Skip To Main Content

Find It Fast

Students learn about national security through role-playing game

Vivian Jiao and Chloe Kim, The Vedette staff writers

Flynt Leverett '26, playing a Democratic congressman, argues his point. (Photo by Tom Coyne)


President John Kennedy survived the assassination attempt by Lee Harvey Oswald. Then he was killed by actress Marilyn Monroe. But the Soviets were blamed. Then newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson was impeached.

That was the reality 96 Culver Academies students had to deal with while playing the National Security Decision-Making Game. With some common background stories and some of the historical facts changed by the game organizers, the students quickly picked up the rules of the game. The historical plots also were changed by the students as the game was played. The students chaotically ran around from room to room in the Schrage Leadership Center attempting to make deals with one another trying to accomplish goals they were given in the role-playing game.


Ava Ford '26 (with hat on) became general secretary of the USSR after Nikita Khrushchev was overthrown. She tried to persuade Flynt Leverett '26 (left), playing a congressman, to become a spy. (Photo by Tom Coyne)


The players were divided into American, Soviet, British and Israeli teams. Each country and each player was given a piece of paper with a specific list of goals they wanted to accomplish, then set about to achieve those goals.

“Israel wants to form a pact with us,” an American player said.

“I need your signature to start a war,” a Soviet player said.

“If you make me majority leader, I’ll do anything you say,” an American player said after Kennedy was killed.

“We need to raise the tax to gain more military power,” said Samuel Shi ’26, who was elected prime minister of Britain.

“No. We need to lower the tax,” said members of parliament from the Conservative Party.

Mark Feuer DiTusa, a volunteer with the National Security Decision-Making Game, was surprised by the engagement of students at Culver Academies, a boarding school in Indiana.

 “We usually have this game set for college students,” he said.

Rebecca Hodges, Ph.D., a humanities senior instructor and Culver’s Global Studies Institute director who majored in international relations, said she fell in love with the game when she first played it in 2005. She said the game explicitly showed the internal dynamics of countries. The students get to contemplate the intricacies within a country between different agents, including economic advisers, military advisers and media. It also shows the dynamics between countries.

“The students get to live the experience of imposing a strategy or operating priorities and think about priorities, think about alliances, think about what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I’m willing to agree to,” she said.


Chloe McNally '26 holds up a paper seeking a signature. (Photo by Tom Coyne)


Hodges said the students became emotionally invested in their strategies. She said the game aligns with Culver’s goal of fostering students to develop leadership, communication and decision-making skills.

“Operationalizing an idea or a goal, you have to decide to do something. That’s what Culver does so well with its leadership development, it gives you experience coming up with an idea to do something. You have to decide to do something and try it out,” she said. “Then you reflect: Did it work?”

Game director Merle Robinson said he was impressed by how quickly the students got into the game.

“Culver students made choices and suggested policies and approaches to do things. What we saw early in this game is every person was busy, and that's one of the things I look for as a game director,” he said.

He said the game is crafted to be easily understood by the participants.

“A description on a card that has like three sentences on the front and about 10 on the back to talk about what you're about,” he said.

The game ranged from exploring hypothetical situations to testing concepts and providing insights into historical eras. Robinson said students can learn more in a two-hour session than from extensive textbook reading. Ethics and morality also play roles in the game. Students went through scenarios that brought self-awareness to their values and principles.


Declan Squires '26, playing the role of congressman, makes his point as Congress tries to elect a president after Lyndon Johnson is impeached.


When the game was over, Robinson asked some of the players about their motivations.

“When you became prime minister, what were your goals for the United Kingdom?” Robinson asked.

“The wealth and health of the people,” Shi said.

Someone asked Robinson who won.

“Do we want to give rewards for killing thousands of imaginary people,” he asked.

“Yes,” the players said.

But Robinson said with so many players it would take too long to determine who won.

Students said the game was interesting.

“I feel like I learned a lot of historical knowledge from the game. I think I know my career pathway better. I’m very interested in international relationships,” said Chloe Kim, ’25.

Many students indicated they had more fun than they expected playing the game.

“It was an eye-opening experience. We were able to learn more about the Cold War by being fully immersed in the environment,” said Jacqueline Su, ’26.

Hodges said she hopes to bring the game back to campus again.


Ryane Buschman '26 explains to game director how she went from being a conservative member of Congress to president after Lydon Johnson was impeached. (Photo by Tom Coyne)


Subscribe to our Newsletter


The Culver Cannon Newsletter is sent out weekly on Fridays.

More Recent News