To be understood, we need to communicate.
January 4, 2021 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Sign is a game about Nicaraguan Sign Language, which was invented by children at Nicaraugua's first school for the deaf in the 1970's and 80's. In the game, players act as the children struggling and then learning to communicate with one another, creating signs to convey their history, hopes, and fears. Notably, the players abandon spoken language for the duration of the game, and mark their hands whenever they make 'compromises' in their communication. Proceeds from printed copies go to the Nicaraguan Sign Language Projects, but there's also a free pdf [booklet and cards].

It's a great game for 4-6 players. You could /probably/ describe it as a LARP, but it's very accessible to people who wouldn't normally get into a roleplaying game: the game includes a lot of structure to guide the players, and (as I played it) the improvisation around trying to communicate felt a lot more natural than the kind of improv that usually happens in LARPs. Instead of needing to make up backstory and such, you have a fairly simple (but wonderful) pre-generated character description and the improvisation is all about trying to communicate what you already know.

More links!

Thorny Games on the Ludology podcast, discussing making games about language, including Sign.

They also have a couple blog posts on interactions with the NSL community: an interview, and a fascinating trip report: "One of the common myths about the emergence of Nicaraguan Sign Language is that as the language was being developed, older students taught the younger students and that’s how the language evolved. If anything, oddly enough, the story is the exact opposite. Older students brought in their home signs and were the first to form vocabulary according to their needs. But as that vocabulary transferred to the younger students, it was the younger students - whose brains were still more receptive to language acquisition and development - that first imbued a grammar into it. Older students then copied the grammar the younger students has developed."

Finally, here's a classic Radiolab episode on the origins of Nicaraguan Sign Language.

And extra-finally, NSL previously.

Full disclosure: Hakan of Thorny Games was a co-worker of mine some years ago.
posted by kaibutsu (6 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Marvelous. Can't wait to share this with my BFF who is a DHH teacher. Thanks for posting.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 5:44 PM on January 4, 2021

This is neat, thanks for sharing! The art in the game (on the cards) looks quite lovely too.
posted by Toddles at 10:04 PM on January 4, 2021

This looks wonderful and it's a shame that it doesn't seem like it would translate too well to Zoom or a virtual tabletop, so I won't have the opportunity to play it for a long time.

I really enjoyed the interview, and I look forward to digging into the other links. Thanks for the post!
posted by Glier's Goetta at 3:03 AM on January 5, 2021

Amazing genre of games.
Sign is about creating a language, sounds like Thorny Games has made an award winning game about the flipside of that.
Dialect is a game about an isolated community, their language, and what it means for that language to be lost. In this game, you’ll tell the story of the Isolation by building their language. New words will come from the fundamental aspects of the community: who they are, what they believe in, and how they respond to a changing world.

Players take away both the story they’ve told and the dialect they’ve built together...

This looks wonderful and it's a shame that it doesn't seem like (Sign) would translate too well to Zoom or a virtual tabletop, so I won't have the opportunity to play it for a long time.
If you're extra ambitious, you can also see (Dialect) played online.
posted by otherchaz at 3:50 AM on January 5, 2021

I think Sign could be played online. It would definitely run into the issues that deaf people have encountered with Zoom and similar programs. But at risk of compounding a potentially tricky game with another issue, it could make the accessibility of technology also something of note. You could also help mitigate this both by allowing for extended recess and by maximizing the window of the primary communicator whenever they are presenting. Maybe I'm being too optimistic here, but I think it could be done.
posted by Hactar at 6:20 AM on January 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think the 'recess' periods in Sign would be the hard part for Zoom games. It's really good to have the local conversation, but also the ability to jump to conversation with others easily, and ALSO the ability to catch something interesting going on on the other side of the room. I feel like it could work if people could 'focus' their own conversation partners in the main room. You could probably use breakout rooms to get the right effect, though; breakout for 1:1 or small-group conversations, then jump back to the main room and switch partners whenever you're ready. (I mainly use google meet, so don't know how zoom works on this front... I think 'pinned' windows in Meet are pinned for everyone, so it wouldn't break out individual conversations the way you'd want.)

Dialect is indeed excellent; I left it out of the post mainly so that it could get its own non-double post at some later date.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:43 AM on January 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

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