South China Sea Simulation: Part 3

One last post about the South China Sea simulation that I used in my Asia course last semester.  Previous posts are here and here.

Students found it much easier to accomplish different objectives than I thought they would, and as a result I set the rewards too high. Several students managed to earn 200 points in a course with a 1,500-point grading scale.

The most beneficial aspect of the simulation for me, the instructor, was using the debriefing as an iterative design tool. I asked, both in class and in a writing assignment, how well the simulation reflected contemporary relations between countries with competing claims to the South China Sea. Students provided me with a lot of excellent feedback about how to improve the simulation for the future:

  • Clarification about which country had claims to what islands. A table would suffice for this.
  • Students write something about the country to which they are assigned and in the process research the history behind the territorial claims. This would be an easy preparatory assignment to develop — each student writes some sort of memo or position paper, then each team collaborates on a single version, which is circulated among the other teams or presented to the class orally.
  • Account for the relative military and economic strength of each country, and include rewards for trade agreements rather than just for treaties about territorial claims. More difficult to pull off, but possible.
  • Create a more formal environment and employ a moderator for discussion among participants.
  • Better incorporate nationalistic sentiments of the actors — something I mentioned in my last post. Don’t really know how to do this, but . . .

Students thought the simulation ought to last the entire semester, with roles assigned at the beginning of the course. This would enable me to replace the Visualizing Cultures presentations, which suffered from a small class size and students’ inability to deliver interactive presentations, with a sequence of preparatory assignments, negotiation sessions, or both. Engagement with the topic over a longer period of time might result in greater learning. It might also cause students to develop an affiliation and identify more strongly with the actors they are playing.


Emotion & simulations

Since Chad was kind enough to pick up on the theme of my post last week – emotion’s role in what we do – it’s only polite to return the favour.

Chad’s issue is one that all of us who use simulations encounter. We’re trying to build a more manageable version of the real world, which means selecting particular aspects to focus on, and then our participants go and mess it all up by focusing on some other aspect. Chad’s finding that with the South China Sea, I’m finding it with my parliamentary dynamics game and you’re finding it with something else.

How to deal with this? Basically, in one of three ways. Continue reading

South China Sea Simulation: Part 2

As promised in my last post, I’m going to talk about the mechanics of my South China Sea simulation, but I’m also going to go in a different direction because of the bombing in Manchester and Simon’s subsequent post.

As I’ve done in the past with some of my other classroom simulations, I created a set of objectives for each actor — in this case Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States, and Vietnam. Each objective was associated with a number of points that contributed to a player’s final grade, but players’ objectives often conflicted with one another — a feature deliberately intended to reflect competing interests and force negotiation. All of the objectives involved which Asian nation-state would be granted sovereignty over which territories. Although I gave actors the option to engage in military action, I specified probabilities that such actions would be successful. For example, an attack by the Philippines against a specific target had a 1:6 chance of succeeding, while acting in concert with U.S. forces had increase the chances of success to 2:3. However, an attack risked involving the Philippines in a regional war, the probability and costs of which I left completely vague. This uncertainty seemed to have beneficially made students reluctant to use military force, unlike my experience with some other simulations.

Given the number of contested islands and overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, the entire set of objectives and payoffs was rather complicated to create, but the complexity forced students to become much more familiar with the area’s geography, which I think was also plus.

I will discuss what went wrong with the simulation in the near future, but I will mention here — and this is what relates to Simon’s post — what I see as a failure that I often witness in my geographically-situated simulations: because of the point rewards, students very quickly become rationally-acting deal-makers. Nationalist and ethnic identities that the simulations are supposed to model quickly get tossed out the window. In the language of simulations, players find it easy to abandon their roles. In the real world, Vietnamese and Chinese policies reflect a strong sense of nationalism, and the two states would never agree so easily on who owns the Paracels. If they did, there would not be a conflict to simulate. Continue reading

Some extensions for the Parliament game

Interestingly, the European Banderwot is much larger than its American cousin

Chad wrote about his use of my parliament game just yesterday, so it’s a good moment to consider how else this basic model can be used. All my materials are here.

For me, the most interesting point is that Chad’s doing something really quite different from my original objective. Indeed, the game is a great one for me to reflect on, because it has undergone one of the more problematic formulation processes of any of my activities.

At heart, it’s a game about the cross-cutting tensions in accumulating power: Chad gives his students their card and another interest, while I have focused just on getting mine to balance ideological coherence with holding a balance of power in the assembly. In both cases, you can see how that can be built on, to illustrate further elements. Continue reading

Parliament Game with the Gray-Tufted Banderwot

Gray-Tufted Banderwot

A few years ago, Simon invented a game to model coalitions in the European Parliament (also described here and here). I decided to try it in my comparative politics as a lesson in how legislatures function. After some confusion as students figured out what to do, they clustered into two coalitions; the outcome loosely resembled a two-party/median voter system. But I had forgotten to remove the high-value cards from the deck before starting the game. The class has only fourteen students, and the distribution of card values was so great that it was difficult for students to accumulate influence points.

I decided to run the game again in the next class, after removing face cards from the deck. Influence points were calculated the same as before. But I added a twist. Each student received additional instructions that varied according to the value of his or her card: Continue reading

Simulating the Syrian Civil War

Today we have a guest post from Guy Zohar, an instructor at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He can be contacted at guyzoharbiu [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Syrian civil war is already one of the bloodiest and most devastating conflicts in the 21st century, and it is far from over. To explore various dimensions of the war, seventy-five people at the recent International Studies Association (ISA) annual convention in Baltimore, Maryland participated in “The Syrian Civil War and the Spread of Terror” simulation.

Participants assumed roles such as Bashar al-Assad, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi and were assigned to teams that represented major actors in the conflict. Team size varied depending on the actor’s complexity and its power status. Each participant was given short and long range goals to accomplish in the face of challenges such as terror attacks. The ultimate long range goal was to agree on a framework for settling the entire conflict. Continue reading