Simulmatics’ shadow

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

A while back I posted about an interesting urban insurgency game I found on the shelves of the US Army War College called URB-INS. It was produced by Simulmatics, a political consulting and analysis company that started in 1959, rocketed to prominence as one of the early proponents of big data for political analysis, and went bankrupt by 1970. 

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, has written a book called If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future that traces out just how far, high and fast Simulmatics went in the world of politics, government and academia. Have a look at this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education – if nothing else, for the description of what Eugene Burdick, writer of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and spokesman for Ballantine Ale, had to do with it all!

https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-has-a-silicon-valley-problem

“Affective Networks at Play” by Cole Wehrle

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http://analoggamestudies.org/2016/05/affective-networks-at-play-catan-coin-and-the-quiet-year

This is a brilliant article written for the Journal of Analog Game Studies in 2016, by the even more brilliant Cole Wehrle.

From his introduction:

In this article, I want to consider the affective possibilities and consequences of contemporary board games. I begin with a discussion of Klaus Teuber’s Die Siedler von Catan (1995). Teuber’s design is something of a foundational text of the contemporary board game design. Using Catan as a lodestone, I want to draw on the vocabulary of affect studies in order to reorient how we talk about games, in hopes of better understanding why Catan proved to be such a phenomenon. From there, I will consider a recent trend in the subfield of historic wargames, where convention has been upended by the COIN (COunter INsurgency) game system by Volko Ruhnke. Rather than focus solely on military affairs, Ruhnke’s games reproduce the political tensions surrounding armed conflict and ask the players to inhabit positions of moral compromise in the interest of historical simulation. I end with brief discussion of Avery Mcdaldno’s storytelling game The Quiet Year. The Quiet Year pushes on the limits of the game as an engine of affect and asks hard questions about the power of affect and the formal limits of games to understand our knotty feelings.

I’ve made reference to this article many times in discussions, but for some reason I’ve never posted a reference to it here. I have now fixed that.

Go, and read it!

Playing the Nazis

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http://analoggamestudies.org/2019/09/playing-the-nazis-political-implications-in-analog-wargames

In the new number of the Journal of Analog Game Studies, Giame Alonge writes on the history and recurrent appeal of Nazi roles and symbology in board wargaming.

Giame Alonge is a Professor of Film Studies at the University of Turin, and a lifelong wargamer. He wrote a review of the anthology Zones of Control anthology (Harrigan and Kirschenbaum, eds.), and he and I had a correspondence about the blind spots of wargames about modern and contemporary warfare mentioned in “Chess, Go and Vietnam”, the chapter on insurgency games that Volko Ruhnke and I co-wrote for the anthology.  I’m pleased to see that our discussion has helped inspire him to write this piece.

In it he also invokes Susan Sontag’s excellent essay “Fascinating Fascism”, a connection I’ve often thought about but have never seen someone else mention in connection with wargames. Sontag wrote the essay in 1974, when wargaming was still on its way up but still wrestling with its closet-Nazi problem. I rather doubt Sontag would ever have heard about wargaming at the time but if she had, she would regard it as one more example.

As Alonge points out,  Sontag said, “for fantasy to have depth, it must have detail”. This certainly underlines what I and others have written about that pointless degree of historical intricacy in OOB research , pointless because it misses the point precisely and entirely… that is, the Benno Effect.

Play a game on nuclear war, help a research project.

 

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https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/nuclear-conflict-researchers-want-you-to-play-this-game

Some researchers at UC Berkeley have created a simple wargame for people to play that studies the options and actions the players are likely to take depending on various weapons and force structures they have.

The game is called SIGNAL, and “…on its surface, SIGNAL looks like many other military strategy board games: Each online player represents one of three hypothetical countries, and the goal of the game is to maintain territorial integrity while amassing more resources and infrastructure than your opponents. Players have the opportunity to “signal” their intent to take actions such as building civilian and military infrastructure or attacking an opponent with conventional, cyber, or nuclear weapons. Players can also negotiate trades and agreements with other players.” (from the linked article).

Players play online against other live opponents during specific time windows (right now, 1-5 PM PDT Wednesdays and Thursdays; they may expand the hours if there is enough interest). You have to login and create an account. The project runs until the end of summer. Have a look!

https://www.signalvideogame.com/