System Realism

Simulations that directly and accurately reflect a real-world system can build incredibly rich system knowledge.


Fate of the World is a climate simulation game based on the climate models of Dr. Myles Allen. Players, as the leader of a global climate bureau with the power to mitigate climate change, have control over hundreds of variables, including climate displacement, geo-political turmoil, temperature changes, etc. Despite the realism of the system, the information is boiled down into palatable bits to strike a balance between realism and approachability.

In the sandbox game ECO, everything is so interconnected that the smallest decision can have ripple effects on the whole server.


  • For knowledge gains from games to have real value, they must reflect the real world systems they represent. Without realism, players cannot transfer knowledge into real action.
  • Systems knowledge: people gain a deep understanding of complex concepts when interacting within a system, which can then be applied to make real-world changes and decisions.


  • Imparting environmental information within system realism usually requires content with legitimacy, context with consequentiality, feedback, visualization, and balancing realism with abstraction:
    • Content must respect the player’s agency to solve a problem within the rules of the game – else it may feel “pasted on” or not a core part of the experience.
    • Actions taken within the system must feel important to players’ progression.
    • The system should give feedback to the player regarding the cause-effect of their actions. 
  • The more accurate the in-game system, the more transferable the game is to the real world. However, the level of realism must consider the audience, the aesthetic, and design intent.

From the Environmental Game Design Playbook
– by IGDA Climate SIG