The Elephant Game is a demanding and high-risk exercise. Please note the cautions and advice below! It’s a great team-building exercise, though the stress can be very intense for some people. The Elephant Game can be used in training for people engaged in nonviolent struggles where they will encounter resistance and possible disinformation or disruption campaigns. In a context like that the debrief is very important to apply the learnings from the game to the particular context of the participants.
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The goal: To get everyone in the group successfully through a maze with various physical obstacles or challenges. Most of the participants are the “elephants” who are blindfolded but can touch and talk with each other. One of the participants is the “eyes” who can see but cannot touch any of the other participants and cannot communicate in any known language.
Stage One, after organizing themselves and planning their communication methods, the group goes through the maze. Then before Stage Two when there will be additional challenges, the group refines their organization and communication. Stage Two requires going through a more complex maze, this time with the facilitators actively trying to confuse, mislead and thwart the participants (though ultimately supporting their success!).
Preparations: I save all the airline eye shades from international flights (recycling!). Bandanas can also be used. Tables, chairs, black/white boards can be used to construct the maze.
Cautions–FACILITATORS MUST GIVE SPECIAL CARE FOR THE SAFETY OF THE PARTICIPANTS. First are the physical issues, screws or bolts sticking out that could cut or scrape–a facilitator may need to put a hand or arm across to protect. Some workshop participants may not want to be involved in this exercise for reasons of age, ability or whatever. You can invite them to be observers or to help protect from harmful projections.
Second are the emotional issues. Some forms of torture involve sense deprivation, including use of blindfolds. In many conflict situations people have been severely traumatized. So the use of blindfolds along with confusing physical activity where the source cannot be identified–sprinkling with water or sounds or brushing the face with string–can put participants in their alarm zone. As facilitator watch for people that may have too much emotional stress the first time through. Check to be sure they are okay to continue. You can ease up on any participants for whom the activity may seem too much. In many conflict situations preparing people to handle physical challenges including possible torture can be an important part of training. If appropriate, talk about these issues in the debrief!