Can Games Make Students Better Congresspeople Than the Originals?


Maybe in 10 years we’ll have a Congress that works. At least McGraw-Hill is doing its part to push in that direction. Earlier this week, McGraw-Hill Education entered the higher education gaming market with the launch of McGraw-Hill Practice, a line of 3D, multiplayer experiential-learning games that includes Government in Action. The role-playing game Government in Action, which was released nationally this month, asks students to assume the role of a U.S. congressperson and compete with classmates for political capital, while working to get re-elected every two years. The game aims to help students understand Congress, which may or may not deter them from ever wanting to be a Congressperson, given today’s atmosphere in Washington. Geared towards the more than 750,000 undergraduates who enroll in American government courses each year, for $40 per semester per student the game aims to bring class-taught concepts to life.

In addition to Government in Action, the interactive multimedia Practice suite includes Practice Marketing and Practice Operations, which teach marketing and operations management skills through similar real-life simulations. Practice Marketing has already made its way into higher learning and lets students test their skills as marketers within the virtual backpack industry, while the yet-unreleased Practice Operations will give students a glimpse into the daily routine of managing a clothing manufacturing and distribution company. The new products show that game-based learning is gaining momentum as a valuable teaching tool in higher education. Simulation games let learners engage with course material by getting practical experience in an immersive environment.

Developed in collaboration with Muzzy Lane Software, Government in Action gives students insight into the day-to-day actions and decisions made by members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Players start off with limited resources and are allowed to make moves such as passing legislation, interacting with lobbyists, creating ad campaigns, recruiting volunteers and hiring (or firing) staff. Cooperation among players can be vital to ensuring individual success, which is gauged using algorithms that determine ratings of approval, influence, and awareness about the representative’s platform. (Perhaps actual congresspeople ought to try the game to learn that cooperation matters.)

If you aren’t interested in the intricacies involved in the congressional decision-making process, playing Government in Action will at least shed light on why there seems to be such an excess of government inaction. With only four moves per turn and a wide range of potential actions to choose from, building an effective strategic plan initially seemed like an overwhelming task during my first effort at playing a demo version. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that success in the game relies heavily on a player’s ability to make decisions that forward the aims of the political party they represent.

With U.S. House so critical in government actions, such as the recent “sequestration” calling for $85 billion in automatic government spending cuts, helping students comprehend the policy-making is important in American Government curriculums. “We think it will capture some students’ excitement to want to get involved with government and change how it operates; we’re also sure that it will discourage other students because of some of the complexities of succeeding,” says McGraw-Hill Chief Digital Officer Stephen Laster.

While interactive gaming has been used to teach in K-12 classrooms for some time, experiential learning games have just begun making their way into higher ed curricula.

Laster says that teaching and learning is increasingly a “blended world.” Adaptive, personalized, and game-based learning, he says, “play significant roles in that portfolio of curricula.” The McGraw-Hill Practice suite is accessible online through McGraw-Hill Connect.

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