Epistemic Games. The Construction of the Validity of Computer Simulations through Simulation Games

Project: Research

Project participants


In our contemporary society, more and more political, economical and scientific decisions are based on findings derived from Computer Simulations, even if they sometimes cannot be empirically tested. Why do we believe in their validity? Why is the assumption prevailing that formal simulation models can be adequate representations of complex natural and social phenomena? The research project will trace back the historical establishment of „believe“ in Computer-Simulations – and it will do so with a unique twist.
Starting point is the thesis that the common believe in Computer Simulations is not only a product of scientific discourse, but also the result of a popularization of the very concept of Computer Simulations in popular media. The underlying assumption is that science does not exist in an isolated sphere, but is dependent on background assumptions within society. Gargantuan simulation projects like Future ICT or the Human Brain Project would never have been considered for funding by political institutions if there wouldn’t pre-exist a general believe in the possibility of their realization – not only among experts, but also within the public to which funding decisions have to be justified. For this reason popular science publications and also popularizations of Computer Simulations in the form of games are relevant.
The focus of this project will be on the role simulation games played in popularizing Computer Simulations and establishing the believe in their adequacy and validity. In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, games like Balance of the Planet, SimCity, SimEarth, SimLife, Creature or Capitalism were based on specific theoretical models of life, evolution, the mind, economics, urban development – and promoted as being realistic, authentic and scientific. Often, they were based on simulation programs that were already in use to illustrate the validity of theories (SimEarth e.g. is based on J. Lovelock’s Daisyworld model, while SimLife is inspired by R. Dawkin’s Darwinian Blind-Watchmaker program). It can be argued that simulation games do not only popularize the specific models they incorporate, but also their underlying assumptions – and therefore the very concept of the adequateness and validity of simulation models.
The interrelations between scientific discourses, actual scientific simulation programs and popular simulation games shall be investigated in order to shed light on the question how the validity of Computer Simulations became socially constructed. The project will focus on selected case studies to allow for in-depth analysis on how specific simulation models (as tools to explore a theory and as arguments to prove it) became translated into game models. The investigation of this translation processes will carve out the commonalities as well as the differences between scientific simulations and simulation games.

Research outputs

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    Research output: Contributions to collected editions/worksContributions to collected editions/anthologiesResearch