Modeling & Simulations: Serious games

Modeling and Simulations, either a mathematical model or based on scenario  role playing, can be used if practicing or experimenting in real life is impossible or simply impractical. It bears close resemblance to gaming (homo ludens) and often the same systems and terms are used. Professional roles and skills can be practised, such as a coach, a lawyer, a doctor. Examples already in use at Leiden University are Digital Archaeology modeling of the spread of Neanderthals or building the Limes in MineCraft, Moot Court, model UN Security Council, observing dementia in patients in VR.

In a roleplaying simulation the storyteller creates a learning experience in a described, limited, venue or setting with a theme that has an end goal with limited time to achieve it. Participants have an assigned role with responsibilities and must succeed in small tasks or puzzles to reach the end goal. In addition to professional roles, general cognition skills like communication, social skills and leadership skills are also practiced. 

First considerations

  1. Especially suited to small to mid sized  groups, so each participant has an impact on the story and its success

  2. Scenario, decision tree and setting description take some preparation time

  3. There should be clear rules 

  4. The storyteller is always right about the consequences of actions, no rules lawyering


Simulations may appear daunting to replace, but can be attempted online with relative low tech solutions. Afterwards students reflect with the teacher what the crucial takeaways are from the experience. Grading can be based on active participation and insights.

  • Conversation simulation (1-on-1) - (a)synchronous
    Phone, chat or video conferencing , where participant and teacher/actor stay in their role, a more immediate experience. There can be a small amount of participants watching.

  • Team Game - large group - time based
    Different teams are going through the same scenario at the same time. Each team has the same roles and will get new information about the scenario regulargly. E.g. a court where new information is presented every 15 minutes, a crisis scenario with an update every hour or a fictional consultancy assignment where every week a new fictional briefing is given.

  • Serious games (2-20) - (a)synchronous 

    • Play by Forum - turn based, can take a while to resolve, with regular updates of the consequences of the actions participants have taken plus new developments

    • Play by Email - turn based, can take a while to resolve, with regular updates of the consequences of the actions participants have taken plus new developments

    • Play by Chat or Video conferencing(synchronous), - just like face to face simulations, during a timeslot, with possible addition of extra media, very intense

    • Play in a Virtual World (synchronous), use an existing virtual world or create your own, this can be aided by audio chat. 

  • Analyse existing source material - (a)synchronous
    Ask students to analyse a video, a diary  or a historical speech, then indicate what their actions would have been, or write a position paper based on a role. E.a. write a president’s speech during a crisis.

Considerations and educational implementation

  • Make it easy and accessible
    Start with the least technical solution, and go where your students are already familiar with. You can always add more technology if needed.

  • Create the setting and the rules of the game in a document
    What is the context? What roles are there? What is expected of each role? What are the rules of engagement?  What are the limitations?  What is the end goal? How will the storyteller make decisions on the consequences of actions?

  • Allow students to personalize and imagine their role
    Think of avatars, signature quotes etc. Personalising will increase their engagement.

Relevant links and additional information 

Relevante Tools