Students learn about civic involvement in new video game
Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 07:10
Students were invited to play Civic Seed, a video game developed by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service in conjunction with the Engagement Game Lab (EGL) at Emerson College, to provide feedback about the game’s effectiveness on Oct. 8 in the Lewis Hall lounge.
According to Mindy Nierenberg, the senior program manager and director at Tisch College, the multi-player interactive online game aims to prepare college students for effective and collaborative civic engagement by allowing them to better retain information on the subject.
The premise of this role-playing game, which lasts about two hours in its entirety, is a world where all color has vanished, and players must help recolor the world using “color seeds.” These are earned through watching video clips, reading messages, answering question and collaborating with each other as well as the game world’s inhabitants.
Nierenberg, who began the project two years ago, explained that she wanted to test the game with Tufts students in their living environment in order to see how well the game held student’s attention in a casual setting.
“Getting feedback about the game is important,” said Nierenberg. “We beta-tested this in May in a computer lab [where] students ... were able to focus much more easily,” she said. “I wish that there were more people here ... but I was pleasantly surprised that people did focus as much as they did.”
Many students had positive comments for the game team. Freshman Adam Montenegro said that the animations and videos were a good way to get the game’s message across, and would appeal especially to younger students.
Sophomore Daniel Bozovic expressed similar views, saying the game was well done. It reminded him of the Pokémon video games, as there was a deeper message in addition to the gameplay.
Student Aahlad Gogineni, however, said that although he liked the game, he felt there would be a problem if students were trying to win.
“You won’t be learning much because you’d just click through it,” Gogineni, a freshman, said.
Nierenberg explained that there are filters in place to ensure players give real responses to questions about the material.
“Plus, the people who are going to be doing this want to be involved in the community,” she said. “They’re not going to be gamers who are trying to win a game.”
Nierenberg explained that Civic Seed takes players through four levels. Players are first asked to consider their own values and identities. Next, they are exposed to their communities assets and what it means to work as an outsider. The game explores Tufts’ partner relationships with the Somerville, Medford and Boston’s Chinatown communities.
The third level explores collaboration with partner communities toward a common goal of mutual benefit, while the last level offers lessons on sustaining the work toward that goal through connecting it with courses and careers and involving others.
According to Nierenberg, who wrote the game’s content based on input from a committee of students, faculty members and community partners, the video game is the first aimed to prepare students for civic engagement.
During the development meetings with the EGL, members of the Tisch College and the game lab faced some creative tension, Nierenberg said. The EGL — which developed the game’s narrative while Tisch College produced its content — created a character named Honey Boo Boo, which Nierenberg later changed.
“They emphasize the fun part of it, which is good, but they have a different sensitivity than [Tisch College],” Nierenberg said. “Emerson students would just think that was funny ... There’s a difference between the seriousness and the ability of students to pick up on things like what is offensive, what goes against the ethos of what we are trying to convey. Hopefully we end up at a balance where there is fun and enjoyment in it for the students but it also conveys ... what we’re trying to get across.”
Civic Seed is slated for tentative release in the spring of 2014, Nierenberg said. It will first be distributed within the Tufts community through groups like Jumpstart, the Leonard Carmichael Society and some classes. It will also be featured at conferences and in papers and journals. Later, the game team plans to distribute Civic Seed to other schools across the country.
Campus Compact, an organization of colleges interested in promoting civic engagement at institutions of higher education, has expressed interest in promoting Civic Seed to its member schools. These other schools would replace the Tufts-specific sections of the game (about Chinatown, Somerville and Medford) with either a generic version of the game or a version including information about their own communities.
“Eventually, our community partners ... are interested in knowing whether students completed this game before they volunteer in their organizations, because then they know that they are better prepared,” Nierenberg said.