A New Take on Gamification: Playing the Culture Shock Experience in a Digital Card Game

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In 2018-2019, over 1 million international students from all over the world come to the United States to seek higher education. Along with their hope for quality education, they bring their own cultures. The clash of the United States (US) culture and the foreign culture produces “culture shock”, the progress of learning and adjusting to new environments. This process of working through culture shock, which can take from days to months, exposes the foreign students to loneliness, depression, and lack of belonging. International students also face challenges from language barriers, identity crises, and mental distress. To cope with the stress, they might choose to remain in their comfort zone and isolate themselves from other cultures, but this prevents them from taking full advantage of their new environment and communities. Many institutions offer programs to help students from different backgrounds to embrace diversity by hosting student groups, culture fest, and seminars. They have tried to solve this problem, but for many individuals, it is still difficult to encounter culture shock.This thesis analyzes the effects of culture shocks, the usage of games in empathy building, and aid in the understanding of cultural barriers. It first explores the challenges international students face and their coping strategies. It then surveys research into existing empathy-building games that have shown a positive impact on the targeted audience. Finally, the thesis introduces a digital card game, Cultivated, which was developed to act upon these research findings and to create an experience that helps to address the issue of cultural shock. The game is designed for domestic students to discover cultural differences. The players are asked to develop a new culture of communication together, to experience “culture shock”, and most importantly learn about each other’s culture in real life by exploring the following five aspects of the phenomenon: language, value, symbol, norm, and ritual. The paper argues that a gamified approach to the problem, a digital card game thematized around addressing culture shock, can help tell the story of international students to others and themselves and that playing the game can help break down cultural barriers.





Yan, Anni (2020). A New Take on Gamification: Playing the Culture Shock Experience in a Digital Card Game. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22219.


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