Social Deduction and Deception in the Composition Classroom

Recently, I created a poster for a digital pedagogy showcase on playing social deception games in the composition classroom. Social deception games, in which an informed minority seeks to deceive an uninformed majority, can be a fun and useful method for teaching rhetoric. Since many games function well with 10-12 players, it’s easy to break a class into groups of players and observers and ask observers to track how arguments are made throughout the game. Ethos, pathos, and logos can get intense when (fake) death is on the line.

What’s a social deception/deduction game? These popular games are meant to be played with groups of 4 or 5 and up (to dozens, for some!). Players are tasked with either figuring something out or hiding information from their opponents. Such games are great for practicing logical argumentation and rhetorical savvy.

One caveat, however: not all games are suitable for all groups. Teachers should take care to consider the identities at play in some social deception games (example: Secret Hitler) or consider the use of language popular in some games and how it may impact players. Choose games carefully and adjust rules at need, but remember that having these conversations with your students can also be fruitful. Not all students, for example, may understand why words like “lynch” (popular in Werewolf games) may be troubling. Social deception games can offer a wealth of teaching opportunities.

Interested in playing social deception games in your classroom? I’ve created a set of simple printables for the basic Werewolf game that make setup easy. These ten cards include the base ratio of villagers to wolves for a straightforward game: six base villagers, one seer, and two wolves. Want to change it up? Just print a few copies and mix and match. Maybe replace the seer with another base villager, or add an extra wolf for hard mode. It’s up to you! But don’t add too many wolves, or your players will never have a chance to solve. Many gaming groups agree on a ratio of 3-4 villagers for each wolf, but creative setups can produce interesting results. If you have never run a game of Werewolf, there are a few helpful guides explaining how to manage phases and the flow of the game.

Here’s the printable PDF.

If you want to break students into smaller groups, or focus on different elements of rhetoric, you might consider games like Spyfall or The Resistance. Options are vast—experiment and see what happens, but remember that not all games have the same aim. One Night Ultimate Werewolf, for example, is more of a logic puzzle than a deception game, and while that can be useful, it will not reinforce the same ideas as traditional Werewolf.

Stuck inside? Social deception games can be played online, both synchronously (through text and/or video chat) and asynchronously, via forums! There are many robust digital communities built around such games, and almost no adaptation is required, though often online asynchronous games can be more complex. In fact, Mafia Universe, one such community, is gearing up now to host the yearly Mafia World Championships!