Philadelphia design firm aims to gamify conversations around death and dying

    Death and dying are uncomfortable topics for most of us — and we tend to avoid talking about them.

    Philadelphia design company Action Mill is developing a game with a serious mission — to make these tough conversations easier.

     Imagine you’re spending time with your family, you put the game on the table, and you say, “I want to give this gift to you, this opportunity to have this conversation because you care about me, because you love me and there are things that I want to share with you.”

    That’s how Action Mill designer Jethro Heiko envisions people introducing “My Gift of Grace,” which entices players to talk, ponder and choose activities around the end of life.

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    Heiko says when people find out what he is working on some think the game is dark, or sad. But that’s not so, he says.

    “Our view is, the same way that people talk about a bucket list, these are things that you want to do before you die,” he said. “They are good things, they are things that are important to you, things that make your life meaningful.”

    Players pull cards that are broken into three categories — actions, statements, and questions.

    “Do you want to live as long as possible, or be as comfortable as possible?” says one card. “What activities make you feel most alive?” is another, says Georgia Guthrie, a designer at Action Mill.

    “Families, friends, who have known each other for years, have had deep intimate conversations don’t know these things about each other, and we don’t even know these things about ourselves,” added Action Mill partner Rob Peagler.

    Penn Medicine palliative care physician David Casarett says without conversations about the end of life, family members can really only guess what a loved one wants in a crisis situation.

    “The two things that surprise me most are how little family members know, and how much they think they know,” said Casarett. “In other words, I’m constantly surprised how much disagreement there is, and how absolutely certain different family members are that they know what their mother would have wanted.”

    Casarett says a game such as “My Gift of Grace” could serve as a more comfortable way to ease into these types of conversations.

    The game’s designers began a Kickstarter campaign to help it along, and hope to have it ready by October.

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