Dr. Niklas Schrape


Epistemic Games. The Role of Games in the Establishment of Belief in Computer Simulation

In our contemporary society more and more political, economical, and scientific decisions are based on findings derived from computer simulations – even in cases that cannot be empirically tested. Why do we believe in their validity? Why is the assumption prevailing that simulations can be adequate representations of complex natural and social phenomena?

My research project focuses on the historical establishment of ‘belief’ in computer simulations. Its main premise is that computer games played a decisive role in popularising computer simulations and in establishing trust in their adequacy and validity. I argue that this commonly held trust is not only a product of scientific discourse, but also the result of the spreading of the very concept of computer simulations in society, the media and especially games.

My project investigates the interrelations between scientific discourse, scientific simulation programs and popular computer games in order to shed light on the question of how the belief in computer simulations came to be. It will focus on selected case studies to allow for in-depth analysis of how specific scientific models became translated into games. The Sim-Series by Maxis Inc. (SimCity, SimEarth, SimLife etc.), for example, is based on specific theoretical models of urban development, the biosphere, and evolution – and promoted as being exemplary for cutting-edge science: virtual laboratories for home computers.

The investigation of this translation processes will point to the similarities and differences between scientific simulations and simulation games.

Niklas Schrape studied communication, psychology and sociology at Free University Berlin and social and economic communication at the Berlin University of the Arts. He earned his PhD from Film and Television University (Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen) Potsdam with a thesis on the rhetorics of political computer games.