Joshua McVeigh, Andy Uehara, Casey China, Michael Annetta, LA
“Elephant in the relationship”

Learn to communicate the troubling unspeakable issue in your relationship.


"Elephant in the Relationship" is a game for 2 to 4 players in which players try to communicate deeply troubling relationship issues. Players take on the roles of two people in a personal relationship and turn the drama of a potentially risky (or intimate) interaction into spectacle for a group to enjoy. The game fuses Pictionary-style drawing and guessing mechanics with elements of doll-play and improvisational theater, asking players to place themselves into a difficult emotional scenario with their partner. The game includes a whiteboard arena, dry-erase markers, post-its, and colored playing pieces (designed to “stand-in” for the players). Using only these tools, a player tries to get their partner to guess the unspeakable relationship issue. By inserting players directly into the representational world of the drawing space, the game encourages empathy, divergent thinking, and novel communication strategies.

4 colored people tokens (red, green, blue, yellow)
4 grey people tokens
playing board
1 post it pad
4 dry erase markers
white board erasers
1 deck of elephant cards
1 egg timer

1. Find a partner.
2. You and your partner have a relationship.
3. Each of you chooses a colored piece (your favorite color).
4. If you choose the same color, resolve it with an argument.
5. The player who feels most discontent in the relationship draws an elephant card. After
drawing it, they may not speak (although grunting and other strange noises are sometimes
6. The other player sets the timer to 5 minutes.
7. The discontented player now tries to communicate their elephant by telling a story using the
whiteboard, playing pieces, dry-erase markers, post-its, and their imagination. (Drawing letters
or numbers is forbidden.)
8. The other player tries to guess the elephant.
9. When the elephant is guessed (or 5 minutes has expired), the round is over.
9. Stop playing when your relationship has grown.
10. Alternative ending: stop playing when you grow apart.

Additional Rules for Advanced Players
1. Play with your real life relationship partner(s).
2. Choose your own elephants.
3. After guessing the elephant, a third player steps in to try to communicate a resolution. The
original two players try to guess what it is.

Narrative description of game play:

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice are having trouble with their relationships. They decide to play a game of Elephant in the Relationship to help them sort it out. Bob picks the red piece and gives the yellow piece to Carol. Alice grabs the green piece and hands the blue piece to Ted. Bob says, "I'll go first" and draws an elephant card. Bob turns to Carol and says, "you're going to love this elephant, it's just like our relationship!" Carol replies with a flat voice, "I can‘t wait." Bob picks up a pen and begins drawing a room on the whiteboard. He grabs Carol's yellow piece and places it in the center of the room. He draws a pair of socks in the center of the room. He moves Carol's piece out of the room and then moves his red piece into the room. He draws an eye and a dashed line to the socks. Carol’s eyes roll as she says, “Carol leaves her socks in the living room.” Bob exclaims, “Right!” Bob looks around and asks, “Who’s going to go next?”

Example General Elephants
- You never listen to me
- You’re mean to me, when you hang out with your friends
- You drink from the carton
- You don’t like to read to me
- You’re a bad tipper
- You count the raisins that you put into your oatmeal
- You’re jealous of my relationship with my dog
- You hit me, so now I’m scared of you
- You refuse to believe I was abducted by aliens
- You refuse to go to the dentist
- Mom always liked you best

Example Romantic Elephants
- You’re having an affair
- You don’t want to get engaged
- You forgot my birthday
- You play video games too much
- I wanted 2 kids; you wanted 3. So you asked if I wanted the 3rd one to be mine
- You called me fat while I was pregnant
- You never want to spend the holidays with my family
- I think you’re secretly in love with your cousin
- After the miscarriage I stopped wanting to have kids but you didn’t
- You’re too controlling about our living space

Artist Bios

Andy Uehara is a graduate student in the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. In the past, Andy threw grenades and screamed obscenities in the United States Marine Corps. Andy is interested in the intersection of play, education, and technology. He is the co-creator of the Combiform gaming platform ( Combiform uses custom game controllers that are designed to break down the invisible wall between players interacting together. Andy also co-developed Combiform Shooter, a game built on the Combiform platform, which was a semi-finalist at the 2010 Adobe Design Achievement Awards. Combiform Shooter is a shoot’em up that allows players to experience their fantasy as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Recently Andy designed another game for the Combiform platform, Bisho Bisho Bailout, which won the Most Innovative Game award and was runner-up for the Best in Show award at the 2010 Meaningful Play Conference. In Bisho Bisho Bailout, players must cooperate to fight the rising tide by physically combining their controllers and jointly directing the movement and actions of their characters.

Michael Annetta is a cross-media artist with a background in theatre, film, television, as an actor, singer, director, producer, and art director. He holds a BA from Penn State University in Film, with Honors in Theatre, and has completed the classical actor’s training program at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York City. As a graduate student in the Interactive Media program of the University of Southern California, his current interactive media research extends beyond the conventional definition of video gaming to include work in the emerging fields of serious/educational gaming, public interactives and responsive environments, interactive data visualization, alternate reality games and other real-world experience design. Examples of his recent work include last year’s USC MFA Interactive Media Division Thesis showcase (Singularities, Producer), a storytelling game (Rain of the Gods), an educational math game (Zooples in Space!), and an interactive morality and ethics exploration (Puddinheads).

Casey China is a public health professional with interest in the potential for games to improve individual and population health, including the physical, psychological and social environment factors that impact health and well-being. Her previous work includes Health Detective, a game introducing students to field epidemiology and the steps of disease outbreak investigation, for which she was co-creator, including game design, artist, and public health advisor. She was level designer for Fox Sokoban, a multi-player clone of the Sokoban puzzle game, and game artist for Japanese Numbers Banzai!, a program designed to teach children Japanese numbers through auditory and visual recognition. Casey graduated from Brown University with a BA in Psychology and completed her Master of Public Health degree at the University of Washington.

Joshua McVeigh-Schultz is an artist, designer, and scholar. His work reimagines the performative affordances of everyday rituals. He completed an MA in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and an MFA at UC Santa Cruz’s Digital Arts and New Media program. For his MFA thesis project he designed a crowdsourced interview tool (Synaptic Crowd) that enables online participants to conduct collaborative on-the-street interviews without having to be on the street. He is currently earning a PhD in Media Arts and Practice at the University of Southern California. He also works as a researcher for the Institute for Multimedia Literacy’s Teaching with Digital Media professional development program (helping K12 instructors to introduce multimedia tools and design-based learning into the classroom). He is a member of Henry Jenkins’s Civic Paths research group, studying new models of political engagement at the intersection of civics and pop-culture, and a designer in Scott Fisher’s Mobile and Environmental Research Lab, where he develops speculative interactive experiences for built environments and vehicles of the future. Recent work includes Please Call Me, an interactive installation that solicits calls and delivers playful instructions through a surveilled phone. He also co-designed an alternative reality game called Dendritix where players, communicating over mobile phones, work to uncover elusive interdimensional gnomes by exploring a networked (text-based) virtual world, as they navigate physical space looking for clues.