The 24th IASTED International Conference on
Modelling and Simulation
MS 2013

July 17 – 19, 2013
Banff, Canada


The Calm and The Storm: Simulation and Games - Why All Games are Simulations and the Challenges of Using Simulations and Games for Learning

Dr. Katrin Becker
Texas A&M University, USA


"There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm." Willa Cather (1915)

In this community, the claim that all games are simulations, but not all simulations are games does not seem especially radical. When you look under the hood of a modern simulation or videogame, you see pretty much the same stuff. It hardly seems worth a second thought. We all know that simulation has been at the very core of computer development since the very beginning, and we’ve applied what we know to games for almost as long. Nevertheless, with a very few exceptions, what the rest of the world knows of simulations is very much like the elephant described by the famous blind monks. This was not a big handicap in the early days when simulations were primarily created for fairly specialized applications, but thanks to the Internet, videogames, and mobile technology, things have changed. One of the places where things have changed the most is in education and professional development (training of all sorts).

In education, simulations are said to be about real life systems, while games are about fantasy and often times educational simulations have nothing at all to do with computers. Educationists make sweeping assumptions about how simulations get used, including notions that fidelity and realism are requirements for effective learning, and that winning always takes precedence over exploration in games. These notions end up being more limiting than liberating. Clearly, recognizing that games are in fact merely a subset of a larger category of simulations affords opportunities for a fruitful exchange of knowledge, which includes the sharing of methodologies and tools.

Join me as we look at the claim that all games are simulations in more detail. We will examine the dichotomy between modern digital games and the more traditional view of simulations, and what implications this has for the design and development of both ‘pure’ simulations as well as games for learning.