Hoover Fifth Graders Play World Peace Game

“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
– Sun Tzu, Sixth Century BCE

Ancient wisdom teaches that the quest for peace requires deep understanding. OSU professor Terry Adams conveyed this wisdom to a fifth-grade class at Hoover Elementary. She quotes Sun Tzu every week before leading the students into sessions of the World Peace Game.

The Corvallis Advocate first told you about the geopolitical role-playing exercise called the World Peace Game and its creator, John Hunter, back in October. The game takes place on a fictional planet, whose nations are poised on the brink of war. Victory is achieved when all conflicts are ended and all players are financially stable. Along the way, random political and natural crises must also be resolved. As if that’s not enough of a challenge for young scholars, they also have to end global warming.

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When our original story ran, Terry and her daughter Ele were in the process of raising funds to attend a World Peace Game training class in California. With the help of the Corvallis chapter of Veterans for Peace, the money was easily raised. Now, mother and daughter have teamed with fifth-grade teacher Matthew Criscione to facilitate the World Peace Game at Hoover.

During play, a massive three-level playing surface is wheeled into the center of the classroom. The glass boards are painted to represent the land masses, sky, and even outer space. They are covered with a wide variety of playing pieces from army men to LEGOs. The pieces represent everything from armies to power plants, satellites to farms.

Game play consists of alternating periods of negotiation and declaration. Organized chaos would best describe the negotiation phase. Students carry their dossiers and gather in small groups to settle differences and move toward ending the game’s pressing crises. The adult facilitators serve as advisers to constant questions, circulating where needed. The declaration phase of the game is extremely formal, and requires the students to use correct protocol.

During this phase, the players announce their progress in resolving specific challenges. Players only speak when officially recognized, and refer to themselves by their titles and last names.

Every child in the classroom has a title and a character bio. They are presidents, world bank officers, indigenous tribesmen, arms dealers, or weather goddesses. Everything they could possibly need to know about their characters is found in secret dossiers, handed out before the first session. Assigning the roles to the students was the result of long consideration and discussion by the three adults in charge of the game.

Justin Mulford is one of the game’s arms dealers. He is detail-oriented, and well suited for the job. He enjoys the leeway that the game gives him and his fellow arms dealers. For instance, they invented stealth nuclear missiles and killer shark bots. But their job is not necessarily all about destruction. “Our goal on the outside is just to make money. However, we do have another side. We’re actually helping causes that we think are worthy. For instance, hydrogen fuel cell research.”

Terry acts as the main facilitator, but the game is structured to run without much adult help. She answers questions and keeps the students focused. But much of her role is to encourage the players to figure out how to best play the game on their own.

“They are in disbelief that they can be so creative, as long as they can afford it. Sometimes kids will come up with really unusual ways to solve problems,” she said.

Ele has observed the students becoming more respectfully assertive. The World Peace Game is designed to produce these results. There are deliberate errors built into the game which force the kids to speak up. “There are purposeful mistakes in the documents that they have to notice and fix. By giving them that responsibility to correct you in a very respectful way, they’ve become very mindful,” she said.

Criscione has a bird’s eye view of the impact of the World Peace Game on his students. When it’s time for them to go to work on the crises, they can behave more like adults than one might expect. “Children are much better than adults at solving our worldly problems,” he said. “Kids inherently know that all of life is connected. They see the importance of making sacrifices for the good of everyone. I mean, our class arms dealers donated some weapons so that an oil spill could be cleaned. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if that really happened?”

After this eight-week game is completed, the board and all the pieces will be moved to OSU and stored in the Peace Studies Department. From there, it will be loaned out to local teachers to host their own World Peace Game.

Hunter will be here in Corvallis teaching the World Peace Game master class for teachers this summer from Aug. 10 through Aug. 14. On that same trip, Hunter will lead 31 local children in an abbreviated version of the game. More information about Hunter and the growing international popularity of the game can be found at www.worldpeacegame.org.

By Dave DeLuca

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