The Culture Driven Game Design Method:
Adapting Serious Games to the Players’ Culture
C.J. Meershoek, R. Kortmann, S.A. Meijer, E. Subrahmanian,
and A. Verbraeck
In the process of interaction, the players of serious games will always bring their
own culture into the game (Consalvo 2009;Fine1983). Practice showed that if the
game is not aligned with the culture of the players, this can result in conﬂicting
behaviour that hampers the players to reach the objectives of the game. To solve
this issue the design of the game architecture needs to be adjusted. A method was
developed and tested in a collaboration project of the Delft University of Technology
in the Netherlands and the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy
from Bangalore, India. This chapter proposes the new Culture Driven Game Design
Method which supports serious game designers in adapting their game design to the
culture of the players. The Culture Driven Game Design Method provides a tool
to assess and represent the culture of the targeted players as well as a method to
process this assessment and avoid conﬂicts between the culture of the players and
the architecture of the game.
Let us demonstrate the effect of culture in serious games by providing two exam-
ples from the ﬁeld. The ﬁrst example comes from Germany where months of careful
C.J. Meershoek ()
Be Involved, The Hague, The Netherlands
Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
R. Kortmann • S.A. Meijer • A. Verbraeck
Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
Center for Study of Science, Technology, and Policy, Bangalore, India
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA
V. Dignum and F. Dignum (eds.), Perspectives on Culture and Agent-based Simulations,
Studies in the Philosophy of Sociality 3, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-01952-9__13,
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014
232 C.J. Meershoek et al.
and expensive preparation were put in the supply chain game that was set up for a
full afternoon of gameplay by a company department. Challenges in supply chain
management arise due to a lack of information availability throughout the chain.
The game was made to let the participants experience the consequences of this
information scarcity. Despite the extensive preparation, the game was ﬁnished in
less than 5 min after the department boss summoned each player to provide all the
information available in the game to him (Meijer et al. 2006). As a result of this
action, the objectives of the game were not met.
Another example involves a trading game designed at an American university.
When this game was played with American students it did not last long. The
opportunity to let other players go bankrupt was immediately interpreted as the
objective in the game. When the game was played with exchange students from
Taiwan it took hours and hours before the game was eventually aborted. At the time
the game was ended, none of the players had gone bankrupt. The opportunity to let
other players go bankrupt was not interpreted as the objective in the game by the
Taiwanese students. If any player was low on cash, he was helped by other players
so that bankruptcy was avoided. The teachers were stunned by this result of the
game (Mayer, personal communication).
The common factor in these examples is that the players were able to play the
game within the set of given rules but it still resulted in highly unexpected behaviour.
This implies that the group of players had a shared basis of unwritten rules that
structured their behaviour during the game that was unknown by the designer and
facilitator. This shared basis of unwritten rules can be dubbed the culture of that
speciﬁc group of players (Caluwé et al. 2008).
This culture-related behaviour changed the games in such a way that it is unlikely
that the objectives of the game have been met in these sessions. There is no need
in spending resources on a serious game if the objectives of the game cannot be
reached. These examples in fact emphasize the conclusion drawn in the work of
Hofstede (2008); cultural aspects of serious games are of paramount importance to
the acceptance and successful learning outcomes of simulation gaming sessions.
These conclusions affect serious gaming as a tool for complex multi-actor
problems. Serious gaming is an important tool in creating, explaining, building,
deploying and evaluating solutions for complex multi-actor problems (Abt 1970;
Duke 1974; Duke and Geurts 2004; Klabbers 2008; Mayer 2009; Mayer and
Veeneman 2002). Serious gaming provides the opportunity to interact with complex
models and experience (r)evolutionary changes (Mayer 2008). By doing this in a
game, solutions can be implemented and tested without damaging the real world
(Abt 1970). This is a great beneﬁt in a context of complex multi-actor problems
In order to avoid scenarios as sketched earlier, serious games need to be adapted
to the culture of the targeted players. It is possible to adapt serious games to
the culture of the targeted players by playtesting with these players (Fullerton
2008). Playtesting is the iterative process in which the game is designed, tested
and evaluated, each time improving the game, until the player experience meets
your criteria (Fullerton 2008). However, practice shows that playtesting with the
targeted players is not always possible or desirable from the game designers point of
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 233
view for two reasons. First, the development of new games is very costly and time-
consuming (Duke and Geurts 2004), it may therefore not be possible to organize
and facilitate such a test play session with all the targeted players, especially if that
target group consists of busy, expensive, high-ranking ofﬁcials. Second, playtesting
with the targeted players is undesirable from the point of view of the designers of the
game because they want to make a good ﬁrst impression. (e.g. for funding reasons)
So adapting serious games to the culture of the players through direct playtesting is
not always an option.
In search of alternative ways to adapt games to the players’ culture existing
serious game design methods, such as (Crawford 1984; Duke and Geurts 2004;
Fullerton 2008; Kortmann and Harteveld 2009), were analyzed. None of these
methods provide an alternative to the playtest method. It is therefore that this chapter
proposes a new method that is able to adapt serious games to the culture of the
players without playtesting it with the targeted players; the Culture Driven Game
13.2 Culture in Serious Games
Before describing the Culture Driven Game Design Method, this section provides
background and demarcates the problem by means of the theoretical basis of this
research. The theoretical basis consists of two interrelated frameworks of (Meijer
2009) and (Williamson 2000). The ﬁrst framework describes the inputs and outputs
of a serious game session. Using this framework the relation between a serious game
session and the culture of the players can be explained. The second framework
describes this culture and integrates it with the different environments in which
complex multi actor problems are dealt with. After the description of the two frame-
works, this theoretical basis was used to structure the demarcation of this research.
The ﬁrst framework of the theoretical basis of this research is a model of (Meijer
2009) which provides an overview of all the inputs and outputs of a gaming session.
This model is brieﬂy described here, whereas a more extensive explanation can be
found in (Meijer 2009).
In order to play a session with participants,adesign and a conﬁguration are
needed. The outputs of the session are quantitative and qualitative data together
with the experience the participants gained during the session. Part of what the
participants bring to the game is their personality, their relational history and their
culture1(Meijer 2009). This research is focussed on the inﬂuence of culture in
1It should be noted that this statement, and thereby the theoretical basis of this research, conﬂicts
with the theory of the magic circle. The magic circle is a widely used theoretical concept introduced
by (Huizinga 1955) which claims that the world in which a game is played is completely isolated
from the real world (Harvey 2006; Paras and Bizzocchi 2005; Salen and Zimmerman 2004). In
this research (Consalvo 2009;Fine1983) are followed who both concluded that the real world will
always intrude into the gameplay.
234 C.J. Meershoek et al.
It should be noted that the behaviour of participants cannot be explained by
culture alone, factors as relational history and personality also inﬂuence behaviour.
As a consequence culture cannot be observed directly, which is why in this research
a group test is used as a proxy for the collective parts. It is acknowledged that such
a group test will not reveal whether the collective parts stem from personality or
culture. However, a group test as such is considered the best proxy for culture.2
Culture exists at national, regional and corporate levels (Watson et al. 1994).
Culture is associated with beliefs, norms, mores, myths, value systems and structural
elements of a speciﬁed group of people (Nath 1988). This implicates that not
contesting your superior as a sign of respect is considered culture. But also the
use of 5 year plans for macro economical planning by the government is considered
culture. Because of this broad applicability of the term culture, the theoretical basis
of this research was extended with a second framework.
A model was used that integrates culture with the different environments in which
complex multi-actor problems are dealt with. This integrating model is the four layer
model of Williamson on new institutional economics (Williamson 1998,2000). See
The four layer model of Williamson is brieﬂy discussed here based on his work
(Williamson 1998,2000) and the interpretation of (Meijer 2009).
The model consists of four layers of social analysis, each with its own time
scale which gives an indication of the pace of change in that level. At the ﬁrst
level informal institutions are listed like customs, traditions, norms and religion.
These informal institutions change very slowly with a frequency estimated in terms
of centuries. Level 2 incorporates the institutional environment. This includes the
formal rules within society like laws. Level 3 is called governance and is about
how different entities interact given the institutional environment. This includes the
different types of contracting. At the fourth level the functioning of the ﬁrm itself
is optimized by means of resource allocation and employment. This is a continuous
The arrows connecting the different levels indicate that the higher levels inﬂuence
the lower ones. For example the informal institutions from level 1 inﬂuenced
the formation of the laws in level 2. But the institutional environment in level
2 is not completely determined by the informal institutions in level 1. Parts of
the institutional environment are consciously designed by going beyond taboos,
customs, traditions, and codes of conduct. This structure of inﬂuence and design
also applies to the lower levels of social analysis in the framework.
As stated, this four layer model integrates culture with the different environments
in which complex multi-actor problems are dealt with. Applying the model to
the complex multi-actor problem of the Indian electricity challenge provides
the following example elements from the environments in which the electricity
challenge needs to be solved.
2The individual differences in the group test are left out of the scope of this research as they can be
explained by either personality or variation in the measurements.
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 235
Fig. 13.1 Four layer model by (Williamson 2000)
– Level 1 – Informal institutions: Example of norms and values: From the
perspective of respect, the average Indian will not contradict its superior.
– Level 2 – Institutional environment: Examples of the legislative structure of
India: the Indian Electricity Act and the Energy Conservation Act.
– Level 3 – Governance environment: Examples of alignment of governance
structures with transactions: Five year plans for macro economical planning and
the New Hydro Policy.
– Level 4 – Resource allocation: Examples of the actual business: actual cost price
electricity generation, speciﬁc subsidies for renewable electricity generation.
All these elements of the complex multi-actor environment are part of the culture
that players bring to the game. As shown in the introduction of this chapter, complex
multi-actor problems often stretch to multiple levels of the four layer model. But
although all the levels are relevant, the choice was made to focus this research
on the inﬂuence on games by the informal institutions situated in the ﬁrst level
of the model of Williamson. The inﬂuence of the institutional environment and the
different governance structures are left out of the scope of this research.
236 C.J. Meershoek et al.
This choice to focus on informal institutions was made since in this ﬁeld the
largest contribution can be made in supporting serious game designers. Assessing
the culture of the institutional or governmental environment concerns the more
tangible concepts of policies, laws and regulations. For these assessments tools
are available to the professionals working with complex multi-actor problems like
policy analysis (Bruin and Heuvelhof 2002), network analysis (Bruin and Heuvelhof
2002) and systems engineering (Sage and Armstrong 2000).
This choice is possible since informal institutions and the institutional and
governmental environment are analyzed in complete different ways. Institutional
and governmental culture is assessed through researching the institutions, laws and
regulations which are in place by means of the methods mentioned above. The
culture from informal institutions can be assessed by means of questionnaires and
observing participants. This makes these assessments completely separate tasks
which opens the possibility to focus on one in this research.
Now the theoretical basis was described and the research demarcated a ﬁnal
remark needs to be made regarding the term culture as it is used in this chapter.
Using the framework of (Meijer 2009) it was explained that culture is one of
the characteristics that players bring into the game. Next, using the four layer
model of (Williamson 2000), it was described that this culture consists of elements
from all the complex multi-actor environments. This research is demarcated to the
inﬂuence of the informal institutions situated in the highest layer of the four layer
model. Although culture is more than the informal institutions, the term culture in
this chapter refers to the these informal institutions only. This is in line with the
interpretation of the four layer model by (Meijer 2009).
13.3 Culture Driven Game Design Method
The Culture Driven Game Design Method was developed and tested in a collabora-
tion project of the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands and
the Centre of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) from Bangalore, India. The
Culture Driven Game Design Method consists of a three-step procedure that is to be
inserted once in an iterative serious game design method. A schematic overview of
the Culture Driven Game Design Method is given in Fig. 13.2.
The starting point for applying the Culture Driven Game Design Method is a
near-ﬁnal version of the game (Game version N in Fig. 13.2) which was developed
through multiple iterations of playtesting using a team of playtesters. Note that these
playtesters are not the targeted players, in most cases they are colleagues, friends or
a testers panel employed by the game designer. Playtesting with these playtesters
incurs (re)designing the game according playtest results until the player experience
meets your criteria (Fullerton 2008). As a consequence of this repetitive playtesting
with playtesters, chances are high that the game was adapted to the culture of this
initial test group. Starting from this version of the game, our method proposes the
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 237
Fig. 13.2 The Culture Driven Game Design Method
– Step 1 – In order to adapt Game version N to the culture of the targeted players
the difference in culture between the targeted players and the playtesters needs to
be known. It is therefore that in step 1 the culture of both the targeted players and
the playtesters is assessed. The output of this ﬁrst step is a table with the culture
assessment of both groups including the difference between them, presented on
ﬁve culture dimensions.
– Step 2 – In the second step the culture dimensions are linked to game elements in
a Cross Dimensional Matrix that we developed for this method. Using the matrix,
a high culture difference on a culture dimension is linked to potential conﬂicts
with game elements. For each potential conﬂict it is explained in the Culture
Driven Game Design Method why there is a potential conﬂict and one or more
suggestions are done to avoid or mitigate this conﬂict.
–Step3–However,beforeadapting the game using these suggestions the
relevance of each potential conﬂict is determined. This is done by the game
designer by interpreting the game in step 3. Once the relevance for all the
potential conﬂicts indicated in step 2 is determined, it is up to the game designer
to decide whether game elements should be removed, adjusted or kept in place.
The version following from the next design step (Game version N C1in
Fig. 13.2) is adapted to the culture of the players. In the next three subsections
each step is explained in more detail.
238 C.J. Meershoek et al.
13.3.1 Step 1: Assessing the Culture of the Players
The goal of the ﬁrst step is to assess the culture difference between the targeted
players and the playtesters, so that in proceeding steps the current version of the
game can be adapted for this culture difference. To assess this culture difference
between two groups of people the validated, tangible and easy-to-use Value Survey
Method of Hofstede is applied (Hofstede et al. 2008). Hofstede argues that by
knowing the nationality of someone’s parents a good prediction can be made of
the basic values regarding social life acquired by the participants (Hofstede 1980,
2001,2008). Although widely recognized, this theory also received a lot of critique
(see for instance: (Bhimani 1999; Harrison and McKinnon 1999; McSweeney 2002;
Redding 1994)). The majority of this critique is focused on the use of nations as a
proxy for culture and the validity of (the way) the IBM data was used. However,
the Culture Driven Game Design Method does not use nations as a proxy for
the players’ culture, neither does it generalize the survey outcomes to a larger
population. Because of this, the majority of the critique on Hofstedes work does
not apply here. For a more extensive argumentation on the choice for the Value
Survey Method of Hofstede please refer to (Meershoek 2010).
The Value Survey Method assesses the culture difference between the targeted
players and the playtesters by means of a questionnaire consisting of 20 questions
(Hofstede 2008), structured along Hofstede’s ﬁve culture dimensions. The dimen-
sions are brieﬂy introduced here whereas a more elaborate description can be found
in (Hofstede 2001);
–Power distance – This dimension runs from egalitarian (small power distance)
to hierarchical (large power distance) societies. It is the extent to which the less
powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and
expect that power is distributed unequally.
–Identity – This dimension runs from collectivistic to individualistic societies.
In individualistic societies a person is expected to look after himself or herself
and his or her immediate family only. This in contrast with the collectivistic
societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive
in-groups, which continue to protect them throughout their lifetime in exchange
for unquestioning loyalty.
–Gender – This dimension runs from feminine, ‘sit and talk’ societies to mascu-
line, ‘stand and ﬁght’ societies. Masculine societies have clearly distinct social
gender roles; men have to be assertive, tough and focused on material success.
Women are supposed to be more modest, tender and concerned with the quality
of life. In feminine societies these social gender roles overlap: both women and
men are supposed to be modest, tender and concerned with the quality of life.
–Fear of the unknown – This dimension opposes uncertainty-tolerant, novelty
seeking cultures to uncertainty-avoiding, strangeness-fearing ones. In uncertainty
avoiding cultures members of institutions and organizations within a society feel
threatened by uncertain, unknown, ambiguous or unstructured situations.
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 239
Table 13.1 Example output of step 1 of the Culture Driven Game Design Method
Players Playtesters Difference
Fear For The Unknown
Gratification Of needs
19 4 15
53 −35 88
−62 −106 44
38 41 3
–Gratiﬁcation of needs – This dimension contrasts short-term oriented cultures
to long-term oriented ones. A long term orientation stands for a society which
values virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular adaptation, persever-
ance and thrift. Short term orientation stands for a society which fosters virtues
related to the past and present in particular respect for tradition, preservation of
‘face’ and fulﬁlling social obligations.
Using a spreadsheet, with the formulas given in (Hofstede et al. 2008), the output
of the questionnaires can be processed. This results in the output of step 1; a
table with the culture assessment of both the targeted players and the playtesters,
including the difference between them, presented along Hofstede’s ﬁve culture
dimensions. An example of such output is shown in Table 13.1.
On the left side of Table 13.1 Hofstede’s ﬁve culture dimensions are shown. In the
ﬁrst two columns the culture assessments are presented of the targeted players and
playtesters respectively. The third column indicates the culture difference between
these two groups. It is this culture difference that the game needs to be adapted for.
13.3.2 Step 2: Translating Culture Dimensions
into Game Elements
In step 2 of the Culture Driven Game Design Method the culture difference on
the culture dimensions is linked to the choices regarding game elements a game
designer needs to make during the design process. By linking the culture difference
to the choices regarding the game elements the method is able to actively support
the game designer in adapting the game to the players’ culture.
An overview of the choices a game designer needs to make is provided by the
model of game dimensions by (Wenzler 2008). Wenzler ﬁrst deﬁned four basic
components that each simulation game has. Each component is made up of four
dimensions, representing the game structure. Each of these sixteen dimensions is
then further deﬁned into a range of possible states. The 16 game dimensions of
Wenzler are crossed with Hofstede’s ﬁve culture dimensions. This resulted in the
Cross Dimensional Matrix depicted in Fig. 13.3.
240 C.J. Meershoek et al.
Fig. 13.3 The Cross Dimensional Matrix
In the Cross Dimensional Matrix the culture dimensions (x-axis) are crossed with
the game dimensions (y-axis). Each cell of the Cross Dimensional Matrix represents
a potential conﬂict between the players’ culture3and a game element. So for each
cell it was examined if the combination of the speciﬁc culture collides with the
extreme on the game dimension. This examination resulted in a classiﬁcation of
each cell in three possible states:
– White – It cannot be deducted from theory neither is there an expectation that the
combination of a high difference on the culture dimension and the extreme on
the game dimension results in a potential conﬂict.
– Red – It can be deducted from theory that the combination of a high difference
on the culture dimension and the extreme on the game dimension results in a
– Orange – Using a veriﬁable assumption it can be deducted from theory that the
combination of a high difference on the culture dimension and the extreme on
the game dimension results in a potential conﬂict.
3As stated in Sect. 13.2, this research is demarcated to the inﬂuence of informal institutions situated
in the highest layer of the four layer model of Williamson. If other layers were to be included, the
number of potential conﬂicts would increase as well as the amount and structure of the culture
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 241
Fig. 13.4 Description of the potential conﬂict between Gender and Indicators
As shown in Fig. 13.3, 26 cells are classiﬁed as red. One cell is classiﬁed as
orange and the other 293 cells are classiﬁed as white. The cells classiﬁed as red or
orange are discussed in (Meershoek 2010).
Using the culture difference from the output of step 1, the serious game designer
is able to track in the Cross Dimensional Matrix which choices regarding game
elements potentially result in a conﬂict with the players’ culture. Let us examine the
example output of step 1 in Table 13.1. It concludes that there is a large culture
difference between the targeted players and the playtesters on the identity and
gender dimension. Using the Cross Dimensional Matrix in Fig. 13.3, ten potential
conﬂicts are identiﬁed for these culture dimensions. Two of these potential conﬂicts
are described here.
The ﬁrst potential conﬂict results from the combination of high culture difference
at the gender dimension and game elements situated at the indicators dimension.
Figure 13.4 provides the description of this potential conﬂict.
The second potential conﬂict results from the combination of high culture
difference at the identity dimension and game elements at the target dimension.
Figure 13.5 provides the description of this potential conﬂict.
As shown in Figs. 13.4 and 13.5, a description of a potential conﬂict starts
with the relevant dimensions. Next, an explanation is given of the ways in which
the culture dimension affects the willingness to engage in gaming provided by
(Hofstede 2008). This theory forms the ﬁnal stepping stone towards the translation
to the game dimension. In the translation the consequences of this willingness to
engage in gaming for the speciﬁc game dimension are reasoned. The description is
completed with a suggestion how to mitigate this potential conﬂict.
It is acknowledged that a relatively small amount of literature was available for
providing the theory that forms the ﬁnal stepping stone in the translation towards
242 C.J. Meershoek et al.
Fig. 13.5 Description of the potential conﬂict between Identity and Target
game dimensions. The reason for this lacuna in the theory available is probably
similar to the reason why the number of game design methods is limited. Serious
game design is compared to other design sciences a young discipline (Mayer 2010;
Salen and Zimmerman 2004). Further research by culture specialists in the ﬁeld of
the inﬂuence of culture in games is necessary to improve this translation from cul-
ture dimensions to game dimensions. This research may well provide the ﬁrst step.
To complete step 2 of the Culture Driven Game Design Method the game
designer transfers the culture difference between the targeted players and the
playtesters to the Cross Dimensional Matrix. This provides the designer with an
overview of all the potential conﬂicts. However, not all potential conﬂicts are
relevant. This issue is addressed in the third step of the Culture Driven Game Design
13.3.3 Step 3: Determining Relevance of Potential Conﬂicts
Not each potential conﬂict is relevant. Take for example a group of players who
have a far more hierarchical culture than the playtesters used earlier in the design.
Identiﬁed as possible conﬂict is the combination of the hierarchical culture with the
mix of players from the operational and executive level. However, as stated in the
description of this potential conﬂict, if the incumbent hierarchy is respected in the
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 243
game, no conﬂict is to be expected. It is up to the game designers to determine the
relevance of each conﬂict by interpreting their game.
Once the relevance for all the potential conﬂicts indicated in step 2 is determined,
it is up to the game designer to decide whether game elements should be removed,
adjusted or kept in place. Suggestions that can be used to mitigate the identiﬁed
conﬂicts are stated in the description of the potential conﬂicts. However, game
design remains a creative process which makes each game is different. This provides
opportunities to the game designers to avoid the identiﬁed conﬂicts in their own
manner. It is therefore that the Culture Driven Game Design Method identiﬁes the
potential conﬂicts between the current version of the game and the players’ culture
and provides suggestions on how to mitigate these conﬂicts. But it is up to the
serious game designer to determine how to adapt the game to the players’ culture.
The version that follows from the next design step is adapted to the culture of the
targeted players. This is the next version of the game in the iterative game design
In the previous section the design of the Culture Driven Game Design Method
was described. This section elaborates on the evaluation of this method. In the ﬁrst
subsection the set up of the evaluation is described. The second subsection provides
a description of the game developed for this evaluation; the Indian Electricity Game
(IEG). In the third subsection the results of the evaluation are presented. These
results are discussed in the fourth subsection.
13.4.1 Evaluation Set Up
The Culture Driven Game Design Method was evaluated by comparing it to a
benchmark method. As argued in the introduction; by means of playtesting with
the targeted players it is possible to adapt a game to the culture of these players. It
is therefore that the method of playtesting functioned as the benchmark method.
The Culture Driven Game Design Method was compared to this benchmark
method in two elaborate case studies. Given the limited number of cases it makes
sense to select cases which are the extreme opposites from each other (Eisenhardt
1989; Pettigrew 1990). For these cases expectations can be set which allows a better
evaluation of the functioning of the Culture Driven Game Design Method. The
following cases were prepared:
– Case Study 1 – In this case there was a large culture difference between the
playtesters and the targeted players. The targeted players are employees of
244 C.J. Meershoek et al.
– Case Study 2 – In this case there was no culture difference between the
playtesters and the targeted players. The targeted players are students of the Delft
University of Technology.
In these two case studies the versions of the IEG that resulted from the Culture
Driven Game Design Method (IEG version C) were compared with the benchmark
versions (IEG version PT) by means of a
– Static comparison – in which the versions were compared without playing them.
During this comparison the game elements that were changed and the reasons
why certain game elements were changed were examined.
– Dynamic comparison – in which the versions were compared by playing them.
During this comparison the cultural ﬁt during the sessions of both versions
Now the set up of the evaluation is described, the next subsection is dedicated to
the game used in the evaluation; the Indian Electricity Game.
13.4.2 Evaluation Game: The Indian Electricity Game
The Indian Electricity Game was developed at the Centre for Study of Science,
Technology, and Policy (CSTEP) in Bangalore, India. CSTEP is a private, non-proﬁt
organization with a vision to undertake research in engineering, science, and tech-
nology where it is relevant to India’s economic and human development. CSTEP
works in subjects such as energy, infrastructure, materials science, information and
communications technologies, and security.
One of the challenges India faces which is relevant to both the economic
and human development of the country is answering the increasing demand for
electricity. This challenge has been the subject of various research projects by
CSTEP and other organizations. In order to get relevant actors acquainted with the
results of these research projects, the decision was taken to construct a game with
this challenge as the subject. This game was named the Indian Electricity Game.
The IEG is a role-playing game for three persons that can be played in2htime.
The three roles in the game are the Planning Commission, the Central Electricity
Authority and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. These institutions play
a central role in the planning of the extension of the electricity generation capacity.
In India this planning is made using 5 year plans. In the IEG the players need to
ﬁll in two 5 year plans. This quantitative planning assignment forms the core of
the game. When doing so they can choose from different generation plants using
different energy sources like coal, gas, nuclear power, wind, hydroelectricity en solar
PV. Each plant has different speciﬁcations regarding investment costs, generation
costs and carbon emissions. The individual objectives attached to the different roles
summon the players to minimize on these speciﬁcations. This forces the players to
manage the trade-offs between the team objectives and their individual objectives
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 245
during this planning process. In this way the players of the IEG gain insight in
the various economical, technical, political and managerial issues that play a large
role in the Indian electricity challenge. For a more extensive description of the IEG
please turn to (Meershoek 2010).
13.4.3 Evaluation Results
In the previous subsection the set up of the evaluation was described. In this
subsection the results of the evaluation are presented.
The static comparison in Case Study 1 showed that each of the 6 adjustments
made in IEG version PT were also made or strived for in IEG version C. It was
therefore concluded from the static comparison that the Culture Driven Game
Design Method was just as able to adjust the IEG to the culture of the players as
the playtest method. These results were conﬁrmed in the dynamic comparison. In
this dynamic comparison the targeted players played both versions. Independent
observers determined the cultural ﬁt of both versions by judging the questionnaires,
interviews, and (videotaped) sessions. Both teams used similar strategies for both
versions which resulted in a similar game process and game outcomes. The
independent observers concluded that IEG version C had a slightly better cultural ﬁt
than IEG version PT. As IEG version PT was adjusted to the culture of the players
by using the benchmark method of playtesting with the targeted players, it was
concluded that the Culture Driven Game Design Method was able to adjust the IEG
to the culture of the targeted players in Case Study 1.
In the second case study the results of the static and the dynamic comparison
showed that the Culture Driven Game Design Method provided similar results as
the playtest method. As the playtest method was the benchmark method, it was
concluded that the Culture Driven Game Design Method was able to adjust the IEG
to the culture of the players in Case Study 2.
Combining the results of the two case studies it was concluded that the Culture
Driven Game Design Method was able to adapt the Indian Electricity Game to
multiple groups of players with a different culture without playtesting the game
with these players.
In order to generalize from a single case study Kennedy argued that one is to
leave this to ‘those individuals who wish to apply the evaluation ﬁndings to their
own situations’ (Kennedy 1979). To provide the possibility to those individuals, the
case study and its context need to be described in detailed characteristics. It is then
by the judgement of those individuals whether their situation is sufﬁciently alike the
case study conducted, to generalize the evaluation outcomes.
The case studies conducted in this research can be described by examining the
three main elements of the case studies; the Indian Electricity Game, the players,
and the facilitators.
246 C.J. Meershoek et al.
The Indian Electricity Game
– Is analogue,
– Combines role play with board gaming,
– Constitutes multiple conﬂicting interests,
– Is about a challenge that includes technical complexity.
All the players
– Are relatively young (<30 years),
– Graduated at university,
– Graduated for technical or beta degree,
– Knew each other before the sessions commenced,
– Formed a culturally homogeneous group at all four levels as described in the
model of (Williamson 2000) in Sect. 1.2.
– Are relatively young (<30 years),
– Graduated at university,
– Graduated for a technical or beta degree,
– Worked at the same organization as the players,
– Knew the players before the sessions commenced.
In this ﬁnal subsection before the conclusions are drawn, we would like to discuss
our expectations regarding the robustness of the evaluation outcomes. We expect
that the evaluation results will be similar when the method is applied to other
games that have slightly different characteristics. However, we advise caution when
applying our method to other games that differ from the IEG in the following ways:
(1) When the method is applied to a situation in which the players do not know each
other, or the facilitator, before the session commences or (2) when the players have a
different cultural background on the lower three levels of the model of Williamson.
A change in one of these player characteristics is expected to result in a change in
player interaction. For instance, for a large share of players, playing a game with
friends results in different behaviour than playing a game with strangers. This ﬁnal
point of discussion brings us to the conclusion of this chapter.
The players of serious games are culturally sensitive agents; by means of their
interaction with the game and the other players they bring their own culture into
the game. Practice showed that if the game is not aligned with the culture of the
players, this can result in conﬂicting behaviour that hampers the players to reach the
objectives of the game. To become a success it is therefore necessary that the design
13 The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games... 247
of the game architecture is adjusted to the culture of its players. By playtesting with
the targeted players, game designers are able to adjust their serious games to the
culture of the targeted players. However, due to a lack of time, high costs and the
need for a good ﬁrst impression, playtesting is not always possible.
This chapter proposes the new Culture Driven Game Design Method; a valuable
addition to existing serious game design methods that supports designers in adapting
their games to the culture of the targeted players. The Culture Driven Game Design
Method consists of a three-step procedure that is to be inserted in an iterative serious
game design method. Our method provides a tool to assess and represent the culture
of the targeted players as well as a set of guidelines to process this assessment and
avoid conﬂicts between the culture of the players and the architecture of the game.
From the evaluation it was concluded that the Culture Driven Game Design
Method was able to adapt the Indian Electricity Game to multiple groups of players
with a different culture without playtesting the game with these players. It is
expected that these evaluation outcomes can be generalized to cases in which the
game, the personal player characteristics, or the personal facilitator characteristics
We would like to close this chapter by providing two suggestions for further
research. The ﬁrst suggestion regards the translation from culture dimensions to
game dimensions as described in the 27 conﬂicts in Sect. 13.3.2. It is acknowledged
that a relatively small amount of literature was available for providing the theory that
forms the ﬁnal stepping stone in this translation. To improve the translation further
research by culture specialists in the ﬁeld of the inﬂuence of culture in games is
necessary. This research may well provide the ﬁrst step.
The second suggestion for further research relates to the focus of the Culture
Driven Game Design Method. As discussed in Sect. 13.2, the method is focused on
the inﬂuence on games by the informal institutions situated in the ﬁrst level of the
model of Williamson despite the relevance of the other levels. It would be interesting
to examine if the available assessment tools for these lower levels can be integrated
into the Culture Driven Game Design Method. This will create a comprehensive,
tangible, and easy-to-use method that is able to actively support the game designer
in adapting the game to the players’ culture at any level this culture is expressed.
Acknowledgement We would like to thank our reviewers for their constructive comments that
helped to improve this manuscript.
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