Have you ever sat awkwardly in a circle with a bunch of strangers, waiting for the dreaded ice breaker to be over? Summer camp, first day of class, new staff orientation, a conference. Maybe you’ve even been the one presenting the ‘get to know you game’ that no one wants to play.
It’s easy to recognize the need for icebreakers and team building exercises, but how do we actually design effective activities for a group or a specific event? What kind of experience do we want participants to have together and is that actually accomplished through the games we play?
Experiential educator and artist Mo Golden and tabletop game designer Ross Cowman want your next group experience to be authentic, transformative, and memorable. That’s why they designed Night Forest, a ritual game that gets groups connecting authentically, going from awkward silence to meaningful conversation within a few minutes.
Night Forest is designed to be played outside in the woods with lit candles but can be played in an office, parking lot, or anywhere else with space to walk around. It’s simple to pick up and play, making it easy to incorporate into other activities without having to learn rules or guidelines first.
“Night Forest helps create space for people to open up, be a little vulnerable, share what’s underneath the chit chat, and begin to build trust.” says co-designer, Ross.
How to Play:
You get your group together and give each person a candle and a book of matches before going out to the woods at dusk or to an indoor space that can be darkened. Once you’re in the play space, each participant is given a card from the deck of beautifully illustrated black and metallic gold Night Forest cards.
Participants disperse, finding a place to be alone with their card. Once they are alone, they light their candle, flip their card over, and allow the image and word on the card to evoke or inspire memories. Participants move through the space, embodying and exploring their memories. When two participants meet, they exchange memories, trade cards, and continue the process with other memories and other people.
At some point, repeat cards will appear. If a participant receives a card they’ve had before, they blow out their candle and become a forgotten memory. The forgotten memories stay in the shadows but follow the other memories around as silent witnesses. The game ends once everyone is a forgotten memory.
Night Forest can be played around a certain theme, question, or issue the group wants to explore, or it can be completely open. Educators and facilitators appreciate how Night Forest provides enough of a structure that they don’t have to create something from scratch, yet enough openness and flexibility that it can be used again and again for a range of groups and learning objectives.
“One of the important aspects of Night Forest is that it promotes diversity on many levels,” co-designer, Mo explains. “It invites a non-linear way of thinking, something often not rewarded in many school and work settings, but that’s super important for emotional intelligence as well as for innovation. It also requires participants to really pay attention to the other participants: their timing, thought process, personal narratives.”
After playing Night Forest, one participant reflected; “Educators, group facilitators, and leadership teams, if you’re seeking experiential methods to incorporate into programming, this is for you. You’ll find Night Forest versatile, effective, and memorable for your group and you might find yourself handing out the cards and switching off the lights any opportunity you get.”