Gamifying the learning experience is a new trend that garners more and more attention from scientists and business leaders alike. Companies like Deloitte, for example, integrated gamification in their “Deloitte Leadership Academy” platform, aiming to motivate business leaders with limited time to engage with the learning platform and improve their competences, with great success: One of the achievements the users of this platform could unlock is the “Leadership Academy Graduate Achievement,” which was thought to take at least 12 months to unlock. However, one user managed to unlock this achievement in only six months, demonstrating the motivational potential of gamification.
At ESCP Business School, we also believe that gamifying the learning experience can bring even more to the learning and development arena than motivation and fun. Thus, with the support of the Renault Chair of Intercultural Management and the ESCP Business School Foundation, we developed two so-called serious games (Moving Tomorrow – A Cultural Journey and Moving Tomorrow – The Cultural Journey Continues) – video games used for educational purposes with the goal of developing the player’s intercultural competences, not for entertainment only.
The importance of intercultural competence and inclusion
Intercultural competences are a critical skill in our modern world of work. Globalization and advancements in digital connectivity have led to closer international cooperation and more culturally diverse teams. International suppliers and customers are steadily increasing, not to mention the rise of cultural diversity in local workforces. Therefore, managers with cross-cultural competencies are every bit as critical to the success of domestic companies as to international organizations’. And we can take this discussion even one step further: if managers are competent to deal with different national cultures, they may also be more successful in coping with every cultural challenge, be it due to other diversity dimensions such as gender or LGBTQ+, age or different races. Here, we are referring to inclusion competence, knowing that an inclusive environment is what makes people count while diversity is more focused on ‘just’ counting people. As Manuela Echilley, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Groupe Renault, states, “an inclusive environment is key to a modern successful company. As an employer, Groupe Renault creates the conditions for each of us to bring their passion, perform to the full and grow, whilst being themselves. We dare and care for our people. We find strength in our diversity and want to be a workplace reflective of the diverse community we serve, where everyone feels included, respected and valued.”
How to improve our intercultural competences?
Intercultural competence can be broadly defined as the ability to function effectively in another culture and to accumulate intercultural competences through experiences and learnings. Two of the major ways to improve one’s intercultural competences is through cultural exposure, like international work experiences or vacations, and through formal instruction, like training or education. However, research is still ambiguous as to what constitutes the best learning environment to foster intercultural learning.
“Serious games are perfectly suited for the task as they allow to merge what is good about cultural exposure and formal instruction”
As a result, in order to increase the effectiveness of cultural training, researchers have proposed a blending of cultural exposure and formal training, and serious games are perfectly suited for the task as they allow to merge what is good about cultural exposure and formal instruction. Intercultural serious games create a virtual environment in which players are exposed to the cultural differences and interactions similar to those they would experience in the real world. In addition, they offer formal guidance because the game mechanics and storylines are designed to lead the player into the right direction and make progress in the game.
In order to better understand what serious games can bring to the learning and development arena, let’s take a closer look at the two we developed. The eight episodes of the games were designed to enhance players’ intercultural understanding and competence around diversity. In the games, the players travel to different countries such as China, Russia or India and interact with complex, diverse characters.
These interactions are similar to real-life intercultural encounters, as every character has his or her own unique background and experiences in addition to being embedded into the cultural context the character has been socialized in. Moreover, in these interactions, the players have to make decisions that have consequences on the story development (e.g. which information do I communicate to the other characters, which do I hide?), which makes the experience even more relevant and realistic. At the same time, prompts and exercises guide the players through the game so that they know what they have to do at every single point in the game and can practice and apply their newly-acquired knowledge. In addition, the integrated exercises and learning material build on one another, creating a gradual increase in complexity and leading to a more thorough understanding of different cultural frameworks and theories.
Are you serious?
So, are these games just games or do they deserve being called serious in the sense that they help players to learn? In empirical research, we were able to demonstrate that playing Moving Tomorrow was indeed effective in developing the player’s intercultural competences. Moreover, the vast majority of students had a pleasurable and fun experience, characterized by the reported suspense at the end of each episode: What will happen next? How will the story pan out?
Serious games will not be able to completely substitute real-world interactions and experiences. However, being fun and at the same time rich in content, they are effective alternatives to the traditional classroom-style of teaching, especially when it comes to intercultural competences.
If you are interested in trying a serious game yourself, please take a look at our serious video game series: Moving Tomorrow.
Marion Festing is a professor of human resource management and intercultural leadership at ESCP Business School, and the director of the Renault Chair for Intercultural Management. She is also the Academic Director of the Talent Management Institute (TMI) and of the Excellence Centre of Intercultural Management (CIM).
Tobias Schumacher is a PhD student, research assistant and contact person of ESCP Business School’s Excellence Centre for Intercultural Management. He was the project leader of the Moving Tomorrow serious games.