scenario planning processes) to decision-makers. And I owe him an email.

His blog, The End of Cyberspace, would likely be of interest to readers of this blog. Most posts are collections of links, but what links they are! Of particular note, these two posts deal mostly with tabletop exercises for disaster preparedness and emergency management, but they also extend to decision-making research, including some intriguing National Science Foundation grant awards. One of the links I'm looking forward to exploring in more depth is the FEMA online independent study course on emergency preparedness exercise design, which includes a section on their vision of tabletops.

Of course, another blog anyone who reads this should also be reading is PaxSims, and not just because Rex Brynen compared my return to blogging with the camp exploits of my childhood hero, though that has helped make him one of my favorite people.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More semi-relevance

To follow up on something I mentioned a while ago here, the New York City school with a curriculum built around games is open for business.

I've been meaning to mention this for a while, mostly so I could post this summary of one of their 6th grade social studies units, "Spartan Private Investigators":
Aligned to the 6th grade-overarching theme of “Beginnings,” this mission asks students to travel back in time to the birth of the world’s first democracy in Ancient Greece and study the time period when Sparta is faced with making a policy decision about how to deal with the actions of Athens. They will explore cultural differences between Sparta and Athens and consider the role that geography plays in the development of societies and their relationships to each other. They will also consider specific historical events affecting city-states in Ancient Greece prior to 432. B.C. as they weigh the advantages and disadvantages of three resolution strategies (war, diplomacy, or neutrality). Throughout the Mission, students are working to create and deliver a policy brief to the political leadership of Sparta (the Council of Elders) stating which resolution strategy is best, using evidence to support their ideas. In order to help them construct their argument students are immersed in different digital simulations to explore possible ramifications of different resolutions. The final presentation (in front of the Council of Elders) requires them to collaborate with other students, to gather evidence from multiple sources, and consider several points of view.
Pretty cool. Though when I think of a Spartan policy brief, this is what comes to mind first.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Perception and misperception in gaming

Jon Alterman has written a short and thought-provoking piece for a CSIS newsletter about his experience on the U.S. team in a recent multi-cell policy game. Worth reading in full, but here's an excerpt:
The U.S. team swiftly leapt into a series of actions intended to direct the actions of its allies and blunt the efforts of its foes. In the second move, things got worse, and the U.S. side tried even harder to marshal its forces, artfully deploying its military and diplomatic assets. By the third move, the situation continued to worsen in many respects, but the U.S. team saw light at the end of the tunnel. We had a plan, and our allies were looking to us for leadership. Equally importantly, they were all acting precisely as we had hoped, abandoning the troublesome sorts of freelancing that had marked their earlier moves. We thought we had played the game well.

When we all gathered after the final move, however, it was clear how much we had misjudged the situation. Opponents talked about how easily U.S. moves were blunted or ignored. Allies were beside themselves that the United States had missed numerous opportunities to consult with them and raised tensions needlessly. But most importantly, they charged that the U.S. team had fundamentally misjudged the motivations of their actions. The U.S. team had congratulated itself on its ability to integrate all of the instruments of national power—in contrast to allies that could either convene summits or issue statements or host American military forces, but rarely more than one of those and almost certainly not in a sustained, purposive and coordinated way. Yet allies explained that perceptions of their own national interests drove their decisions, and that U.S. actions rarely shaped those decisions. It is true, the U.S. team had moved military aircraft and issued statements to and fro, but the other players did not find it very impressive. They had their own calculus. In their telling, it was as if the U.S. team was trying to take credit for the sun rising in the East. If anything, they said, the U.S. team’s actions had made it harder for them to comply with U.S. wishes.
There's a lot here. First, this is the sort of discussion that is missing in many public depictions of gaming events. Alterman was constrained by the event sponsor's desire to keep details of the scenario private, but the generalized insight he describes is probably of at least as much value to him and the other participants as any specifics of the game outcome.

My sense is that games are a largely unexploited avenue to bring participants to a better understanding of their own perceptions and misperceptions. In Alterman's example, the stark contrast between the U.S. team's sense of agency and the view of other actors will likely stick with him to a greater extent than hearing someone lecture about the pitfalls of psychological decision-making biases. Thomas Schelling viewed the RAND crisis games of the 50's and 60's as a tool uniquely suited to examining perceptual factors (discussed briefly here), but I'm not aware of much work since then on the subject, nor have I seen much application of social psychology to gaming, with a couple of exceptions that I should blog about sometime.

The role of the debrief session is key in all of this, as it was for Alterman's experience. Unfortunately, it's much easier to say how important debriefing is than it is to concisely define what it is about a debrief that makes it effective. How would you set up a game and the subsequent debrief to address perception and decision-making biases directly? Multiple cells, for starters, would be a key factor, as Schelling would have said, with closed information conditions. The debrief would have to be substantial enough to give each cell the opportunity to understand what was going on in each of the other cells, and the debriefer would need to be focused on drawing out the differing perceptions of the participants. Beyond that, I'm really not sure.

Friday, October 9, 2009

CNA - Wargaming Strategic Linkage and Conversations with Wargamers

Two recent papers from the Center for Naval Analyses are great examples of the benefits of robust professional dialogue in the gaming field.

Wargaming Strategic Linkage was the result of a project conducted for the Naval War College, looking for ways to structure wargames to include more than one level of war (strategic, operational, tactical). While this was undertaken in support of the revived Global War Game, most of the ideas involved would apply equally well to gaming outside of a military context. Traditionally, the divisions between the levels of war have been more clearly specified than those between the policy and implementation levels of other issues. However, there has been a blurring of the lines between strategic, operational, and tactical concerns, an ambiguity that Wargaming Strategic Linkage has to deal with.

As noteworthy as the results of the project is the process by which it was undertaken. As a part of their research, Peter Perla and Michael Markowitz consulted a number of other wargaming experts (including CASL's Erik Kjonnerod). Even better, they decided to release their notes on these discussions as a separate paper, Conversations with Wargamers. These detailed interviews provide a great deal of insight into the gaming process, not all of which was directly relevant to the problem Perla and Markowitz had set out to address. Together, these two papers are a testament to how much different gaming practitioners have to teach one another, especially when guided by a targeted research question and researchers who are themselves experts.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gaming's contribution to the new maritime strategy

The Navy released its new maritime strategy in October 2007, and gaming played a critical role in the development process. Writing in the Spring 2008 issue of the Naval War College Review, Robert Rubel explained how (the article begins on page 69 of the magazine, page 75 of the .pdf file).

Here are some key paragraphs:
From the outset, this project would not simply derive from existing strategic guidance, such as the National Security Strategy or the National Defense Strategy. This may seem somehow subversive to those who are used to military planning processes in which guidance from higher headquarters is regarded as holy writ. However, consider our situation—the project was undertaken at the end of the Bush administration and our requirement was to look ahead twenty years. We could not responsibly make the assumption that current U.S. security strategy would remain in place, and there was no adequate way to predict the direction of the next administration’s policies. Our solution was to postulate four different potential strategy vectors of a future administration, which resulted in having four U.S. teams in a strategic war game we conducted. The first team represented a “Primacy” strategy, in which the United States would attempt to maintain its near-hegemonic status in the world. The second team adopted a “Selective Engagement” posture, in which the United States would focus its efforts on averting conflict among major powers. The third team played a “Cooperative Security” strategy, in which the nation committed itself to seeking security through multilateralism and international institutions. The fourth team represented an “Offshore Balancing” strategy, in which the United States retracted certain security guarantees and caused major powers to balance each other.

. . . .

The Strategic Foundations Game took about six weeks to play and involved the four U.S. teams, one for each potential policy future, and five “strategic entities,” countries and nonstate groups selected for detailed play. Teams were directed to develop grand strategies for the next twenty years that would maximize their security, aspirations, and interests. Non-U.S. teams were not required to demonstrate hostility to the United States unless that made sense in terms of their grand strategies. This represented a departure from normal gaming, in which worst-case scenarios are the rule. In the open adjudication sessions in which each team proclaimed its strategy, a compelling central thread emerged. Each state had an intrinsic interest in the effective functioning of the global system of trade, even such “rogue” actors as Iran and North Korea. Only al-Qa‘ida and associated groups had endemic hostility to the system. This insight produced the “big idea” that the protection of the existing global system of trade and security (as opposed to the process of globalization) provided both the context for the new strategy and the intellectual glue that tied together all regions of the world. Thus the notion of system security and defense figures prominently in the maritime strategy document, both “up front,” in its introduction, and in the description of the maritime strategic concept. This could not have been more important—even, in its way, more revolutionary. It provided a basis for not only a maritime strategy but a national grand strategy not aimed against a particular country or threat but positive, without being aggressive. The strategic concept upon which the maritime strategy is based—defense of the global system of commerce and security—offers the opportunity for future administrations to adopt a clearly articulated grand strategic defensive posture,with all the political advantages that brings. As a defensive strategy, it makes global maritime cooperation much easier to attain.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Storming the CASL

In August I started a new job at the Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL) at National Defense University. Until recently, CASL was known as the National Strategic Gaming Center, which I've mentioned before. This is, quite simply, my dream job.

I hope to get back to blogging more regularly, now that I've made the move to DC and have settled in to some degree. The first few posts will just try to get through a backlog of material I've been meaning to blog about for a while. Watch this space.