SIG- Social Simulation and Serious Games (SSSG)

The  Special Interest Group on Social Simulation and Serious Games focuses on the interplay between social simulation and serious games. It aims to bring together researchers working on both fields to a crossroads at which synergies will be created between the two areas.

On the one hand, social simulations are used to reproduce real-life settings in order to obtain a better understanding of the social world (Gilbert & Troitzsch, 2005). These simulations range from macro to micro-scale models: they try to represent a social system as a whole or as a constituent of multiple actors; the latter most often in the form of agent-based models. Serious games, on the other hand, focus on teaching players certain information or practicing certain skills while retaining the fun in the game (Djaouti et al., 2011). These games often employ metaphors to get their message across; they do not always try to strictly simulate (real-life) situations, but transport these simulations to a fictitious realm in which the same general principles hold. As such, there is an important distinction between simulations and serious games: the latter provide abstractions and include game mechanics to entice players and let them learn or practice. Certain serious games try to ‘gamify’ social simulations, for example negotiation training systems (Swartout, 2010), the FearNot! demonstrator that helps children cope with bullying (Aylett et al., 2005) and skills training for alcohol screening (Fleming et al., 2009). The learning goals for users of these systems are to become aware of how social situations may play out when certain actions are taken. Certain forms of serious games (e.g. role-play) also enable researchers to simulate and experiment with social situations otherwise difficult to reproduce in real life, thus allowing them to study human behaviour (van Ments, 1999). This kind of gamified simulation was for example successfully used in the management of natural resources when studying the behaviour of stakeholders when faced with new fishing regulations (Methodology and Work Packages, n.d.).

In SSSG, we investigate how the fields of social simulation and serious games are linked. In particular, we focus on the following topics:

Serious game design. Which level of abstraction is chosen for a serious game? Will it be close to a strict simulation or will it incorporate extensive metaphors? What are the factors based on which this choice is to be made? Which (serious) game mechanics are useful?
Modelling the social situation. Which approach captures the situation with sufficient granularity? How should a choice be made to include specific theories and models that describe the situation? For example, using a data-driven methodology, how can the steps be made from data to theory to application (and game mechanics)? For agent-based modelling, how can artificially intelligent agents be made that act according to a specified model?
Example implementations. Stories of success and failure: which elements in a serious game that includes social interaction turn out to be useful and which are counter-productive to the game’s goal? Which elements of social simulations can be used in the design of serious games?
We intend this SIG to be an active platform for discussions and information dissemination (e.g. relevant papers and events, exchanging knowledge and experience). Depending on the level of activity in the SIG and of the interests of its members, we plan to organise special tracks at future conferences. Our first official event, a special track at the 10th Conference of the European Social Simulation Association in Barcelona (2014) drew a lot of attention. For the future, we are considering hosting similar events at, for example, the 46th Conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association (2015). In addition, we could plan any other activities that its members suggest, such as workshops or courses.

We welcome interested individuals from any field or level of education as we strive to take a cross-disciplinary approach to address social simulations and serious games.


(n.d.). Methodology and Work Packages. In EcoFishMan. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from

Aylett, R. S., Louchart, S., Dias, J., Paiva, A., & Vala, M. (2005). FearNot!–An experiment in emergent narrative. In Intelligent Virtual Agents (pp. 305-316).

Djaouti, D., Alvarez, J., Jessel, J. P., & Rampnoux, O. (2011). Origins of serious games. In Serious Games and Edutainment Applications (pp. 25-43). Springer London.

Fleming, M., Olsen, D., Stathes, H., Boteler, L., Grossberg, P., Pfeifer, J., … & Skochelak, S. (2009). Virtual reality skills training for health care professionals in alcohol screening and brief intervention. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 22(4), 387-398.

Gilbert, N., & Troitzsch, K. (2005). Simulation for the social scientist. McGraw-Hill International.

van Ments, M. (1999). The effective use of role-play. Practical techniques for improving learning. Kogan Page, London.

Swartout, W. (2010). Lessons learned from virtual humans. AI Magazine, 31(1), 9-20.


The SSSG leaders are: Jeroen Linssen (Department of Human Media Interaction, University of Twente, the Netherlands) and Melania Borit (Norwegian College of Fishery Science, University of Tromsø, Norway).

SSSG is is currently affiliated with the Simulation & Gaming journal.

Here is the SSSG website

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Being an ESSA member means to be active part of a vivid and growing multi-disciplinary community, obtain benefits and discounts to participate to annual ESSA meetings, promote your research to a wide audience and find collaboration opportunities. Annual fees are 50 € for tenured academics, postdoctoral students, practitioners and public/private organisation employees and 30 € for under, postgraduate and PhD students.

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