It took less than 90 minutes before students in Miaki Ishii’s first-year seminar started to talk openly about revolt.
The unrest, however, wasn’t due to any political issue currently making headlines, but to a small room in Harvard’s Geological Museum and a handful of their classmates.
As part of the class “GeoSciFi Movies: Real vs. Fiction,” students took part in a role-playing game that saw them acting as citizens of the island of Montserrat, the tiny country’s government, and a group of scientists monitoring the island’s volcano.
Over the game’s five 15-minute rounds, each group requested funding for various projects — a new water treatment plant for the community, volcano monitoring instruments for scientists, or new ambulances for the hospital — which had to be balanced against the government’s limited budget. Complicating matters, the island also faced devastating natural disasters over the course of the game, including a powerful hurricane and a massive volcanic eruption.
It wasn’t long before things started to go sideways.
The “community” swiftly grew skeptical of the government’s ability to quickly and effectively respond to pressing environmental concerns.
“The community group was constantly questioning the government’s ability to protect its citizens from natural hazards,” said Varun Tekur, who played a community member. “We expected our needs to be served regardless of the government’s budget, and this did not happen.”
When the funding for the promised water treatment plant failed to materialize at the start of the second round, community trust in the government plummeted and protests began to break out. By the next round, an uprising seemed inevitable.
“Can we just revolt against the government?” asked Charlotte Berry. “Can we start a coup?”
Before the end of the game, it actually happened — community members seceded and formed the Montserrat People’s Front, rejecting the existing government as illegitimate.
Students in the government group, meanwhile, grew frustrated with the short news items produced by the community, which featured headlines like “LIES and Lack of Concern from the Government” and “Possible Embezzlement and Fraud in the Highest Level of the Government.”