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The problem of “Peacegaming”


Garry Kasparov, russian chess grandmaster and ...
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During one of our staff group brainstorming sessions, we were considering the shortfalls of conventional wargaming when it came to examining/understanding Stability operations, and the transition to them.

The conventional wargaming methods didn’t feel right in helping us try to visualize our situation and solve our problem.

We weren’t sure that it made sense to take a technique that has been optimized for force-on-force conventional fighting, between “units” of capabilities operating with a common frame of reference in terms of time, space, purpose, capability, and criteria for success that is well understood by both sides, and somehow try to translate that into a process that features multiple players, partial and complete, with varied interests, shifting loyalties, degrees of commitment, different problem definitions and scopes, criteria for success etc.

It emerged from our discussions that conventional wargaming, is an attempt to model warfighting as a game of chess, with defined terms, rules, pieces, outcomes, predictability and control; a game in which it makes sense to act-react-counteract; where actions can be known, and results reasonably forecasted, and effects to be reasonably calibrated, and future actions evaluated on the basis of doctrine.

It didnt seem that this kind of model and approach was suitable for evaluating, analyzing, understanding and appreciating the nuances and complexities of Stability or nation-building.

It occurred to us that we might need a “peace-gaming” model that was more like Poker or the old parlor game of “Diplomacy” to capture the right feel; a game where multiple parties could be modeled or represented; where actions, reactions, counteractions and the results that occur as a result of how and when they are mixed, are neither deterministic or definitive.

We spent some time puzzling through how such a game might be modeled by a staff trying to evaluate or appreciate a complex game plan.

Somehow it seemed that we needed more than just the Black & White of enemy and friendly forces. Somehow the game must reflect the complexities, the anthropological nuances of modern social reality in a major city or populous region. This begged the question of how we could assemble an expert panel that could “judge” the outcomes of potential policy mixes. The idea of Human Terrain Teams and Red Teaming were inevitably considered.

The only thing harder than that seemed to be what to do with the output of any such process, and how serious to treat it, with what degree of confidence, and how to describe the limits of its applicability, and how to turn that into actionable orders

These are essentially many of the same cognitive challenges that associate with Design itself.

It intrigued us so much in 24 C&D that examining these ideas will carry over in to some independent research during the upcoming elective period.

If you have some thoughts about this or can recommend some resources or a research/cognitive strategy, we’d like to hear it so it can inform our own efforts.

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  1. Keith Grix
    February 24, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Ken, interesting set of problems. I do not know exactly why you are asking these questions but I may be able to add to the overall confusion. I never thought about this before I read your article, but I think it is interesting that all war games make one big assumption, the end result is total domination/destruction of the enemy. Chess, Risk or any other that I could think of follow this model. If you are searching for a more realistic model I would think that the initial moves would be to avoid war, progressing through some level of diplomacy to a level of hostilities that require military action, while at every step the “pressure” would be to stop fighting (unless your character is a totally deranged dictator on the level of a Hitler). The first question is “why are we going to war?” The obvious answers, oil, land, minerals…only really necessitate war if securing the commodity can not be done any other way. Other reasons may be national/regional security ie an unprovoked escalation of hostilities.

    Now your real question of how do you weigh this stuff and put numbers on them? I would have to say the numbers would be different for everyone. For example; (and to be politically incorrect) a liberal would give peace at all costs, including to the over-through of their government, a high priority. While a conservative would put individual freedom and national security a higher priority.

    Another factor would be what resources are being “protected”. A government ruling over an area with no real value may never be threatened.

    Also, what is the “history” between the two waring parties? Is the hostility new or has it been going on for hundreds of years? Has the leadership changed? how?

    So I think what you would need to do is create the characters personality and attach that to the quantity of resources and a population plus take into consideration of “history”.

    Hope I at least provided something to think about.

    • March 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm

      thanks Keith: you clearly see the issues we have with trying to apply quantitative methods to an essentially qualitative problem 😀

      i am designing a couple game that have some Risk-like qualities to help us visualize irregualr warfar and nation-building in other then “black & white” terms

  2. Terry Lesniak
    March 1, 2010 at 11:50 am

    One interesting resource you may find useful is the Santa Fe Institute.

    Regards, Terry

  3. March 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Sante Fe is a treasure; i’ve read almost everything they have on the subject beginning with John Holland 😀 New England has a society for Complexity too which has been doing some good work too under their director, Bar-Yam who has done some great work on complex adaptive systems

  4. Keith Grix
    March 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Ken,
    This may sound bizarre but on the radio today there was a short blurb about a grant MSU won to study evolution. At first I thought “great use of our tax dollars” but then they described some of the applications and I thought there might be one with your project. The evolution project is “fundamental evolutionary dynamics in both natural and artificial systems” here is the web site, http://www.beacon.msu.edu/summary.html

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