Nicaragua in the 1970s had no form of sign language. If you were deaf, you had simple gestures with a trusted few, likely nothing more than a form of pantomime you negotiated with your family to meet basic needs. In 1977, something happened. Fifty deaf children from across the country were brought together to an experimental school in Managua. Without a shared language to express themselves, the children did the only thing they could -- they created one. In Sign, we follow a small piece of their journey.
Sign is a game about being understood. It centers on deafness, play, and an emergent language from the hands of children. In Sign, we follow a small piece of a true story that transformed thousands of lives and gave language to the deaf of an entire country. Together players share the frustration and loneliness of not having a language and develop the tools to overcome it. As linguists, we’ve been moved by this story for a long time. We hope this game will help it spread. What’s most unique about playing Sign is the arc of understanding. Players’ interactions during the first stages of the game are stilted and full of compromise. They can’t be understood, and it stings. In the game, players define the words they need to communicate during recess and class time, taking linguistic agency. This exemplifies how the language they’ve collectively defined could develop going forward. Long after the game is over, the players hold on to their emergent language.
Sign is a passion project of two game designer-linguists. We’ve taken great care to keep it accessible, respectful, and fun to play. We’ve solicited and incorporated feedback from both the Deaf community, linguists specializing in Sign Language and native speakers of Nicaraguan Sign Language. We believe Sign is an experience in empathy: It affords players a brief glimpse
at how life changes when barriers to communication are raised, and what that means for us emotionally. We hope it can become an educational tool, spreading the word of what is one of the most remarkable linguistic phenomena of modern times.
Hakan Seyalioglu (Co-Designer)
Kathryn Hymes (Co-Designer)