SIM4NEXUS: serious gaming for better decisions

Published on
March 22, 2018

The water, energy, food, land, and climate sectors are closely intertwined—a nexus. However, a great deal of scientific research limits itself to a single, manageable, sometimes even partial, sector. This means that investigating the impact that decisions in one sector have on the other sectors becomes difficult due to complex practice. The project SIM4NEXUS has found the solution in “serious gaming”. In a game environment, the impact which decisions made in one sector have on the other sectors is tested.

Activities in one sector affect the others and the consequences are often difficult to predict. In the SIM4NEXUS game environment, players (e.g. water managers or agricultural organisations) can now better understand the consequences for the different sectors in a safe, digital environment and arrive at more coherent policies.

Serious gaming in the scientific literature

The nexus between water, food, land, energy, and climate is still largely absent from the scientific literature. There is a great need for the improvement of scientific insights into the nexus at multiple levels (regional, national, European, and global). SIM4NEXUS explores the potential effects and interactions between sectors as a consequence of policy decisions. The project uses twelve diverse case studies at both the regional and global levels.

Serious gaming allows realistic scenarios to be created by practical participants (government bodies, the business community, and social organisations) in order to research and assess the consequences of policy decisions over a long-term period. What distinguishes it substantially from other situations is that the stakeholders are involved at every level in the process of creating a serious game and practical knowledge is included in the model.

Serious gaming in practice: water management in Sardinia

One SIM4NEXUS project case study is that of Sardinia, in which system dynamics modelling (SDM) was used for a simulation of water management on the island. SDM is software than can be used to explore complex systems and is exceptionally well suited for system simulations that are strongly influenced by feedback, delays, and multidisciplinary problems.

The primary point of focus was the supply and demand of water with regard to agriculture, energy, and internal use, including tourism. Together with local experts and stakeholders, the main nexus sectors and relevant policies were defined. The model executes simulations for the years from 2010 to 2030 and uses no less than 73 variables that impact all the nexus sectors and the interactions between them. The simulation also uses five different climate models.


Collaboration with and involvement of the stakeholders from the outset of a project is essential for the development of models and games that have an impact. For reliable model results, the scale level and nexus sectors selected are also important.