Can Gamification Solve World Peace? One Teacher Says Yes

Gamification can do a lot of things, but can it solve world peace? One educator seems to think so, and before you make up your mind, you may want to take a look at his innovative lesson plan.

Gamification can do a lot of things, but can it solve world peace? One educator seems to think so, and before you make up your mind, you may want to take a look at his innovative lesson plan.

John Hunter, an elementary teacher who lives and works in Virginia, is gaining national notoriety for his unique approach to teaching. Last year, Hunter was invited to give a TED Talk explaining his teaching strategies. This year, Time named him one of the 12 Education Activists for 2012. In short, he’s kind of a big deal.

Photo Credit Will May

So what’s all the buzz about? Hunter’s World Peace Game which he’s been perfecting in his classroom since 1978. To call it a game is somewhat unfair – it’s much more than that. It’s a lesson plan, a learning model and an innovative system for teaching everything from geography to ethics. Oh, and it might just bring about world peace.

Here’s how it works – students create a world with several nations. They receive roles and a document which lays out the issues affecting their countries, and they work together to find ways to solve these problems. There are 50 interlocking problems to be addressed, from ethnic tensions to nuclear spills, famine and even global warming. The game is won when all 50 of these problems are solved and when every county’s asset value is increased from its starting amount. A lot more complicated than your average Monopoly game, but that’s the point.

It’s a lot to handle, and as Julianne, one of Hunter’s students, told NPR last year, “Sometimes World Peace Game feels like, you know, the weight of the world on your shoulders. This is exploding over here, this is firing over there, this is spilling oil, and I just look at the board and … I say to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to fix this.” The game requires action and that action demands engagement. The children get excited about the game, they engage and collaborate and have fun, but they also take the work they’re doing very seriously.

As part of his lesson plan, Hunter has his students read The Art of War. David, a student who was featured in a documentary about the game entitled World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements, talked about how gamification allowed him to grasp the book’s nuanced philosophical concepts. “Now I’m feeling really weird because I’m living what Sun Tzu said one week. One week he said, ‘Those who go into battle and win will want to go back, and those who lose in battle will want to go back and win.’ I’ve been winning battles, so I’m going into more battles. I think it’s kind of weird to be living what Sun Tzu said.”

Photo Credit Will May

“That’s the kind of engagement you want to have happen,” says Hunter. “I can’t design that, I can’t plan that, I can’t even test that, but it’s self-evident assessment. We know that’s an authentic assessment of learning.”

To watch Hunter’s students play the game, it’s clear that real learning is happening. What’s not happening is a traditional teaching model where the educator provides information and the students passively absorb it. Instead, Hunter acts as a facilitator and allows the children to learn through exploration and collaboration.

It’s a structure that’s still not widely practiced in classrooms, and it took Hunter some time to adapt to it himself. “I’ve learned to cede control of the classroom over to the students over time,” he tells the audience in his TED talk. “There’s a trust and an understanding and a dedication to an ideal that I simply don’t have to do what I thought I had to do as a beginning teacher: control every conversation and response in the classroom. It’s impossible. Their collective wisdom is much greater than mine, and I admit it to them openly,”

As teachers, parents, educators and advocates we often get swept up in the novelty of new tech tools and devices, especially when it comes to the subject of gamification. But Hunter’s World Peace Game is an example of what a gaming-centered lesson plan should do – engage, instruct and excite – and who knows? Maybe even change the world.


Published July 30, 2012