Monday, October 05, 2009

Supreme Court Video Game

Another Washington Post article by Kashmir Hill and David Lat reports on video games promoted by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is hoping they help educate a public where children cannot name the three branches of government. The article names Supreme Decision as the better game, and continues the review:

a middle school student has sued his school for preventing him from wearing a T-shirt featuring his favorite band. You play a Supreme Court clerk, advising your boss, Justice Waters, on how to rule in this First Amendment case. O'Connor, an advocate for more diversity on the bench, incorporated some wish fulfillment into "Supreme Decision": Women outnumber men on a racially diverse virtual court. (O'Connor did not design the games -- outside companies did -- but when we asked about the composition of the virtual bench, she coyly admitted to having a hand in "details of that type.")

The other game, "Do I Have a Right?", is a primer on the Bill of Rights. Your role is less glamorous: You work at a pro bono law firm, essentially as a receptionist, introducing clients with civil rights cases to lawyers with expertise in the appropriate amendments. Consultation between the lawyers and the clients is simulated with a talk bubble reading "Yadda yadda," reinforcing the stereotype that law is boring and overly complicated.

One allure of video games is being able to do things we can't do in real life. Playing a law firm receptionist or a Supreme Court clerk, the prestige of the second job notwithstanding, probably won't hook middle-schoolers like "World of Warcraft" does. The simplistic animation and Web 1.0 interface might not appeal to kids raised on real-time 3D graphics and the virtual reality of the Xbox. "Fun" is relative, though. The Our Courts games are engaging enough for the classroom -- and probably better than a textbook at helping students understand judicial decision-making.

The Our Courts project highlights a broader challenge for civic education -- not just for kids, but for their parents. While appearing on "The Daily Show" in March to promote Our Courts, O'Connor noted that only a third of Americans can name the three branches of government, while 75 percent can name one "American Idol" judge. Jon Stewart responded: "We're going to need more than a Web site."
The article goes on to support Justice O'Connor for lighting a candle, rather than cursing the darkness, and urges the current Supreme Justices to consider allowing televising of court proceedings. The authors of the article are editors of the blog, Above the Law. And at the end of the Post article, there is a link to a video of Lat discussing the video games.

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