The Saga of ISAGA

by Willy Kriz

The first ISAGA conference in 1970 had no proceedings. In the foreword of the proceedings of the 2nd ISAGA conference, Hans Hansen describes some background information on the foundation of ISAGA. Early in 1970, Richard D. Duke, Allan G. Feldt and Hans Hansen began preparing a joint research project to bridge the gap between knowledge and experiences between the United States and Germany. The group also aimed to design new concepts of gaming simulation. For this project, they worked together for several weeks at DATUM in Bonn / Bad Godesberg (DATUM e.V. = Institute for computer-assisted development planning). The project also provided an excellent opportunity to meet with other experts in Europe involved in gaming simulation.

Figure: Participants of the 1st ISAGA conference 1970

Duke and Feldt extended invitations to a list of people from various disciplines. The first “International Conference on Gaming and Simulation” took place on June 27th and 28th in Bad Godesberg, Germany. It was an informal gathering of about 40 participants from eight European nations and the USA.

This stimulating meeting resulted in the formation of ISAGA with the goal to have an annual conference and to organize a continuous exchange of knowledge and experience in gaming simulation. In the early days of ISAGA, gaming simulation approaches were most often discussed in the United States, Germany, The Netherlands, UK, Italy and North European countries. The choice of ISAGA conference locations in the first ten years is much easier to understand when we take this information into account. The first ISAGA conferences were held twice in Germany, twice in The Netherlands, twice in UK, and once in the U. S. A., Sweden, Italy and – to break ranks – in Venezuela.

Robert Armstrong, one of the organizers of the 8th ISAGA conference, recalled some memories at the 25th-anniversary conference. Armstrong stated:

“In retrospect, it is difficult to define precisely the expectations of those who gathered in Bad Godesberg 25 years ago. We were a diverse group brought together by a common interest in the use of gaming-simulation, although there was not clear agreement on a definition of what constituted gaming-simulation. Equally, there was variety of types of approach and purposes for which they were being used. Despite the differences, we believed there were benefits to be gained from sharing experience… I suggest that there were three concerns in the minds of participants providing us with the common ground for discussion of problems:

  • A feeling of dissatisfaction with the restrictive nature of the analytical approach to problems in our subject areas
  • A wish to explore the potential of a systems approach to societal problems as a framework for the consideration of multi-disciplinary problems
  • A desire to refine and extend the use of gaming-simulation in our areas of interest.”

In the early 1970s, several associations similar to the International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) were established, including the North-American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA), the UK-based Society for the Advancement of Games and Simulations in Education and Training (SAGSET), and the U.S.-based Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning (ABSEL). These organizations shared the goal of overcoming a mechanistic conception of social systems and human learning. They have been working together for several decades and have also organized joint conferences.

In its early years, the primary mission of ISAGA was to establish a serious and fruitful scientific discussion and to prove that gaming simulation is effective. Later, several additional associations were founded that cooperate closely with ISAGA (e.g. Japan-based JASAG, SAGANET in the Netherlands, SAGSAGA in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, etc.). ISAGA is still an international and intercultural association. From its origins, the “DNA” of ISAGA consists of

  • a great variety of research topics and methodological approaches;
  • a wide spectrum of simulation game forms (e.g. face-to-face to online web-based gaming, role-playing games, board-based games, frame games, computer-assisted games, policy exercises, behavior games, computer simulations, and digital games);
  • a network of scientists with various disciplinary backgrounds, gaming professionals, and practitioners (designers, facilitators, trainers, consultants, etc.);
  • an association in which all members share an interest to benefit from each others’ knowledge;
  • a community that strives for meta-disciplinary perspectives to solve complex problems and to change dysfunctional systems.