Thursday, June 5, 2008

Civics Education Through Video Games

With recent attacks leveled at the United States court systems, Sandra Day O’Connor yesterday revealed a plan to counter accusations that “judges are ‘godless’ activists” – educational video games. By creating a video game on how the court system works, it is hoped that “public ignorance” will be curbed and such attacks will cease “on what should be an independent institution”.

In presenting the project, O’Connor stated that she has “become increasingly concerned about vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress, some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups ... on judges". Of these attacks, O’Connor stated concerns over Supreme Court nominees being questioned by Congress as to how they would rule on specific issues. With nominees being subjected to this type of questioning, there is pressure being placed on potential Justices that makes it “difficult to achieve fair and impartial judgments from the judges who are serving,"

The aim of this video game is to educate children on the three branches of government and how they interact. Through this education, O’Connor is hopeful that the independence of the Judicial Branch will be restored as the correct understanding of the court system will be instilled on the previously uneducated public.

Once finished, the game will be freely available at and will be broken down into two segments. The first segment is intended for those in Junior High (7th – 9th grade) to be used as a supplement to class materials. The other segment will be aimed at younger children and is intended to be used in the children’s free time.

According to the article, “studies showed children spend around 40 hours a week using media, including computers, television, videogames or music.” However, it seems unlikely that a large portion, if any, of this time is attributed to freely choosing to play educational games. To reach the intended market, especially in the second segment of the game where it is to be used in the children’s free time, the court system video game will have to overcome much competition. With the number of freely available options at their disposal, children most often will choose to do something entertaining rather than educational. If the court system game cannot be both, it is unlikely to succeed.

As to the first segment of the game, intended to supplement in-class materials, there appears to be less obstacles to overcome. By making the use of this game a requirement, it will obviously be used. However, many schools still do not have access to Internet ready computers, or have insufficient computers for an entire class; as such, these groups will not be able to benefit from the additional education opportunity. For those students who are able to use the game, they may be more interested in the “game” aspect rather than the “educational” aspect and see this more as a break from learning, not a reinforcement of what they are learning.

The goal of ensuring that people know the processes and workings of the United States court system is admirable and necessary. The independence and non-partisanship of the courts is a key element to their effective operation, and education can only help to ensure this. However, attempting to provide this education through educational games seems risky in the obstacles that need to be overcome to ensure its effectiveness. Until the site is actually up and running, the true value of the game remains to be seen.

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