Software engineers are often seen by others as loony nerds (or weirdos) who are spending most of their time “interacting” with machines. And the more time passes, the more they are leaving the boundaries of “humanity” and becoming machines of their own. And within this transformation they seem to lose their emotionality and empathy (or emotional intelligence in general). The Misemotions Game is a great exercise to challenge this stereotype and prove that software engineers do express and recognize emotions not worse than others. It is a variation of the Chinese Whispers (or the Broken Telephone game) where participants have to properly convey emotions (instead of text messages) among themselves in a row. It is called “mis”-emotions in analogy to “mis”-communication as it is fairly easy (for everybody and not just for software engineers) to fail passing the correct emotions to others.
The Misemotions Game could be also used to challenge the emotional intelligence and/or increase the emotional awareness of any group of people as well as an warm-up exercise or a party game in any context.

The timing largely depends on the number of participants and the number of emotions to be exercised. For a group of 10 people it takes around 10 to 15 minutes per emotion.

Masks for hiding faces (although A4 papers might be used as well) and something to write down participants’ guesses (e.g. pens and A4 papers). A camera for recording the exercise and a projector for presenting the video is highly recommended as it would provide an invaluable feedback for all participants (on how they express and recognize emotions) and could be a very entertaining way to close the exercise.
A list of emotions to be exercised should be available as well. Any of the already existing emotion classifications could be used as a source, including Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, Parrott’s tree of emotions, Robinson’s fundamental emotions and HUMAINE’s EARL. Alternatively you could just pick up emotions from the list given below.

Positive Emotion Negative Emotion
Surprise Fear
Love Anger
Joy Sadnes
Pride Guilt
Interest Boredom

Start by clarifying the objective of the game – to convey a given emotion among all participants in a row without changing (or “breaking”) it. Then get participants into a line (facing back to front) and set the rules: (1) participants should turn back only when tapped on the shoulder; (2) participants on odd positions should express emotions only through their heads while those on even positions should use their torso, arms & legs instead; and (3) participants are not allowed to speak or write during the gameplay. The initial setup of the game is given below.

The Misemotions Game - Initial Setup

Get a paper and write down the emotion to be exercised. The same paper should be used to write participants’ guesses as well. However in order to keep them secret – the paper should be folded on each turn as shown below (by the dotted line). On the given example participant #3 (the “transmitter“) is passing emotion to participant #4 (the “receiver“), who would then write it down on line #4 (without seeing any of the previous guesses).

The Misemotions Game - Paper Folding

Continue by sharing the emotion to be exercised with participant #1 (the one who doesn’t have anyone on her back). Then in each turn of the game:

  1. The transmitter takes some time (but no more than 2 minutes) to think of how to express the emotion to the receiver.
  2. The transmitter taps on the shoulder of the receiver and start expressing the emotion. If she has to pass the emotion through her torso, arms & legs – she should have her mask on (or have the A4 paper in front of her face). If she is supposed to use her head – she is not allowed to use the rest of her body.
  3. The receiver tries to recognize the emotion and once ready gives a sign to the transmitter to stop.
  4. The receiver writes down her guess on the list.
  5. The receiver becomes the new transmitter and the above steps are repeated for the next turn.

The first two turns of a regular gameplay are shown below. As one could see participant #1 is transmitter and participant #2 is receiver in the first turn, while participant #2 is transmitter and participant #3 is receiver in the second turn.

The Misemotions Game - Gameplay

The gameplay continues in turns until it reaches the participant at the end of the line, who says the emotion she received. This is then compared to the initial emotion (and eventually with the guesses of the other participants). There is no winner – the goal is to challenge the emotional intelligence of the participants and to show how difficult it could be to express and recognize emotions accurately.

Before you move on with the next emotion – watch the video and reflect on it. You could start with a discussion on what went well (or not so well) and what could be improved, and then continue with a more thorough description of the body language of that particular emotion (incl. specific facial expressions, eye movements, body postures & body movements, gestures, etc.). The latter could be used as a reference in the future.

There are a couple of tweaks that could be used to diversify the game. The first is to always request from transmitters to express the initial emotion – no matter of their own guess. The benefit of this is a more efficient reflection at the end of the game as all participants would have experienced the same emotion. Another tweak could be to mislead the participants that they would be practicing a positive emotion while in reality you’d give them a negative one (or vice verse). This is a great way to show how prejudice could negatively impact the way we recognize and interpret emotions.

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