Complex adaptive systems


Social systems such as nations, societies, companies, and institutions are complex adaptive systems.
Complex adaptive systems include:

  • a medium number of agents (actors), who have distributed access to information, and
  • the ability to change rules, and to demonstrate intelligence and adaptability,
  • while acting on local information.

The actors shape systems of interactions. They draw on rules and resources while performing tasks in organizations. Through confirming each other’s roles, and making use of the rules and resources, they produce and reproduce the social system concerned. By changing the interactions, rules and/or resources, they either transform the system or produce a completely new one. While observing the system, they can also switch position, from inside participant (actor) to outside observer. In such case, they can question their motives and personal efforts, the rules and/or resources, to develop strategies for the maintenance or transformation of the social system. Related to this view on social systems are notions about self-reproduction, self-reference, and reflexivity (self-awareness). Through actors, social systems sustain intentionality, expectancy and memory. Complexity theory casts interesting light on properties of organization. As (Internet) games are particular forms of organization, these notions are relevant for facilitating and assessing game sessions. Morin (1999) mentions that all organizations produce something beyond their components:

  • the organization itself;
  • the global unit constituting the whole;
  • the new qualities and properties emerging from the organization and global unit.

These new qualities or properties are called emergences. Emerging qualities have feedback on the parts and give them qualities that they could not have if they were isolated from the organizing whole. The whole is not only more than the sum of the parts, but the part of the whole is more than the part by virtue of the whole (Morin, 1999).

Experimenting with complex systems

Gaming and Simulation offer a powerful combination of methods and ideas in dealing with both complex and unique issues, including value orientations of the actors involved. Therefore, gaming is fruitful to experiment with various forms of complex adaptive systems. Gaming provides a powerful frame-of-reference for combining the social-human domain with the physical, technical and economic knowledge domains and offers a shared language for communication between the natural and social sciences. Moreover, it enhances bridging multiple perceptions and positions in managerial and policy domains.