Emoji-cize: Stretch your emotions!

Emoji-cize: Stretch your emotions!

I’m incredibly excited that my game, Emoji-cize, has been accepted into the 2016 Meaningful Play conference‘s game exhibition at MSU this fall!  What the heck is Emoji-cize, you say?


Empathy skills have been shown to play a key role in the development of prosocial behavior in children. Yet many people (from children through adults) struggle to successfully interpret the emotional states of others. How can we help each other to develop a better understanding of what different emotions are, what they feel like, and how to interpret them?  Here’s where our game can help.

Emoji-cize is a fast-paced card game designed to promote empathy and a deeper understanding of different emotions. The game encourages players to develop self-awareness about their own emotions, often drawing on personal experience to enact them. Players also develop empathy by learning to recognize emotions in the facial expression and body language of another person.

Emoji-cize is a flexible game that can be adapted for a variety of age groups and ability levels, with adjustable round times and the possibility of expansion packs that can extend the utility and reach of the game, as well as increase its replay value. In light of the recognized importance of empathetic skills and the game’s low cost to benefit ratio, Emoji-cize is very relevant to today’s needs, and also offers a great deal of potential. It encourages players to stretch emotionally and is also a lot of fun!

Need for the game

Empathy, or the ability to understand and relate to the experiences and feelings of another, has been touted as an important construct in the development of children’s prosocial behavior. The ability to empathize is strongly connected to the formation and maintenance of relationships; it is also frequently identified as a key factor in the determination of success in medical, educational, and other career fields. Research has suggested that many children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) struggle to successfully interpret the emotional states of others (Mazza et al., 2014). Other studies have indicated that children who demonstrate empathic deficits are more likely to engage in bullying (Stavrinides, Georgiou, & Theofanous, 2010). In response to these and other findings, educators and therapists have recognized the need for intervention strategies to foster empathy as an ability or skill.

Serious Goals

Emoji-cize has two serious goals:

  • to strengthen understanding of different emotions and
  • to encourage players to develop and practice empathy.

As a side benefit, the game may also help players to identify, interpret, and use emoticons and facial expression-based emojis, an increasingly pervasive element of digital communication. This game may also help to foster greater self-awareness as players learn what different emotions feel like, and take the time to think about what they mean. It may also help players to learn to recognize emoticons & facial expression-based emojis, which are increasingly pervasive in electronic communications.

Target Audience

Emoji-cize is designed for older children and adolescents ages 10-17, but can be enjoyed by adults and families as well. It may be of particular interest to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and those who struggle with empathetic skills. It is designed to be easy to play in a variety of contexts, whether at home with friends, in a mixed group of children and adults, or in educational or therapeutic settings.

Succinct Gameplay Summary
In Emoji-cize, the idea is that players teach an android — who is unfamiliar with human feelings — what different emotions mean, what they look like, how to recognize them, and how they feel.

Emoji-cize has the advantage of being a relatively simple game that doesn’t require a great deal of setup or complicated game materials. The game elements consist of an emotion deck, timer (optional), and emotion chips. The game can be played individually between 2 or 3 players, or in teams (which requires 4 or more total players).
The player in the Android role doesn’t understand human emotions. It is the role of the other player (as the Empath) to teach emotions and empathy to the Android. To do this, the Empath player must demonstrate, or enact, emotions in a variety of ways.

The Empath player draws a card from the deck; each card has an emotion listed on it, as well as an associated emoticon. Each card also includes instructions about how the Empath should enact the emotion. For example: demonstrate that you are horrified using your hands and your face. To do this, the Empath player might, for example, widen her eyes and place her hands on the side of her face. The Android player must correctly guess the emotion listed on the card. For each correct guess the players work together to achieve, they are awarded an “emotion chip”. Players collect emotion chips, and at the end of the game, the player (or team) with the most emotion chips wins.

Mazza, M., Pino, M. C., Mariano, M., Tempesta, D., Ferrara, M., De Berardis, D., … Valenti, M. (2014). Affective and cognitive empathy in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 791. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00791

Stavrinides, P., Georgiou, S., & Theofanous, V. (2010). Bullying and empathy: A short-term longitudinal investigation. Educational Psychology, 30, 793-802. doi:10.1080/01443410.2010.506004