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What Exactly Is Pictionary? More Than Just a Board Game (AI, Learning Tool,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

To many people, Pictionary is a fun, after-dinner game played between teams of friends. It is a simple, relaxing game to end an enjoyable evening. 

The Pictionary game was inspired by the game of Charades, where players act out words and phrases. It was invented by a young waiter, Robert Angel, and first published in 1985.

Mattel, the toy company, bought the rights in 2001. Pictionary was in 60 countries at that time, in 45 languages, and 38 million Pictionary games had been sold worldwide.

In 2019, Mattel released Pictionary Air, which is played on a streaming device. A physical board is no longer needed as players draw in the air while teammates guess. As you can see, it is a game suitable for groups of most sizes and ages. 

While these are facts that can’t be disputed, what many people aren’t sure of is what Pictionary is. Is it a board game, or is it something else? It’s safe to say that Pictionary is a board game, but it’s far more than “just a board game.”

Below is proof that Pictionary is far more than “just” a board game:

1. How to play Pictionary.

Before going into the reasons why Pictionary is not merely a board game, you need to know the game’s objective and the “how-to” of the game.

The game is played in teams with participants trying to identify specific words known only to one team member, who has to draw the word. No letters may be used, and no hints are given. The only talking comes from the rest of the team trying to “decode” what the aspirant artist has drawn. Usually, a 1-minute timer is used to force players to complete the drawing and to guess rapidly.

The objective is for competing teams to move a marker, chase each other on a board of squares in sequence, and get to the end first.  

2. How popular is Pictionary?

This game has proven to be so popular that there have been many spin-offs of the original idea. Iconary is a Pictionary-like online game played with an AI partner. iSketch is another online game, played in much the same way.

Pictionary is played in various formats in Game shows such as “Win, Lose or Draw” and “Fast Draw”. It has also been used on TV in shows like “The Simpsons” and “Friends”, which indicates its worldwide appeal.  

3. Pictionary as an educator.

Pictionary is most definitely an educator. From the after-dinner casual game where a word might be used that is unfamiliar to a contestant, who then learns new vocabulary, to the use of Pictionary in the classroom, it is a game that teaches many different skills.

The game introduces various things to players, from vocabulary building to cognitive skills (using one’s imagination) and social skills- such as taking turns, using appropriate volume when speaking, and keeping score.

4. Pictionary as a vocabulary builder.

An educational game such as this allows students to convey their understanding of a concept or term through pictures. 

Letting students draw this representation gives them the ability to grasp a deeper comprehension of the word’s meaning. Physically impaired students who cannot draw can play by choosing from a wide variety of printed pictures.

5. Pictionary as an asset to building visual skills.

In most board games, one is chasing a counter across the demarcated board in the hopes of getting to the winning post first. In games such as “Snakes and Ladders”, “Ludo”, and others, you are dependent on the throw of the dice; taking a chance, it will roll to the number you require. In Pictionary, however, more is required of the contestants. 

Our brains think with a combination of verbal and non-verbal thoughts. Vocalized thoughts are processed at a maximum of 250 words per minute. The brain can process non-verbal thoughts, usually, images and pictures, thousands of times faster, even if the thoughts are complex concepts and ideas.

Converting the word into an image in the mind requires visualization, memory, organization of thoughts, and mental images manipulation. These are essential skills for reading and comprehending the written word. Add to this that drawing requires hand-eye coordination [visual motor integration], where the mind directs the body, and you will see another facet of playing Pictionary.

While you are sitting with your team watching Bert draw random, arbitrary squiggles with the team calling anything from “beetle” to “river-raft,” know that in Bert’s brain, multiple processes are at play. Synapses are firing as he tries to portray the phrase “four-poster bed”.

Bert is desperately trying to use the skill of visual communication and creative, original thought – a valuable skill for learning and life.  

6. Pictionary as a therapist.

Psychologists use Pictionary therapy to invoke feelings, which then leads to a discussion. People are often more easily able to express themselves on paper than in words. Especially with children, who often do not know the word needed for the emotion they are trying to describe, drawing, even if it’s only scribbled lines, will indicate some distress in their minds.

Using this gentle process, a strong relationship between therapist and patient can develop. The patient becomes more self-aware as they are forced to think about the troubling emotion or problem, and the unconscious thoughts become more conscious. This therapy works exceptionally well for most ages.

7. Pictionary as a means to prepare for final examinations.

A modified version of Pictionary has been used for many years as a successful review game for the semester’s course. It is designed to help students recall essential words and connect the terminology and the concept.

Have you ever studied for a final exam, following the course as it was taught, only to be faced with chronologically random questions, and you are sitting with a brain that knows the facts in a specific order and now can’t connect the dots? 

This course teaches students to visualize the concepts, draw them, define them, provide examples, and connect them to the course material. In other words, the questions act as clues geared to let you remember all the facts.

8. Pictionary as an aggressive means of competition.

This is one fact that is not true. We all know of a particular board game that involves property sales – and which has led to significant contention between the players. In certain families, that game is banned simply because of the avaricious competition involved, leading to players’ aggressive behavior.

Where money is concerned, there is usually dissension! In games of chance where a dice is thrown – there should not be aggression, as it is a “luck of the draw” thing.

In Pictionary, there is the challenge of both the person drawing the object and the team guessing correctly. Still, for anyone who has played it, Pictionary is usually accompanied by laughter. There is always the person who struggles to draw and the person who randomly throws out answers, usually making the drawer make even more frantic scribbles symbols on the page.

Play (where competitors are having fun) is beneficial to everyone – it is an important source of relaxation and stimulation, especially for adults. Play releases endorphins, the body’s “feel-good” chemicals, which are known even to give pain relief. 

Play wards off stress and depression, and stimulates creativity. In team games, such as Pictionary, playing with an emotionally secure person helps replace negative behaviors. So, to sum it up. Pictionary is a game that does not promote aggression, which sets it apart from other board games.

9. Pictionary as a developmental tool for artificial intelligence.

Who would have thought a simple board game could help change the future? One of the most challenging and complex aspects of artificial intelligence, as in the bots that answer questions on your computer or the robot with a specific task to perform, is to teach these machines to think with sophisticated reasoning.

Researchers believe Pictionary could push machine intelligence beyond its current limits and have developed online Pictionary where humans play against machines, teaching them to recognize the thought patterns we instinctively have.

For example, the word “Wedding Ring” in our minds could send us to “Bride and Groom”, “Marriage Ceremony”, “Reception”,” Gifts”, and multiple other ideas in a flash. This is something Artificial Intelligence needs to be taught. 

Ali Farhadi, a professor at Washington University and the lead researcher on an AI project, says this of Pictionary: “You’ve got to use a lot of sophisticated reasoning. It teaches common sense”. An Artificial Intelligence machine is playing Pictionary as you read this, figuring out how the world works.

Last Word

So, is Pictionary just a board game? Absolutely not. It’s a game with many uses, suitable for most ages, and with a boat-load of benefits to boot. Besides helping researchers explore ways for humans and machines to communicate and collaborate more effectively, it is good for you health-wise, builds mental understanding, and allows you to relax and work on your drawing skills. 

As many million sets of the hard-copy game have already been sold, add to this the millions more who play, and you will realize that it is here to stay. It’s not just a game – it’s part of our future.

JC Franco

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.