A Virtual Democracy: Learning Civics in an Online Social Game

With Oceana: A Virtual Democracy, the Honorable Lee H. Hamilton and the Center on Congress at Indiana University will help young people learn about representative democracy with a new online video game that encourages them to become better informed about our government and more civically engaged in their communities.

Oceana is a multiplayer online role-play game that makes learning about representative democracy fun and engaging.

“Teachers see the potential that students may want to participate in Oceana long after they leave class, which would be quite a feat for civic education, especially for students that have not been motivated by the way civics and government classes are generally taught.” – Jeremy Stoddard, Social Studies Professor, The College of William and Mary

In a recent survey by the MacArthur Foundation, young people who had civic gaming experiences reported much higher levels of civic and political engagement than their peers who had not played civic-oriented video games. In other words, video games have the potential to help young people master civic knowledge, learn civic skills, and practice citizenship.

“What’s exciting to me about the game you are developing is that it includes many, if not all, of the features we found to be strongly related to desired civic outcomes.” – Joseph Kahne, Mills College Author, MacArthur White Paper “The Civic Potential of Video Games”

In the fictional world of Oceana, students will learn the core skills of effective citizenship. They will learn to identify a problem in their community, describe it, research possible solutions, analyze points of agreement and disagreement among their peers, make a well-reasoned argument about how to solve the problem, listen to others’ arguments, and compromise as necessary to reach a solution.

“I like the different characters you can be and learning first hand.” “I like that players are able to create their own character on the game as well as choose their career.” “Good idea to make it fun. It’s cool. The setting is an island, it’s fresh, warm, relaxing.” – Eighth Grade Students

The governmental structure of Oceana is directly analogous to that of the United States. Oceana will take civics education to where young people live – in front of screens, interacting with games and each other.

Oceana is designed to teach young people about

  • The importance of participating in civic life and how to do it;
  • What representative democracy is, why it is important, how it works, and how to make it work for them;
  • How to learn about important issues that affect their lives and how to communicate clearly and persuasively about those issues;
  • How to take action as an individual, and in collaboration with others, to affect change in their communities and the nation.

Oceana has been funded by the AT&T Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Ogle Foundation, and the Center on Congress.



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