tl;dr — Just want to play the game? Follow the game rules here!
The movement to an entirely virtual work environment has developed the need for another transition: an easy online environment in which to play. Although friend and work gatherings can be difficult to replicate on Zoom, our team set out to find ways to bring fun to your group utilizing the tools you’re already comfortable with. In this article, we explain how we created our game of Impostor Charades, where you can look like a fool in a living room while playing a game with your friends.
In Impostor Charades, you will act out different scenarios over Zoom and try to guess who in the group does not actually know the prompt. We wanted to remind you of all the fun of a game of charades with friends and also give you the opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of any family members who might watch you play. We thoroughly hope you enjoy!
Ideation & Concept Map
To begin ideating for our game, our four team members each individually considered games that could meet our goals and provide fun in an online environment. Our initial list of ideas included racing through Wikipedia, an interviewer game in which you try to get others to do certain actions, and much more. We distilled our list of ideas into a virtual post-it note board highlighting our favorites, and we then distilled our ideas into a more concrete version for our eventual concept: imposter charades. You can follow our ideation process below:
Initial Idea (Formal Elements and Value)
The advent of Impostor Charades’ core foundations stemmed from the initial goal of turning this game into a channel through which everyday folks — who’ve presumably been slouched over their bedroom desks for extended periods of time — can partake in an entertaining, physically active social escape from within their own homes via zoom. Consequently, we sought to tie the value players would derive from the game to the aesthetics of: 1) sense and pleasure — through by the act of physically moving around during gameplay, 2) fellowship — by working together with friends, and 3) fantasy — using a component of the game to temporarily ‘remove’ players from their rooms and place them into a world of make-believe.
Consequently, this led us to the design and play-testing of Impostor Charade’s V1. Like an all-at-once round of Charades, Impostor Charades provided all but one of the players with a prompt which all players were expected to physically act out for 30 seconds, while the player oblivious to the prompt — taking on the role of the impostor — attempted to blend in with the other informed players by acting in accordance with them. After 30 seconds of acting, an additional minute was dedicated to unstructured group ‘accusation’ (where players discuss who they believe was the impostor), and thereafter players would synchronously vote on who they thought the impostor was.
Four or more players compete unilaterally, by having several rounds where — for every round — the randomly assigned impostor was hoping to deceive all performers, while the performers— unsure as to who was and wasn’t a teammate — collaborated to single out the one impostor among them.
For both performers and the impostor, the core ongoing objective is to convince all other players that you were indeed a performer who was cognizant of the prompt; this meant acting in a way that emphasized an understanding for the prompt, and strategically accusing others or defending yourself during the accusation phase.
When it came to more granular, role-specific objectives, the impostor aims to — during the 30 second acting phase — immediately and accurately mimic the actions of performers to disguise their ignorance of the prompt. Equivalently, performers aim to perform actions that make it clear to others that they are fully aware of the prompt (and are thus a performer), while also keeping their eyes on others to try and spot the impostor.
While each round is characterized by unilateral competition, with a single impostor competing against a crowd of performers, the games outcome is reached and evaluated on an individual non zero-sum game basis, with players ranking first through last based on points scored over the course of the entire game. See our rules document to understand how scoring worked.
During the acting phase: for impostors, the actions that performers use to convey their understanding of the prompt serve as an important resource they leverage (through mimicry) to disguise their identity; for performers, their own physical actions serve as their own artillery with which they use to convince others they’re aware of the prompt, while the actions of others also serve as indications for who the impostor is.
During the accusation phase: General wit, robust references, and persuasive arguments serve as the resources impostors use to draw attention away from themselves and performers use to place blame on a potential impostor.
Conflict in Impost Charades is condensed into the one minute per-round of accusation, and occurs — ironically — among all players regardless of whether they’re on the same side (i.e. both performers). Performers skeptical of specific players, and impostors looking to draw attention to others, are likely to directly accuse said players, while said players are incentivized to — in return — accuse the accusers.
Testing & Revisions
Play Test #1 (in class with Jenny, Chinmay, Sid, and Olga)
During the first play test, we had six actors play the game while Sydney moderated. We ran the game twice, performing an ablation test on a particular aspect of the game we were unsure about: the accusation phase. In the first run through, we excluded the accusation phase, meaning the game consisted simply of two parts: acting out the prompt for 30 seconds prior to voting. After the first run through, while the play testers had fun, this version felt a little lacking, a belief that was confirmed by a number of our different play testers.
In our second run through, we added the accusation phase, a one minute discussion period between the acting and voting potions of the game where players could accuse others of being the imposter and explain why. This second run through took more time, but seemed to capture the interest of the players far better than the first. The accusation phase, while a bit chaotic, allowed for players to reflect on funny moments that occurred during the acting phase and gave some direction to players who did a worse job of looking out for the imposter. It also created an interesting dynamic where the imposter was forced to justify their own moves and actions despite not knowing the prompt! From these two play tests, we received exceptionally helpful feedback.
- First, we got validation that our core gameplay of people acting out a prompt while trying to find a single imposter was enjoyable and produced humorous scenarios.
- Second, we learned that the length of the acting period at 30 seconds was too long. Players would have a tendency to repeat dance moves after 15 seconds and the imposter would have too much time and to catch onto what other players were doing.
- Third, while the accusation phase was certainly an enjoyable part of the game, the lack of structure created a bit of chaos which ultimately detracted from the enjoyment of the game.
- Fourth, we brainstormed some additional ideas to try to mix up the gameplay such as pairing individuals together into teams.
These last three takeaways, reducing the acting phase length, incorporating structure into the accusation phase, and implementing a team dynamic, into later versions of the game which we tried out in our second play test!
Play Test #2 (in class with Shreya, Austin, Claire, etc.)
During the second play test, we had five actors. We decided to run the first round with the two modifications: a 15-second performance round and a revelation of the prompt at the beginning of the accusation round. We gave the simple prompt of making lemonade. The accusation phase here was a little bit awkward, some people were talking over each other. This group seemed a little more apprehensive about putting themselves out there overall. An innocent performer who was not very committed to her charades actually received all the votes, while the impostor got off free. In our second round, we decided to try the addition of teams — Rowan privately messaged everyone the name of their randomly-assigned teammate after the performance round. The goal was to defend your teammate during the accusation phase no matter what. It didn’t matter if you thought your teammate was innocent or the impostor. If you successfully defended each other and neither of you got votes, each of you would get double points for the round. This added another layer of doubt and complexity during the accusation phase — were people speaking the truth or simply defending their partner?
- First, the addition of teams led to an even more heated discussion, which was fun, but also had a lot of interruption. In the end, we got the feedback that most people preferred the simpler version without partners. The partner-addition was a lot to keep track of, and the scoring system was difficult to balance.
- Second, we also got feedback that more complex prompts are more fun.
Play Test #3 (in class with Emily, Anatole, Brian, etc.)
We only played one round in our penultimate play test, this time taking a more structured approach to the accusation phase. We had everyone go around one-by-one and accuse one person, then explain why.
- First, the formal accusation phase was not a popular form of discussion: it was less lively and people didn’t feel obligated to defend themselves. Also, some people felt like they had already “cast their vote.”
- Secondly, interestingly, a lot of people requested some of the things we had taken away from our original idea: a longer performance period, no accusation phase, and different methods of voting.
Play Test #4 (in class with Jenny, Chinmay, Sid, Olga, Branden, Katie)
We played our final play test in a recorded Zoom session, which can be found here. Before this test, we adjusted a few elements to players’ behavior. We made sure that players turned their videos off when receiving prompts, so they could not make decisions based on reactions. We also returned to an unstructured accusation phase, as the individuals in our previous play test did not like the overwhelming structure.
- First, some players still felt that it was difficult to focus on acting and watching others. To help with this, we’ve recommended hiding your own video in Zoom so you are not watching yourself.
- Second, we realized that scoring was only fair if everyone was an impostor, since the impostor initially received a point for every individual that guesses incorrectly. We fixed this by deciding that the impostor only gets one point if a majority of players guess incorrectly.
- Finally, our play testers still commented that the game was a lot of fun!
Final Game & Rules
To play Imposter Charades, start a Zoom with your opponents and follow the game rules here!
Potential Designs for Publicity
Finally, we have created a few potential designs for our game to take place in both a mobile app friendly environment and an online web portal.
We had a fantastic time creating this game and we hope that you enjoy playing! If you have any ideas for prompts to add permanently, feel free to compile your own list and play with it!
Cheers! — Rowan, Sydney, Chris, and Will