Non-Verbal Communication In Games


Been thinking about this in particular because I was invited to the beta of the multiplayer game Sky: Light Awaits, which is the newest game Thatgamecompany is working on. Spoilers for a few basic mechanics of the game. A large part of the game is collecting emotes that your avatar can then act out. And while the game does give the option for chatting with other players, it’s only in select spots or at a high cost of building friendship with a specific player. So the emotes become a main way of interacting with and getting messages across to other players. It’s fun to see how certain gestures will allow a long range of expressions to get across, with non-verbal waves and a player sitting down meaning I can’t continue with you or a cheerful chirp and an outstretched hand meaning I can help you get through this section. This is practically an intended effect of the game though, with the developing language coming from an intentionally emotive mechanic. So I’ve also been interested in how people will get across messages in games in unintended ways.

Communication within Overwatch when coms aren’t in play has been really creative in my experience. I typically stay off coms unless I’m playing with friends because as somebody who mains healers and has a feminine voice, I just don’t frequently feel comfortable with the process because of the comments I’ve gotten in the past. And it’s led to some interesting ways to communicate. I remember back in my Mercy main days (RIP, I just can’t get used to her new play style), there would be a Genji spamming “need healing” while flying off four ways to Sunday when I’m focusing on our tank trying to play the objective. So when we were back in spawn and he’d still be spamming it, I’d look straight at him and then boost somebody else just to get across the “I’m Done With Your BS” attitude.

Any other games that really allow for this level of creative expression? Any games you weren’t expecting to be able to communicate in but found really fun ways to?


Destiny’s emotes have filled in a gap in communication not allowed in public spaces. Since I can’t use voice chat to communicate with strangers, players use pointing and dancing to communicate hidden chests or other objectives within the public space.


some of the funniest moments I can recall in all of the time I’ve spent playing games is nonverbal communication by way of abusing the game’s control scheme.

When I see other players in Dark Souls, I don’t like gesturing. I like to furiously switch through my right- and left-handed weapons in a flurry of shuffling movements.

I’ll also never forget playing Winback on N64 against friends, and we would just constantly, nonstop reload our weapons, as the game let you reload full clips. So our incredibly serious crouched characters were sneaking around, dropping clips and shoving new ones in ad infinitum.

Generally if you play a game with me and you make your character do a move of some kind repeatedly in my face, im gonna piss myself laughing


Hey so I had an experience in Dark Souls 3 that I think suits this subject. It is apparently commonplace for hardcore Dark Souls 3 PvP players, but if you’re not familiar with that ‘scene’, read on:

The Dark Souls series lets you engage with other players in a couple of ways, one of which is to place ‘summon’ signs asking other players to invite you into their world to fight them. They see your mark on the ground, can see a picture of your player, and can then pull you in to fight them as a ‘dark spirit’.

Last night, I was laying down dark spirit summon signs in an arena area commonly used for PvP. I was getting pulled in to fight summoners and getting my ass beat like usual when I got summoned in to a strange scenario. I spawned in their world and ran to the arena area as you do, and found four or five other dark spirits and the summoner all standing around, doing greeting and celebration gestures at each other. I waved and ran up to them, anticipating a huge brawl. Instead, two of the dark spirits walked down into the arena and bowed at each other. The other dark spirits and the summoner all used the “sit on the ground” gesture or otherwise stood at the lip of the arena to, apparently, watch the duel. It looked like this:

I’d never seen this before! We had been summoned into a player’s realm to compete against one another in a tournament. If the summoner (generally, the one who is not red, barring items that make dark spirits look ‘normal’) dies, all dark spirits are sent back to their games, so it was immediately clear that they would fight last, or not at all.

When the winner of the first duel was called, I hopped down to fight. I started getting worked, and backed off to heal. The opposing player stopped, and gestured with a finger pointing at the ground. The onlookers also pointed at the ground. I immediately understood this to be an indication that I had exhibited poor duel etiquette: NO HEALING! Makes sense. Don’t want these to get drawn out with so many others waiting to fight!

I lost, went back to my world, and placed another summon sign. When I found my way back into a tournament scenario, I now knew the rules because of gestures: don’t heal, and just wait for your turn. While waiting, a dark spirit backstabbed another idle dark spirit, forcing them to heal. This was not sanctioned! All waiting dark spirits turned towards them and pointed at the ground. The backstabber ran off into a corner and went into full prostration (think “child’s pose”: on your knees, fully slumped forward, face to the ground.) We surrounded them and pointed down at them. Shame! Shame! They stood up and ran into a different corner, full prostration. More pointing. Eventually we returned to the arena, and the fight resumed.

To our surprise, the backstabber did it AGAIN!! The audacity of this fool! The fight stopped, and all dark spirits chased the backstabber across the map, as the summoner stood on the steps and observed, using the clapping gesture. We killed the backstabber and, again, returned to the arena to resume our duel.

I learned so much about the definitive etiquette of PvP arenas because of gestures without having any prior exposure to them! I also laughed like a fuckin idiot while we all ‘shamed’ the backstabber. I especially loved the performative ‘regret’ of the backstabber. We were all goofing off in a theatrical way, totally removed from the intended experience of this mechanic. Not only was it clear what we were all communicating to one another, it was fuckin hilarious