Prof. Dr. Renate Link
Aschaffenburg University of Applied Sciences, Germany


Applying gamification methods in the educational sector has become increasingly popular in recent years in an effort to get and hold the modern generation-Y students’ attention and enhance their commitment. While computer-based gamification tools are more well-known and widespread, the haptic potential of concrete toy-like gamification tools should not be underestimated as students (and lecturers) increasingly crave for a counter-experience to the e-learning overkill. This article will look at two different non-PC-based gamification activities that can be used to foster students’ linguistic as well intercultural competence with these tools being not as costly but as effective as the more famous Lego Serious Play.

Keywords: gamification, intercultural communication, storytelling, imagination, involvement, creativity

In the last two decades, the trend of “Gamification, the application of game mechanics to non-game environments (such as learning and development) is [sic] a much-hyped trend. But in fact it is more than simply applying badges, rewards and points to everything that cannot run away: Gamification addresses the sense of engagement, immediate feedback, experimenting with rules and interpretations, rising to challenges, the feeling of accomplishment and last but not least: fun! Gamification does not trivialize learning, though; on the contrary, well designed ‘serious’ games help learners acquire skills, knowledge and abilities in short, concentrated periods of time with high retention rates and effective recall” (Simons et al. 2015). That anyone who actively participates and uses their own hands learns best and fastest is not a new insight, but is based on Piaget’s (id. 1951) Constructivism and Papert’s (id. 1980) Constructionism from the 1950s and 1960s. In other words, we learn most effectively by constructing something ourselves while using our descriptive, creative and negative, i.e. tabula rasa imagination (cf. The LEGO Group).

The majority of all gamification tools make use of the concept of ‘storytelling’. Storytelling is so helpful in teaching because it awakens the interest of participants, networks course content, is based on a familiar way of disseminating information, and, last but not least, can make the trainer’s relationship with the trainees more personal by exchanging experiences and ideas.

Ideally, the extrinsic motivation evoked by innovative gamification learning tools can be playfully transformed into intrinsic motivation. The advantage of gamification methods is that there are quick observable results, there is no right or wrong, no winners or losers and no one who remains passive, which is also more than conducive to individual motivation.

Exemplary Tools

In concrete terms, the two haptic materials “Rory’s Story Cubes” (cf. id. 2019) and “Puzzling Intercultural Stories” (cf. Lampalzer & Uehlinger 2015) can both be applied in and adapted to language and intercultural training settings as needed. While the dice game “Rory’s Story Cubes” was originally designed for strategy development within companies, the background of the card game “Puzzling Intercultural Stories” is a purely cross-cultural one.

“Rory’s Story Cubes” is a dice game typically consisting of nine theme-related dice cubes. By rolling the cubes and looking at their symbols, on the one hand language skills (and even literacy skills for children or migrants) can be trained. Currently, the sets available include the topics of actions, voyages, fantasy, mystery, crime, magic, prehistory, space, medicine, sports, horror, animals and the medieval ages, to name just a few. For example, the images displayed on the cubes can trigger creative storytelling so that speaking skills are practiced playfully; alternatively, the symbols can be used as prompts for creative or essay writing, thus improving the players’ writing skills. On the other hand, the cubes are also ideal for introducing or revising vocabulary from a certain field and are particularly suited for consolidating grammatical structures. To give one example, the teacher can ask the learners to tell or write down their stories in any tense or to apply the passive voice only as the cubes can easily be used also for describing processes and timelines, e.g. to say or write down what is done first, second etc.

What is even more, in intercultural competence training, the symbols shown on the cubes can be seen as metaphors for cultural values or cultural artefacts. In addition, rolling the dice to change perspectives and to train empathy when addressing a case study or a critical incident might open up completely new solutions and interpretations. Last but not least, the cubes could serve as background generators in cross-cultural (or language-related) role-playing games for coming up with new storylines and/or characters. At the same time, the cubes are also useful ice-breakers and team-builders, e.g. in the first introductory session of any cross-cultural (and at least A2-level language) course, making the participants speak and share ideas as well as experiences more easily and freely so that they are able to connect socially from the very beginning.

The second gamification tool to be considered here, i.e. the “Puzzling Intercultural Stories” makes use of the fact that people learn best when their curiosity is aroused as they then wish to close their curiosity gap (Lampalzer & Uehlinger 2015). Curiosity is independent of culture but culture determines how we deal with it. In an effort to make use of this correlation, this intercultural card game makes players curious again by motivating them to learn, question and to create simultaneously. It is no secret that ‘recipes’ like lists of dos & don’ts for cross-cultural encounters often lead to misunderstandings and most people have forgotten how to really observe, listen and explore. The 50 short critical incidents taken from real life out of 45 countries and all continents – called “critical moments / teachable moments” – shown on the cards with the riddle and a matching illustration being on the front and the solution on the back, can help solve this dilemma as they cover various culture dimensions as well as theoretical and practical aspects. While playing, the players are reminded that culture is relative, i.e. just one factor out of many as behaviour is always influenced by the individual and the situation, too.

However, with this card game learners do not only train their intercultural but – as a beneficial side-effect – also their language skills, namely how to formulate questions correctly. After the so-called ‘master of ceremony’ has read out the riddle on the front and asked the players what has happened, the latter are allowed to formulate ‘yes/no’ questions only to narrow down the solution.

Apart from its involving and curiosity-stimulating elements, the key advantage of the card game – especially in settings with more advanced students – is that everybody can add their own story, i.e. ‘critical moment’ and create a new card of their own.


Summarising, the two above-mentioned gamification tools could also be combined effectively when rolling “Rory’s Story Cubes” to brainstorm and trigger creative solutions to the “Puzzling Intercultural Stories”.


Lampalzer, Hans & Uehlinger, Christa. 2015. Presentation “Puzzling Intercultural Stories”. SIETAR Europe Congress 2015 in Valencia.

Papert, Seymour. 1980. Mindstorms. NewYork. BasicBooks.

Piaget, Jean. 1951. The Child’s Conception of the World. London. Routledge. (Stuttgart. Klett-Cotta).

Rory’s Story Cubes. 2019. (09.03.2019)

Simons, George et al. 2015. Abstract of the Pre-Congress Workshop “Gamification in Intercultural Education”. SIETAR Europe Congress 2015 in Valencia.

The LEGO Group. 2002. Die Wissenschaft von LEGO Serious Play. Spiel – Konstruktion – Imagination. (09.03.2019)