A Community Empowerment Simulation

Written by

John C. Ruoff

South Carolina Fair Share

P.O. Box 8888

Columbia, South Carolina 29202


Copyright © South Carolina Fair Share 1990, 1993-1995

Lovely Acres introduces participants to several basic ideas important to gaining political power and community goals. For participants who have not experienced oppression, LOVELY ACRES quickly introduces them to that experience. The simulation replicates real life conditions and gives participants the opportunity to gain power.

The experience is rich and emotional. The debrief is very important and plenty of time should be given to it. Learners need to talk about what they did. How they felt doing it. What they learned. And what they will do with what they learned.

There should be two game facilitators. One should work with the Insiders and one with the Outsiders.

OBJECT: For each "Outsider" to gain enough Power Points to force the City Council to adopt their proposal.

PLAYERS: There are two classes of players: Insiders and Outsiders. Each player is assigned a beginning level of Power Points. Players should, if possible, reflect reality in your community. For example, if there are older, white males present, have them play the City Council.

5 City Council Members(1) -- 50 points each(2)
1 Police Chief -- 10 points
3 Gatekeepers -- 20 points each
5 Established Community Leaders(3) -- 5 points
24 - 72 Regular persons -- 5 points
Place placards:
"LOVELY ACRES City Council" or "LOVELY ACRES Mayor"





Issue/Power Point cards:
Use poker chips, bingo markers or similar devices to represent power points. You need at least 10 per player. Have plenty.

Alternative - 1 - 3"x5" index card per player with beginning power points. You could use numbered or different colored cards to designate neighborhoods or issue groups.

Voter Registration Alternative - 3" x 5" cards of one color signifying registration. You could have labels printed that say "Registered Voter."

1 - with a dummy cover reading: "'WHY THE RICH SHOULD RULE' by I. Gottmein & Tu Bad"
Rule sheets:
3 sheets of paper (See Attached):
Chief of Police badge or other insignia of office.
A game option in order to encourage voter registration is to require voter registration before getting any of the rules. If you use this option, set the registration office up in "the neighborhoods" where Outsiders start out. Those who have their registration card can use it. Unregistered folks can either register for real and/or be given a symbolic registration card on a 3" x 5" card when they go to the registration office. Note that this can be a problem if you have folk ineligible to vote because of citizenship or criminal records.
Arrange for a large room with plenty of space for moving about. Move the chairs into the neighborhoods at one end and leave the other end open.

Create spaces (or use adjoining rooms) for the Library, Community Organization, Leadership Development School, and Jail to which the Insiders can control access. Make sure that there is a space for the jail large enough to hold 20 people. There needs to be a way to escape from jail and get back into the game. Have these spaces separated from the "neighborhoods" where Outsiders meet and plan.

Put the place names up (Jail, Library, People United for Action[, Voter Registration] and Lovely Acres Leadership Development School) at their place.

Have enough 3" x 5" cards or power chips for everyone. Give each player a number of chips representing their power points. If using cards, mark the power points on cards for each Insider. Mark "5 Pts." on each Outsider's card.

You might help the Gatekeepers by writing their instructions on a 3" x 5" card or on the back of their Power Cards.


1. Explain to participants that they are now living in the lovely town of Lovely Acres. Some of them will be part of the power structure. Those are the "Insiders." Some of them are regular community people. They are "Outsiders." The Outsiders must develop proposals and get their proposals adopted by the Lovely Acres City Council. To do that, they will need to get more power than the majority of the City Council has. To get power, they will need both people and information -- two kinds of power. The Insiders have power from their positions. The Outsiders will not need money or political positions -- two other kinds of power.

2. Choose 5 - 14 persons(4) who will be "Insiders":

5 City Council members (or 1 Mayor)

1 Police Chief

3 Gatekeepers.

5 Established Community Leaders (Optional)
3. Break the remaining participants into neighborhoods or issue groups of 2-6 people. They are all Outsiders. Each Outsider receives 5 power chips or a Power Point card with "5 Pts." written on it. A Game Facilitator explains to everyone:
A. Each neighborhood will select an issue they want to have passed by the Lovely Acres City Council. This could be to have a road paved, to add members from that community to a city commission, to fund a community day care, or anything else that concerns the neighborhood or group.

B. For any neighborhood or issue group to win, it must get enough Power Points that the majority of the City Council has to pass its issue. If there is only a Mayor, (s)he holds the votes of all Council members.

C. The Outsiders don't know the rules. The Insiders do.

D. If the Outsiders follow the rules, the information that they need to win on their proposals can be had for the asking at one of three places:

1. The Library

2. People United for Action

3. The Leadership Development School.

E. Everyone must do whatever they are told by any person who has more power than they do while that person is standing there.

F. Outsiders cannot combine their power by giving it away, although they can barter with power points.(5)

4. Take the Insiders to another room. Distribute "Power Point Cards" or power chips to each Insider and then explain their roles and the Rules that the Outsiders don't know.
A. Those rules are:
Rule 1. Power Rules. To win on your issue, you have to have enough points that at least 3 members of City Council must agree to vote to pass your issue.
To win your issue, you need to get a majority of the votes on the Council -- three.

But you can't get those points unless you do three [or four] things:

1) Increase your power by joining with your neighbors.

2) Increase your neighborhood's power by joining with other neighborhoods or groups.

3) Increase the power of everyone in your group.

[4) Make sure everyone in your neighborhood is registered to vote. - If using VR option.]

Rule 2. Leaders Build Power in others. Each person who gets into the Leadership Development School can give 1 power point to each person in his/her group or to whom they are connected. Each person gives a power chip or point to each other person in the chain. If there are five people in the chain, each gets 4 more chips or points.
If a group can get into the Leadership Development School, they count the number of people they have and take away one. You can't give power to yourself. Each person then gets to add that number to the number of power points that everyone in the group has.

If there are 4 people in the group, then each person gets to add 3 points. So, they each will have 8 after going to the school.

If there are 20 people in the group, then each person gets to add 19 points. So, they each will have 24 points after going to the school.

Rule 3. Power flows through people. You get more power for your community by pulling people together. Each person can count as his/hers all the power points of every Outsider they are in contact with through a chain of physical touching. In order to build power, you have to stay in touch with all the other people in your neighborhood, group or community. Only when everyone is connected by touching can power flow--just like electricity only flows when all the wires are connected.
If people are touching -- holding hands, touching elbows, hands on shoulders, however -- they make a chain. That chain has the power of everyone in the chain added together. If there are 25 people in the chain and each has 8 power points, then together they have 200 points.
B. The Insiders want to keep the Outsiders from finding out information. They do that by using their power.
1) Each City Council Member has some points because of their position. City Council members can, if they choose, go around and talk to Outsiders. They can lie, shuck & jive, or mislead. Still, the Power Rules apply. The City Council member must do what a touching chain of Outsiders with more power demands. But City Council members also add to their power by touching other City Council members.

2) The Police Chief arrests anyone with less power than him or her and takes them to Jail. Anyone who is not touching another person has less power than the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police should arrest everyone she or he can. Anyone who is touching another person has as much power as the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police has 10 power points.

3) The Gatekeeper at the Library, will not let anyone in who is not in a chain (touching) of three(6) or more people. If they are touching and in a group of three or four, the Gatekeeper shows them the book. If they are touching and in a group of five or more -- and ask for the Rule -- the Gatekeeper must let them read Rule 1.  Each Gatekeeper has 20 power points.

4) The Gatekeeper at the Leadership Development School, will not let anyone see Rule 2 who is not in a chain (touching) of five or more people. If they are touching -- and ask for the Rule -- the Gatekeeper must let them read it. They have more power than the Gatekeeper. Each Gatekeeper has 20 power points.
If you use the Voter Registration option, the Gatekeepers at the Library and the Leadership Development School should tell people that they canít let them in if they arenít registered. At People United for Action, register those who arenít registered--even if theyíre not touching.
5) The Gatekeeper at People United for Action will not let anyone see Rule 3 who is not in a group of five or more people. They do not have to be touching. If they are in the group -- and ask for the Rule -- the Gatekeeper must let them read it. Each Gatekeeper has 20 power points.
6) The Established Community Leaders function to spread doubt and confusion among the Outsiders. They can lie about the rules. They can suggest wrong solutions. They can offer to help Outsiders in return for Power Points that they take from the Outsiders -- but don't get to keep themselves. Each Established Community Leader has 5 power points.
5. Prepare the Outsiders.
A. Remind the Outsiders that for each person, the object is to get their neighborhood's issue adopted by City Council.

B. To do that, they must find out what the rules are. That information is at the Library, Lovely Acres United Action and Lovely Acres Leadership Development School. [Point out the Voter Registration Office.]

C. Each neighborhood or issue group should meet briefly and decide:

1) An issue they want City Council to address and a proposal they want City Council to adopt.

2) A strategy for getting the information and power they need to win.

D. Float among the neighborhoods. Keep the groups from spending too much time. Don't let them get hung up on choosing an issue and proposal.
6. When the Outsiders start leaving their neighborhoods, the game begins. The Co-facilitators should float around. Make sure that rules are understood and being followed. Help people figure points. If people get hung up, ask questions -- don't give answers. Places people get hung up are:
A) Jail - Once in jail, no one is keeping them there. Let them stay a bit. Then ask: Why are you staying in jail? What are the rules? [You have to obey someone with more power as long as they are standing there.] What's keeping you here?

B) At the library, leadership school and community organization - People forget to ask for what they want. Ask: Why are you here? [To get information.] What do you want? [The rules.] What have you asked for?

C) City Council - When they get power, people forget to use it. Ask: How do you win? [By getting your neighborhood's proposals adopted.] Do you have what it takes to win? [More power than the City Council members.] What have you demanded?

D) Throughout - Some people will get the rules and either not share them or not be heard by others. Try to encourage people to share what they know.

7. When everyone figures out the Rules, stuff happens quickly. You will have a big chain surrounding the City Council demanding change.

Make sure that the Council adopts the neighborhoods' proposals.

Let people live gaining power.

8. Debrief the simulation. [These questions are to set off discussion. They aren't a quiz. Use them to get people talking about the game and what it means to them.]

This simulation can cause strong emotions. People may have felt angry or powerless because they did not know the rules. They may have been upset that others did things they thought were dishonest or wrong.

Start off asking:

"How did you feel when the Chief of Police started arresting everybody?" Let Outsiders talk about those feelings.

"Do we have these feelings when we try to get things changed, but don't know the rules?"

"How did you feel after you got power?"

What were the rules? Review them? [You might hold up the sheets with the rules on them.] Are these good rules for working for change? Are they rules we have used? Are they rules we will use?

Could any one of the neighborhoods or groups have gotten its issue adopted without working with other neighborhoods or groups? Is that true in our communities? Do we fail to win because we don't work with other people -- in other neighborhoods, other genders, other ethnic groups, other organizations? What are some examples of that in our communities?

Did you build your coalitions around whom you liked? Did you build your coalitions around your common opponents and common needs?

When people were in jail, what kept them there? Do we keep ourselves powerless by assuming that we can't do things? Are our own minds jails sometimes? What are some cases of that in our lives?

Why were people jailed? What did they lack? Was it power? Are people punished for not having power?

What were the kinds of power we saw at work in Lovely Acres? [People, position, and information.] Who had what kinds? How much power did the people on the other side have? Was it really a lot compared to what you could have? Are there other kinds of power? [Money.]

If you don't have money or position, can you still win? What does it take?

If you used Established Community Leaders, ask one of them: What did the Established Community Leaders do? How many power points did the Established Community Leaders have? Do we have people in our community playing those roles? Do they have influence? With whom? Do they have power? What's the difference?

Did anyone break the rules, for example by stealing a rule when a Gatekeeper wasn't looking? Who makes the rules? Do they make them so that Outsiders will get power? Why should Outsiders follow rules made to keep them powerless?

Sometimes, we just go out and round up people. Are people enough? Or do we need to organize them (through touching in the game) and build them (like you did at the leadership development school)?

What were the places where you found information that helped you build power? Are there other places in your community you could go?

The Gatekeepers only showed you the Rule if you asked for it. Why? (Remind people of Frederick Douglass' saying that "Power never surrendered power without a demand.")

LENGTH OF GAME: This game has been run in 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.

OPTIONS: This game can be changed around. It is robust. Some ways to change the game are:

1. Convert it to a shop floor game for a union group.
Instead of a Mayor, you have the owner--"Mr. Big." The jail is the plant gate and people are fired and put out the gate when they are caught alone.

The Chief of Police becomes the Personnel Director. The "Established Community Leaders" are supervisors. The Jailer is the Gate Guard. People United for Action becomes the union.

In setting up the game, the contract is up for renewal. Instead of neighborhoods, the plant is broken into plant areas. They could reflect a real plant. For example, everybody in Maintenance could be white men. Everybody in Janitorial could be African-American. Folks need to get ready for the contract negotiations with Mr. Big.

2. Instead of the Gatekeepers holding the rules in their hands, put the rule on a table or chair. There is no rule against burglary.

3. Use the Voter Registration option.


1. If playing with fewer than 25 total participants, play with just a Mayor. The Mayor should have Power Points about equal to 7 times the number of outsiders. If you are only using a Mayor, then the Outsiders' points must be greater than those of the Mayor.

2. The number of Power Points for the whole City Council must be more than the total number of Power Points that "Outsiders" begin with, but less than the total number of Power Points that "Outsiders" can amass which is at least 10 each. Thus, if there are fewer than 25 "Outsiders, " the total number of Power Points for City Council should be about 7 x the number of Outsiders. If there are appreciably more than 25 "Outsiders," City Council Power Points can be increased. Then divide that number by 5 and round to the nearest figure divisible by 5. With a large "Outsider" population, the amount of increase should be balanced against the amount of time dedicated to the simulation.

3.These are actually "Outsiders," but they think they are "Insiders". If numbers are limited dispense with Established Community Leaders.

4. If the number of players is limited, you can have as few as 3 insiders--a mayor, a chief of police and one gatekeeper for all three gates. Make comments about budget cuts forcing the staff to person different agencies. The facilitator can play the gatekeeper roles.

5. This happens when you have "established community leaders" who con people out of power points in exchange for influence.

6. Adjust all required numbers according to the size of the group up to those given.