Cultural diversity and a mixture of people with different specialisations in a workplace can boost creativity. However, it can also lead to misunderstandings, stereotyping and misconception. Team members may not even be aware of their own motives, which makes it difficult to bring about a cultural shift. A simulation game can help to create awareness.

Change in culture

Rens Kortmann is carrying out research into how games and art can help to bring about change in culture. Kortmann: “A simulation game makes people aware of their unconscious behaviour and attitude, and that creates more understanding and fosters work relationships.” A game that he recently used for his research is Bafá Bafá. This game makes participants aware of the fact that fundamental cultural differences can affect their behaviour in an organisation. Kortmann played this game with groups of Master’s students at TU Delft who were working together in multidisciplinary projects.

Game

In Bafá Bafá, two cultures are created: an Alpha culture that is relationship-oriented, with a strong group culture, and a Beta culture with a highly competitive, commercial culture. After the participants have learned the rules of their culture and started to live by them, observers and visitors are swapped. The resultant stereotyping, misconception and misunderstanding serve as input for the debriefing. While the game has been used successfully in hundreds of organisations worldwide for years now, its effectiveness had never been systematically studied. Kortmann has developed a method to measure people’s change in attitude that is brought about by playing the game.

Awareness

Before and after the simulation the participants answered questionnaires about their willingness to learn to understand a culture and to what extent they were capable of dealing with differences in culture. An analysis of the data shows that a significant difference arises in their willingness to learn to understand a culture. After playing the game, participants are more willing to do that. It is also interesting that participants say they are less skilled than they thought they were before they played the game. Kortmann: “The players have become ‘consciously incapable’: the first step towards being better equipped to deal with cultural differences in an organisation.”

Gut feeling

Games like these are called ‘persuasive games’ and are often used in healthcare to make people aware of their behaviour. A new aspect of the research carried out by Kortmann and his doctoral candidate Annebeth Erdbrink is that the theory behind persuasive gaming has been given a scientific basis with knowledge from social psychology. They test its effectiveness using empirical research, while in persuasive gaming people still mainly trust their gut feeling. Kortmann: “This method of analysis gives us a better way to test its impact, which is great. It brings us one step closer to our ultimate goal of defining design principles that help to create effective games that can bring about a change of behaviour in society.”

More information
Rens Kortmann is an assistant professor in the department of Multi-Actor Systems.
Annebeth Erdbrink is a doctoral candidate in the same department.