Super Mario moves like a machine.

He almost never turns around unless he must. He runs rightward. He jumps rightward. He crouches and slides under bricks without slowing. He acquires coins. He kills with fire and boot-heel. Still he runs. Rightward—ever rightward.

Finally, a difficult jump briefly halts his progress. Super Mario dies. For now.

My wife puts down the controller. It’s my turn, and Luigi’s. I went from the Atari 2600 straight to the Super Nintendo in my youth. The NES, while much-loved and present in my childhood memories, was not a major factor in my early development as a gamer.

Luigi looks terrified, and far from Super. He hesitates. He backtracks. He pauses. He approaches his first Goomba anxiously, and his jump is ragged and imprecise. The original Super Mario Bros. has somewhat drifty controls compared to its successors, and it always takes me some time to re-adjust. Too long.

Death comes quickly to Luigi. My wife finishes the game a few lives later, with Mario’s triumphant campaign only infrequently punctuated by Luigi’s fitful progress and inevitable tragedies.

Non-verbal communication among players is a big part of tabletop gaming, and I’ll be looking at that as I analyze interactios around my game Deme. However, as in the anecdote above, games—electronic or otherwise—come with their own non-verbal cues and even a body language of sorts. This can be more noticeable when players aren’t able to physically observe or interact with each other.

An arrangement of chess pieces could be interpreted as aggressive or defensive. A player’s confidence and skill can show in online games through movement and action. In these cases, with in-game actions—and sometimes movement—being limited and uniform, interactions come at least partially pre-coded for the researcher.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, and you can see it just about everywhere. I’m a big fan of playing games together with friends and family in the same room, but I’ve often been amazed by how much meaningful information I’ve exchanged online with fellow players I’ve never seen, and with whom I’ve never exhanged a typed or spoken word. Feints, counter-feints, acknowledgements, threats, camaraderie, humor—humans will find ways to communicate with any tools available. In online games, these tools may be anything from complex role-playing avatars to playing cards or two-dimensional spaceships.

Would anyone else like to share an anecdote or two about nonverbal communication within games? The novel ways people find to convey a message can often be just as interesting as the message itself.

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