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Retired Justice’s Online Game Teaches Civics

Led by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the online primer aims to boost students’ knowledge of county government.

When are my property taxes due? How do I find out about childhood vaccination programs? Who is responsible for protecting the water supply?

Where do citizens go to get answers to these questions? Nonprofit civic education group iCivics, led by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, partnered with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to develop a free, online game called Counties Work to help increase knowledge of the functions of county government.

According to The Hill’s Technology Blog, Counties Work will be awarded the 2012 Gold Circle Award for Innovative Communications Award by the American Society of Association Executives on May 24.

counties-work1.jpgTargeted toward junior high and high school age students, Counties Work was first launched in summer 2011. Creators claim that iCivics is the first online interactive game with a county government focus. Players answer citizen questions, accept or reject suggestions, make infrastructure decisions, consider tax rates, build capital projects and manage emergencies.

The game simulates a wide variety of real-life scenarios a county decision-maker might encounter. Does the potential benefit of a new sports facility justify its hefty price tag? Should the county invest in improvements to records management systems to expedite service to citizens?

All decisions weigh into constituent satisfaction. Player performance is ultimately judged at the polls, where maintaining a positive approval rating entitles you to re-election.

Supporting materials are available for instructors to assist in successful classroom implementation. According to NACo, more than 100,000 students had played the game as of January 2012.

counties-work2.jpg“This game is an excellent tool for helping them (children) find out what their county does,” said Oakland County, Mich., Commissioner Mattie Hatchett in an announcement posted on NACo’s website. “The fact that it is a computer game makes it a great way to deliver knowledge to students, because that’s how they get a lot of their stimuli these days.”

iCivics, founded in 2009, has produced 16 online games for educational use, including Win the White House, which allows users to simulate a presidential campaign, and Immigration Nation in which players learn the steps to obtaining U.S. citizenship.

[Click on the images to see a full-size version.]