Conversation game at Penn State Hershey Medical Center helps address tough questions

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) - It's something everyone deals with eventually, but it's not talked about enough: end of life care.

Researchers at Penn State Hershey Medical Center are trying to foster those conversations in an unconventional way.

In a lot of ways, it's what you'd expect of a game. "There're chips and tokens and physical, tangible objects," said Dr. Lauren Van Scoy

But the questions on the cards are anything but expected.

"What is the last meal you want to eat, and who would you like to join you?" Renee Stewart read to a group of three other medical center employees Friday.

"I think that that is really the secret of the game," Van Scoy said, "is that it's called a game."

She's been researching My Gift of Grace, a card set with the tagline "A conversation game for living and dying well." A Philly company, Common Practice, approached her about the idea a couple years ago.

"And I thought, at the time, it was a little unusual to turn death and dying into a game," Van Scoy said.

She doesn't think so anymore; she turned it into the research program Project Talk. We asked a group of medical center employees to sit down with the cards to show us how it works.

"What would you like done with your body after you die?" Maureen Palese read to the group.

"A lot of people don't think about their priorities and what's most important to them at the end of life," Stewart said.

That's where the game comes in: It gets to the heart of serious questions in a less threatening way.

"They seek out your values, and they inform your decisions in a way that sometimes straightforward questions won't do," Kate Valenziano said.

"And then there are periods of incredible levity and joy and laughter," Van Scoy noted.

In response to the question, "If you could control only one thing about the place where you spend your last hours of life, what would it be?" Stewart told her colleagues, "I'm going to have karaoke, cardboard stand-ups of me throughout my life," drawing laughs.

"It'll be great."

Now the research turns to who can benefit the most, whether that be caregivers, families, or those facing serious illnesses.

Van Scoy is also trying to figure out if it's best to play within a family, or with a group of strangers. The responses she's gotten, she said, indicate it's more about an individual experience than it is about the group.

"It really doesn't matter who plays the game," she said. "What matters is that they play."

What matters, she said, is the talk.

The researchers are holding two community game days in the coming weeks. You can play on Nov. 7 at the Hummelstown library, or on Nov. 21 at the Mechanicsburg library. Both start at 11 a.m.

If you'd like to learn more about the game or purchase a set, you can do so here.

For details on Community Game Events near you, call Jean Reading from Project Talk at 717-531-0003, ext 281230, or email

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