By Holly South
A commitment to civics education and to helping legislators and legislative staff educate the public about representative democracy and the legislative process led to the 2011 launch of NCSL’s American Democracy Game.
Intended for middle school students, the game has recently been revamped and relaunched to perform better on web browsers and tablets. With both the school year and the 2020 presidential election campaigns underway, the timing couldn’t be better for a lesson on the concepts of representative democracy.
The American Democracy Game provides an interactive role-play experience in which the user plays the part of a city council member or state representative. The lawmaker is presented with the viewpoints of constituents, colleagues and other interest groups and must make a series of decisions, each of which follows the lawmaker throughout the game and affects the direction that the game takes.
It’s a different experience every time. Zoe South, age 10, has played the game several times this summer. “It’s fun because you get to play different characters and decide what to do,” she says. “I like that it shows that kids can make a difference too.”
Players interact with their constituents, work to find common ground with fellow legislators (or not!) and slurp down as much coffee as they like. They also learn the steps it takes to pass a piece of legislation. “The game taught me about how bills are passed,” says Zoe’s 12-year-old brother, Nicholas, “which is interesting. And that you have to make compromises—a lot of compromises.”
With virtual learning in place in many school districts this fall, the game is an excellent way to keep kids engaged while they learn the importance of, yes, compromise and other components of the legislative process: integrity, respect for those on both sides of an issue, willingness to negotiate, fairness, and commitment to doing a good job. Lessons that never get old—no matter how many times you play the game.
The game is available via the NCSL website.
Thanks to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and the NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures, which have provided financial support for this project.
Holly South is with NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program and serves as liaison to the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.