I played Gartic Phone, a telephone game based on drawing. It is a multi-player cooperative non-zero-sum game, and it creates a type of easy fun for players with core elements of drawing and guessing. Its core aesthetic is expression. Gartic Phone is developed by the Gartic company, and I played it on https://garticphone.com/. The game itself originated from a children’s game called Telephone where players stand in a circle or a line and one of the players whispers a word to another player next to them, and the next player whispers the word to the next. In the end, the final person will announce what they heard to the whole group. This is my first time playing this particular game online. I joined Gartic Phone’s discord group and played the game with 3 strangers.
Game Mechanics and Design Decisions
The game mechanics were simple and there were only 4 steps I needed to complete. First, I wrote a short sentence. Then, I drew 2 pictures based on the descriptions other players wrote, and I wrote 1 description based on another player’s drawing. During this process, I found the progress indicator in the upper left corner particularly helpful (see the image below). It serves as a distributed rule and helps players reduce cognitive overload. Under the progress indicator which appears in bold large font size, there is a status indicator for players. It is another distributed rule that helps online players understand how everyone else is doing without seeing them drawing or writing.
There is also a timer in the upper right corner that helps speed up the game and adds excitement. When time is almost up in each round, the timer icon will turn orange and there will be a ringing sound to signal the players to hurry up. Apart from this multimodal representation, the telephone icons, ringtones, and animations throughout the game all tie to the telephone theme.
Moreover, in the image above, the telephone, the prompt, and the type box are grouped together due to close proximity, indicating that typing a sentence in a short amount of time is crucial in this game.
Comparisons to other games
Another game I played in the drawing genre is Gartic.io, another drawing and guessing game from Gartic. In Gartic.io, each player does a drawing based on a random word they get, and players compete against each other to see who makes the most correct guesses. Unlike Gartic Phone, Gartic.io is a multi-player unilateral competition game, and it even has a leaderboard that further strengthens the sense of competition, which is its core aesthetics.
Handling of Abuse
While I had an enjoyable time playing Gartic Phone, I had a very unpleasant experience with Gartic.io. I witnessed inappropriate language and drawings and hit the voted certain players out many times 🙁 However, I noticed that the players who were kicked out of the room due to inappropriate language use could join the room again, so the voting mechanism did not help build a safe environment for play. Thus, I think more forceful handling methods such as banning certain players to join game rooms due to unacceptable behaviors are needed.
What Can Be Improved
One main issue is that the current version of Gartic Phone does not offer players space or time to communicate with each other or offer encouragement or gratitude. When I was playing the game and seeing how other players interpreted my sentences through their amazing drawings, I wanted to thank them and compliment their drawings. However, Gartic Phone did not have a feature for me to offer such compliments. Hence, having some ways to show compliments can be helpful. For example, there can be buttons such as clapping hands and sending flowers. After the drawings are revealed at the end of each game, players can choose to applaud or send flowers to other players by clicking those buttons. By doing so, players can feel more connected with each other and feel more positive about their game experience.
I had so much fun playing this game and below are two screenshots I found especially funny. You can really see how people added their own layer of interpretation through their creative expressions 🙂