URSI Logo  MdSm 601 Introduction to Modeling & Simulation 

Scenario Building & Gaming Design


There are an unlimited number of other possible approaches to exploring scenarios, including modeling and simulation.  John Sokolowski and Catherine Banks, in Modeling and Simulation for Analyzing Global Events present several approaches used in policy analysis and international affairs:  systems modeling, agent-based modeling, and simulation games.

·         Systems model:  a construct or collection of different elements that together produce results not obtainable using the elements alone. 

o   The value of a system lies in the relationship among its parts. 

o   Models come in many types.  Statistical models are based on patterns found in a large numbers of events. 

·         Formal models:  based on rigorous analytical specification of choices actors can make to produce outcomes. 

·         Simulation games permit observation of aggregate behaviors emerging from interactions of large numbers of autonomous actors—think video games, from SimCity to the MMOs (massively multi-player online games). 

o   Can be used when real system cannot be engaged. 

o   Avatars (virtual characters) can replace humans for interfacing in complex communication systems. 

o   They allow the user to

§  explore the ramifications of choices,

§  to compress or expanding time,

§  to explore possibilities,

§  to diagnose problems or identify constraints,

§  to visualize a plan and build consensus,

§  to prepare for change, and to modify requirements.

·         While much of modeling and simulation involves extensive research and complex modeling (it costs millions to create even a fairly simple video game), not all of it is so elaborate. 

o   Among the agent-based models, case-based reasoning uses a set of cases as a form of memory, a storehouse of previous solutions to specific situations. 

o   Simulation games can be fairly simple (think Risk or Monopoly), and have been used in the past to permit citizens to weigh in on budget reduction plans or to explore the effects of transportation changes on city development (SimCity). 




Techniques for building scenarios and simulation games:


·         Seven Tomorrows:  Toward a Voluntary History, by Paul Hawken, James Ogilvy, and Peter Schwartz (Bantam, 1982)

o   The future is neither a precisely determined, scientifically predictable event nor is it so indeterminate that one is free to invent whatever future one might prefer. 

§  The future is, at least partially, the product of human choice among alternative possibilities. 

§  In trying to discern these future possibilities, experts can be misled

·         by their analysis of trends and abstracted quantitative data into overlooking that perceptions guide actions as much as, if not more than, facts. 

·         tendency to stress the highly visible, big-impact events rather than the cumulative impact of commonplace, everyday choices.   

o   To capture the range of future possibilities and the human choices that drive them, they use a tool they call “scenario-building”: 

§  A scenario is more than a simple outline of possibilities, in that there is a coherent story to be told;

§  But it is less than a future history, in that it is not fully detailed and does not convey the sense of inevitability that the realized future (from the present looking backward) has. 

§  Each alternative scenario must be plausible and in some sense equally desirable, otherwise one (or a subset) scenario will dominate the others and take on a sense of inevitability. 

§  In building scenarios, one must:

·         Identify factual condition of relevant variables

·         Identify limited set of basic “driving trends” (too many trends will make it too difficult to assess the relevant interactions) among the variables

·         Determine the possible options for each of the driving trends

·         Identify a matrix of all potential interactions among each of the options for all of the driving trends

·         Identify most plausible interactions among driving trends (not all potential combinations of trends are plausible—eg, scarce energy, famine, and a flourishing economy)

·         Write scenarios—stories about plausible future states, and how it got to be that way from where we are starting now.



·         Science Fiction Prototyping:  Designing the Future with Science Fiction, Brian David Johnson  (Morgan & Claypool, 2011)

o   “SF prototyping, as a kind of fictional prototyping, provides a new lens through which emerging theories can be viewed differently, explored freely, and ultimately developed further.”  p. 12

o   5-Step Process (pp. 25-29):

§  Pick your science and Build your world:  Set up the world of your story and introduce the people and the locations.  “The goal is to pick a topic that grabs your imagination and gets you thinking about what might happen when people start using it.” p. 26

§  The Scientific Inflection Point:  Introduce the “science” or technology you are looking to explore in the prototype.  This is “all about the effect that this new science or technology might have on the daily lives, governments, and systems in your story.” p. 28

§  Ramifications of the Science on People:  Explore the ramifications of your science in the world you have described earlier.  People will adapt and change because of the technology that was introduced.  Has it made their lives better?  Worse?

§  The Human Inflection Point:  The characters will either adapt themselves to the technology, or change the technology to suit themselves.  Either way, the change must be believable for the virtual world to stay within the constraints of science.  Staying within the boundaries of this constraint will make the outcomes of the SF prototype more valuable and applicable to further investigation.

§  What Did We Learn?  What are the possible implications, solutions, or lessons from Step 4?  How has the world changed?  What is next with the science?  What would you improve/do differently?

o   Types of SF Prototypes:

§  Story fiction (Cory Doctorow):  “I don’t think SF prototyping has much predictive value, to be honest.  I think it’s the beginning of a critical process by which the use is sound….  If you actually sit down with a science fiction writer and come up with something contrarian, thoughtful, passionate and unequivocal, even if you’re wrong, it’s a very productive exercise.”  P. 51 

·         Algis Burdys “7-point plot” (p. 54)

o   A person….  (Step 1)

o   In a place…

o   Has a problem…  (Step 2)

o   Person intelligently tries to solve problem and fails… (Step 3)

o   Things get worse…

o   Until it comes to a climax….  (Step 4)

o   Afterward you have the outcome/denoument.  (Step 5)

·         Film (Sidney Perkowitz):  “Movies do something wonderful that novels don’t do.  There’s a marvelous thing that movies have:  they do size and scope.  They aren’t really good at interpreting.  I don’t think they are much on complexity.  But movies are marvelous in terms of story’s size and sweep that you can hardly do in a novel.” (William Goldman, p. 74)

·         Comics (Chris Warner):  Comics as a medium of expression are a mix not only between images and words, but also there is an element of time….  By placing these images and words next to each other in a sequence, it creates an effect on the reader that is quite unique.”  p. 84 

o   “Comics by nature must be very precise.  They need to be trimmed down, making an efficient use of space, leaving out as much as possible but still getting the point across.” p. 93

o   “The task of pulling together a comic is kind of like an engineering task, it must be precise and exact.  You have to get across your idea as succinctly as possible and move on.  The reader can fill in the gaps as they move from panel to panel.  And it is that filling which helps us the most with our SF prototype.” p. 94

§  Making the Future:  Now That You Have Developed Your SF Prototype, What’s Next?

·         “Tomorrow Project” sponsored by Intel Corp.  http://newsroom.intel.com/docs/DOC-1490    

·         From fact to fiction to fact again:  SF Prototypes can suggest directions that science can go for the next step.

·         SF Prototypes can be “thought experiments” (experience pour voir, as Piaget called them; Gedankenexperimenten, as Einstein called them)


·         Game-Generating Games, Richard D. Duke & Cathy S. Greenblat (Sage Pubs., 1979)

o   Develops a family of “frame-games” that are designed to present a problem or issue and consider the implications of a set of related factors on that issue.

§  Goal is to improve the quality of group discussion about a complicated and serious problem

§  “Frame-game” means basic structure supplied, and then modified to suit specific circumstances.

o   Impasse? (IMPact ASSessment Game)

§  Composed of IMPASSE Wheel, divided into as many slices as needed (30 is a good number). 

§  Game designer populates slices with the set of variables related to the problem under consideration, and obtains “expert” opinion of impact of each variable on problem.

§  Participants (in groups of three) evaluate each variable on their own copy of the wheel, then

§   Compare their evaluation with the expert’s evaluation, then

§  Discuss their assessment compared to the expert.

§  All the groups are reconvened to compare their discussions, and

§  Finally, to vote on which variables are most important and what are the anticipated impacts.

o   At-Issue!

§  Game designer populates Value-Ordering Wheel with the set of variables related to the issues under consideration, and develops a set of issue-descriptions describing particular events or issues that are relevant to the domain being considered (15 is a good number).

§  Participants are divided into role-playing groups

§  Each group assigns values to the variables on its Value-Ordering Wheel (groups need not concur on the values assigned)

§  Each group rates the full set of issues, selecting the three they consider most important.

§  All participants convene and vote on which issue to consider first.

§  Using the Cross-Impact Wheel, each group assesses the impact of position on current issue to probable resolution of other issues.  Cross-impacts should be briefly discussed by all.

§  Using the Variable-Identification Wheel, each group assesses impact of their position on each of the variables

§  Determine Perceived Impact of the current issue for your group.

§  Chart the change created by the proposed resolution to the issue using the Upper-Limit Wheel (compare current situation for all variables to anticipated future situation)

§  Discuss results—compare and contrast group results and perceived outcomes.

§  Repeat for as many issues as desired.

o   Conceptual Mapping

§  Creates a wheel, similar to the wheels in the first two games, but in this case the variables are not identified in advance.

§  Instead, the participants select roles and an issue to consider, and then collaboratively identify the variables which would be affected by the issue.


·         Gamification

o   See:

§  Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps, Gabe Zichermann & Christopher Cunningham  (O’Reilly Media, 2011)

§  Fundamentals of Game Design, Ernest Adams (New Riders, 2010)

§  The Art of Game Design:  A Book of Lenses, Jesse Schell (Morgan Kaufmann, 2008)

o   Process of Gamification

§  Designer creates an experience

§  Experience rises out of a game

§  Game consists of elements

§  Elements support a theme

§  A game begins with an idea and improves through iteration

§  Experience is in the player’s mind

·         Modeling

·         Focus

·         Empathy

·         Imagination

·         Motivation

·         Judgement

o   Design components

§  Player    Interaction Model    Actions         Core Mechanics

              Camera Model         Challenges

§  Interaction model & Camera model are “user interface”

§  Actions & Challenges are “gameplay”

o   Key elements

§  Creative & expressive play

§  Character development

§  Storytelling & narrative

§  Puzzle-solving

o   User Interface

§  Stories take place in worlds which contain characters and spaces, with a look and feel defined by aesthetics.

§  Interaction models

§  Camera models

§  Visual elements

§  Audio elements

§  Input & navigation

o   Gameplay

§  Hierarchy of challenge (increasing levels)

§  Difference between skill, stress, and absolute difficulty

§  Saving the game

o   Core Mechanics

§  Key Concept

§  Internal economy

o   Game Balancing

§  Avoid dominant strategies

§  Balancing skill & chance

§  Fairness (both PvP and PvE)

§  Managing difficulty—challenge vs. success

§  Meaningful choices—head vs. hand

§  Competition vs. cooperation

§  Positive feedback/reinforcement

§  Rewards vs. punishment








© 2013 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 6 January 2013