Enhancing civic engagement in high school students through online gamification: the case of “Cities in Play”

Brazil has faced many corruption scandals, which is causing Brazilians, and mainly its youth, to increasingly distrust public institutions in general. A a result, we launched "Cities in Play", a free online game to be played in schools that puts the students in the position of an elected mayor, who needs to choose among different public policies to make his best to succeed in his administration. Our main goal is to enable political awareness in Brazilian youth to allow them to play an active role in politics, assessing governmental activities and standing for their rights, as well as knowing what are their duties as Brazilian citizens.

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Brazilian citizens are discouraged and they lack trust in public institutions. According to a survey conducted in 2018, 6 out of 10 citizens do not trust their government, including actors such as deputies, senators, ministers and the president. This has also had a direct impact on the young population in Brazil - in the years of 2014 and 2018, when presidential, state and legislative elections occurred, citizens aged 16 and 17 (that have optional vote in brazilian legislation) had extremely low voting rates compared to the previous years. Nevertheless, according to a research conducted in 2014 in Brazil, with more than a thousand youngsters (“Sonho Brasileiro da Política”, by Box1824), 65% of them would like to learn more about politics at school.

Hence, we decided to develop a solution to engage teenagers in politics. By searching for international examples, we found many “serious games” – which primary purpose is not entertainment, but learning. One of the initiatives, developed by Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC), is the game “Fiscal Ship”, designed to teach about the role of U.S. Federal Budget.

Following this example, we decided to develop, with support of WWC, a game for Brazilian youth that would help them not only to understand politics, but also to develop critical thinking and decision making skills. As an educational game, we though its use in schools would have much more impact, since students would have a moment to play and also to have an informed discussion about their city, its main challenges and how they can help to address them.

In 2017, we launched "Cidade em Jogo" (“Cities in Play”), an interactive and fun game that seeks to develop political interest in Brazilian high school students. We put high school students in the shoes of a mayor so he or she can decide the best policies to have a successful administration. The policies chosen will affect the city’s finances, the overall satisfaction of its citizens and the city infrastructure for the next administration and the players has to chose wisely to not jeopardize any of this indicators.

Our main goal is the creation of political awareness in Brazilian youth in order to allow them to play an active role in politics, assessing governmental activities and standing for their rights, as well as knowing what are their duties as Brazilian citizens. We have achieved more than 35,000 users, and we have a network of more than 1,400 teachers and 2,500 engaged students. More than 50 schools had played the game in all Brazilian regions.

Our main criteria are reach indicators - how far is the game going, relating to the number of professors using it. We have already conducted research on what the first hundreds of students think about the game and also its influence in their willing to participate in politics and its role on their political learning. During the interviews, around 2/3 of the students who played the game claimed they felt more interested about politics (67%), more willing to monitor the actions of the public power (69%) and believing more in their ability to influence policies (67%) after the experience.

For the next years, we aim to expand the game by providing a toolkit for teachers to help them use "Cities in Play" as a pedagogical tool. Teachers will be able to engage in discussions on different subjects, becoming more independent and being able to teach in an innovative way. We have developed this toolkit with an education consultancy during six months. Recently, we had a training round in which more than 50 teachers learned how to use the material and experienced a new way to engage their students.

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