4.07. Systems Gaming

Systems Gaming


Participatory Co-modelling takes the tools of Systems Science into a community facilitation / workshop setting. At these events, participants are faced with invented scenarios to explore, puzzles to solve, role-playing exercises and other creative activities.

Lacking expertise in creating or facilitating these kinds of social experiences, systems scientists began engaging writers, theatre-makers, visual artists and game designers to help devise and coordinate these events.

The involvement of artists in creating these events opened up the possibility of employing a much more sophisticated palette of activities. Game designers are able to facilitate richer and more meaningful game events, offering participants more control and constructing a more fluid experience. Visual artists and graphic designers are able to create more evocative representations of the systems models, encouraging greater identification with the issues and ideas being explored. Writers and performers can construct more detailed, nuanced depictions of the different outcomes and consequences for the system and its inhabitants.


The new possibilities emerging at the interface between these disciplines gave rise to the emerging field of Systems Gaming, in which techniques from theatre, visual art and gaming are applied to ideas and principles from Participatory Co-modelling to generate interactive scenarios illustrating the behaviour of complex systems.

Unlike Participatory Co-modelling, Systems Gaming projects tend not to undertake extensive consultations with specific communities, creating bespoke models and scenarios in response to that community’s particular needs (though they can). Instead, these practitioners often create much simpler and general-purpose models and games that can be presented in a range of contexts to diverse audiences.

Rather than examining the complex interconnections and behaviours of specific ecosystems, Systems Games often use extremely basic systems models that demonstrate only one or two specific concepts. These ‘toy models’ use the bare minimum of detail required to generate the behaviours their creators are interested in.

Rather than gathering their own data from the system they are modelling, Systems Games generally use archetypal settings (‘desert’ or ‘beach town’) or model completely fictional systems.

Systems Gaming events engage participants with scenarios illustrating different aspects of Systems Science, using theatre, gaming and visual design to facilitate the experience. Sometimes these events are presented as entertainment or in arts or festivals contexts. More often, though, they are delivered as educational or training experiences to teach systems thinking concepts to participants.