Most of the following design games are based on improvisation
exercises for the theater and dance. The games are about listening to
other people and learning to work in a group by building on the energy
and ideas of others.
I learned some of these exercises at the Stanford Design Experience;
some I learned when I was an apprentice in the theater; and some were
given to me by students.
N.B. All these games (except perhaps Bean Bag Chain) can be
adapted for people with physical limitations. For games with
partners, the partners should talk for a minute about limitations,
which may not be obvious. If you have bad knees and can't jump, tell
your partner before the game starts! People have a tendency to go
along and tough it out. I rarely tell my students that something is
dumb, but hurting yourself so you don't look like a wimp is
dumb. Know your own limits and don't let yourself get pushed
- How to play the game: This is like Sound Ball, but now you
toss words instead of sounds. Someone throws a word to another
person (again accompanied by an imaginary ball). That person catches
it by repeating it. And then throws a new word to another person.
- What this game is about: Listening and
responding to what you hear.
All the ball games are about: listening, paying attention, responding
in the moment to what is tossed to you, learning about other people,
remembering not to stockpile and not to hog the ball.
Definition: To stockpile: To think of lots of things ahead of
time so that when it's your turn you have something to say. The
problems with stockpiling are: 1) While you are stockpiling, you are
not listening to other people. 2) When you take something out of your
stockpile, it doesn't have anything to do with what has been going on
recently and tends to throw the game off.
- How to play the game: Find a partner, preferably
someone who you don't know. Introduce yourself. Find out something
interesting about the other person. (If there are an odd number of
people, three people can play together.) To get started, stand facing
your partner. One person begins to move in place. The other person
mirrors what the first person is doing. After one person has been the
lead for a short while, switch leads.
That's the warm up. Here's the real game. Both people move
synchronously, switching the lead back and forth without talking or
signalling to each other. The goal is to make is so that someone
watching will not know who is leading and who is following and will
not see the roles shift. (Switching leads is easier than you would
expect -- Try it and you'll see.) Talking is not allowed.
- What this game is about: Paying attention to the other
person and following subtle cues.
- What this game is not about: Jumping and turing and
making complicated moves that the other person can't follow. The goal
is to trick the person watching, not your partner.
- How to play the game: Find another partner, again
preferably someone who you don't know. Introduce yourself. Toss a
bean bag back and forth between you. Now start to move around the
room, still tossing the bean bag back and forth. Don't forget that
everyone else will be moving too. The goal for the entire group is to
keep any bean bag from hitting the floor (and to prevent collisions).
You want to make it easy for your partner to catch - but you do have
to keep moving.
- What this game is about: Concentrating on one thing while
paying attention to a lot of other things.
- What this game is not about: Moving in lock step
with your partner or heaving the bean bag to where you think
your partner might be.
- How to play the game:
Getting Started: Make a circle of about 10 people. Pile all the bean
bags in front of one person. (There should be about half as many bean
bags as people.) The person with the bean bags tosses one bean bag to
someone else. This is the first link in the chain. The first person
puts her hand on her head to indicate that she is already in the
chain. The second person throws the bean bag to someone else. That's
the second link in the chain. The second person puts his hand on his
head. Only toss the bean bag to someone who has both hands free.
Continue until everyone is in the chain. Remember who tossed the
bean bag to you and who you tossed it to!
Playing the game: Take your hand off your head. The first person
starts the chain again - tossing the bean bag to the same person who
she tossed it to the first time. Practice the entire chain once. Now
start another bean bag, following the same chain. The first person
should keep tossing new bean bags until all the bean bags are in play.
Remember that the chain doesn't change. Now start moving. Remember
that other groups will be moving too.
The goal of the entire group is to keep the bean bags from hitting the
floor. The room will be chaotic. But you only have to keep track of
two people: the person you catch from and the person you toss to. And
of course you shouldn't collide with anyone and you should make sure
that none of the bags hit the floor.
- What this game is about: Concentrating on two things while
paying attention to a lot of other things.
- How to play the game: Object Telephone is a silent game.
Sit in circles of about 10 people each. One person starts by using an
imaginary object. Once the object is established, the first person
passes it to the next person in the circle. The second person shows
that she knows what has been passed by using the object correctly.
She can either do something new with the object or morph it into
something else. Again, once the object has been established, it is
passed to the next person. If the next person doesn't know what the
object is, he passes it back and the other person must try again to
show what it is.
- What this game is about: Very rapid prototyping; trying to
convey an idea without talking; being willing to look a little silly;
paying attention; not getting out of control.
- How to play the game: Be There is another silent game.
Form groups of 5 to 10 people. One person in the group pretends to be
somewhere - like a baseball game. As the other people in the group
realize that one of their group members is at the ball game, they join
that person - doing an activity that would be done at a ball game.
Once the whole group is at the ball game, someone in the group goes
somewhere else, like a boring lecture. As the people in the group
realize that one of their group members is at a boring lecture, they
join that person at the lecture. Once they are all at the lecture,
someone in the group goes to a new activity. Note: No
talking and no assigning roles.
- What this game is about: Paying attention to other people;
working in a cohesive group without needing a designated leader.
All of the acting games are about taking cues from other people,
working with what other people give you, letting go a little;
realizing that you don't always have to be right; understanding that
group work requires many different skills and that different people
bring different skills to a group.