Fun for intercultural learning in prison

Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. It’s usually seen as business tool but can be also used to engage people in social context, to create positive impact. Gamification of course is not a cure for everything, but, as a tool used correctly can help to motivate people or engage them in new activities.

Gerere Fun For Good, a cooperative expert partner of Dom Kultury Kadr in their activities held in the framework of the Spaces of Intercultural Learning program, started their work with gamification in 2012 and so far have gamified over 40 000 people (that could fill up mayor football stadium).

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One of the most difficult challenges faced by the Gerere team was so far a gamification intercultural project for people with Asperger’s syndrome. It was aimed to encourage the foundation’s mid-twenties in care to use all amenities that libraries have to offer. The challenge to face was how to break the daily routine of such demanding participants? Can we build their engagement based on gamification? What intercultural problems will be faced? In order to thoroughly understand the needs and expectations of participants, the team participated regularly in sessions organised for people with Asperger’s syndrome, actively engaging in classes and testing board games with them.

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They were searching for an easy-to-use, low-cost paper solution that would allow quick testing. Consequently, a gamification was created based on board game movement powered by carrying out specific tasks in the library. The game was also equipped with co-operation between the participants, an intriguing story, and a high degree of unpredictability. And it worked! Participants completed over 75% of tasks and marked 4.5/5 gamification quality and real impact on their lives.

Based on this and more projects by Gerere Fun For Good, as well as on a 4 year-long cooperation between two neighbouring institutions: Dom Kultury Kadr and the Penitentiary of Warszawa-Służewiec, an intercultural gamification project “Weź na klatę!” was created. It was originally meant to encourage prisoners to manage their time more efficiently and to spend it on learning new things, such as improving their knowledge and skills in the field of intercultural communication. A prototype gameplay was organised between April 4th and 27th with a pilot group of 15 prisoners. Majority of the participants have been serving long time, which means we suspected their motivation to learn new things to remain at a very low level.

The prototype gamification set included a game board, 4 DVD movies, 4 answer sheets and 4 reward stickers, which put together on a game board formed a well-muscled biceps, a symbol of player’s mental power to be developed while taking part in a game. Each player’s job was to watch 4 movies, of which the first one was strictly a motivational one whereas the other three - A beautiful mind by Ron Howard, The Intouchables by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano and Lost in translation by Sofia Coppola – raised different issues of intercultural communication. Every DVD movie came with an answer sheet: each player was asked to complete tasks connected to the movies’ plots but referring also to his personal experience.

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Working team agreed on that we should not leave such statements without any feedback more elaborate than finding a new sticker in a player’s game folder. Giving back their answer sheet to the tutor and checking if the previous one was awarded with a sticker, each prisoner were also handed an anonymous, but at the same time very individual response (written by a psychologist collaborating with Dom Kultury Kadr), pointing the strong sides of one’s personality.

11 players completed all the tasks, whereas the other 4 left only one out of every 4 answer sheets uncompleted. We met with our players to find out which parts of the game they would find the most fun, inspiring, motivating or even touching. Their guidelines were also necessary for us to learn how to act while working on a full-size game: with a board of 4 limbs to be muscled, meant to represent 4 fields of learning: health, culture, knowledge and professional skills.

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In the course of a meeting dedicated to evaluation activities it turned up that prisoners had troubles with full trust to our team because of introducing a camera from a very first moment of our initial meeting. Also, they admitted to have felt sort of guinea pigs as they had have knowledge of the gamification being a part of an international research project.

That’s why we took our time to present ourselves to the group as well as to explain our expectations, assumptions, needs and, last but not least, what were our personal experiences of reading the answers like. Also, what we found a milestone of getting the two groups comfortable with each other was a statement made by Zbigniew Darda, Director of Dom Kultury Kadr during the meeting: “We didn’t choose you to be our pilot group because of the fact that you’re imprisoned. We did choose you because you’re our neighbours”. Indeed, as the intercultural project team assumed while discussing this Polish experience during a monthly online philosophy workshop, we should perceive our mission as building an open, friendly and safe neighbourhood rather than to “integrate” ethnic and social minorities.

Speaking of fun and motivation the gamification brought into the Penitentiary of Warsaw-Służewiec, we learned that the most important for our target group was the ability to meet the other human being, representing the world the don’t have access to very often. However, some of the participants also claimed to be most proud of gaining the sticker points and having their biceps board muscled. It should be also underlined that the level of completing the tasks was outstanding.

In conclusion, we believe that gamification is effective in increasing motivation, but it work best while combinining it with activities tailored to your target group. Tasks or challenges needs to feel are safe and attractive to your target audience. In this case, it was a mere need for contact. Prisoners need to be strengthen from “the outside people”, respected as human beings. Gamification in this case is wasn’t necessary but has enriched the process and helped to break the cultural barriers that occurred.

Michał Jeska, Gerere Fun For Good,

Kasia Kaczmarek, Dom Kultury Kadr (Kadr Culture Centre),