Barnga is a simulation game that encourages participants to critically consider normative assumptions in cross-cultural communication. During the game, participants are exposed to different rules on how to interact while assuming that everyone handles the same rules. This way, the Barnga games demonstrate to participants that subtle cultural differences can cause bigger misunderstandings than obvious bigger cultural differences.
Participants of the Barnga game:
- Learn to communicate effectively across cultural groups
- Become aware of underlying assumptions that impact behavior and where these norms and assumptions come from
- Understand what happens if different rules and norms are handles in a group
- Realize the role of intercultural communication in order to understand one another
- Experience majority/minority relations
Anyone interested in understanding the effects of cultural differences on intercultural communication. You need at least 8 participants, max 40 participants, working in groups of 4 participants per group.
1 set of poker playing cards (28 cards) of ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 of each suit, per table
1 set of handouts per table
Possible names for the game e.g. Five Tricks Card Game (used here), Smokey’s Cards, Volunteer Bridge
20 – 30 min for playing the game
20 – 30 for the debriefing discussion
The game rules
Organize the participants in groups of four players per group and place each group around one table. Share the game rules of the ‘Five Tricks Card Game’ amongst the participants. While participants assume that the game rules are the same, you actually spread games rules that differ slightly from each other. This is the hidden element of ‘Barnga’, which officially you call ‘Five Tricks Card Game’ amongst your participants.
- Train the game by inviting the participants to play and follow the rules that they just received. Allow participants to play several turns to make sure that all of them understood ‘their rules’ correctly. Afterwards you remove the game rules from the group tables since now it is time to actually start playing!
- Round 1: In round one, participants are invited to play a tournament which should take place silently. None is allowed to talk or write down notes. Participants can communicate by means of gestures or drawings on a notepad in case they are of different meaning on how to play the tournament. After five minutes the two winners of each group (those who won most sets of the tournament) are asked to stand up.
- Round 2: In round two the winning participants change tables and rotate clockwise. When joining a different tables, the winning participants will be exposed to a new set of rules which they are not aware of and which therefore causes confusion. As a game master you keep on highlighting that verbal communication is not allowed and you encourage them to solve confusion by means of gestures. After five minutes the round finishes and the rotation takes place again for the two winning participant to switch tables clockwise.
- Round 3: In this round, none of the participants plays with their original teammates which enhances the level of confusion. Also in this round communication is not allowed and once again after 5 minutes the two winners of each team are announced.
Five tricks – The different versions
|Version||Ace||Trump card||Always playing trump?|
Invite your participants for the debriefing by asking the following questions to them:
1. How do you feel?
2. What happened?
3. What have you learned?
4. How does this game focus our attention on the hidden aspects of culture?
5. Can you come up with examples of real-life situations where you encountered the same type of confusion?
6. What would have happened if you: would have known the rules beforehand? Were allowed to talk during the game, money would have been involved?
Since this is a game to raise awareness, there is no assessment.
Reflection from students
“During the game, all did their best, but each group was operating out of a different set of circumstances and ground rules.”
“Many discovered or suspected that the rules were different, but didn’t always know what to do to bridge the differences.”
“Even if people knew how the rules were different, they didn’t always know what to do to bridge the differences”
“Communicating with the others is difficult; it demands sensitivity and creativity”
Thiagarajan, S. (2011) Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes