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An ice-breaking and idea exchange activity for Game Jams

Game jams bring total strangers together to work in a game for several hours. I present here an ice-breaking, group-forming and idea-exchanging activity that was used with great success at the Civic Game Jam #3: Machines on November 18th, 2017.

On November 18th, the third edition of the Civic Game Jam took place at the BTK / University of Applied Sciences Europe. As part of the organizing team, by task was to give a talk about ideas for the game they would make, and to organize a team building + ice breaking activity.

These series of jams brought together people who not only don't know each other, but who also come from very different backgrounds. And more important, it brought together several people who are not the best at socializing, but who need to get to know other participants quickly, as most of them will be working for the next 8 hours with total strangers. So it's can be very useful to have an activity that allows them to chat with others, but without feeling unnatural, or forcing people to say smart things, or to be spontaneous.

Given that the topic was 'Machines', I decided to design a playful activity for the participants, where they would play robots sharing ideas for games by following a simple protocol. The activity was a success, participants were talking and having fun just 10 seconds after it started, and in the end it helped them meet new people, form groups, and think together with others about the ideas for games they wanted to make.

I'm sharing here a description of the activity, so that others can use it in similar situations.

CRIP: Civic Robot Interaction Protocol

Created for the Civic Game Jam #3: Machines

Objective: exchange ideas for games and break the ice for group creation
Duration: ~20 minutes (depending on number of participants)
Participants: 20+
Requirements: space to walk around. Some piece of paper to write down a number. A moderator.

1. Preparation

  1. Participants are asked to think an idea for a game they would like to develop during the jam. The idea should be condensed into a 30 seconds pitch.
  2. The moderator gives them an instruction sheet, asks them to write down a number from 1 to 5, and explains the rules. It’s important to make sure that everyone understands the number rules (see below), especially if they are not given in a paper.​ It's not important to mention what will happen after the next phase, just how they need to interact with each other and that afterwards there will be some further exchange.

2. The idea exchange

Participants roam around the room and interact with others. How they end up interacting with someone is undefined, but could be constrained (i.e. walk randomly and bump into each other, choose someone with whom you have not talked yet, etc.).

  • When they interact, the first thing they do is to show their randomly chosen number. Numbers can either be equal or beat the other (see number rules).
  • If one beats the other, the beaten one should listen to the idea from the winner, and carry it as their own. This means discarding the previous idea.
  • If they are equal, participants swap game ideas, and continue with the new one just acquired.

The game ends after a specified period of time. How much time will depend on number of participants, so that it allows each one to interact with at least half of the others.

3. Ending / Listening to the ideas

After the game ends, the moderator will engage the participants so that everyone can have their opportunity to share ideas. For example:

  • Ask if any idea survived from beginning to end.
  • Ask for ideas that participants liked.
  • When an idea is mentioned, ask who came up with it, so that others can reach them.
  • Ask for ideas that were lost already in the first interaction.
  • Ask for ideas that people liked but did not survive until the end.
  • Try also to find out if ideas have changed after they were told multiple times, it can be funny to see how they mutate (as in a Telephone / Chinese Whispers game).

This should last between 5 and 10 minutes. After this phase is finished, participants should form groups on their own, so you want to make sure that people who wanted to share an idea had the chance to do so.
The moderator should make it clear that participants can use whatever idea they want for their games: this activity is just about sharing them and breaking the ice among strangers.


  • Don’t force anyone to participate! People can be shy or just feel uncomfortable with talking to random strangers.
  • Limit the time for each player to player interaction to just barely enough to exchange ideas. This helps not only in controlling the time for the whole activity, but gives them a sense of urgency and forces them to think harder about the core of their idea.
  • If someone does not have an idea, suggest them to use a single word related to the topic (i.e., ‘machine’).
  • Allow them to ask questions when listening to an idea, even if you don’t state it explicitly. This actually helps those with the idea to think about it in more depth.
  • Participants might be skeptical at first, when the activity is explained, but push forward!
  • Given them a instructions sheet. Make it match the theme. Add random things to make it more interesting, even if they are not very useful.
  • They should carry their number written somewhere to prevent cheating. If you provide instructions sheets, leave a place there for the number.
  • If there are other activities (or talks) before this, ask participants to start thinking about ideas already.
  • The number rules are such that no number has an advantage over another, but still some people might think that picking some in particular might give them an advantage.. Try using something different, like flower names, colors, or just random objects. Remember that, in the end, it’s just a variant on rock, paper scissors.
  • When explaining, make it clear that they will be able to use whatever idea they want for their game.

Number Rules

number beats
1 4, 5
2 5, 1
3 1, 2
4 2, 3
5 3, 4


Instruction sheet given to participants (make your own!)

(sample instructions sheet given at the Civic Game Jam)

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