Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

The Social Sciences and Innovations in Gaming

There’s a great piece in the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly 58 (July 2010) by Margaret McCown on how to avoid giving PaxSims the blogpost you once promised us. Wait, no that’s not it—it’s actually on the interrelationship between social science theory and game design:

This is a fascinating time to be a gamer, particularly one developing policy games. The types of problems to be gamed, the technical support available to do so, and the importance of exercises’ findings all seem imbued with unusual potential and urgency. The security challenges that we capture and present in strategic games are increasingly characterized by transnational, networked, and multilevel domestic, national, and international factors, all of which require new or, at least, sharpened tools to represent and assess. At the same time, a range of new tools, from distributed computer gaming systems to virtual reality, has become available. This article argues, however, that for practitioners writing virtually any game, the social sciences—economics, political science, and sociology—constitute the single most important source of both substantive theory and methodological insight.

The simple explanation behind this assertion is that almost all strategic level policy problems are also social science problems; they concern how actors, whether individuals, groups, bureaucracies, social movements, or nations, make calculated decisions with respect to their interests and environment, construct social institutions and rules to further those goals, and compete for goods allocated in ways influenced by all of the above. This article briefly highlights some ways in which social scientists have theorized and tested hypotheses about how and why actors make and break rules, and the relevance of these efforts to gaming.

She highlights a number of key theoretical issues from economics, experimental psychology, and political science that can both the explored in games (as a possible research methodology), and reflected in games (as embedded hypotheses, design philosophies, heuristic devices, or even an inspirations). There’s a great many that could be added beside, including many drawn from game theory (reputation issues in iterative games, for example).

As for the MIA blog-post, we’ll forgive Margaret for that. After all, she does serve sushi at her gaming roundtables.

One response to “The Social Sciences and Innovations in Gaming

  1. Kam 23/06/2010 at 11:53 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the core ideas here. Social sciences and social play is at the very heart of this new wave of communication through play. I’m very much feeling that way myself with

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