Sociological Forum

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 103–115 | Cite as

Simulation Games in Theory Development

  • Scott L. Feld


Mathematics provides a set of tools and a language by which sociologists can precisely develop and express an abstract theory of society. Simulation games provide relatively limited and controlled contexts in which qualitative observations may suggest insights upon which to build systematic quantitative social theory. James Coleman was one of the strongest advocates for the use of simulation games in developing and communicating social theory; his Democracy game was a valuable tool in the development of his theory of collective action. In this paper, I provide an extended example of the use of observations of simulation games. My observations of two different games suggested ways to reconsider and revise certain aspects of rational choice theory. Building upon Herbert A. Simon's ([1957] Models of Man, Social and Rational: Mathematical Essays on Rational Human Behavior in a Social Setting, New York: Wiley) and John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley's ([1959] The Social Psychology of Groups, New York: Wiley) theories of rationality in the context of incomplete information, my observations suggested that “frustration behavior” may be a rational response to the failure to meet expectations.

simulation games rational choice frustration expectation emotions 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott L. Feld
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyLouisiana State UniversityBaton Rouge

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