Playing world


Mike Wesch, associate professor of anthropology, had his class playing a world simulation Wednesday.

At the beginning of the semester, the class divided into groups, which then created cultures and imported them into the year 1450. The groups then acted out their parts and finished in the year 2100.

“What we’re trying to do is trying to simulate world history and the changes cultures undergo in world history,” said Kevin Champion, senior in American language and culture.

Champion, a teaching assistant for Wesch’s class, said groups were systematically developed based on subsistence patterns. Within these patterns emerged colonizer cultures that displayed aggressive or warlike tendencies.

Additionally, the culture groups created trade networks with surrounding groups to exchange resources.

Wesch introduced the exercise in fall 2004, but Champion said the fall 2006 simulation has been the most successful.

“The way it felt was different, and it felt like it went really smoothly, really well,” Champion said.

Wesch created the exercise as part of what he calls an “anti-teaching” philosophy on his weblog.

“If you line students up in rows and have them face the front of the room … what they learn is how to listen to the authority and how to repeat what the authority says,” he said.

The game contains real-world elements of inequality, power distribution, disease and war.

“We have students researching like crazy – everything about the world. Something comes up in the world simulation, and they want to know how it relates to the real world,” Wesch said.

Each group has a power circle, and the power circle makes decisions about government and taxation, with the riches of the land represented by a box of Fruit Loops cereal.

Stronger countries and colonizers gain points by producing Fruit Loop necklaces, a rule that sometimes starts breakfast cereal wars.

Wesch said he hopes to take the exercise a step further during the May intercession by offering a class called World Systems. He said he hopes more students will create larger and more dynamic cultures.

Although the game is Wesch’s brainchild, he opens it for improvement by the students who participate.

“The real learning takes place when the students are trying to revise it,” he said.