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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Planting the seeds of world peace

Miki Yamamoto

Aug. 29, 2017

North Korean missiles whizzing over Japan, threats of nuclear conflict, civil war, terrorism -- there's no shortage of world crises. It all begs the question -- is peace really attainable?

For 4 decades, an American teacher has sought the answer in a game for students. He was recently in Tokyo to facilitate the first World Peace Game in Asia.

They may be students but they’re here to talk about serious stuff.

"We have bought a solar satellite from arms dealers."

"Shibuya Land removed the nuclear power plant."

"I'll have my attack drone fly over the Secret Empire to keep an eye on them."

Threats of nuclear war, global warming, and even refugee crises. They have to negotiate and collaborate to find solutions to achieve world peace. It's all part of the World Peace Game.

The game was started in a small American town in Virginia in 1978. It was created by school teacher John Hunter. It’s now played in more than 40 cities around the globe. And the game always starts with this apology.

"I am sorry that we are playing this game as we must do. Actually you know the world, we adults have messed it up. So, it’s just a game but we are hopeful and depending on you," Hunter says.

The game covers international issues in 4 layers -- outer space, in the air, on the land and oceans, and under the sea. Little objects on the board like soldiers, tanks and submarines symbolize the real world crises. Here's how it works. There are 4 fictional countries plus the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Court. Each student is given a role to run them. Complicating the game, there are even arms dealers and a Secret Empire.

The missions are clear. Students have to solve 50-interlocking global crises and achieve global prosperity in just 3 days.

"This is a game that is really simulation to allow compassion to flower, to grow, and to spring out. Increasing compassion and decreasing suffering in the world," says Hunter.

Compassion was a luxury John did not have when he was growing up. He was born in the segregated South, where blacks and whites had to go to different schools. Racism and discrimination were deeply rooted into society. So he started searching for answers, wondering what it would take for change.

His parents were the bedrock of his development. They dealt with discrimination peacefully, and they taught him to pause and think before reacting.

As a young man, he traveled to Asia. It was a life changing journey. In India, he learned about Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa and non-violence.

Today, John shares the values he learned growing up in the game. Every day before starting, he asks students to sit quietly and reflect for a few minutes.

"Are you ready to go? Let's negotiate now. Go!" he then says.

As the game unfolds, John doesn’t say much. He just encourages everyone to think.

Students have to cooperate, compromise and negotiate deals that benefit everyone. In one case, the students dealt with a Secret Empire claiming to have nuclear weapons and threatening an attack.

That led one young leader to make this announcement. "We're going to kick out the Secret Empire."

"OK Secret Empire, they're going to kick you out. How are you going to do this?" Hunter asked.

"We're going to kill the Secret Empire," was the response.

The threat didn't sit well with the other players. After a spike in tensions, reflection led to de-escalation. The leader announced they would back down because everyone convinced him that a nuclear attack would affect all borders.

The realization? Nuclear war comes with catastrophic consequences. The result? Pledges of nuclear disarmament.

"No matter how dark the situation, how dire the situation and I put them in complex situations that are very difficult. They always, always, always rise to the challenge and decide and they decide without me teaching it or preaching to them," Hunter says.

Lately, the game's even been getting attention from some pretty high-level adults. Generals at the Pentagon invited some students to talk about how they handled different crises.

Towards the end of the game, things got a little hectic. With the clock ticking, deals were signed and there was a final push to resolve all the crises and achieve world peace. Finally, after lots of negotiating, peace was achieved.

The children shared their thoughts on the game.

"I think you need determination and you also have to be open minded and fair, as you've got to understand the situation they are in and put yourself in their shoes."

"I learned to think more creatively. Without feeling fear and failure, I think if I become a politician, I could think more freely."

Hunter says, "These children prove that there is a chance for peace really and the chance for us to improve to be compassionate to each other and can care for each other. Their collective wisdom is so vast."

While the world peace game is over in Tokyo, John Hunter says the real results won't be seen for decades, until these children are adults.

His hope is that their children will have no need to play his game at all.


Newsroom Tokyo anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya discuss the game.

Shibuya: So Hideki, children playing the game proves that world peace is possible.

Nakayama: The World Peace Game Foundation trains facilitators across the world in several languages including English, Japanese, Chinese, and so on. And more and more localized versions of the game are played around the world. This is such a great way to share ideas on how to achieve world peace. It would be even better if adults would play this game!