Playing Oppression

ZOC book cover

The MIT GameLab is a combined game design program, research centre and development tank for games that explore the use of play in human development, education and communication.

One topic of current research, which has attracted a bit of popular press and comment recently as well, is the structure and functions of games with respect to colonialism. Research on the topic is being done by the Mary Flanagan (author of the brilliant Critical Play: Radical Game Design and of the final chapter in the Zones of Control anthology) and Mikael Jakobsson.

The product will be a book called Playing Oppression. The authors say:

The title for this project comes from an idea that euro games offer some of the excitement of the periods they depict (sails, discovery, heroism, fame, and fortune) but not too much through their gameplay and physical pieces, by hiding the bloody end of the sword and only engaging with foreign cultures as passive representations that can be neatly sorted into a box between plays.

http://gamelab.mit.edu/research/games-and-colonialism/

Forthcoming from MIT Press!

And bound to be interesting.

 

New book: Successful Professional Wargames by Graham Longley-Brown

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Graham Longley-Brown served in the British Army as a Regular officer from 1986 to 2003, and finished off his career as the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College Directing Staff Subject Matter Expert for wargaming from 2000-2002. Since his retirement from the Regular Army, Graham has worked as a self-employed consultant (www.lbsconsultancy.co.uk) running wargames for national militaries and their research centres across the world. Graham also developed the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset in use by the British military, helped to write the UK MOD Wargaming Handbook, and co-founded and organizes the Connections-UK conference on professional wargaming. (www.professionalwargaming.co.uk)

I’ve known Graham since I first became involved with Connections-UK, at the first conference in 2013. Now he has written a book, Successful Professional Wargames: A Practitioner’s Handbook wherein he promises to reveal all his secrets.

He’s obviously doing something right!

Published by John Curry’s History of Wargaming project, you can buy your copy here: http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/professionalhandbook.htm

 

Phil’s Phlush With Greatness

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On tonight’s broadcast of Jeopardy!, Philip Sabin’s book shows up as a clue.

After a considerable pause, the contestant guessed, “….the Battle of Troy”.

Podcast: on Armchair Dragoons’ “Mentioned in Dispatches”, vol 2 ep 9

Recently I sat down with James Sterrett for an episode of Brant Guillory’s podcast “Mentioned in Dispatches.”

The occasion was the recent release of Matt Caffrey’s new book On Wargaming

On Wargaming by Matt Caffrey, out at last!

and we thought we would discuss, for well over an hour in our meandering ways, this book and other books we’ve found useful for thinking about games and game design.

James has a more practical take on this of course, as he teaches game design to his students at the US Army Command and General Staff College.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/teaching-wargame-design-at-cgsc/

Anyway, here is the link, go and have a listen!

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-2-episode-9-the-essential-wargaming-library/

In other news, this weekend is the inaugural Victoriaconn, a mini-convention put on here in town by local gamer Geoff Conns. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday (have to work Sunday), showing the playtest version of China’s War and the near-production copy of the Brief Border Wars quad. Maybe someone will notice….

http://www.victoriaconn.ca/

Remembering to Forget

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photo: bbc.com

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/03/us-army-trying-bury-lessons-iraq-war/155403

As has been explained to me by senior officers who are still on active duty, the conventional wisdom today is that our military has moved on — and in an odd redux, they note that we have returned to the philosophy of 1973. Similar to how the Pentagon abandoned its doctrine of fighting counterinsurgencies and irregular conflicts in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, today’s military has shifted away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of preparing to fight insurgents and guerrillas, our security establishment has refocused almost exclusively on the realm of great power conflict — in their parlance, peer or near-peer competitors such as Russia or China.

Distressing, but hardly surprising… the same thing happened after Vietnam, though the external circumstances were quite different. The US Army may be a “learning organization” but it keeps forgetting that it needs to retain some of that learning.

As the world continues to migrate to cities and pressures from failed or failing states push populations toward armed insurrection, it is quite possible that our next conflict could be another irregular war fought against guerrillas and insurgents. Even if we do end up facing a peer or near-peer competitor as the defense establishment is predicting, many of the lessons of the Iraq War still ring true. If we find ourselves facing such a foe, it would be highly likely that our opponents would fight us with a blend of conventional warfare—using ships, tanks, and warplanes—as well as with irregular tactics such as we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blending both types of warfare, which has been called “hybrid warfare” or “conflict in the grey zone” enables our enemies to counter some of our conventional advantages asymmetrically, and challenge us symmetrically with forces that are on par with our capabilities. The use of paramilitaries or militias rather than uniformed soldiers, ambushing logistics convoys with improvised explosive devices, and hiding soldiers and resources amongst the civilian population- all staples of the Iraq conflict- are tactics that have also been used by Russia and other states because they make attribution and retaliation more difficult. It would be a dangerous proposition to hope that nation-state competitors we face in the future have not studied the war in Iraq and adapted their tactics. 

The two volumes of the Iraq War Study, completed in 2016 but not released until the very end of 2018, may be found here. Download them if you’re interested, just so you can have them for later….

Volume One (2003-2006): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3667

Volume Two (2007-2011): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3668

 

New on the bookshelf

I’ve recently acquired a book or two on urban conflict:

image: amazon.com

Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities

A 768 page brick of a book, consisting mostly of articles on the subject previously published in Small Wars Journal. I’ve read a few of them but there is plenty more to chew on. Some new material, including a preface by David Kilcullen.

Surprise content: a reprint of the review of Operation Whirlwind Michael Peck wrote for SWJ! link to original is here: Review of Operation Whirlwind in Small Wars Journal

Published January 2019, Amazon.com link

image: amazon.com

Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism

Another interesting title, but I haven’t been able to get into it yet – it has been a busy couple of weeks. Where the above title goes into mainly the kinetic considerations of urban battles that largely haven’t been fought yet, this one stops to consider the extensive and increasing militarization of the largely non-kinetic life we lead in the West, via surveillance, security bureaucracy/ theatre and the manipulation of fear and language.

Published 2011, Amazon.com link

Both of these make good additions to the library I have been building on the subject, which includes:

  • Out of the Mountains: the Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen
  • Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq by Louis diMarco
  • Planet of Slums by Mike Davis

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

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Very new from the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry, is a book reprinting rules for making up and playing a multi-player game on urban counterinsurgency, along with analysis of many urban insurgency incidents… including the Battle of Algiers, which was still quite recent as the original documents are from 1966.

Unless I miss my guess, this is “URB-INS”, contained in the “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, done in 1966 by Simulmatics Corporation. I remember examining a copy of this in the US Army War College’s library briefly (Back, then forth); I found it by chance there, but I wasn’t going to pass up a look at such an early example of a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. I recall it was pretty sophisticated for its day – double-blind play with an umpire using a third board; time lag on intelligence and movements; uncertain information on sympathizers for either side; interrogation and arrest; etc..

Buy your copy at:

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/pentagonurbancoin.htm

EDIT: I was wrong! Turns out the game in question is URB-COIN, developed by Abt Associates in 1966. It is related to two other games Abt did for the US military, AGILE-COIN and POLITICA. Faithful Readuhs may recall my mention of AGILE-COIN as an early attempt to model rural insurgency in a couple of my presentations, and the game is described in greater detail in Andrew Wilson’s very good book The Bomb and The Computer (also available from John Curry as a reprint).

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/awthebomb.htm

Clark Abt did very well for himself and the world of simulations and games, as he was one of the first major designers and promoters of “serious games”. He designed dozens of games on a very wide variety of topics, most of them educational and policy games though he had quite a few DARPA contracts too. He is still alive and his company, Abt Associates, is doing very well (and seemingly not doing work for the military any more, at least not overtly). You can see part of his “Serious Games”, a major work, here:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=axUs9HA-hF8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Clark+C.+Abt%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj238Tq8b_cAhWCJ3wKHf0GD0kQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false