This summer, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer A. Michael Marzolla donated materials from his service as an Agricultural Cooperative Volunteer in Guatemala and El Salvador. One of my first tasks as the 2019-2020 PCCA Fellow was to organize Marzolla’s collection, which featured his hand-drawn educational graphic books and a homemade board game titled “Join the Peace Corps!”
The game includes Marzolla’s hand-drawn board and 42 cards within twelve categories separated by themes: the application and acceptance process, training, on the program site, the termination process, and readjusting upon return to home country.
As I sorted the game cards and read the directions, I was struck by a flurry of questions about the game’s origins. Luckily, Marzolla agreed to answer my burning questions about the history of the game:
I designed “Join the Peace Corps!” while working as a recruiter in Boston circa 1978-1980. I wanted to create a game that would simulate the Peace Corps experience from application through training, placement and in-country to the close of service. I had input from my RCPV recruiter colleagues, friends, and contacts so that every card was based on an experience someone had as a volunteer. The game was played three or four times—sadly, it was never published although people who played the game seemed to enjoy the experience.
With 42 different card options, Marzolla presented an amusing repertoire of experiences, from “you begin adopting local dress and customs” to “you are accused of being a spy for the CIA.” Both cards contribute to the historic context of the game and reflect true or rumored events within the Peace Corps. For example, when certain host countries accused Peace Corps volunteers of spying for the U.S. government, the CIA released a statement in 1965 that publicly barred volunteers from gathering military intelligence for any country in which they volunteered (however this lapsed after 5 years of resignation).
The game also clearly punishes the negative qualities of a potential volunteer, represented in the board tile: “you want only a warm country with sandy beaches. You ask if the PC supplies suntan oil. Go back one and miss a turn.”
Of course, I immediately wanted to play this game. Associate archivist Leslie Nellis and I contacted local RPCVs and a few others from the American University community to join us. Library staff Matthew, Sarah, and RCPV Alayne agreed to help us try it out.
On Wednesday, September 11, we assembled in the archives processing room. Aside from difficulties shuffling the cards and defining when to move forward, the game was an enjoyable glimpse into the Peace Corps. We looked to Alayne to compare her own experiences as a volunteer in Nepal with the stories feature on the game board. She found that the lengthy application period and digestive complications upon arrival were true to form.
Enjoyment value aside, Marzolla’s game introduces an interesting aspect of archival materials. Whereas archives traditionally collect, preserve, and share materials for research purposes, interactive items such as board games challenge the definition of what it means to “share” collections. Thanks to Michael Marzolla and his donation, we were able to consider these complexities while rolling the dice.