Barnga

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  • Number of participants = 24
  • Theme = Cultural differences, cultural clashes, cross-cultural groups
  • Duration = 60 – 80 minutes
  • Difficult for participants = Level 2
  • Difficulty for facilitator = Level 2

Summary

A simulation card game on culture clashes.

In Barnga, participants experience the shock of realising that despite many similarities, people of differing cultures perceive things differently or play by different rules.

Participants learn that they must understand and reconcile these differences if they want to function effectively in a cross-cultural group.

Participants play a simple card game in small groups. Then, conflicts begin to occur as participants move from group to group. This simulates real cross-cultural encounters, where people initially believe they share the same understanding of the basic rules. In discovering that the rules are different, players undergo a mini culture shock, similar to lived experience when entering a different culture. They must then struggle to understand and reconcile these differences to play the game effectively in their ‘cross-cultural’ groups.

Difficulties are magnified by the fact that players may not speak to each other but can communicate only through gestures or pictures. Participants are not forewarned that each is playing by different rules; in struggling to understand why other players do not seem to be playing correctly, they gain insight into the dynamics of cross-cultural encounters.

Goals/Learning Objectives

  • Realisation that different cultures perceive things differently, and/or play by different rules.
  • Students must understand and reconcile these differences if they want to function effectively in a cross-cultural group.

Materials

  • 6 tables (4 persons per table)
  • Printed copy of the rules for each player
  • 6 deck of cards (Ace-10, no face cards)
  • Many popsicle sticks
  • Flip chart

Preparation

Set up (approximately) six tables with about four people per table, depending on the number of people participating.

Each table should have a copy of the rules for every player, plus a deck of cards (use only Ace-10, no face cards).

Write the instructions for participants for the second and third steps from the Flow of Exercise (below) on a flip chart. However, participants are not allowed to see these two steps before they start playing. They are only revealed at the moment when those rules need to be followed.

Flow of the Exercise

To start, participants play a few rounds following the rules. Talking is allowed.

After the initial round, EVERYTHING is removed from the playing tables. The game continues with everyone at their own table. From now on, talking and seeing the rules are prohibited.

Gestures and pictures are allowed, but players are not allowed to use words. Winners will each receive one popsicle stick for each trick they win, to keep track of the score.

After playing a few rounds without talking at their home table, participants must switch tables. The person with the most popsicle sticks moves clockwise to the next table. The person who lost the most tricks moves counter-clockwise to the next table. Everyone else stays at the same table.

Use rock paper scissors to resolve ties. The players do not know that each table has a different set of rules.

Players will begin to become confused when some players believe their card is a trump, and others disagree or contradict this. Of course, once game play starts, winning will likely take a back seat to trying to figure out what everyone else is doing, as everyone is playing by different rules.

Debriefing

After playing a number of rounds, set a time limit or set the number of rotations according to the number of tables in play i.e. six rounds for six tables.

Participants should be made aware that they were playing by different rules, and the following questions should be discussed.

Participants can stay in the last group they were in or return to their home group.

  • If you could describe this game in one word, what would it be?
  • What did you expect at the beginning of the game?
  • When did you realise that something was wrong?
  • How did you deal with it?
  • How did not being able to speak contribute to how you were feeling?
  • How the game simulates real-life situations
  • What specific real-life situations does this game remind you of?
  • Choose one of these real-life situations. What are the underlying causes of the problems or difficulties?
  • What does this game suggest about what to do when you are in a similar situation in the real world? What ‘worked’ for you during the game?

Report back your best idea to the whole group.

Possible Follow up Activities

Within the method Soon to Be Outdated, the group explores how different cultural impacts can have an effect on beliefs and ideas, as well as how they have changed and developed over time.

If you had a deep discussion about stereotypes, racism and discrimination, you could implement the method What’s Your Single Story? afterwards, which focuses on the sensitivity of stereotypes, privilege, discrimination and racism.

The method Culture Clash is another simulation for experiencing different cultures, which you could use if you want to delve further into the issue of conflict, confronting ‘new’ cultural norms as well as values and diversity within a society.

Recommendations

As the facilitator, you should internalise the different rules for each table, so that no confusion will come up and no hidden rules for the participants are spoken aloud.

Adapted from Sivasailam ‘Thiagi’ Thiagarajan with Raja Thiagarajan (2006), Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes, Boston: Intercultural Press as cited in Intercultural and the International Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research, University of Michigan.

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