Last month, Amy ran Sign for us! Here’s her discussion of how the game went.
Sign is a game about being understood. Its goal is to bring to life a new perspective and appreciation for both how planner normally communicate and build empathy for those who use different ways of communication. Sign follows the first steps of Nicaraguan children in the 1970s who are deaf and up to this point have not had access to other children like them. This group of 50 students was brought together to learn lip reading, but instead co-created the foundation of what would become Nicaraguan Sign. In this game, players were some of these children with rich complex backstories and over the course of the first few days of class had their first real chance to share. The game structure was four classes and three recesses with a debrief afterwards.
Players noted that it was easiest to talk about things that were more concrete or immediately present. For example, real world props were provided in the form of toys: balls, spy glass, pretty rock, and stuff animals. The sign for such toys was quickly free established and reinforced by what was present. Compared with more abstract concepts, such as over protective parents or a family illness, was much harder. As the characters got to know each other, I could tell as an observer in the role of teacher that they greatly wanted to help each other and learn what the other person was trying to say.
The signs we came up with in class included their names which represented a part of their backstory, instead of the name their parents game them. Sign points out that their written names were just pictures something they never really heard and instead asked them to create a sign name for themselves. One player chose to have her name be raising both hand in the shape of claws and making a fierce face to show she really want to write a book about her dragon “T” we later learned. The second class students were given a list of words to choose from and the in the third class they were allowed to make any word. What’s interesting is to see the signs they made in recess without any ‘adult’ interference. A symbol for ‘bad’ was developed and grew to have two shapes: tisking or drumming the right index finger on the left one. As the teacher, I had not seen this happen so it was amusing when the students were complaining about me being ‘bad’ when I ended recess. The shape of signs over time chanced meaning and became faster as time went on. Several players commented that it was easier than they thought to remember and use the signs that they came up with.
The game was not without its frustrations. Players wanted to share their stories but sometimes had to make compromise, which mimics what these children really went through as well. We began to appreciate more what line of sight does. If one character was not directly look at another then players had to get creative.
The game is played in silence for its majority and it is an interesting experience how quickly we adapted as a group. When the game ended and a I spoke the closing words before the debrief there was this moment where it took to have the atmosphere shift. It was something that I certainly felt and I believe the players did as well.