I have a job interview today. I'm pretty excited about it.
So, about a month ago, I had the opportunity to first watch a referential communication task and then to participate in one. The task was adopted for use in linguistic studies from a social psychology task called the Krause task. More or less, one person describes something to the another person so that the other person can pick the right card or photograph or novel object or what have you. In the morning, I watched a psychologist describe tangrams to a linguist while a student of Communication disorders listened in and tried to identify the same tangrams. It turns out, we do better at things when we can ask questions and in general participate in the "naming" of novel things. (The linguist and the psychologist were allowed to discuss the figures.) Later in the day, I described a set of photographs to someone who had to match their set to mine. We weren't allowed to discuss this time, I just had to describe the photo in as much detail as I thought necessary so that the other participant could pick the right photograph. We got them all right. It turns out, in pretty much line with hypotheses about English speakers, that I mostly use intrinsic and relative frames of reference when I'm describing the orientation of objects. (Intrinsic in that the object is the thing that the orientation is projected from and Relative in that I was the thing that the orientation was projected from.)
Now, why would anyone want to make people play these little games? Lots of reasons. Its easier to get people to want to participate (and to do well) if your task is fun. If you want to study discourse, you need to get people to talk. If you want to look at, say, spatial frames of reference, you need to get people to talk about things that are oriented in specific ways in space. Or, if you want to study something else that can be done in the form of a matching game.