For the last eight weeks, Gretchen and I have been playing the Peace in 2030 game. Even before we began, we realized that it could be an integral part of the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s (AfP) new Peacebuilding Starts at Home initiative precisely because what it asks “players” to do is so different from what most of our members do.

I had to miss the final session because of a scheduling conflict, but I saw enough to know that it is worth looking into even if you don’t think you can find the twenty hours or so it takes to fully play it.

The Logic Behind The Game

It is the brainchild of David Gershon and Gail Straub who have been doing this kind of work since they created the Empowerment Institute in 1981. As they put it on their web site, their work starts with a key question and builds from there.

How do you empower people to grow and realize their full potential? They wanted to shift the focus from fixing problems and healing the past, to focusing on what we want for our lives, our organizations, our communities, and our world – and how to achieve it. Enabling people to envision and realize their dreams was the approach they called “empowerment.” The term “empowerment” was new in the vernacular of transformation, as was their approach.

Anchored in both behavioral change theory and aspects of spirituality, they have worked on these themes in a variety of settings, ranging from organizing intercontinental torch runs for peace to developing community based environmental projects to running workshops for major corporations. Over the years, they have demonstrated an ability to get people to change their behavior in measurable ways that would surprise (and delight) even the most skeptical observer.

What is the Game?

That takes us to the game itself.

It isn’t what our grandchildren would recognize as a computer game. Others have attempted to build more conventional role playing and related games that would appeal to a peacebuilding audience. If that is what you are looking for, this is not it.

Its gamification features consist primarily of a set of measurable tasks players engage in that turn them into more active peacebuilders themselves who then are able to spread the word to others. You can see some of its features in this admittedly lengthy video of an introductory session Gershon conducted a few months ago.

In other words, it is less of a game than an intriguing way to introduce people to some key principles of peacebuilding in a more engaging way than is the case in the kind of traditional courses I’ve taught over the decades. The game does appeal to your emotions. You do play it with at least two others—in our case, people we had never met before. It does allow and even encourage you to spread the game beyond the people who are already playing it. And it is a challenge. Maybe not as much as Five Dimensional Chess with Multiverse Time Travel which my grandson introduced me a few years ago. But it does teach you a lot.

At this point, it is easiest to engage with the game through its on line sessions which Gershon begins hosting roughly every two months. The next round will begin in April, and this link will let you register for an information session that Gershon is hosting at noon (US eastern time) on March 27.

During the eight weekly sessions, Gershon guides you and your teammates (who get assigned before the first session) through a “curriculum” that focuses on things you can do to enhance your own empowerment, awareness of our oneness and interconnection, sense of unity, ability to cooperate, understanding of abundance, love, and faith. You do some of the work on your own and then debrief them, get support from your teammates, and more during the eight weekly sessions.

There usually is a bit of homework in the form of reading things Gershon has written, watching videos of their past work, and/or meditating. Key, though, is taking part in actions of your own choosing on that week’s topic which you then submit to game’s scorekeepers and discuss with your team mates.

Because Gretchen and I are both full-time peacebuilders, we did not find the material or the tasks all that game-changing (pun intended). More importantly, our teammates and others who spoke at the weekly all hands meeting clearly did find the initiatives transformative and that is what matters.

Our teammates were typical. One is a retired realtor, the other a minister of a church in rural Canada. Neither had any significant prior experience as peacebuilders. We watched each of them come up with things they could in their home communities. Although we didn’t get to spend as much time with other players, it was clear that playing the game struck a chord.

The final score for our game haven’t been tallied. But as of last week, the nearly 150 people who have played the game seriously have engaged in thousands of activities. None alone is going to change the world. However, as we saw with our teammates, playing the game helps change people’s mindsets and build new habits—as behavioral change theory would lead one to expect.

Its Strategy and Aspirations

Therein lies its potential, because Gershon and the rest of the Peace on Earth by 2030 team are definitely ambitious. They want to get at least 40,000,000 people to have completed playing the game by 2030. Those players, in turn, will create at least 10,000 place based Zones of Peace in communities around the world. Both represent a portion of the global population of people and communities that theorists tell us would lead to a tipping point after which support for peacebuilding would become in the late Everett Rogers’ terms, unstoppable.

I could them at least getting near those goals. They still have to flesh out their strategies. But again the potential is there. The game rolls out by helping people change their own behavior and then begin impacting others through what one friend who played the game with a team of her co-workers called a series of concentric circles. She then likened them to blowing on a dandelion and having its seeds scatter and start new plants all around you.

We were blown away, too, by a group of teenage girls from Afghanistan who have been playing the game for a few months. Some live in refugee camps in Pakistan. Others are still in Afghanistan and are playing the game in part because they are not allowed to go to school. David and his team are also in the process of setting up those Peace on Earth Zones in cities around the world through which people can adapt the game and apply is principles without the constraints imposed by the on line format.

Personally, I prefer organizations that stress changing cultural norms so that people truly see why they adopt certain strategies and how they could lead to a paradigm shift or even incremental change. At the same time, I know that other approaches work for people with different tastes, values, and learning styles. And, in this case, there is not question that the Peace in 2030 Game can reach a lot of people and do so quite quickly.

Even if they only reach ten percent of those goals by the end of the decade, they will have accomplished more than any grassroots peacebuilding organization has even dreamed of. Which is the main reason we decided to play the game and are bringing our results back to the larger team at AfP as we get the Peacebuilding Starts at Home project off the ground.

The Bottom Line

The game is not for everybody.

To begin with, in its current form, it is very time consuming. Developing ways of playing it off line or in a self-paced way or turning individual participation into Zones of Peace are all still works in progress.

Moreover, I personally found that the project’s spiritual emphasis and the fact that it revolves so heavily around Gerson’s persona somewhat problematic.

Even if it isn’t for everyone, my teammates convinced me that the game is a valuable entry point for people who both know that they want to do build a more peaceable world but don’t know how they could go about doing so.

So, give it a try which you can do, again, by clicking this link to attend the next information session next week.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.