The Simplicity Paradox: Another Look at Complexity in Design of Simulations and Experiential Exercises


  • Hugh M. Cannon
  • Daniel P. Friesen
  • Steven J. Lawrence
  • Andrew H. Feinstein


ABSEL scholars have a long tradition of grappling with the problem of complexity in game design and performance. The effectiveness of any solution depends on the definition of complexity. We propose a two-dimensional definition, distinguishing between complexity resulting from too much information (information overload) and complexity resulting from too little (uncertainty). This paper draws on Cannon’s (1995) theory for managing complexity and the apparent contradictory findings of Wolfe and Castrovianni’s (2006) laboratory study on the use of “strategic chunking” to illustrate the simplicity paradox: The application of simplifying mechanisms for managing information-load might actually increase overall complexity by increasing uncertainty. The paper discusses the nature of the information-load/uncertainty trade-off and its implications for game design.