Game Day isn’t all fun and games

In this weekly series, OneWorld Now! Leadership Facilitator (and program alumna) Andrea Vielma breaks down what happens in an OneWorld Now! leadership workshop. Each week, students come together for an experiential workshop to explore a new topic and develop skills like critical thinking, social-emotional learning, empathy and more. Sessions are based on OneWorld Now!’s unique global leadership curriculum.


A quick recap of what we did at the last leadership session:

  1. Students were divided into three teams: Spades, Hearts, and Diamonds.
  2. Within their teams, students participated in four activities for a chance to earn points.
  3. What we didn’t tell them was that the entire activity was rigged so that Team Spades would win and Team Diamonds would lose.
  4. Since the workshop took all of our time, we debriefed the activity this week.

What happened?

At the end of the leadership session, a few students on the Diamond team complained. Those on the Spades team, though they now knew the game had been rigged, came up to us and asked about the prizes they had “won”. This is not the first time students react that way, nor the last. From previous Game Days, we learned that youth are more likely to challenge the system and refuse to play, while adults are more likely to react in a highly emotive manner.

How does this activity relate to society today?

Student Sepia brought up an apt point:

“This activity doesn’t just relate to race divisions. It can be about class, religion, gender, etc.”

A great example of this is a comparison of cities here in Western Washington. Almost the entire group agreed that living/being from Bellevue was like being a part of team Spades, while Tacoma represented team Diamonds, leaving Seattle in the center (Team Hearts). On a larger scale, we looked at some of the countries OWN students interact with. America is represented by Spades, Morocco by Diamonds, and China (or S. Korea) by Hearts.

Often it’s very easy to determine who or what make up the Spades and Diamonds, but Hearts are not as clear — this group is privileged in some areas, but not in all areas. One group of students brainstormed a small list, including the middle/working class and public school students. Other students brought up passing privilege, whether racial or sexuality based.

“What about families that are too poor to pay for college out of pocket, but not poor enough to get help?” pondered a student.

One of our students made a very interesting comment about Hearts:

Sometimes, they’re worse than spades. In some cases, they don’t recognize where people are diamonds because they’re more concerned about their position as hearts, in other cases, they over-identify with diamonds.”


Facilitators observed that students were using a lot of “good” and “bad” language so they asked students “why do you think we place so much morality on the issue?”

“Diamonds are looked at with a ‘less-than’ attitude. As a consequence, they start to see themselves with that same ‘less-than’ lense.” Reflected second year student Warda.

The spades, on the other hand, can feel a lot of guilt.

“Like white guilt,” added one student, “I haven’t done anything, but I’m still privileged, it’s not something that I chose. It begs the question of did I earn what I have?”

Facilitators noted out loud that Spades cry the most when they find that Game Day has been rigged.

Student Gloria, who was on team Diamond, took a moment to reflect that throughout the activity:

“I was irritated, I knew something was going on, and the game wasn’t fair. I was so relieved to hear it was rigged, because my feelings had been acknowledged.”

Meanwhile, Nicky, a first year student on team Spades felt that:

“I had been lied to, when I learned the game was rigged.”

Facilitators then turned to the second year students who acted as “judges” throughout the activity and asked them what was hard and what was easy.

“I liked the feeling of having power,” Iman immediately responded, “but it was hard not to give deserved points and easy to take away points.”

Leader Edmel added on:

“it was hard to answer questions about why we were behaving or doing things a certain way.”

Nancy concluded the mini discussion, saying:

“It easy to take away points because it’s pretty impersonal but when students express concern, it’s hard to respond to them. I personally struggled with that because I know what it feels like to be lied to so it was challenging for me to be on the other side of that, to have to lie, because I personally want to be a kind person.”

In other terms, our second year students represented a system or a group of people that enforce rules.

“They’re like society. They set the standards for who is in power/privileged,” reflected first year student Miya.

Several students thought that the facilitators stood in for the law, while second year students were law enforcers. Perhaps the most interesting analogy was given by Layla:

“I see the facilitators as the root of all oppression, aka the past, and the second year students represented modern society, where current assumptions are being made based on a past ideology.”