liberty leading the people

Systems thinking reveals the weaknesses of the current American revolution

Revolution is a big word these days. We’re hearing about it a lot on social media, on all things, but its use in modern times is always tinged with the recent memory of the Arab Spring, and before it the color revolutions and aftereffects of the Revolutions of 1989. Now it has crept into American politics with the 2016 election season. Nicky Case, who has previously worked with systems thinking, recently blogged about their attempt to dissect what actually happens in revolutions, through systems thinking. These outcomes would be revolutionary if they were possible The word “revolution” has been widely…


You are evil, or A systemical approach to rethinking how evil works

People like to think of being evil as something extraordinary—we tend to think of it as extreme, or even supernatural. However, game designer and programmer Nicky Case, points out that social psychologists have repeatedly found the opposite to be true—people who we consider to be evil, are in fact incredibly ordinary. Case’s obsession with systems, which has come through in their various projects such as, Simulating The World (In Emoji) and Parable of the Polygons, is now helping us better understand the idea of evil. Case has been exploring the concept of “emergent evil” as part of their first collaboration with PBS Frontline. The basic principal of…


A game designer speaks to how systems thinking can benefit journalism

Systems thinking is an approach to analysis, focusing on how different parts of a system relate to each other, and how they change over time and within the context of larger systems. That’s lot of words to process, but luckily Nicky Case has sketched up a great reflection on systems thinking in relation to journalism for those of us who may not be aware of the basics. You may recognize Case from their past work in describing how systems work through interactive simulations. After attending a two-day workshop on systems thinking for journalists, Case sketched up a blog post to explain the ideas further, particularly for…

Simulating the World

The world’s most complex problems, now in emoji

Step into the bustling streets of Grand Theft Auto 5’s Los Santos, or one of the many sun-dappled, monster-rich forests in The Witcher 3. These worlds are so fully realized, and at their best so compellingly true-to-life, that it’s easy to forget that all games, when stripped of the bells and whistles, are only systems operating on a specific set of rules. But more than just games run on complex systems of interaction, and Nicky Case has made this point before. You might remember Case’s previous project Parable of the Polygons, the cute bit of interactive sociology about geometry and…

Anxiety Attacks Cover

The Year in Anxiety

There’s nothing to be worried about, it’s just a quiet walk through the woods. The sun is shining through the leaves. Strings swell in the background as you amble about. Everything is okay. Only it isn’t. Sure, Alessandro Salvati’s Anxiety Attacks starts out pleasantly enough. You are in the woods and everything is indeed picturesque. Your only real job is to breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Walk through a field of flowers. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe—you get the hang of it. Well, you think you’ve got the hang of it, and then the sky turns red, your breath shortens,…


Replicate the world’s most complex systems via emoji

What if you could mod a game as seamlessly as playing it the way it was written? In Nicky Case’s latest simulation tool, A Simulation in Emoji, just that promise is fulfilled. In the introduction for A Simulation in Emoji, Case writes, “there is *no* difference between playing and making, between reading and writing.” This is because Case has given you, the player, all the tools already, to an endlessly customizable extent. But just what is being customized? A simulator for anything and everything—through emojis. Case is no stranger to life-simulation tools. Case first made waves in 2014 with Coming…


Your brain on anxiety: an interactive explanation with Nicky Case

Last year, Nicky Case and Vi Hart released Parables of Polygons, an experiment inspired by Bret Victor’s work on Explorable Explanations. Their aim: to bring the best parts of interactivity to a blogpost that might help explain how systemic biases and prejudices can take shape. After being a finalist for the Games for Change award in the Most Innovative category it seemed their playable post had achieved even more than what it set out to do. Putting a new and innovative format on the map, Nicky Case is back once again with Neurotic Neurons, an interactive exploration of the science behind…


Big Pharma combines pretty pastel color scheme with withering cynicism

British Developer Twice Encircled has announced Big Pharma, a game which puts you in the deeply conflicted shoes of a c-level suit at a pharmaceutical conglomerate. It follows the Tycoon playbook: soft, twee visual design over top a game of space and resource management. As in the canonical Kairosoft and Tycoon games, you’ll tirelessly work to minimize some numbers and maximize others, tweaking an optimal profit with nary a thought to the souls you employ. Big Pharma, obviously, takes it one step further: you’re not building railroads or videogames here but pills, which might cure diseases, make people happier, or give them back…