Army officers are practising counterinsurgency strategies for Iraq with using a video game plainly inspired by SimCity. In fact, a frustrated officer unprepared for the fall of Baghdad asked for such a thing by name years ago.
UrbanSim is the name of the training program, profiled in an item in the current issue of The Atlantic. Its creator refers to it simply as "SimCity Baghdad" because "instead of tornados, earthquakes, and Godzilla running around your city, it's insurgents."
Players - let's call them trainees - learn how their goals for a region are affected by the situations there. For example, finding jobs for people is one thing; but they need to feel safe before they'll work. Or they can end up doing favours for persons later discovered to be corrupt or bad actors. Cracking skulls is a sure way to flunk. "The worst student so far ended up with 70 percent of the town against him," writes the Atlantic. "He thought the only way to increase civil security was to go bust down people's doors," the game's programmer said.
UrbanSim is sometimes criticised for being something it's not, and never was advertised to be, a perfect crystal ball of the situations counterinsurgency managers will face, or an X-plus-Y formula for how to effectively win hearts and minds. But as a means of laying down the basics of the job with multiple, repeating encounters and outcomes, it seems to be a stronger investment than live role-playing encounters and other forms of training.
SimCity Baghdad [The Atlantic, illustration by The Atlantic]