I was tipped off to iCivics games a few days ago and have finally had a chance to check them out. iCivics is “a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy.” There are several games on this site dealing with topics from Supreme Court decisions to immigration to being president for a term.
Each game has lots of information packed into it. For example, in Argument Wars, in which famous Supreme Court decision are re-argued, players must read the case and then choose the appropriate supporting evidence for their side. When the player chooses the evidence, the judge rules whether the argument is legally sound. When the computer opponent submits evidence, the player can object to unsound arguments. This requires not only more reading than your typical videogame, but a lot of critical thinking. In fact, the level of reading required in these games would make it difficult for intermediate ESL students to play them alone. The game does a good job of making the process a fun game by which students can learn more about the Supreme Court.
Will students put down their favorite commercial video games to pick these games up? Probably not. But highly motivated students (and citizens) might use them to learn more about the civics lessons they are learning (or learned long ago) in school. Teachers could use these games with a whole class or have students use them individually or in pairs and report back in presentations, essays, or small group discussions. More advanced students could look at these games critically and try to determine where they are accurate, where they are inaccurate, and where bias may be present. Regardless of how they are used, these interactive texts are much richer than most civics texts and can serve as a useful supplement to them.