Teaching non-verbal communication with a card game.


My project is an applied game for Sociaal Juridische Dienstverlening (SJD) students. SJD students learn how to have difficult conversations with a client, who comes to a legal office for advice or information on their juridical difficulties. For example, the client doesn’t get a certain settlement and he want to know why. The students need to practice with these conversations. They need de-escalation skills in real life conversations to calm a client when necessary. Normally the students do this with their fellow students and their teachers. The exam for this course is a simulated conversation for which an actor is hired. This actor will give resistance in this conversation. The student will get graded based on how well he/she helps and calms down the client in this conversation.

I will make a game for these students that focusses on the non-verbal part of these learning goals. This is decrease the scope of the game. Based on the research I have done, non-verbal communication is just as if not more important than verbal communication (Ways that people communicate, z.d.).

The final product will be either a design document or a paper prototype with a detailed comments.

Table of content:

1. Introduction
2. Requirements & methods
    2.1 Main question
    2.2 Sub questions
    2.3 Research methods used
    2.4 Field
    2.5 Library
    2.6 Lab
    2.7 Workshop
    2.8 Showroom
3. Target audience
4. The subject
5. Talking mechanics in other games
6. Concept
    6.1 The card game
    6.2 The time loop game
    6.3 Why was the card game chosen
7. Prototype
    7.1 Feedback on prototype
8. Conclusion
    8.1 Future of this project
9. Sources

Requirements & methods:

Main question:
How might we make a game that that teaches non-verbal communication?

How can I get people to enjoy?
How can people learn from this game?
How can I make a game that balances fun mechanics and realism?
What is the target audience?

What I want to create:
I want to create a design document with photos a paper prototype. The game will help  Sociaal Juridische Dienstverlening (SJD) students improve, handling aggressive clients.

The learning goals for this serious game are:
1. Can recognize different forms of aggression and/or resistance.
2. The student knows different de-escalation methods and knows how use them to prevent aggression.
3. Knows how to react to aggression and resistance based on the Rose of Leary.

Research methodes used:

The dot framework:
The dot framework can be used to structure my research. Each circles describe different kinds of research methods I used during my research for this project, see the image below(The DOT Framework – ICT Research Methods, 2021).

Dot Method

I started with field research. Here I looked at different articals shared by my clients, Sebas Saarberg en Yonca Özkaya (last year SJD students). The first week an interview was organized get to know my clients and what their expectations are. I also asked them to elaborate the subjects, Rose of Leary and Escalation ladder, Luisteren Samenvatten and Doorvragen (LSD).
I did this to know more about the subject and to set learning goals for the project.

After these meetings I started with library research. Here I looked at other games that have mechanics with talking. I made an overview of 3 categories with games that have talking as one of the main mechanics. I did this to get inspiration for my first idea’s. I checked my first idea’s with the clients Sebas and Yonca.

When I finished my first paper prototype I showed it to a view experts to get their expert feedback. I did this to receive really in depth feedback that I can use in the following block.

Paper prototype
Playing the paper prototype

I presented my clients with 2 ideas. I did an A/B test to see which idea the clients liked more and aligned more with their vision and the learning goals. They choose the first idea (card game).

After the prototype was done I playtested with a couple of friends and the clients to get their feedback.

While coming up with a concept for my game I made a mood board where I could brainstorm idea’s and show those idea’s to others. I look up inspiration on different platform like YouTube, Pinterest and idea’s I thought of myself.
The prototype was based on the first idea I presented during the A/B test. I made the prototype of paper because making cards would be quick and easy. Making a prototype would force me to make a decision on how certain mechanics would work. When the prototype was made I playtest the game to see if the game was playable and if certain game mechanics were fun, balanced and would improve the learning goals in their current form.

During guild meetings held every week I got the chance to get feedback from my peers. This was good for the project because I could get more feedback on the game. This was a little more surface level feedback than the expert interviews. For example, how the game looked or player feedback issues. Next to this it is a good motivator because they really liked my concept.

The methods squared in red are methods I used in the last 5 weeks.

Target audience:

The target audience for this project will be first and second year SJD students. A big part of this target audience is not familiar with games. They are primarily woman that are more comfortable with games like Hay Day and Candy Crush. So the game needs to be as casual as possible. The context of the game also needs to be adjusted to their liking.

The Subject:

On the OneDrive Sebas and Yonca uploaded a lot of articles. I read all articles to increase my knowledge on the subject. From here I could set learning goals for the project. I choose to focus my project on non-verbal communication because it is apparently just as important as verbal communication. I also want to implement the Rose of Leary because this is the biggest de-escalation framework the SDJ students need to know during their studies.

Talking mechanics in other games:

This research is part of my library research.
In my (Miro) mood board I have made 3 different categories of games where talking is one of the main mechanics.

Narrative games: Narrative is an obvious category. Most of these narrative games have just a couple of options from which you can choose from. In some cases these choices end up being a good, a neutral and a bad option. The options for dialogue are limited. These options are what drives the game forward. I don’t like this, because the player doesn’t need to think how to react to their circumstances. It often gives to little information to the player to know how the character reacts to the world around him. Most of the times a vague description on how the character would react.

Detective games: Detectives make you push the story further by solving clues. When you talk to a person most games will use a bigger variety of dialogue options. Some detectives will use something like a notebook to talk to other people. You click on the clue and your character will ask about the clue to the other person. When you recognize misinformation or see in the body language of the other person you can pressure them in different ways to get the information you need.

Unique: This category doesn’t refer to a specific genre. These games have a unique mechanic for talking. Primairy examples are Undertale and Griftlands. In Undertale you talk to different creatures and try to calm them down. You can do this by talking to them and by dodging their obstacles (as seen in the first image below).
In Griftlands you talk through playing cards. You try to persuade the enemy by talking down their arguments and reducing their “resolve” which is basically their health

This gave me enough inspiration to come up with my first idea’s which I presented to the clients the next week.


I developed 2 concepts for this game. A card game and a time loop game.

The card game:
The player plays cards to change the body language of their character depending on the AI (client) that they are “talking” with. The player has 3 different kinds of card in their hands, body posture, use of voice and facial expression. These card can be laid out in the corresponding card holder (see image below). The cards can be dominating or non-dominating (and everything in between). If the a card does not fit with the style that is needed at that moment, its effects are cancelled so the card won’t have any effect anymore. This is to give the player clear feedback on when certain body language is needed at that time. The effects of each card is triggered at the end of the turn. This mean that a player can effectively play a maximum of 3 cards each turn. This way the cards don’t need to cost anything to be played. This keeps the game simpler for the casual players. The AI (legal office client in the real situation) will change his body language each turn. The player needs to adjust their cards laid out to the body language of the AI.
To put the focus on the non-verbal communication the characters will talk a sims like language to each other. I won’t mean anything but you can still recognize tone and emotion in the voice (link for reference). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c379Giun-Co&t=13s

The fun in card games comes from the synergies between the cards. This needs to be though out well and is hard to balance. The good thing is that the game is single player so overpowered combination are less troublesome than multiplayer games.

Playing field
First card design

The time loop game:
In the time loop game the protagonist needs to deescalate a situation that got out of control. In this game the focus is on trial and error. The player will change his/her non-verbal communication in a system that is not worked out yet. The protagonist will realise that he is stuck in a time loop and will try to break it by defusing the situation. This can create interesting scenarios and dialogue.

Each loop can have a different outcome.

I pitched both idea to the clients and they choose the card game.

Why the card game was chosen:
The clients and I think a card game will work great for these learning goals because you can simultaneously train different aspects of non-verbal communication (facial expression, posture and use of voice). The cards can give clear feedback on what to do when faced with different kinds of resistance. It is easy to track how players are doing in their games by looking at their process and when they fail.


At the end of the third week I had enough of the game though out that I could make a paper prototype. I made 15 different cards the player could play. A playing field where the player could keep track of the amount of cards they have on the draw and discard pile. Overview on where each card should be played. I made cards that do an action after the have played the card and ended their turn. These cards are representations of actions the player can do in a real life scenario. For example: mirror is a card where the player copies the facial expression of the client.  Lastly I made an A4 with an explanation on how the game works and some tips on how to play well.

Feedback on the prototype:
In week 4 I had a meeting with Matthijs Diercks. The head of arch games, the internal game studio of HvA. The biggest point he had was: A new card design. In the current card designs players focus to much on what is stated on the cards instead of which card should be played in this situation. Furthermore I had a lot of English terms in my game description. Everything needs to be in Dutch.

In week 5 I had a meeting with Anders Bouwer. I won’t implement this feedback in the prototype but it will be implemented once the project starts in the second blok of this semester. His feedback was really an in depth look on the game. His feedback was primarily on the game loop of the game. How many turns do I want to have in a single game? What can the player do in a single turn? What are strategies over multiple turns? And what are strategies for multiple games? He also gave me a good framework to check if the learning goal are implemented enough in the design of the game.
This framework is called “didactics driven development” (Anders Bouwer, 21-3-22). I will be using this framework in the next block.


In conclusion this project was a success. The paper prototype demonstrated to me and the clients that this concept has enough potential to be developed further in the next phase of this project. I touches all the learning goals and the paper prototype is fun to play. So my personal goals are met as well. What I didn’t make was a design document. To replace this I have made a paper prototype with a game rules A4.

Future of this project:
In the next blok of this semester, this project will be developed by myself and 4 other students. The design will be tweaked, but the overall concept will stay the same. The biggest challenge for this concept will be the AI. The AI will need a lot of different states the player needs to adjust to. All these states will need different animations and have different effects on the cards. Furthermore extra research will be done where needed.


How to design and create a card game – Codomo. (2021, 2 juli). Medium. Geraadpleegd op 28 maart 2022, van https://medium.com/codomo/how-to-design-and-create-a-card-game-54b5caa89418

Cherry, P. (z.d.). Card Game Design. Pinterest. Geraadpleegd op 28 maart 2022, van https://nl.pinterest.com/philfreeman/card-game-design/

Game Developers Converence [gdc]. (2019, 26 juni). Slay the Spire: Metrics Driven Design and Balance [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rqfbvnO_H0

Brown, M. [Game makers toolkit]. (2019, 4 maart). How Synergies Make Slay the Spire Fun [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=terD4Bk3L_8

Kulman, R. (2015, 30 maart). Five Ways Video Games Teach Self-Awareness. LearningWorks for Kids. Geraadpleegd op 11 april 2022, van https://learningworksforkids.com/2012/06/five-ways-video-games-teach-self-awareness/#:%7E:text=Predicting%20and%20estimating%20skills.,happen%20as%20the%20game%20progresses.

KSU Counseling Services Staff. (z.d.). Dealing with Emotional People. Kansas State University. Geraadpleegd op 11 april 2022, van https://www.k-state.edu/counseling/resources/self_help/dealingwithemotionalpeople.html

The DOT Framework – ICT research methods. (2021, 8 juni). Ictresearchmehtods. Geraadpleegd op 21 juni 2022, van https://ictresearchmethods.nl/The_DOT_Framework

Ways that people communicate. (z.d.). Active Social Care Limited. Geraadpleegd op 9 april 2022, van https://activesocialcare.com/handbook/communication/ways-that-people-communicate#:~:text=Talking%20is%20often%20seen%20as,us%20far%20more%20than%20words.

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