"Xenophilia" – An Intercultural Computer Game

Learning Intercultural Skills by Playing

Why would the Chinese never blow their nose at the table, and what is the name of the Islamic prayer leader? The computer game "Xenophilia" guides young people through the world of social etiquette, good manners, and customs in other countries.

Petra Tabeling reports

"Xenophilia" helps break down prejudices by teaching young people about other cultures

​​After school many young people sit in front of a computer and call up unreal worlds on the computer screen with adventure games and "killer" games. The software game "Xenophobia – The Intercultural Game," on the other hand, brings a very real and everyday world to the computer screen: a world in which different cultures coexist.

As in real life, players encounter people from different cultures at home and abroad. Misunderstandings arise not only from insufficient language skills but especially from a lack of knowledge about the other culture. Understanding is the name of the game, and "Xenophilia" playfully explains cultural values, manners, and customs in other nations.

This is how it works: Players run across approximately one hundred questions as they travel through five different continents. They are also provided with background information about each country and its people. "Globi," a small companion, accompanies players as they tour from country to country.

With each correct answer, players accumulate basic knowledge about each region, building so-called bridges of understanding between Germany and other regions around the world.

The questions are highly complex. In particular they focus on those customs and habits of other countries that can really make players sweat if they are unfamiliar with them. But no matter what the outcome, the answers are amusing.

Why do the Lebanese stick bread dough on the doors of their houses?

For example, the answers to the questions of why you should not greet someone in Greece with an open hand, as is our custom, or why only men hold hands in Arab countries, or why bread dough might be stuck to someone's door in Lebanon.

The second phase of "Xenophilia" focuses on Germany: on everyday life and language, on prejudices and minorities, nationality, and migration. This phase of the game in particular informs young people about the reasons why refugees come to Germany, what illegality really means, and gives them a glimpse at the difficulties immigrants face in their everyday lives in Germany.

Especially in these sensitive points the designers of "Xenophilia" skillfully demonstrate that difficult questions about the politics of migration and asylum can be taught in a simple manner without losing the complexity of the whole picture, and not least of all in a way that breaks down prejudices.

"Xenophilia – The Intercultural Game" was created by the Bavarian research network "forarea." For its game on intercultural understanding, the project team was awarded the prestigious Comenius seal from the Society for Pedagogy and Information (GPI). "Forarea," a competence network for intercultural communication with its headquarters in Erlangen, has many years of experience in this field.

An opportunity to break down prejudices

The main objective of the research network is to advise companies and institutions in all matters relating to intercultural communication and management. Then, together with the Bavarian Ministry of Science, it came up with the idea of developing an educational game to teach young people intercultural skills.

According to Sonja Hock, the initiator of "forarea," "Xenophilia" is ideal not only for classrooms but also for projects involving young migrants and youth clubs dealing with integration-specific issues.

In a time of abstract debates on integration, "Xenophilia" is very successful as an entertaining educational game that helps to break down the prejudices held by young people.

It is thus a shame that other ministries of education and organizations interested in promoting integration have not come forward to sponsor the game on a national level. Nevertheless a version of "Xenophilia" will soon appear in Switzerland.

Petra Tabeling

© Qantara.de 2005

Translation from German: Nancy Joyce


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