Games and simulations

How can games or simulation change the mental models?


Simulation is popularly defined as a partial representation of reality which selects essential characteristics of a real situation and makes a replica of them, within an environment or place which is free of risk. (Saunders & Powell, 1998)
Here, we define gaming/simulations as an activity that works, entirely or partially, by the players’ decisions. The simulation is an operational model which involves abstraction, and the representation of a much larger system.
Thus, we distinguish between simulation as an exercise in representation and gaming/simulation as a human, relational activity which uses said simulation as an instrument. This subtle difference is of particular relevance since the gaming/simulations create a new, shared, mental model.

Three essential components may be identified when describing gaming/simulations:
1) a basic operating model
2) human activity
3) a scale representation of reality. In contrast to pure games, which have no representation, and to pure simulation, which has no human activity in the operating model.
Fruit of this human activity is the exchange and modification of individuals’ mental models, on which Professors Tomoaki Tsuchiya and Shigehisa Tsuchiya ask:
How can games or simulation change the mental models that guide us, and create a shared mental model which goes beyond the different values, interests and vision of the world of its participants?
The reasons are the following

1. Voluntary Learning
When forced to learn, we learn little, as we usually resist accepting anything new in the governing mental models. The fun elements of simulation and games encourage us to participate in an experiential learning environment in a simulated world, and to learn voluntarily.

2. Creation of Turmoil
As Festinger points out (1957), the first step in the process of changing attitudes, beliefs and suppositions is to allow participants to doubt the validity of the mental models that guide them. The conflict and turmoil created by gaming/simulation raises the doubts in their minds and lessens their resistance to change.

3. The Big Picture
The schematic approach allows participants to share a holistic view of the matter. This counteracts the narrow perspectives derived from specialization and provides a model for retaining details. Once the whole is understood, the participants’ individual mental models grow. Consequently, compatibility between their mental models increases and the creation of shared mental models becomes possible.

4. Compression
LCompression of time and space makes experiential learning possible and accelerates the learning process. Gaming/simulation enables participants to experience the outcomes of their decisions and actions within a short space of time. In the real world we have only little opportunity to learn from our experience, mainly because the results of our decisions and actions often lie beyond our learning horizons. In addition, accelerated learning processes provide a more solid acquisition of knowledge. Individuals are often unaware that there is a problem and that it can only be solved by altering the mental models that control us. Once we discover this miss-match however, our mental models are affected and altered, though the change may be imperceptibly small. Gaming/simulation allow the participants to experience numerous cycles and thus to accumulate these small changes until they become visible, resulting in a stronger, double-loop, learning process.

5. Risk-free Environment
Gaming/simulation lets the participants experiment with new policies, strategies and learning skills, without risk. Actions that in the real world are irreversible or have no turning back can be carried out countless times. Thus the risk-free environment provided by the gaming/simulation broadens the range of experiences that make sense to the participants.

6- Shared Experience
Participants’ individual mental models converge through shared experience and as a result of this, commensurability is increased, something essential for the creation of a shared mental model.

7. Rich Interpretation of History
Our understanding of past experience, or “history”, through gaming/simulation allows us to learn from small episodes in the real world. These small pieces of experience are used to construct a theory of history from which a variety of additional scenarios are generated which, though not carried through, are nonetheless possible. The rich interpretation of history facilitates experiential learning.

8. Cause Maps
Uncertainty and ambiguity in the real world pose obstacles to our experiential learning, because they make it difficult to find meanings or invent explanations. The cause maps, developed through participation in their design and use in a gaming/simulation situation help participants to interpret and make sense of their lives.
(Tsuchiya, S & Tsuchiya, T 1999)

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Festinger, L (1957) A theory of cognitive dissonance, Stanford University Press Stanford
Saunders, D & Powell, T. (1998) Developing a European media simulation trough new information and Communication technologies: the TENSAL project in Simulation & Gaming Yearbook: Simulations and Games for Emergency and Crisis Management, 6 pp.75-80
Tsuchiya, S & Tsuchiya, T (1999) The unique contribution of Gaming/simulation: towards establishment of the discipline. The International Simulation & Gaming Research Book: Simulations and Games for Strategy and Policy Planning, 7, pp 46-57

Ricardo Zamora
Training Games
Managing Director

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