american democracy game ncsl

Zoe South plays the newly updated American Democracy Game.

American Democracy Game Makes Learning Civics Fun

By Julie Lays | Aug. 26, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

We often hear people say that our unique, American form of democracy is in danger and that we need to do a better job of teaching the next generation how our government functions. That’s why the NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures and the Entertainment Software Association are partnering to provide financial support for a redesign of the popular American Democracy Game, which NCSL originally launched in 2011 for middle school students.

“Middle school is a great time for young people to explore how local and state governments work, as well as the challenges lawmakers face when governing,” said Tara Ryan, vice president of state government affairs for ESA. “Encouraging civic engagement and growing the next generation of knowledgeable citizens from diverse communities across the country helps advance a thriving democracy.”

The American Democracy Game teaches the concepts of representative democracy—that every individual has equal rights and value, for example, that compromise is necessary at times and that the minority still has rights under majority rule.

Players learn how city councils and state legislatures work through interactive role-playing in which the students become lawmakers or council members who must consider different viewpoints on various public policy issues and learn how to negotiate and compromise to find a solution all can support.

Each decision follows the player through each level of the game and affects the direction the game takes. So every time you play, it’s a new experience. Kids love it.

For Nicholas, age 12, and his sister, Zoe, 10, children of Holly South from NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program, the game couldn’t have come at a better time. Having moved to a new city and with the pandemic limiting so many of their normal summer activities, Nicholas and Zoe had plenty of time to play the game. Their rating? Five stars.

“The game taught me about how bills are passed, which is interesting,” says Nicholas. “And that you have to make compromises—a lot of compromises.”

Zoe enjoyed role-playing the most. “It’s fun because you get to play different characters and decide what to do. I like that it shows that kids can make a difference, too.”

For legislators, the game offers a chance to “play it forward” and teach a little civics by sharing a great game with constituents, family and friends.

“Our goal,” says Caroline Carlson, director of the Foundation for State Legislatures, “was to upgrade the game to newer tools that would perform better in any web browser—and which would work on a tablet.” These improvements give players a better experience and make the game more compatible with recent software and technological developments. “The update also allows us to better integrate the game into the NCSL website so we can promote it to a wider group of students.”

The game is available on the NCSL website.

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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