From War Games to Peacekeeping Games

By Walter Dorn | 2020-10-01 12:00:00

War is exciting, peace is not; or so thinks the videogame industry, which has focused heavily on war and the defeat of simulated enemies. Gamers achieve victory over opposing evil and ugly forces by shooting or destroying them. Although some games attempt to mimic the realities of modern conflict, few achieve that. Real-world battlefield victories rarely result in peace or solve the underlying human problems. More often, wars end with peace agreements, power sharing, assistance from the UN and from peacekeepers.

Being a peacekeeper can be as challenging as being a war-fighter. It is harder to convince conflicting parties to lay down their weapons than to simply take a side, shoot the enemy, and minimize the moral, legal, and practical consequences. Peacekeepers in the real world have to save lives and alleviate human suffering through a myriad of tasks: providing security, overseeing ceasefires and peace agreements, fostering reconciliation, disarming combatants, clearing mines, enforcing sanctions, providing aid and, since the turn of the century, directly protecting civilians.

Video Games for Peace

Given this reality, it would be natural to offer an opportunity to professionals and the public, including youth, to take on challenging and realistic gaming focused on peacekeeping and conflict resolution. More importantly, gaming can be a vital adjunct to education and training on peacekeeping.

Several audiences could benefit:

Any Precedents?

Since there are, at least, a few movies on peacekeeping—like Shake Hands with the Devil and The Peacekeeping_—I had some hope of finding videogames on peacekeeping. But we found none. An online search yielded a few games with the name “peacekeepers” in the title, but none entailed actually peacekeeping. For example, _Peacekeeper Trench Defence describes its goal “Itís up to you to restore the peace, and what better way to do that than with your huge arsenal of guns?!” Not what we had in mind. Others make players think they are fighting the “good war” as is the case with Arma 3 but it is glorified war-fighting. However, a number of digital games deal with peace and conflict resolution generally:

This War of Mine is a rare example of a “survival” game, set in conditions very similar to the siege of Sarajevo. It follows the trials and tribulations of a small group of unrelated civilians who try to survive the civil war. The game player guides each civilian toward survival resources and helps them manage these in order to survive together. The game offers nonviolent gameplay and sheds light on the people that peacekeepers might save or aid (as was the case in Sarajevo in 1993Ė95).

In Peacemaker, the player chooses to be either the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president and works to “resolve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A game was developed by researchers at Trinity College Dublin and the Gaming for Peace (GAP) project to improve the cooperative skills of soldiers in a multinational mission, including communication, cultural sensitivity and gender awareness.

Learning from Military Exercises?

Most military forces conduct exercises with their units before deploying them on peace operations. One of the most advanced multinational exercises in peace operations and crisis response is Exercise Viking, sponsored by the Swedish Armed Forces. It allows players in multiple countries around the world to exercise various scenarios together in a fictitious conflict-ridden country. While not a videogame, it is computer-assisted with common operational pictures in graphic format, and a chat function for participants. The control element in Sweden publishes a fictitious daily newspaper and coordinates responses among the international actors in real time. Participants coordinate common plans to respond to exercise requirements. This challenges players with wide-ranging scenarios and develops their communication skills, for they are coming from different countries and often speak different languages, as in real peace operations.

Militaries have shown that digital games can complement the traditional live training exercises. Tabletop exercises frequently use computer-assisted communications. Advanced militaries make use of very sophisticated and realistic digital training environments, like Virtual Battle Space, designed for war-fighting. Some militaries, e.g., Australia and Sweden, have modified these for use as peacekeeping games involving civilians, police, and other players. But they still look a lot like war-fighting games. Instead, show actual scenarios and environments, with civilians and police.

UN Scenarios

Currently, the United Nations does not provide videogames or computer-simulated environments for training peacekeepers, though it does have table-top exercises using real-life scenarios taken from existing missions. It is also actively developing scenarios to help train peacekeepers in one of the most challenging mandates for modern missions: the protection of civilians.

There are many further scenarios and vignettes. For example:

At the UN, the Integrated Training Service (ITS) is the main body responsible for the conception, production and evaluation of training tools distributed to local (national) training facilities. None of these are digital games. While specific scenarios are essential, a more general training videogame that immerses the user in the mission with the many challenges, complexities and interactions, is lacking. The ITS leaves most of the training of military forces to the troop-contributing nations. However, its current repertoire of materials and scenario-based exercises could be leveraged for developing training games. The call for innovation, as in the UN Secretary-Generalís Strategy on New Technologies, could apply to enhanced peacekeeping training.

What to Learn?

For peace operations especially, a highly desirable characteristic is empathy for all concerned. A heightened sense of empathy in the gamer creates a more immersive experience and amplifies the overall interaction.

Most important is that the player learns about avenues to success through peace processes. In order for a game to become an effective training tool, there needs to be a level of in-game adaptation that challenges the player. In an education or training setting, debriefing at the end of the game or at the end of segments can be instructive, allowing players to reflect on their preceding actions.

If, through a peacekeeping videogame, players in the general public become more aware of the goals and activities of peacekeeping, they will be better able to serve peacekeeping and support peace work politically.

A Future for Peace Simulations?

Many new and exciting possibilities for peacekeeping games exist. The opportunity to try various peace strategies should allow players to learn from past mistakes and successes and to adapt their decision-making and skills to find the best responses to conflict scenarios. Players can explore the decision space of the conflicting parties and situations of the local populations to better their own peace strategy. Such mirroring can be very useful in training, especially to foster empathy. Lessons can be learned for real situations borrowed from the field and applied to the game environment. Peacekeeping games could be useful to train UN peacekeepers during deployment, as well as before.

Innovation to create peacekeeping games offers a valuable training tool for the professional, a good awareness-raising tool for the general public, and a new form of entertainment for ethically-minded game players.

Walter Dorn is a professor at the Royal Military College and the Canadian Force College, where he teaches military officers about peacekeeping and international affairs. This article is a digest of a paper by the author published in International Peacekeeping, 2020.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2020

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2020, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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