Using Democracy 3 to Teach Civics

In this month’s deep dive on using games for classroom education, we will be mixing theory and application as we explore Democracy 3, a wonderful little political simulator. This politics simulation may appear simple at first, but its complex systems and modding community bring together a nearly perfect combination for a teaching tool.

Democracy 3 was released in 2013 by Positech games. It is available on Steam for $24.99.

Game Description

In Democracy 3, players take control of the government of their selected country. As the president / chancellor / prime minister, the player must not only keep their country running efficiently, but do so in a way that does not stress the political system or prevent their reelection.

Players run their country by passing policies and analyzing the effect of each policy on a complex web of variables that describe the state of the country. Variables range from national security to budget issues to health care and beyond.

The player takes on the daunting task of improving the country by passing policies. Each policy costs political clout and, importantly, impacts dozens of variables across the board. The players job, then, is to use the information available to them to attempt to influence the system in a beneficial way.

As if that isn’t enough, the player has to deal with realistic demographics based on the chosen country. These demographics include religious beliefs, race, political leaning, wealth, education level, and many more statistics based on the actual population of countries.

Sound complicated? It is. Luckily, the designers do an excellent job of making the vast amount of information easily approachable. Democracy 3 uses visualization to help players understand how the complex variables relate and how policies can impact them.

Players can easily see how one variable affects another as the lines connecting them show the nature of the relation ship (red for negative impact, green for positive) and the strength of the relationship (speed and size of the arrows moving along the line).

Finally, the game was designed to allow for near infinite content. With a strong modding community, the number of unique scenarios, challenges, and countries available to play continues to grow even now, 8 years after its release.

The Power of Democracy 3 for Learning

It should come as no surprise that Democracy 3 is a powerful learning tool.

The complex, yet accurate, system simulation the game uses to drive its gameplay can provide a significant opportunity for experiential learning for players. By experimenting with and (almost certainly) failing within the system, players can learn a significant amount about how real governments work and what must be taken into consideration when supporting a policy.

The beautifully and effectively designed visualizations of Democracy 3 make complex relationships approachable and serve as a perfect jumping off point for discussion.

Finally, the ability to modify the game can be key in the learning process. Building scenarios for the game allows students to learn through creation and construction of their own systems. Students who make scenarios not only can learn about democracy in general by crafting a scenario, but can learn about local issues as they convert those issues into scenarios.

Using Democracy 3 in the Class

Being a modifiable system simulation, Democracy has far more applications to the classroom than can be discussed here. Instead of trying to outline all the possible uses, let’s look at a few examples. From these examples, you can build your own lessons and run with your own ideas.

So, how can we use Democracy 3 in the class?

  • Short lesson: Give students a specific goal policy based on playing in your home country. Let them free play as they try to implement the policy. After, ask what they learned about their goal policy.
  • Short lesson: Ask students to identify major issues that impact a specific variable such as unemployment. Ask students how they might be able to combat unemployment. Brainstorm ideas then try them in the game.
  • Long lesson: Ask students to research a local issue. Provide them with demographics for your area and have them build a model scenario.

About the Author

Clayton Whittle is a Ph.D. candidate at Pennsylvania State University, focusing on games for social impact research. He serves on the board of NASAGA and handles the blog.

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