SIG-SSSG: Social Simulations and Games

The  Special Interest Group on Social Simulations and Serious Games focuses on the interplay between social simulation and games / 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:

  • 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).

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 games games.


The SSSG organisers are:

Melania Borit (Norwegian College of Fishery Science, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway) – If you want to join SSSG, send her an email!

Harko Verhagen (Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University, Sweden)

Timo Szczepanska (Norwegian College of Fishery Science, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway)



(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.

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