Interview of George Simons by Matthieu Tassetti of Homo Ludens

 

 

Homo Ludens - George Simons - Bring people together

George Simons permet à des personnes avec des cultures différentes de se rencontrer (Bring people together) et de se comprendre. Dans ce contexte, le jeu est un formidable outil pour amener les gens interagir entre-eux. Par l’intermédiaire du jeu, ils discutent des comportements appropriés à avoir en fonction de la culture dans laquelle on se trouve. L’objectif de l’interculturalité est donc d’apporter une meilleure compréhension de l’autre et d’effacer la peur de ce qui nous est étranger.

George Simons à travers diversophy® crée des jeux utilisables par les facilitateurs et les formateurs pour animer des ateliers d’interculturalité. Ce sont en majorité des jeux de cartes car ils sont plus faciles à emmener. Mais il n’est pas exclu de voir la gamme proposée par diversophy® s’enrichir de nouveaux types de jeux.

Je ne peux que vous encourager à prendre le temps vous rencontrer autour d’un jeu!

Bonne écoute!

www.matthieutassetti.com

 

Find George's original interview 🎧 on the podcast website: https://lnkd.in/gukV3rH or 🎧 on Apple Podcasts: https://lnkd.in/gfV-CUd

 

The transcription:

 

Introduction

Does gaming help us to better understand the other and erase, or at least reduce the fear of what is foreign to us? In this new episode of Homo Ludens, George Simons will share his insights on the use of games in an intercultural context, gaming to facilitate the work between teams of different cultures, gaming to understand a new culture in an immigration context.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

Good day to all. Today I am offering you a program in English. I welcome George Simons who will speak to us about the use of games in intercultural contexts, how games can encourage people to concentrate and learn. I wish you good listening. Hello, George Simons. Welcome to Homo Ludens, Can you tell us who you are and what you are doing?

 

George Simons

My name is George Simons. I was born in the USA. My grandparents were immigrants from Poland and Austria. For the last 25 years I have lived in the south of France – one of the best choices I’ve ever made. What do I do for a living? I am a consultant and a trainer in the intercultural field. What is particularly engaging for me is that, for the past quarter century, I have been creating intercultural games under the label of diversophy, (wisdom about differences) focused on understanding, collaborating with and acculturating with different peoples, other habits and dissimilar ways of life. Recently I've become intensely interested in seeing how games can bring people together and resolve potential social conflicts and misunderstandings. So, that's my 82 years in short.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

What are the goals of your company and of diversophy?

 

George Simons

Basically, what we do is, work on intercultural understanding and competence. We have over 100 games, and there are games in thirteen different languages at the moment.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

Could you explain to us what interculturality is?

 

George Simons

Well, that's a good question. Basically, what we’re trying to do is create the ability for people to get to know, work with, collaborate with and become creative with people who are different from themselves. This has been a human challenge for ages, but it's particularly highlighted now given the global environment in which we work in. The fact that we are dealing with people from different cultures, not only living far away from us via the Internet or social networks, but also in everyday life. Our world is becoming more and more diverse. And, at the same time, there's a threat on the horizon, the growing fear we have of each other, which has led to a lot of populism in politics in the last several years and feels like a very dangerous tendency. So, to me, one of the missions that I have is to make these games useful for people to not only learn about each other, but connect with each other face-to-face as they play, and reduce what we would call the “us versus them” attitudes and behaviors that are so easy to come by today.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

What, more precisely, is the job of the cross-cultural trainer?

 

George Simons

Well, basically it’s a very diverse thing in itself. For example, I may be called upon to teach cross-cultural communication, negotiation, management, how to work in a global team with people from diverse backgrounds and diverse locations. So fundamentally it’s mostly classroom or training room activity. Although, some of it takes place now online, and I’m moving to some activities in that direction. But the face-to-face encounter of people and learning together is an extremely important part of what I feel that I do. I teach courses not only for private and public organizations, but I've been invited to teach in management schools and universities, and so on, exploring the process of working for interculturality and helping young people learn how to be more culturally competent as they go out into this very diverse world and workplace.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

How did you come upon using games in your work?

 

George Simons

Well it's a long story, and I generally send people to my website. There's a whole history there, but, fundamentally, it started when I was working at Oberlin College in Ohio where I was also responsible for training student staff. These were the senior students that were helping the younger students in the dormitories and residences of university. They faced various situations that they needed to learn about, find appropriate ways to intervene. So, I created a board game at that point, a game in which they would encounter those situations by landing on different spaces of the board. Then they would have to explore them and discuss them with each other and come up with good answers.

 

That's the dynamic that has continued to this day in the games that I create. However, we’ve left the boardgame and the games consist largely of sets of cards of five different kinds and a card selection mechanism, like dice or randomizing the cards. That was something that developed when we realized the trainers couldn't take five big-box games together in a briefcase, if they have thirty people in a training session. But they could take one box of cards that would serve thirty people. So, the design of the game been under developmental over the years.

 

After I was left the university, the diversity movement kept building in the USA stimulated by Workforce 2000 report at which point we created games about diverse situations in the US workplace and US culture. This resulted in the first really published box game. It was quite popular but, as I said, we ran into this problem of its too big to haul mess of them around. So, we created more versions of the games which could be played by larger groups. Today you can take one of our games and play with 4 people or you can get a version that you can use for 2000 people.

 

It’s been a matter of the development of the style and technique and the flexibility of the game, but, fundamentally, the idea of getting people to respond to situations and questions has been the essence of the game. We give people information about a culture to learn about and react to; we take people and we put them in situations where something positive or negative might happen in a different culture; we put people in the situations where we asked them to compare how's things are done in one culture with how they're done in their own culture; we give them situations in which they have to choose what might be the best behavior in a certain situation or context when dealing with another culture. Finally, we also have some very factual questions about different cultures, what happened in their history, their behaviors and the activities of people.

 

Fundamentally, we’ve created a game for people to play for about an hour or so and then discuss the results with each other in a short debriefing. But the greatest value of the game we see is not just the information they gain about different cultures but the face-to-face encounter that allows them to see each other as real people rather than “us versus them”, as I mentioned earlier.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

As you said, the games enable bringing people together. Are there other interesting things about using games in the cross-cultural context?

 

George Simons

Well, first of all, you know that the benefit of using games is that games provide us with an artificial world, created by the rules of the game, the boundaries of the game. It’s like going to another place in which your old everyday rules may not apply, and you are given the opportunity to risk new behaviors, to try new ideas, to interact in different ways. So, first and formost the important thing I find about the games is that they let you be in another world where you can interact more freely with each other and in what you do. That has some real benefits in the sense that what it does is allows us to learn more, simply because new things will strike us more effectively.

 

The element of chance – we roll dice and draw our cards – inspires us to have a higher level of receptivity and the higher level of awareness when we are playing a game. Often the playing of the game also asks us to imitate, or mime, or step into someone else's shoes and behave as someone else would, so we’re allowed to try out new behaviors that way. Sometimes games also will help us to feel different physically – they move us around. We get new behaviors that we’re allowed to try, so our old patterns get disrupted and we experience some new things in the process. There is lots of study about games all the way back to the book Homo Ludens (now the name of your podcast series) where we identify the fact that play is a very important part of learning not just for children, but for adults as well. What people do in games is often remembered far better, and relationships of people create in games often break through the boundaries that have restricted them somewhere in the past.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

Are there cultures which are more willing to use games at work in a professional context?

 

George Simons

Yes, there are. Although what we’re seeing is almost a worldwide adoption of games, labelled “serious gaming”, for what's going on both in business and in the workplace around games. Now people find that they’re getting much more accustomed to games. When I started out, it was very clear that gaming seemed to be “that’s play, that's not work”. Now what we’re discovering is that the best kind of work is work towards which we have an attitude of play. Frequently the games that are used in the workplace, in the marketplace and so on, are much more effective than the traditional kind of learning or communication that we’ve had. The games that we play open doors to new things. I've encountered cultures where people are still literally say about games, “These are not very serious”.

 

I've also encountered cultures where sometimes gaming is not only not seen seriously, but games of chance, just rolling dice in certain groups for religious or philosophical reasons may be avoided as something evil or something that one should not engage in. There will be rules or there will be cultural values, conscious or unconscious, in which people will find that they are more or less resistant to games. Cultures may thus vary in whether they'll play games, how long they'll play games, how sincerely they’ll play games, how much they will get into it. A number of other factors can also appear as people experience games and their values come to the foreground. As I said, one of the great things about games is that they do challenge values because they put us in this artificial world where we just say, “Okay those are the rules of another world than the one you live in. These are the rules of the game. Let's play by the rules of the game and see what we get”.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

You are using mostly cards. Would you like to try also other kinds of games?

 

George Simons

I have a lot of activities that I use. Some of them that could be called games, and some of them = are just activities. Our cards actually instigate activities on the part of the players. However, I'm seeing lots of games that address issues in real life that are boardgames or are online games, for example. I have not ventured very deeply into online games though I have the possibility of doing my games online. Mostly this is because I’ve found that, with my limited resources, the most important thing that I can do is to get people together to play face-to-face. Now as technology advances you can also do things face-to-face, just like we’re having this conversation now as if it was face-to-face online. I'm exploring how that sort of thing may be done with the content of and focus on the issues and values that I've been trying to put into our diversophy games over the years.

 

When it comes to intercultural training – yes, there are lots of games that people can use, and people can invent their own games, you know. One of the games that, for example, that I've used in a group of people goes like this: I have a set of labels that are on rubber bands that each person can put on their head. On the label is the name of the kind of person they are, e.g., their nationality, their ethnicity, their occupation or something of that sort. The people also have a little piece of paper on their back. The players mingle about and look at each other's labels and write on the paper on the person’s back their automatic impressions of such a person, what they feel, their stereotypes about them and so on. The people don't know who they are, as they haven't seen the label that’s on their forehead. A group will do this for ten or fifteen minutes. After this they sit down and they take their paper off their back and read what other people think of them, what other people’s stereotypes of them are, and then they try to guess their own identity. I found that this game is incredibly interesting because people almost always do discover their identity. The lesson that's involved in that, of course, is that stereotypes are so strong and so widespread that we participate in them very unknowingly, and this brings that realization that, “Wow, how much do I stereotype people before really getting to know them”.

 

That's one example of another game that I've used in intercultural training and diversity training in the past. There are dozens of them. I collected them at one point with several other people in a book of 50 exercises. Most of them could be described as games for intercultural learning. And about two years ago or three years ago another group of people did the same thing. There's a lot of tools out there, and people can become creative about it. In this last meeting that we had with the SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research) Congress that we held in Belgium in Leuven, we had a 2-day gamification course and it wound up with people forming small groups for the creation of new games that they felt would be useful. Thus far in the follow-up, one of the groups conducted a game for about a week about saying “no” in different cultures. I expect it will be going on forward with other kinds of exploration from these groups. It's a little slow at the moment because it's summertime in Europe. On July and August we just sit at home and sweat. I'm so happy that this is a wonderful just voice experience between you and me, because I'm sitting here in my T-shirt and shorts because it's so hot here in the south of France! Luckily no images.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

You’re using games in Cross-cultural workshops. Can you tell us a bit more about what goes on before and after the game?

 

George Simons

There's two ways to go about this. One is that the games that we create can be played by people anywhere at any time. All I need is the materials and the facilitator guide. However, when I do workshops, the design then incorporates the games for specific learning objectives of the organization, or the company, or the group that I'm working with.

 

For example, about 2 years ago a French company was sold to a US American company. The French company had offices in various places in France, in Brazil, and so on. We created a course about working with US Americans for the HR people and the managers of the French company that was being sold to the US company. In the process of that then we explored the values, the stories, the behaviors, and so on, that differ between the French organization and the US organization and played a game on US culture with the French participants. This was one of our diversophy games.

 

What happens in the culture and what happens in the workshop is that we come to the point where we want to explore on a very practical basis what happens between people so we spend a little time familiarizing people with the game with a short, ten-minute introduction about how to play it. Then people play for forty or fifty minutes, or even up to an hour and a quarter usually. T|hen we will have a debrief about what they learned and what they want to apply, and so on and so forth. The game both helps people to apply what they've been learning throughout the day, as well as raises questions about what they want to learn next or what they need to improve in their perception of the other culture and how they are going to interact with it.

 

I currently have a client who was involved in the Belt and Road project in China, and they're very interested in training Chinese managers, and enterprises, and workers in cultures around the world where the Belt and Road project will move, as China seeks to go westward into Europe and Africa with their plans for this marketing and development effort. We see a significant role for the games that we have and of course significant challenge in the defining and translating the materials needed for people to play these games in various cultures, if it's integrated into the kind of work we do in cross-cultural training.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

What advice could you give to someone who wants to use games in the cross-cultural context?

 

George Simons

Good question. I teach a facilitation course in the universities. I have two universities or partners working with me in the development of games. One has developed three games and another one is on its fourth game. Basically, knowing how to facilitate can be helpful as far as our games are concerned, but what a person should do is try the game in a safe context and see what their role will be. Most of the time the people who lead games are basically facilitators and that's an important thing to remember. We have a good facilitator guide for our games and most games come with instructions about how to use them and how to apply them, if you're using them in teaching or some other kind of environment. An important thing is that a facilitator is a person who does exactly that – makes it easy for people to play, makes the game go smoothly. I know some people are afraid of leading games, especially games like the ones that have lots of information in them. They don't need to be the experts on the information. What they need to do is be the people who can help people explore, play, connect with each other and make sure that the rules of the game which enable people to do that are well observed.

 

I guess the first thing I’d like to say is, don't be afraid of games, you don't have to be a master gamer of any sort, you just need to be a good teacher or facilitator when you use the games. There are enormous numbers of games to choose from. One just has to go online to see the various websites of gaming, all kinds of stuff and how to use them. It depends on your learning objectives. For most of our games, for example, we have about two hundred to two hundred-fifty cards which cannot all be played in 40 minutes, so I encourage the people who are training to make sure that they pick out the information they want to use from these card sets, that which really suits their learning objectives. They need to know what is it that they're trying to have the people in their group experience, learn, exchange, discuss with each other. I guess number one advice is don't be afraid to use games, number two is to make sure that you pick games that will support the learning objectives that you have for your group, or your group has for itself, or your client has for the situation.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

We have arrived at the end of this episode. Do you want to add something that we may have forgotten to mention?

 

George Simons

Yes, what I'd really just like to add is encouragement to be creative, encouragement to take risks, find like-minded people with whom you can explore new ideas, make your organization or your part in it the kind of place where new ideas, and creative exercises, and activities can address issues, tasks, challenges that you're facing in new and fresh ways. This is basically what gaming does, and I think from an intercultural point of view I realize that we have constructed worldviews, meta-recits as it is called in French sociology, metanarratives that we live by, that we take as our reality, and we don't realize that these have been socially constructed. Gaming and playing is a way for us to not only see the limits of our worldviews of these metanarratives, but helps us to change them, correct them, create new ones. That's the real challenge going forward in a world where we see the politics, and competition, and all kinds of issues that are painful to our humanity. It’s time to do something about that.

 

Well. that's my sermon for this interview and I'm hoping that people will take their time. You need time to play, in other words, you need to stop doing some of the things you're doing, give yourself some empty space to play and use that to become creative. Unfortunately, most people or a lot of people are really trying to do their job. They “put their nose to the grindstone”, as we say in English, and keep working on and on don't have the leisure, or don't take the leisure, to follow other instincts that will come to the fore if you take time to be quiet by yourself or in fun company from time to time. For those who are the workaholics of the world – gaming, and thinking about gaming, and using games is the part of the therapy for that.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

Great thank you. Two last questions. Which game would you like to recommend to us?

 

George Simons

Well, my own game, of course, and our most popular version of that game which exists in about six or seven languages now and is called diversophy Cultural Competence. It's the basic game for getting to know yourself, what are the ways to know yourself, what are the ways to know others, what are the things that will get you from being scared and in your shell to being curious and taking in lots of the richness and possibilities that exist in the world around you. If there's any one game I like to recommend that I like to start with, it is that one, and then you can have all the rest you want. I think is the ground and the groundbreaking part of our work with intercultural gaming. There's lots of stuff out there. Be curious, find what you can. That's the starting point I would recommend.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

Finally, if we want to know a bit more about you, diversophy, or using games used in cross-cultural context, where can we find more information?

 

George Simons

First of all, just go to our website, www.diversophy.com – that's DIVERS, like people who jump in the water, and OPHY, like the end of philosophy– diversophy. There you will find all our games along with the background and the history and lots of other resources that will help you in intercultural work. And, of course, anybody who wants to reach me can also just write to the diversophy@gmail.com, and I faithfully answer my mail.

 

Matthieu Tassetti

Okay, thank you very much, George Simons.

 

George Simons

Thank you, Matthieu.

 

Enjoy listening to other podcasts about gaming on Matthieu Tassetti’s Homo Ludens site at: www.matthieutassetti.com


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