Culture Learning: Simulations & Exercises

Games are a fun and effective way to introduce issues of cultural awareness and intercultural communications to students. The information on this page, compiled by the Intercultural Studies Project, is a good place to start looking for specific cultural simulations and exercises and for ways to incorporate them into the curriculum.

Films and videos also make good introductions to issues related to culture, and can serve as starting points for classroom discussions of such issues.

Simulation Games

Aid to Minorians / Intercultural Sourcebook
  Participants are divided into two groups: The Minorians are a poor and underdeveloped society; while the Majorians are wealthy and are trying to plan a project to help the Minorians. Cultural assumptions and the relationship between donor and receiving parties are examined. Found in the Intercultural Sourcebook Vol 1: Cross-Cultural Training Methods. This book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers. Also adapted by Michigan State University.

/ Beyond Experience
  This is a nonverbal role-playing activity that can incorporate a variety of themes, such as male-female relationships and privilege. Participants are asked to watch a brief role-play and then describe what they saw. Most will interpret what they saw and begin to judge the characters in the role while only having seen, but not heard, anything. This exercise provides a good example of how people give meaning to unique events based on their own experiences. Available on the Youth for Understanding website.

Annamay in Mexico
/ Cultures Crossing
  A fictional company, Annamay Designs, Inc. is a thirteen-year-old manufacturing company, specializing in designing and assembling original dolls, doll furniture, and doll clothing. It runs a single factory in Apex, North Carolina. Grace Donovan, the CEO of Annamay Designs, faces a crucial decision. As a result of increasing orders, increasing labor and operations costs, Donovan must soon decide whether or not to outsource to a Mexican maquiladora.Grace Donovan and her two closest advisors travel to Tijuana, Mexico to investigate the possibility of outsourcing some or all the manufacturing to a maquiladora. See the CulturesCrossing website.

Bafa' Bafa'
/ Simulation Training Systems
  Participants are divided into two cultures, and are asked to travel back and forth between them. Players try to understand the other culture through these visits while maintaining their own cultural role. This simulation shows how easy it is to misinterpret actions and exchanges when the rules are unfamiliar, and it demonstrates the need for thought-out strategies when learning about a new culture. One of the most tried-and-true simulations games available! See the Simulation Training Systems website.

/ Intercultural Press (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)
  A nonverbal game in which participants are divided into groups to learn a card game based on a number of simple rules. What the participants do not know is that each group's set of rules is slightly different, so when they begin to play the game with others conflict develops. As players are not allowed to talk, they must rely on other means of communication. While sometimes explosive, this game demonstrates how quickly ingroup-outgroup dynamics form. Available through Intercultural Press or see instructions on the University of Michigan Inclusive Teaching website.

Brief Encounters
/ HRD Press
  The purpose of this cross-cultural simulation game is to explore how people perceive cultural differences. It explores concepts and skills such as enculturation, ethnocentrism, first impressions, and interacting with culturally different groups. Find resources on the Peace Corps website.

/ HRD Press
  This simulation encourages participants to pay attention to the dynamics of small group interactions. The purpose is to have participants experience variations in conversational styles and to modify their behavior appropriately. Find resources on the Peace Corps website.

The Cost of Your Shirt
/ Resource Center of the Americas

This simulation exercise is based on the real-life drama of a Guatemala City maquiladora. Exploring the global issues behind a union dispute, students play the roles of plant managers, workers, government representatives, and concerned US citizens.

The Resource Center of the Americas is no longer publishing this simulation, but a digital copy is archived in the Princeton University Digital Library.

/ Simulation Training Systems
  Participants form teams and each team is instructed to manage the affairs of a fictional nation. The nations vary in their resources, strengths, and weaknesses, but must work together to solve an international conflict.

Diversophy: Understanding the Human Race
/ George Simons International
  A board game that helps develop the skills necessary to understand and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. A conference version is available for large groups. The average playing time is 60-90 minutes. See the Diversophy website.

Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Aross Cultures
/ Cultural Detective
  A powerful and extremely adaptable simulation, Ecotonos breaks the usual stereotypes and barriers. Participants improve their skills and strategies for multicultural collaboration and teamwork. Ecotonos can be used multiple times with the same people by selecting a new problem and different variables, with each replay offering new and different cross-cultural perspectives. Eight to fifty (or even a thousand) participants form three groups and create their own cultures. Participants begin to work in their monocultural groups, then mix groups to continue the task multiculturally. The simulation and debriefing require a minimum of two hours. See the Cultural Detective website.

The Emperor's Pot
/ Experiential Activities for Intercultural Learning. Volume 1
  This simulation focuses on the different cultural assumptions and values of different groups as one group tries to obtain a valued object from another. Also known as the East-West Game. This simulation can be found in the book Experiential Activities for Intercultural Learning. This book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers.

Guns or Butter
/ Simulation Training Systems
  Guns or Butter will help the students understand current events at a visceral level. It's one experience for a student to see a news report on North Korea's plan for nuclear development, it's quite another to see such a report and be able to feel as though youÕve been through a similar experience and can understand the pressures felt and decisions that leaders made in creating the situation. See the Simulations Training Systems website.

/Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
  Similar to Bafa Bafa, this game is easier to conduct. In this game, the cultural rules are intentionally vague so as to make the participants decide on their own cultural rules. Thus, this exercise looks at howdecisions are made, as well as how one interacts with another culture group. See the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education website.

Hostage Crisis
/ Moorehead Kennedy Institute
  In this game, terrorists threaten to harm U.S. hostages unless their demands are met. As the demands are not feasible, negotiation becomes critical. The main themes in this game are Middle Eastern nationalism, issues of justice, and cross-cultural understanding. See WorldCat for information.

Jeneryn in India /
Cultures Crossing
  Katerina Poliakov, CEO of Jeneryn Medical Transcription Services, faces a compelling and frustrating challenge: The U.S. medical transcription industry is projected to grow by 20 percent annually and the job outlook for medical transcriptionists is quite healthy. However, the number of qualified MT workers in the U.S. shrinks every year. Without workers, Poliakov cannot sustain her 14-year old company. Reluctantly, she decides to investigate the world of offshore medical transcription in India. After initiating due diligence of several Indian firms, she and her company officers will travel to Chennai, India to perform deeper diligence, and possibly negotiate an outsourcing agreement with an Indian company. See the CulturesCrossing website.

/ Weeks, Pederson, & Brislin
  Participants are separated into four groups with differing backgrounds and interests. They meet to negotiate the allocation of a specific amount of money. They must decide within an allotted amount of time or the money will be lost. Likewise, the game requires unanimous agreement rather than simply majority rule on the decision, so the only way for any group to win is for all groups to win. Found in the Manual of Structured Experiences for Cross-Cultural Learning. This book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers.

Redundancia: A Foreign Language Simulation
/ Cultural Detective
  Participants experience speaking a language nonfluently: how it affects one's ability to stay focused and connected with the listener, and one's feelings of competence and confidence. Participants also experience listening to second language speakers: their own tendencies to help or to become distracted . See the Cultural Detective website.

The Malonarian Cultural Expedition Team
/ Intercultural Sourcebook: Cross-Cultural Training Methods. Volume 2.
  In this simulation, participants play a team of cultural anthropologists from the Republic of Malonaria. The team's assignment is to study the United States in order to prepare for educational and diplomatic exchanges between the two cultures. A values approach is taken, and members of the team are asked to compare American and Malonarian values as a way to further understanding. Found in the Intercultural Sourcebook Vol 2: Cross-Cultural Training Methods. The book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers.

The Martian Anthropology Exercise
/ Beyond Experience: The Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Education
  In this exercise, participants are supposed to pretend that they are studying a new culture, that of the "Martians". The players are divided into groups, and each group is given a task to complete before all reconvene as a large group.  Each small group has a different assignment, and assignments can be altered to fit the specific themes that the teacher would like to discuss. Suggested group tasks include going to the public library to study kinship patterns, or going to a cafe to study communication patterns. Each group is to pretend that they have never had contact with this "Martian" culture before, so they must try to make sense of it and then report back to the larger group. Found in the book Beyond Experience: The Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Education. This book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers.

The Owl
/ Beyond Experience The Experiential Approache to Cross-Cultural Education
  A group of reporters are assigned to interview members of another country and, if acting appropriately, can gain access to a mysterious cultural event. If they accomplish the task, the reporters will have their story. Communication problems arise, though, and the reporters are faced with the dilemma of needing information while also needing to find a culturally appropriate way to ask for it. Found in the book Beyond Experience: The Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Education. This book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers.

/ Simulation Training Systems
  Participants form groups with different economic statuses and learn to trade with each other as a way to improve their economic status. The most economically viable group is allowed to alter the rules, though. Alliances quickly form and ingroup-outgroup dynamics become evident as well as assumptions about the uses and abuses of power. See the Simulations Training Systems website.

Tisouro: Creating Felt Needs
/Beyond Experience: The Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Education
  In this simple exercise players gather in a circle and pass a pair of scissors to each other. They are only allowed to say how they are passing the scissors, either closed, crossed or open. The facilitator gives the instructions in a way that is ambiguous between participants having the scissors or their legs be closed, crossed, or open when they pass the scissors. This exercise examines nonverbal communication, conflicting signals, and feelings of beinf left out or not understanding within a group context. Found in the book Beyond Experience: The Experiential Approach to Cross-Cultural Education. This book is out of print, but can be found through Amazon and other book sellers.

Where Do You Draw the Line
/ Simulation Training Systems
  Designed by Gary Shirts, this ethics game explores what "should be" without excluding consideration of what "is". See the Simulations Training Systems website.



Adams, D. (1973). Simulation Games: An approach to Learning. Worthington, OH: Charles A. Jones Publishing Company.

Batchelder, D. & Warner, E.C. (1977). Beyond Experience. Battleboro, VT: Experiment in International Living.

Buckley, R. & Caple, J. (1990). The Theory and Practice of Training. San Diego, CA: University Associates.

Fowler, S. M. (1977). Intercultural Sourcebook. Pittsburg, PA

Fowler, S.M. & Mumford, M.G. (1995). Intercultural Sourcebook. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Gochenouz, T. (ed.) (1993). Beyond Experience: The Experiential Approach to Cross-cultural Training (2nd ed.) Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Greenblat, C.S. (1988). Designing Games and Simulations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Horn, R.E. & Cleaves, A. (Eds.) (1980). The Guide to Simulations / Games for Education and Training. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Jones, K. (1983). Simulations for Language Teaching. New Directions in Language Teaching Series. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, K. (1985). Designing Your Own Simulations. New York, NY: Routledge Chapman and Hall.

Jones, K. (1987). Simulation: Handbook for Teachers. New York, NY: Nichols Publishers.

Jones, K. (1988). Interactive Learning Events. New York, NY: Nichols Publishers.

Kohls, L. R. & Knight, J. M. (1994). Developing Cross-cultural Awareness. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Pfeffer, J. W. & Bronstein, R. H. (1988). Simulations and Games. Training Technology Series. San Diego, CA: University Associates.

Pusch, M. D. (Ed.). (1979). Multicultural Education: A Cross-cultural Training Approach. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Simile II Catalogue. Simulations Games for Universities and Colleges: Games for other Ages. Del Mar, CA: Simile II.

Taylor, J. & Walford, R. (1978). Learning and the Simulation Game. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Weeks, W., Pederson, P.P. & Brislin, R.W. (1977). A Manual of Structured Experiences for Cross-cultural Learning. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

There are a number of journals that devote much of their effort to experiential learning activities as well, such as:


Game Distributors

American Forum for Global Education
The American Forum for Global Education is currently reforming. However, they still offer and excellent set of language and intercultural education curriculum resources:

Cultural Detective
Phone: (913) 901-0243

George Simons International
Domaine les RŽsidences de l'Argentire - B‰timent A
637 Boulevard de la Tavernire
06210 Mandelieu-La Napoule, France
Phone: +33 4 92 97 57 35

236 Plateau Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 531-4706
Website: or

HRD Press (in association with Workshops by Thiagi)
22 Amherst Road
Amherst, MA 01002
Phone: (800) 822-2801

Intercultural Press (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)
20 Park Plaza, Suite 610
Boston, MA 02116
Phone: 617 523 3801

Meridian International Center 
1630 Crescent Place NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 667-6800

Simulation Training Systems 
P.O. Box 910
Del Mar, CA 92014
Phone: (800) 942-2900

Workshops by Thiagi 
4423 E. Trailridge Road
Bloomington, IN 47408
Phone: (812) 332-1478


Professional Associations

Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning (ABSEL)
c/o Mick Fekula
School of Business Administration
The Citadel
171 Moultrie St.
Charleston, SC 29409

ISAGA The International Simulation and Gaming Association
Appelternhof 24
6581 GW Malden
The Netherlands

Japan Association of Simulation and Gaming (JASAG)
1-4-24, Hiyoshi-Honcho, Kohoku-Ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa, 223-0062 JAPAN
+81 45-562-5447

North American Simulations & Gaming Association (NASAGA)

Simulation And Gaming Association - The Netherlands (SAGANET)

Society for the Advancement of Games & Simulations in Education & Training (SAGSET)

Society of Simulation and Gaming of Singapore (SSAGSG)
National University of Singapore
School of Computing
13 Computer Drive, Computing 1
Singapore 117417

Swiss Austrian German Simulation And Gaming Association (SAGSAGA)
Holzstr. 33 
80469 MŸnchen

Thai Simulation and Gaming Association (ThaiSIM)


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