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April 16, 2001

Diplomacy is the name of Emory's World Game

By Eric Rangus
& Matthew Harrison


For more than four hours on April 5, Emory ruled the world.

About 70 Emory students, staff and faculty traipsed around the globe—a large map of it on the Cox Hall floor, anyway—taking part in the World Issues Workshop. They assumed roles as world leaders and representatives of nongovernment organizations, and they role-played their way to solving the world’s problems through negotiation, diplomacy and inventive thinking.

The event ran about 30 minutes long, but for the entire time, the players were treated to a unique experience.

5:30 p.m. The evening begins with a walkabout. As an introduction, players wander around the game board (a 40 x 70-foot Fuller Projection map of the world that—with its large, interlocking triangles—resembles a geographical origami project of the Jolly Green Giant) identifying several of the world’s cities, mountains and waterways. The topographical map lacks national boundaries, which ups the difficulty. Beijing, one of the scavenger hunt cities, is listed as “Peking,” which pretty much places the map’s production date sometime during the Ford administration.

6:05 p.m. Players select game cards, which contain the region they will represent, and they list some statistics about that region: literacy rate, gross national product, rate of AIDS infection, etc. The regions include all the continents on a Risk board, plus a few extra (Japan and the Middle East are their own regions, Southeast Asia is connected to Australia, etc.). A pair of hosts, Jim and Henry, from the World Game Institute, the nonprofit organization that developed the game, give a brief overview of what the game will entail. “We’re going to be world leaders today,” says Jim, who’s dressed in a blue blazer, khakis and no shoes. Stocking feet are one of the game’s requirements. “For most of you this is going to be a promotion,” he jokes.

6:18 p.m. Jim and Henry offer up a brief history of the world. On his or her game card, each player has an “entry year” ranging from 2000 B.C. to 2001. Players are instructed to step onto the map in their assigned region when their year is reached. The visual effect works well, as the map explodes in population at the tail end of the lesson. When everyone sits down, Asia and the Indian subcontinent—the most populous regions on earth—are packed like lemmings. North and Latin America, on the other side of the room, are rather spacious. Again, the visual effect—not to mention the discomfort of sitting shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger—makes quite a point.

6:50 p.m. Players empty team baskets containing game pieces (blue “technology” and green “natural resources” cards made of construction paper, play money—in billion-dollar increments—candles representing energy, plastic food suspiciously resembling the contents of a Playskool kitchen, and tables outlining each region’s goals for food and energy). Some teams’ baskets—like North America and Europe—are horns of plenty. Others, notably Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent, are pretty meager.

7:04 p.m. The official start of the planning round. Players turn over their game cards and refer to the rules. Many cards have symbols where the instructions should be. Jim says anyone with a card like this will be considered illiterate and cannot speak for the first three minutes, rendering about a third of the players (and a significant part of the Asian, Indian and Sub-Saharan Africa teams) silent. Another of the world’s problems rarely seen in the United States—and certainly not on the Emory campus—smacks everyone right in the face.

7:20 p.m. Teams get a look at a chart detailing who has what in terms of energy and food. The figures that jump out are Total Energy and Total Food (100 each) and Needed Energy and Needed Food (137 and 116, respectively). Scarcity, it is now understood, will be a problem.

7:31 p.m. Imagine the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—and everyone has to go to the restroom at the same time. That about sums up the chaos at the start of the game’s first round. Players, unsure how to proceed, wave bits of construction paper and colored play money like an angry mob of Monopoly players. Every minute or so, a representative from the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO) or the World Bank drops off problems for teams to solve: AIDS epidemics, illiteracy, clear-cutting of forests, poor pre-natal care—pick your issue. The unfortunate person to receive the sheet, along with its purple warning card, is given four minutes to come up with a solution, which he or she must defend when the official returns. If successful, they receive a yellow well-being card, reflecting improved conditions in that part of the world. If unsuccessful, or if the player ignores the problem, he or she is scolded and handed another purple card. Shame and angry teammates keep people in line.

7:56 p.m. The first round ends and the Global News Network (four correspondents with late-night disk jockey names like Sunny Winters and Johnny Comelately) update the world on snippets of news gleaned from media representatives from each region. Few regions are satisfied with how they are portrayed.

8:02 p.m. The second round starts, and it is quite a bit smoother, as players figure out how to play the game. Negotiation is crisper, certain teams are identified as more approachable (or more gullible, depending on your point of view), and solutions to global and regional problems come much quicker and with considerable creativity. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) team, for instance, attacks skyrocketing cancer rates caused by the Chernobyl disaster with early-cancer detection programs through workplace screening.

8:25 p.m. The end of the second round. Everyone takes a break, and the players are asked to envision how they want the world to be 20 years in the future. The idealistic crowd comes up with a lot of the usual ideas (basic human rights, no poverty, increased life expectancy), but the discussion was not without contention. At one point, a loud battle ensues concerning which of the terms—cultural “tolerance,” “understanding,” or “acceptance”—was most appropriate. All three make it onto the board. Just two suggestions are applauded: destruction of nuclear and biological weapons and—the only truly impossible dream—on-time airline flights with no lost baggage.

9:03 p.m. The final round. Negotiation, cooperation and teamwork ascend to a new levels. Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa put together a somewhat complicated plan in which Europe will receive several natural resources cards in return for food and energy. Since the technology and natural resources cards are basically for show, the Europeans get the short end but go along willingly. The Chinese also approach the Sub-Saharan Africans and give them several natural resources cards in exchange for basically saying nice things about them at the final press conference.

9:26 p.m. Round 3 ends, and each team elects a representative to stand and explain, in three sentences, the team’s accomplishments. The explanations end up running about
30 sentences, and all areas of the world appear to have been pretty successful in solving their problems.

9:47 p.m. The outbrief. Jim and Henry ask the players for their impressions of the game. Uniformly, the answer is that it was fun and educational. One player says he enjoyed the different problem-solving styles, another liked the lack of red tape in negotiation. One interesting observation was the feeling of nationalism within teams, and how in some cases they took on their region’s persona. Most agreed that the North Americans, for instance, came off as a little cocky.

10:03 p.m. The players scavenge the last bits of free food, gather their papers and file out of Cox Hall in ones and twos. But who won? One member of the Sub-Saharan Africa team says her group did. “All ‘winning’ is, is you do what you have to do as a group.” A teammate disagrees, noting the group came up one candle short of its energy goal. That, after all, is the most quantifiable way to score. Maybe it was Latin America, which reached its goals early and spent the second half of the night trying to make the world a better place, or maybe it was the Japanese, or the North Americans, each of whom finished with a stack of money so high it could be used as a doorstop.

A consensus is never reached. And isn’t that the way it always is?


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