Cultural Aspects in Serious Games – Taking a Game for Manufacturing Education to Japan

After decades of application at our institute and being important building blocks of our major lectures, serious games have proven to be an effective tool student and executive education in the field of operations and supply chain management. Besides this, the behavior of the games’ participants strongly reflects their cultural background. This year, the logistics game was taken to Japan and performed with a class of master students at the Keio University.

The logistics game simulates a simplified manufacturing, in which the participant’s goal is to assemble a little device with building bricks similar to Lego in due time and at minimum costs. Costs are induced by work in process in the factory, penalty costs for backorders (demand not met in time or at deficient product quality) and the number of employees, while the factory shows a suboptimal organization (layout, lot sizes, communication, etc.) at the beginning of the game. Orders are placed by the customer every 1 minute, while one round takes 10-12 minutes. After each round, the performance of the group is assessed and the participants are given 10 minutes to implement 2 measures to improve it for the next round. 4 rounds are played until the end of the game.

Compared to long-year experiences with participants in Switzerland, the Japanese participants showed an interesting behavior. While the first round played with Swiss participants is usually most chaotic and deliveries are mostly of deficient quality, Japanese students remained very calm and focused intensively on delivering a sufficient quality. As a consequence the quality rate delivered was of the highest we had ever experienced, while the amount of delivered parts was below average. In fact, the order of decisions taken by the students during the game neatly reflected the Just-in-Time thinking of the Toyota Production System, first targeting on quality issues, second on lot sizes and lead time, third on reducing waste in form of work in progress and fourth on switching the layout to cellular configuration.

Cultural aspects also need to be considered in moderation and execution of serious games. For instance, the Japanese “meeting culture”, where discussions are not led by one person and decisions mostly taken unanimously, but in an bottom-up hierarchical order, led to quite long decision making processes between the rounds. Such aspects need to be taken into account when planning the execution of serious games.

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