The Sarkar Game


This is an action learning process that introduces participants to the Social Cycle and its holistic perspective of social change. It was created in 2004 by Peter Hayward and Joseph Voros of the Strategic Foresight Institute at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. Their colleague, Sohail Inayatullah, has successfully used this technique in hundreds of workshops with professionals. In an article, “Creating the experience of social change”, Hayward and Voros wrote:

Sarkar’s theory of the Social Cycle is concerned with the ways that humans, and their social organizations, have dealt with the existential problems of how their physical and social environments relate to one another. His theory of macrohistory proposes that civilization has cycled through four major ‘states’… [that are] both material power structures and epistemic or paradigmatic forms of individual and collective psychology. Further, each state has a beneficial phase (vidya) and a perverse phase (avidya); thus, even though each state is successful in managing existential problems, it also contains the seeds of its ultimate decline.

P.R. Sarkar’s Social Cycle elegantly demonstrates how easily ‘social roles’ are adopted and how these roles bring forth partial and limited understandings of change and change processes. Both as a macrohistorical model of social change and the embodiment of the process of social construction, it is a pivotal learning element in the subject…. By ‘creating’ the experience of the Social Cycle in the classroom, the students learn of their own social constructions and roles. They experience the frustration of how these roles and constructions limit the effectiveness of their actions. They can also recognize the qualitative difference in the potential of actions that arise from adopting an ‘integral’ stance in participating in social change.[1]

University students and other groups tend to enjoy this activity very much. The facilitator divides the participants into four groups; each group is given a simple script explaining the varna that they will represent. While a good amount of laughter often accompanies the impromptu acting, the debriefing and deconstruction of the roles that follows awak- ens many questions and insights. The creators note:

The Sarkar game experience taps into the ‘deep’ scripts that we all have, scripts that cover role, power and relationship. Our societal processes have programmed those scripts into us and they continue to operate unconsciously until an experience draws them into consciousness, thereby making them accessible to inquiry and examination… The game, therefore, is a serious one. While we ‘play’ at learning, the consequences of not learning are serious indeed. Sarkar’s social cycle at its heart is revolutionary…[2]

Below are written instructions to be handed to each group, as well as instructions for the facilitator.


Group 1, Workers

You are guided by basic instincts. You are preoccupied with survival and mundane pleasures. You want safety, security and reasonable comforts. You want inspiration and faith to alleviate suffering and the fear of death. TV, a cold beer, sex, watching sports are common pastimes. You usually leave complicated political and economic decisions to leaders you trust. When inspired, you loyally follow leaders of the other classes. But if your needs are not met, you can disrupt, create chaos or even bring the system down. Your group will begin the game. So prepare a simple skit lasting a couple of minutes or so demonstrating your nature until the other groups enter and interact with you. Remember there are both positive and negative aspects of your archetype. Use your imagination and speak loudly and clearly.

Group 2, Warriors

Your physical strength and courage are your greatest assets. You embrace challenge and struggle. You value honor, discipline, and self-sacrifice. Your will, patience and hard work are your strengths. You protect society from danger and chaos, by enforcing order. Sports and martial arts are your hobbies. You obey and expect others to obey authority and follow orders, no matter what. Your group will be the second group to enter the game. Decide how you will interact with the first group of workers. Remember there are both positive and negative aspects of your archetype. Use your imagination and speak loudly and clearly.

Group 3, Intellectuals

Your developed mind is your greatest asset. The search for truth, removing errors and confusion, is your purpose. Some of you have knowledge of science, while others have knowledge of spiritual reality. You protect everyone by making rules and laws and ordering the warriors to enforce them. You debate hard so that the best ideas win. You create enlightenment. The arts are your hobbies. You lead others by establishing your religion, your science or your political system as the Truth. Your group will be the third group to enter the game. Decide how you will interact with the groups of workers and warriors. Remember there are both positive and negative aspects of your archetype. Use your imagination and speak loudly and clearly.

Group 4, Entrepreneurs

You make money easily and invest it wisely. You excel in administration and organization. Efficient and effective, you manage large numbers of people to produce new products and accomplish difficult tasks. Through wealth and power, you can help everyone. You reward loyal service with higher salaries. Efficiency is very important. Your group will be the last group to enter the game. Decide how you will interact with the groups of workers, warriors and intellectuals. Remember there are both positive and negative aspects of your archetype. Use your imagination and speak loudly and clearly.

Faciltator instructions:

Split the room into four equal groups and give each group their script, and props if you can: tools to the first group, toy guns and/or kitchen knives to the second, books to the third, and credit cards and play money to the fourth.

Stand in the middle of the room and explain the game: “Read your script and play just that role. Do not show your script to the other groups. Please remember that there are both positive and negative aspects of your archetype. Be aware of both potentials as you interact with others. Take a few minutes to discuss in your group what you want to do.”

Invite the workers to begin. After a couple of minutes, invite the warriors to respond. The other two groups observe until called in. When you feel that perverse behaviors are present or the game is going flat, stop the play (with a bell, whistle, red flag, whatever) and ask the intellectuals to enter. The tripartite dynamic continues until the behavior becomes perverse and the entrepreneurs are invited in.

The game runs until you are satisfied that the dynamic is sufficient. Ask the groups to take their seats but stay in their groups. Debrief each group in turn, with everyone listening. Ask one member to read their script aloud. Then ask the group to describe how they tried to act out their role, and ask the other groups for their opinions. Build a dynamic picture of each group. Highlight the healthy form of each type of organization, how each group wins power, and the inherent suffering that each group eventually creates.

Once the nature of social change is clear, you can then introduce the idea of an invisible fifth force in the room. Conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of each group, one can choose another path, that of the spiritual revolutionary.


1  Peter Hayward and Joseph Voros, “The Sarkar Game: Creating the experience of social change” 2  Ibid.

Excerpted from After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action by Dada Maheshvarananda (Puerto Rico: Innerworld Publications, 2012):

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