The Status Game, Begging For a Remix

On the Making Learning Connected hangout tonight, the conversation about hacking games, as well as Kim Douillard’s story about an amazing Monopoly remix, reminded me of one of the oldest improv games I know.  I’m sure it goes by many different names, but I learned it as The Status Game. Thanks to the structure provided by a deck of cards and a clear objective, this it a fairly easy improv for students to play.  The open-ended nature of the game – that it can take place at any time, at any place, for any length of time – makes it ripe for hacking and remixing, I think!

These cards need not apply.
These cards need not apply.

The Status Game

Needed: A deck of cards, with Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces removed.

The traditional version:

  1. Inform students that this is a game that explores status. Before playing the game, explore the concept of status with the students. You can do so by:
  • Asking students to offer definitions of status, and having the class vote on one that they can all agree upon.
  • Asking students, “What does it mean to have low status? What does it mean to have high status?”
  • Or asking students to generate a list of people they think have a low status, and people they think have a high status. To ensure that these lists aren’t populated with actual students from the class or the school at large, ask them to do so through the lens of famous people, historical figures, characters from fairy tales, etc.
  • Once there is a working understanding of status in the classroom, generate a short list of social occasions where status is important (like prom, for example). Have the students vote on one that they feel comfortable exploring further.
  1. Walk around with the deck of cards, face down. Have each student select a card from the deck and hold it to his or her forehead WITHOUT LOOKING AT IT, so that everyone else can see it.
  2. Set the rule that 2 is the lowest status a person can possibly have at this social occasion, and ten is the highest status that a person can have.   When the improvisation begins, instruct students to interact with one another based on status – treat a low status character like a low status character, and a high status character as a high status character, WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE WHAT HIS OR HER STATUS ACTUALLY IS. (Please note: I’ve never had this issue, but if you feel you might this is where a reminder about how this is a game, they are just characters, and they should not bully or use personal attack would be good.)
  3. Start the improvisation simply by asking students to split up into two lines on opposite sides of the room, standing so that they are facing the line across from them. Tell them that when you say go, they should cross the room like they are entering the party and greet people as they walk by based on their status (Treat a 2 like a 2, a 10 like a 10). When they are done crossing the room, the scene ends. Do a second practice round, asking them to compliment people (in typical party fashion) based on their status. Again, when they reach the other side of the room the scene is over.
  4. Set a timer for three minutes (or more), and tell the students that when you say go, the party begins. They have only three minutes to socialize with other guests at the party to try and figure out their own status. Because that is everyone’s goal, emphasize that it’s really important to CLEARLY treat others at the party their status (again, while being respectful).
  5. If students feel they need a conversation starter, tell them they can start conversations by greeting others in the room and giving them a compliment (just as was practiced in the cross-the-room portion) and see where the conversation goes from there.
  6. At the end of three minutes, ask students form a line that goes from lowest status to highest status based on their best guess about their own status. Starting with the student who believes they have the lowest status, have students finally look at their cards and say the number out loud to see if everyone guessed right.
  7. Conduct a reflection on status. Some questions to ask might be, “How were you able to guess your status?” “How did it feel to treat people by their status only?” “What physical cues did you pick up on form others that gave you a clue about your status? Verbal?” and so on.
For example, how might a Joker or two provide a twist?  (And yes, that's Santa.  Have you ever heard of Christmas in July?)
For example, how might a Joker or two provide a twist? (And yes, that’s Santa. Haven’t you ever heard of Christmas in July?)

One hack I’ve seen played a number of times is that for the second round students pull a card, and this time they are the only one who looks at it before hiding it on their person. Like the first round of the game, the students are socializing for three minutes at the social occasion. Unlike the first round, they must act CLEARLY like their status with the objective that anyone in the room would be able to guess their status based on their behavior. Some questions for the post game reflection might be, “Was it hard to play your status? Why or why not?” “Did you ever take advantage of the fact that others knew your status?” “Was it harder or easier to interact with people this time around? Why?”

I’ve seen this game used as a warm-up for playwriting, as an acting exercise, and as a way in to talk about power dynamics in day-to-day relationships (in the vein of Theatre of the Oppressed), but I have no doubt there are tons of hacks that would make it great for other purposes, too. So what are they? Let me know in the comments how you might put The Status Game to work!


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