Monday, November 10, 2008

The Cultures Game

Tonight at our Engineers with a Mission meeting we played a cultural simulation game. We divided into two groups, alphas and betas. The alphas simulated a communal culture and their purpose in life was to accumulate friendships; the betas simulated an individualistic culture and their purpose in life is to accumulate points from a card game. This is how it works:

First we separate the two groups. We tell the alphas that their purpose is to make friendships. They must do this within the bounds of the culture we define for them. Specifically, they must greet each other with an extended (min. 30 second) handshake. They must introduce themselves to each other in relationship to some other male in their family such as, Brian son of Jim, or Chuck grandson of Elmer. Then they must learn one thing about the other person such as their major, or their home town, and then play a simple game together. It is a variation on rock-paper-scissors using Uno cards. It doesn't really matter who wins, it's just part of what the alpha culture requires to "build a friendship". After they play the game they initial each other's friendship card and they are friends.

If, however, they do any of these steps incorrectly or out of order, then they have offended the other party who must hold up a blue card of offense. Furthermore, the offender gets a (washable) ink mark on their thumb which will be visible to anyone else with whom they shake hands in the future. Two such marks and they are booted out of the culture - they have to go wash their hands and come back, loosing valuable friendship-building time.

Oh yes, one other aspect of this culture is that men can't talk to women without permission from the "town leader" who is the oldest male in the group. A man speaking to a woman without such permission gets a thumb mark of offense too.

Now the beta culture is entirely different. Their purpose in life is to accumulate points by playing a card game. Everyone has ten cards, and is trying to trade cards, one-for-one, with other players to gain a straight of six cards of the same suit. The problem is, they have a very limited language. To trade a card, they must hold it up to another beta and verbally describe the card they want to trade for it. They must use the following language:

Clubs = Coo
Diamonds = Doo
Spades = Soo
Hearts = Hoo.

For numbers, betas count the syllables in the speech, they pay no attention to the consonants or vowels. The consonants must be their initials, and the vowels can be any they want. So if your name is Bob Jones and you want to ask for a seven of diamonds, you say "Doo Ba Ji Ba Ji Ba Ji Ba" or perhaps "Doo Be Ja Be Ja Be Ja Be".

If the other beta does not have the card being requested, he/she crosses her arms in front to say no. If they want to say yes, they pat themselves on the back. There are no words for hello, thank you, or for any other relationship-building purposes.

Crossed arms means "no deal"

The first 20 minutes we spend teaching the alphas and betas their respective cultures. Then we send a handful of alphas to the beta room, and a handful of betas to the alpha room. They try to interact with each other and learn how individualistic cultures (like Americans and betas) and communal cultures (like Africans, middle-east cultures, Latin America, and alphas) are very different. Invariably they offended each other, misunderstood each other, and considered each other rude. The betas quickly get kicked out of the alpha culture, and the alphas get taken advantage of in the beta culture. We sent several sorties back and forth so everyone gets the experience.

In the end we got back together and discussed how each group viewed each other. We had betas describe alphas and alphas describe betas. We have alphas say what they think is important to a beta and so on. Sometimes they got it right and sometimes not! We had a good laugh and perhaps learned something. Bi Ti Bi Ti.


Eduardo said...

Whoa, I'm in a youtube video... I guess I can cross that off of my list of things to do before I'm 30.

Missionaries in La Ceiba, Honduras said...

That's awesome! So were you able to find all the directions, etc. on-line somewhere? I would love to get a copy of it if you have it. And awesome that you did this for your class! Great experience!