How can we use games to celebrate the creativity, humor, and possiblity that ambiguity introduces?

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Purpose for Students
Experience It
Date Added: 
June 2019

Relationship to Ambiguity

Drawful is a quirky and hilarious interactive group game that requires a TV screen (or other shared screen) and everyone's individual phones.  It's sort of like a blend of Pictionary and Balderdash.  It requires everyone to draw doodles on their phones in response to unique and very random prompts, and then gives others a chance to pen a title for the silly sketch, and then guess the real title among everyone's options.  You can get points in many different ways.  As the artist, you get points when someone guesses the actual prompt you illustrated.  As the interpreters, you also get points when other players vote for your title for the sketch, or when you guess the actual prompt of the artist.

The main point is that this game totally rewards ambiguity.  It celebrates and awards points for multiple interpretations of a single drawing.  And the game helps you in creating ambiguous drawings by using a drawing interface that handicaps your ability to make anything very detailed, and also by giving very bizarre prompts.




I have played this game in many different social settings with friends and family alike.  It's always an instant hit, and really brings a group together.  I purchased the game to use on my laptop, and then can connect my laptop to a TV screen using an HDMI cable — it works quite well!

I haven't yet used Drawful in a classroom setting, but I think it could make a great warm-up.  I could see picking 4 volunteers to be players, and letting other students be teammates/advisors.  And it's definitely still fun to watch even if you aren't playing.  I'd guess it would take at least 15 minutes to get through a round of play with 4 people.




At first, some people are a bit anxious when confronted with such a blunt-tool way to sketch something (with no way to erase!), in combination with a very off-the-wall, sometimes nonsensical prompt (ex: "date at Kinkos"... what?).  My dad once tried to plan ahead and bring a stylus pencil to use to sketch on his phone, hoping to get a competitive advantage (nice try, Dad!  For all you would-be cheaters out there, the stylus didn't make any difference; it still produced chubby lines!).  But you soon learn that to "win" at this game, you have to embrace ambiguity... the ambiguity in what you might draw (intentionally or not), the ambiguity in naming a silly doodle you don't understand, and all in short amounts of time.

Design Abilities Used

Sometimes the quick time constraints helps you converge on a meaning when you have zero idea of what you might be looking at. The whole game, you're toggling between physical sketches on screens, and abstracted meanings, and searching for connections between the two. I've also noticed how players will start to use a certain type of humor in their submitted sketch titles if they're being guessed by other players. Here's where if you pay attention to what other players seem to be appreciating, you might be more successful in coming up with silly titles that get you points.


Submitted by:

Kelly Schmutte
Kelly Schmutte
Curriculum Designer and Lecturer, Stanford d.school + Founder, PerfectFit Pointe

Design Abilities Used

Experiment Rapidly
Move Between Concrete + Abstract
Learn from Others (People and Contexts)
Learn More about Design Abilities 


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