Mar 10, 2011

Should school be a game? An early reflection on Civic Mirror.

The game of school is so easy to play.  Just ask a Gr. 12 student. Even better, don’t let a Grade 12 student and watch the reaction.

The game of school is so easy to play.  Just watch a teacher who is showing up, but not buying in.

What if school was a game?  A well-designed, challenging, feedback-oriented, game?

My Futures Forum class (Gr. 10 English/Civic/Careers) is currently working through the beginning stages of a simulation/game called Civic Mirror.  I’ll be honest, when I was told about it, I was hesitant.  I cringe at working through ‘inauthentic’ scenarios that someone away from the classroom put together.

This has me, almost, convinced.

Civic Mirror allows a class to create a country, define its culture, understand it’s constitution, govern it and then participate in its economy by selling, trading and trying to achieve success.  Each student is given money, status, opportunity and a ‘hidden agenda’.  Each student makes choices that affect them as individuals and the country as a whole.  They battle for power, both official (in the form of political or judicial) or unofficial (economic or hidden factions).

Now although we have just started, my students are participating with zeal.  They enjoy it.  They are challenged by it.  The feedback of their actions comes immediately, the complexity of civic life is uncovered.  It is self-directed.

A content heavy concept (the running of the Canadian government) is being learned through experience and gamesmanship.  Very intriguing thus far.

I’m left wondering and asking more and more, how do we bring in the culture of gaming into other subjects?  How do we create the challenges, the feedback, the gamesmanship for subjects like English and Math, while still requiring the rigour?

As Jane McGonigal shows in her TED talk; gaming can change the world.  Now it is up to us as teachers to consider the framework of gaming and work together to create more simulations that engage our students.

Maybe school should be a game?


  • This actually sounds really cool, and as a student I usually cringe at the games teachers come up with. I think school should be more like a game. Take video games. You start off on an easier level, and gradually you work your way up to harder and harder levels. If you fail, it’s no big deal, you just hit restart and keep practicing the level until you get it and can move on. Every student is at a different level, and there isn’t this huge fear of failure. It’s self directed, and your getting better at something. I often wonder why my brother can sit for hours and play video games. It’s because of mastery. He’s getting better at it, and it’s not a big deal if he fails and has to restart.

  • Scott, fantastic post! Our “civic mirror” google alerts brought this post to our attention, and I’m glad because your others posts are really insightful. We linked to this on the CM Blog so hopefully the other teachers/students will read it too!

    While it’s great to hear that you’re enjoying your first go with the Civic Mirror, I really like your question about integrating gamesmanship into the curriculum because – as you stated so simply – school is a game to begin with. The currency is grades, teachers are the brokers, and students are the workers. The irony is that most teachers – and especially educational policy makers – fail to see the game mechanics governing the whole system, and don’t see the potential utility and significance of using/funding games in education. It’s not good, and I guess we need to keep pushing the box until the keepers of the status quo open their eyes to their usefulness.


    • Hi Regan,
      Thanks for the support of the blog on the Civic Mirror page. It’s great that my thinking resonates as it affirms it for me.
      The gaming element has been very prominent in my thinking, however, there is some element that I can’t wrap my head around. Gaming is the ultimate blend and balance of entertainment, learning, achievement and failure. Integrating this into the very nature and system is very difficult. It’s definitely something I need to keep thinking about.
      Meanwhile, the Civic Mirror has been something fascinating. I do have another post coming as we are getting through our first year and the students are very actively engaged in the process.
      Thanks for reading!

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