Yes, whipping out Death Conversation Game at your next game night will infuse the evening with a slightly different tone than Pictionary—but you might just walk away feeling a little more connected to your fellow humans.
Angela Fama thinks so anyways. The interdisciplinary artist and photographer’s TEDx talk this past spring touched on thought-provoking research about how talking about death can make you happier, and she doubles down on the idea with her new Death Conversation Game. Each of the 66 cards in the pack asks questions both direct (“How do you want your body cared for after you die?”) to abstract (“What happens to consciousness after death?”), intended to spark contemplation and conversation, and to push us past our discomfort and fear into deeper understanding. (It's a conversation that certainly seems to be in the zeitgeist: local Vancouver writers launched Against Death last week, a book about surviving near-death experiences and what that means to them.)
“It’s the one thing we all share, but we don’t actually know a lot about it. Instead of running or being afraid, I want to offer spaces to have it be less awkward,”says Fama, who first became interested in death conversations while recovering from a serious car accident over a decade ago. “I’ve always been a pretty open person, but people around me weren’t being direct.”
Her previous projects also touch on dialogues around tricky subjects: her 2016 What is Love video installation was an attempt to “collaboratively redefine the word ‘love’” via recorded one-on-one conversations with strangers. The Death Conversation Game takes that interest in meaningful discussions into a group setting. “We’re living together but there’s boundaries to what we can talk about,” says Fama. “By sharing what we can know about death while we’re living, we can change from fear to peace.”
And from that sharing, a surprising sense of community has grown. “Friends of friends will come to sit with me and play, and might come with some hesitancy, but afterwards, come back with their own friends,” says Fama. It’s this “spiderweb” of interest that pushed her—despite concerns about capitalism and commercialism—to manufacture decks for individuals to purchase the game. (The Kickstarter is on now.)
Okay, so maybe “game” isn’t actually the most accurate word: “facilitator” might be better. Draw a card from the deck of 66, share your thoughts on the question (or pass if it’s not something you want to delve into) and then pass it to the next person to do the same. It essentially acts as a talking stick to keep the focus. “The cards can be understood however you want to understand them. They’re about offering you places to go to think,” says Fama. “There’s so much about death we just haven’t thought about, or haven’t thought about things like that.”
Of course, with such a personal and emotional topic, a few tears are only natural (just like they are in many a round of Pictionary, to be fair), but part of the instructions are to just go for it. If you need help, ask; otherwise, just cry... though Fama says there’s typically a lot of laughter involved, too.
“There’s something approachable and fun about hard copy games; there’s a tradition of playing cards together, of grouping together and relaxing and sharing with each other,” says Fama. “Yes, there are games with winners and losers, but lots of games are about instigating community and building something. You can’t lose this game.”