Teaching Critical Understandings of Realism through Historical War Simulations
by Elizabeth Mendenhall, University of Rhode Island, and Tarek Tutunji, Johns Hopkins University
This article provides a helpful guide for using short simulations in introductory International Relations courses. The authors describe the process of designing and implementing a simple game that teaches both Realism and its shortcomings for explaining international conflict. The game asks students to try to avoid the outbreak of war, first the Peloponnesian war, and later World War One. Students are assigned the role of historical actors, organized into country teams, and given a basic set of rules. The simulation of international events runs for the bulk of the class period with minimal supervision by the instructor. A slight variation in rules between the two games draws students’ attention to some assumptions made by Realist theory. A short debriefing helps students analyze and process the lessons from game play, while a post-game assessment gauges the achievement of learning objectives. The simulation format is modular, meaning that it can be easily integrated into existing curricula, and improves upon existing game designs by providing an opportunity to see the strengths and weakness of Realist theory for explaining international conflict.