Whisper-Listen-Whisper: A collaborative game to facilitate the creative unknown.

‘Whisper-Listen-Whisper’ (WLW) is an international collaboration developed by Robert Manners and Michael Whittle into a game and hybrid learning experience for undergraduate BA students in the UK and Hong Kong.

WLW draws inspiration from the children’s game of whispering a message into the ear of someone next to you who then passes this message on. This action is repeated until the message goes full circle. Messages or instructions are inevitably misheard or intentionally subverted, and one of the objectives of this project is to demonstrate the pleasure, creativity and learning to be found in the ways in which this happens.

With this in mind, the project was designed to facilitate a shared group experience of uncertainty, chance and surprise, which students were asked to treat as creative opportunities.

Students began by mapping out the field of instructional art, and each week presented new examples to the class. These were added to the virtual whiteboard ‘Miro’, along with captions and links to source materials. Students curated this growing collection to look for similarities and differences in the multitude of ways artists have used instructions as part of their creative practices.

In parallel to this students practiced writing their own sets of instructions in the style of representative artists from the genre, such as Yoko Ono, Sol leWitt and Alan Kaprow. They were then introduced to the ‘oblique strategy cards’ of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt and wrote and edited their own. Emphasis was placed on creating short instructions open enough to be creatively interpreted and applied to any medium. Once ten suitable instructions had been written, one was chosen for use in the game.

Within the game the students became players within teams. Each player was assigned a position on the Miro game board to evenly distribute Hong Kong students among those from the UK. In order to communicate within their teams and forward incoming messages, students used alias artist’s names to open new accounts on the social media platform Snapchat.

At week zero a ‘seed instruction’ was sent to each player requiring them to make a bound assemblage of up to 10 objects, which they then photographed and uploaded to the game board. A second seed instruction asked them to light the object, create a shadow, and make new drawings / objects based on the shape of the shadow. This was the starting point for the instructions that were to follow.

Students received an anonymous instruction twice a week for three weeks from another member of their team via Snapchat, which they had to creatively interpret and respond to by adapting their drawings or projects. As part of the documentation process, students were encouraged to brainstorm ideas beyond the cliché, and document both this generative process and artistic interpretation at each stage of play. The game ended when each student received their original instruction. On completion, an online zoom meeting provided an important moment for the participants to share their experiences and comment on the development of one another’s projects.
‘Whisper-Listen-Whisper’ (WLW) is an international collaboration developed into a game to facilitate the creative unknown as a working methodology. The project was run as a pilot study with two groups of undergraduate art students from Plymouth College of Art in the UK, and the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University.

The study involved students at various stages of their education, engaged in different specialisations, and working under a variety of circumstances. The first-year UK students on a printmaking module were under lockdown at home for the entire duration of the project, whilst the third- and fourth-year Hong Kong students on a sculpture course had access to studio facilities for half of the semester.

The project evolved from an initial desire to link students from different cultures experiencing similar social impacts on their day to day lives, and to enable an exchange of their ideas and experiences through collaboratively working together. The pedagogical strategy was to demonstrate that artistic outcomes can be enriched by allowing outside aleatoric events to influence the creative direction of artistic projects.

WLW drew upon the genre of instructional art, and was presented to the students as a game. This format helped generate a feeling of friendly competition, and the use of the virtual white board ‘MIRO’ allowed students to follow one another’s progress and compare, discuss and gauge their ideas and approaches. 36 students were divided into 6 teams of 6 anonymous players. Before the game started, each member was required to compose a single ‘open instruction’ in the style of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s ‘Oblique Strategies’. These were then circulated among the other players in their team over a three weeks period.

On receipt of an instruction students had to consider the different ways in which it could be creatively interpreted, and then adapt their projects in novel and unexpected directions. The process of idea generation and creative action were then documented and uploaded to the MIRO game board. Particular emphasis was placed on developing a narrative, material or conceptual thread between each stage of the game, and students rose to this challenge by employing a remarkably diverse array of techniques and ideas.

There were some highly creative and original outcomes, which were very unlikely to have emerged without a chance instructional process. Students who chose to participate in the study showed a high rate of completion and project feedback. A successful post-game group meeting allowed participants to share their experiences and comment on the development of one another’s projects.

Several students also actively sought out novel ways to incorporate chance processes into their projects, including reverse google image searches and public involvement. Several students reported they are now more likely to employ similar approaches within their artistic practices. Based upon this pilot study and positive student feedback, the authors believe that the W-L-W format is flexible enough to be easily adapted and developed for use in other creative fields in the arts and humanities, such as music and literature.