Simulation Using Video Games : SimCity

Posted on by Brandon Klein

This is a DesignTeam simulation module that employs a commercial computer simulation game called SimCityTM (from Maxis Corporation)(Many other types of video games can be used as well). Players experience the excitement, fun and frustration of building and running a city; in the process, they learn principles of systems thinking, managing complexity, and team decision-making. SimCity (the game) achieved rapid commercial success in part because of its surprising sophistication for a software game. Its developers, in fact, have a long- term goal of developing simulation software for a variety of uses: developing a commercial “game” was just smart marketing of their abilities. SimCity (as a DesignShop module) is engaging and fun, yet requires careful positioning and debriefing for participants to realize its value.

To teach principles of systems dynamics (feedback, interaction among variables, use of information, managing complexity). To have participants observe and assess team decision-making, leadership, and modes of collaboration.

This is usually a Scan module. Typically, each team is given a copy of the same “city” (set up by staff and thus grown from “town” to “city” status); following a brief discussion of models and systems, participants are given their charge (to optimize the quality of life in their city), and are given two to three hours to play the game. This if followed by each team discussing what they learned (about 60 minutes) and team reports or large group discussion (30 to 60 minutes).

Strengths — Fun. Experiential. Like other simulations, can help participants integrate complex learning – i.e., develop a “feel” for systems dynamics. Weaknesses — Lengthy. “Soft” — what’s learned is open to interpretation. Can be risky – participants don’t always make the connection between the game and what they comprehend they need to learn. It involves two “leaps” — first, to draw principles from a short game-playing exercise; and second, to apply those principles to one’s own situation. Cost (computers, software). Specifications for Success —
1. If you use this module, allocate enough time for it to work. Don’t short- change the debriefing session.
2. Be prepared to facilitate the debriefing, and to draw out from participants systems principles that the game teaches. This may not be readily apparent to them.