Through a nice bit of serendipity a few weeks ago, I got to see an hour-long documentary, "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements." It tells the story of John Hunter and the eight-week scenario experience he created, The World Peace Game. I was also able to meet John and work with him briefly a couple weeks later.
John has been teaching this game for over 35 years. His class is primarily a "gifted and talented" program for fourth-graders, but he has played it with other groups as well, up to high school grades. The World Peace Game is something like Risk, expanded and made more complex in a number of ways.
Instead of a game board, imagine four parallel Plexiglas sheets, each four-feet square, held apart by metal legs to form a cube. At table height, one sheet holds the outlines of fictional geographies, defining countries with model armies, vehicles, cities, and more. Above and below, the other sheets define space (with satellites), sky (with weather), and the world underground (with oil).
After working with the kids in his class, John assigns roles, defining positions like prime minister of the world's richest country and the king of a much smaller one, a UN council and a team of arms dealers, a tribal leader and a weather god and -- in a masterstroke of invention -- a saboteur who acts as trickster, undermining progress and confusing play.
The kids get dossiers and budgets, and John reveals a deck of cards containing random events like surprise attacks or natural disasters that give the kids a series of crises to solve. They must form alliances, make declarations, compromise on actions, unmask the saboteur, and achieve world peace. John said he's only had one group that "lost" in 35 years.
The film shows the kids really working together and taking the lessons of negotiation and compromise to heart. John reads to them from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and it's pretty amazing to see kids taking direction from -- and finding insights in -- a 2500-year-old military treatise.
John's personal story is also revealed in the documentary: the son of a schoolteacher, John grew up in Virginia and was among the first to attend newly integrated schools. He studied Eastern philosophies while travelling in India, China, and Japan, and was particularly influenced by Gandhi and the idea of ahimsa. Returning to university, chance directed him to an experimental program in education, which led to the World Peace Game. He continues to teach, and this summer he has begun working with a set of students he hopes will take over the game in the future.
The filmmaker, Chris Farina, is still working to fund this terrific film through a series of screenings. Contact him directly to arrange one and help spread the word.
(Photos copyright Will May)