MCC-Maple Woods classes ‘fight’ World War II, ponder the effects of their decisions

An MCC-Maple Woods learning community made up of a history class and a philosophy class spent a couple of recent periods re-fighting World War II — on tables in their classroom.

William Young’s Modern Western Civilization class and Doug Fishel’s ethics class meet back to back Mondays and Wednesdays. The same students take both classes, forming the interdisciplinary learning community. They were recently joined by a class of psychology instructor Bob Williams, who designed and ran his “Gods of War” game.

The game simulates events of World War II and requires players to consider the morality and ethics of decisions made during the war. “Winning” the war was determined by game play but also by the results of moral decisions made, Fishel says.

In a post-game debriefing, student comments included:

  • “It showed us how fast decisions have to be made in war, and how every single action matters.”
  • “The game required critical thinking, critical analysis, outside thinking and social concerns such as trust, and even a little bit of deceit and gambling/risk-taking.”

Students were divided into six teams, representing three Axis and three Allied countries. Each team had two to three students on it. The students rolled for “powers” such as submarines, bombs, terror and so on. They could then choose to hold or play those powers during their turn. There were five turns, representing the five years of the war.

Each turn was also assigned extraordinary destruction points (EDs), which were deducted from everyone at the end of the game, based on the number played during the game. Players moved along a token board as they conquered various countries, based on power used and weaponry.

“But the weaponry involved ED points, so it was a balancing act between winning a battle and the long-lasting effects those weapons might have,” Fishel says.

It might sound a little complicated, but students caught on quickly.

As a follow-up, each student wrote a short paper evaluating the decision-making process their team used in the game.  They were posed question such as “Did you consider the consequences of your game play?” and “Did (Thomas) Aquinas’ rules for ‘just war’ have any bearing on your decisions?”