Thursday, February 6, 2003

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The power of simulation

Robert Shapiro has a good story in Slate on what economists can learn about the functioning of markets from studying online fantasy games. (Click here for California State Fullerton economics professor Edward Castronova's paper that inspired Shapiro). However, it's worth pointing out that the use of gaming simulation data has also occurred in political science. Douglas Van Belle published a 1998 paper in Political Research Quarterly that used results from online games of Diplomacy to test certain realist propositions about order in world politics. (If you're at a university, click here to peek at the actual article). Van Belle wrote another article about the merits of studying simulated environments for International Studies Notes. The punchline is a bit depressing for my career choice of explaining world politics, but still provocative:

"The somewhat disturbing answer suggested by running this simulation over the Internet is that the international system may be fundamentally unpredictable. It is not a question of insight, method or skill, it is a question of the fundamentally unpredictable nature of innovation by creative, problem-solving human beings. The extreme complexity of the swiftly fluctuating international political arena, which in the real world is complicated by the feed-back between international and domestic politics may be creating a chaotic environment, a system that is mathematically determinant but fundamentally unpredictable. This is exactly the type of environment that is more likely to produce unpredictable behavior, including innovation, and in such an environment even the smallest of changes can produce huge differences over time."

posted by Dan on 02.06.03 at 01:00 PM