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Approaching ABM Virtualizations as Complex Games

August 28th, 2015

Ian Lustick, Miguel Garces, Thomas McCauley, Patrick O’Mahen

Holland (2000) highlights how the study of board games can yield profound but underexploited insights into complex social phenomena. We build on this insight, treating games as small complex adaptive systems, with emergent properties susceptible to the kinds of analysis appropriate for much larger, highly complex arenas of interaction. Building on this foundation, we use Agent-Based Model (ABM) simulations as “virtual board games” featuring thousands of agents treatable as either players or game elements. Here we do so to study how insurgents use Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other available modes of attack and evaluate how a player’s counter-strategies can minimize the impact of IEDs. To develop this complex game, we use our Virtual Strategic Analysis and Forecasting Tool (V-SAFT). V-SAFT is a pioneering ABM simulation platform for building theoretically grounded, realistic models that simulate politics and conflict in real-world countries (Reichert, et al., 2014). This paper contributes to theorization of the analytic potential of board games. Also, we advance efforts to bring simulation, gaming, course of action analysis, and training into fruitful contact with one another within the general domain of the study of political violence and counterinsurgency.

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