This time around I hosted (and then taught the teacher how to host) a scene building RPG based on the Scarlett Letter for Juniors in AP lit.  It used the scene building mechanics from the game Microscope.  It began with meeting the teacher and thinking of questions to explore inside the novel.  We created questions that are not answered in the novel, but that could be explored inside the novel.  Below are the questions and mechanics of the game used.


  1. How did Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimsdale fall in love?
  2. What would make Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimsdale risk death to actualize their love?
  3. What should the woman plan to do intentionally to torture Hester Prynne?
  4. What personality traits about Roger Chillingworth cause him to snap when he learns of his wife’s transgression when he arrives in Salem?
  5. How does Pearl hold on to hope while being stigmatized by the other children?
  6. How does Pearl cope without having a father in a Puritan society?
  7. How does Arthur Dimsdale deal with not being able to acknowledge his daughter publicly?

Scene Creation

  1. Choose a Player 1


  • Player 1:  Choose one of the scenes you would like to explore


  1. Player 1:  Create a one or 2 sentence setting of where you want your scene to take place that answers your group’s question
  2. Player 1:  Choose up to 2 characters that have to be in the scene and up to 2 characters who cannot be in the scene
  3. Player 2: Starting with the player to the left of Player 1:  Choose a character, say your name, and who you are.  (Read below about time!)
      1. “Instead of playing a normal character, one player in a Scene can choose to play Time, a special type of character. Time represents forces or groups of people who are pushing the situation to some conclusion, for good or ill.  The barbarians at the gates, the cavalry come to the rescue, the angry mob, the black plague, the tanking economy–these could all be Time.” (Microscope, Ben Robbins 2011)
  4. Player 2:  In clockwise order, each player shares one thought what your character is thinking with the group.
  5. Play out a scene until you answer the question you wanted to learn about.
  6. If time to play more switch player one to a second player and repeat the process with a 2nd question.

The game itself flowed very smoothly.  Students understood it quickly and wanted to keep making more scenes.  If you’d like to see a clip watch the video or this Video 2. Their reflections though were what really sold this as an educational tool.  The purpose of the reflections is to see if students can make extended thinking connections from the game to the literature and to see if they can apply the concepts from the novels into the game.  The answers are below.  Each question reveals that through this exercise students expanded the world around a novel, understood puritan society better than before, and that students analyzed characters in order to create appropriate backstories and justifications for characters.

  1.  What insights did you gain about specific characters from participating in the game (Hester, pearl, Arthur, etc.)?
    1. I understood that just because Mistress Hibbins is a witch doesn’t mean she is evil.
    2. We learned a lot about what Roger Chillingworths possible background could have been, and perhaps the relationship that his parents had when he was a child
    3. The harshness that pearl is going through from other people bullying her
    4. I learned how passion clouded Hester’s mind and that without releasing negative energy, Dimesdale resorts to self harm.
    5. I learned that Hester possibly didn’t commit her crime on her own volition. She could have been forced to do so. We shouldn’t judge these characters because we don’t know their entire stories.
    6. Pearl, though independent, relies on Hester’s strong example of taking responsibility for her sin and not letting others belittle her for it as a beacon of hope in her life. Also, Roger Chillingworth may have had some childhood trauma that manifests as a thirst for revenge in the novel.
    7. Pearl’s anger at being isolated and the numerous ways Hester and Arthur could have met
  2. How did your views of modern day society effect how you played the scenes in the game?
    1. I felt as though the scenes in the puritanical society were considerably more conservative and religious than normal, regular conversations now.
    2. I realized how society is cruel and horrible towards a person who had done something wrong and there is much shame upon them.
    3. It was definitely different I have to say, because the reactions in the book seemed much more violent than those of today.
    4. The isolation of religion from government is an impactful factor that we’ve grown used to in modern day society. Intertwining those two concepts was difficult to imitate and comprehend.
    5. Our modern minds caused us to attempt to hold back when discussing the problems in puritan society. It was difficult to force ourselves to be dark and say dark things.
    6. It was difficult to escape the modern day tolerance while playing this game, the Puritan mindset is far more narrow than what I am used to
  3. What new insight do you have about the 17th century from the game?
    1. That the people of that old society are very involved in others lives and take punishment of others upon themselves
    2. I feel that (even more so now) puritan society is quite hypocritical by its own definition.
    3. Puritans tried to be very pure and good, even if it wasn’t true to their inner selves
    4. The Puritans were bossy and rude to anyone who sinned, and it was so much different from today’s society. I saw how unjust all of it was, even if it was just our imaginations.
    5. How the ridicule was just a very intense version of what we do today with gossip and “**** shaming”
    6. Shunning was much more violent. People had to keep dark secrets inside, resulting in inverted people.
  4. If you were to adapt the novel today what key scenes would you add to the book for backstory.
    1. In the middle of the book, I would want to add a flashback scene displaying the origin of the love affair between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale.
    2. I would add the story of how Hester and Roger Chillingsworth met and fell in love. Then, I would add more to Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale’s forbidden love story.
    3. I would add dimmesdale and Hester meeting and love affair and that whole plot and I would include a backstory to Hester and chillingsworth relationship and I would also add Hester’s experience being pregnant and at what point it was noticed by the people etc.
    4. When Hester fell in love and more time with pearl. Pearl has so much information and I don’t think she is appreciated as much as she should be.
    5. More individual scenes with pearl and how she dealt with the isolation as a child.
    6. Pearl’s individual life and the afflictions she endures within a younger age group rather than just focusing on the struggles of the adults.

These answers all show that students analyzed the novel for its core themes and that students connected what happened in the novel into their own life, the modern day, and the larger narrative told between the pages of the novel.  It was a powerful lesson and easy to start and run.  If you would like to run this scene framing with a classroom please feel free to do so.  This can work with many more novels than just the Scarlett Letter and could be a powerful tool to help students better understand the literature.