This week I’ve been playing a charming little game by the civic education advocate organisation iCivics, founded in 2009 by Sandra Day O’Connor. By then, O’Connor had served 25 years on the Supreme Court of the United States, and iCivics was founded in response to what O’Connor perceived as a lack of education surrounding government practices. The aim was to increase young people’s involvement in politics and restore civic education in the American schooling system.
Do I Have a Right? was first released in 2012, but received a major overhaul in October 2017. You play a partner in a law firm and must support clients in defending their rights; first, by deciding whether they have a right in the first place, then matching them with a lawyer with the correct skills, then finally taking the case to court. Each court victory awards you prestige points, which you can use to upgrade your office and hire new lawyers. Before October 2017, players only had the option to play using the Bill of Rights (for us non-Americans, that’s the first 10 amendments in the US constitution), but after the major overhaul this was extended to include the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments.
Do I Have a Right? is educational in a fun and engaging way; the bright colours and cartoonish art style is visually attractive, and the jazzy, fast-tempo shuffle music brings an energy to what could be considered an otherwise boring subject. The effort of full voice acting further involves the player; even though the explanations given by potential clients are very simple, the game is heavily text-focused and could become tedious if the player is forced to do a lot of reading. However, the simplicity of the text does not diminish the educational quality of the game; there’s an analysis tool to help you work out if a client has a right or not, and there’s even a handy glossary to define individual words in both the claim and the amendment description. It is obvious that a concerted effort, and a gratefully received one, has been made to make the serious subject matter as digestible as possible.
Customisation is a small but important element of the game. There is the option of choosing an avatar of either gender and there is a choice of several different races. You can put glasses on your avatar and even give them a wheelchair if you choose. As the game promotes the education of basic civil rights this is an excellent instance of leading by example – the in-game description of the Fourteenth Amendment is ‘Everyone — no matter what you look like, how much money you have, or how popular you are — should be treated equally under the law‘. Including these customisation options at the beginning, as well as choosing to add the 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments (all of which deal with equality in regards to voting rights), is surely a conscious decision by iCivics to uphold the values they teach within the game.
It is a short game, being set across 7 in-game days and only taking around 40 minutes to complete. This is a shame, because once you get to the end of 7 days you should have built up a pretty little office with a full team of lawyers; to end the game there when you’ve invested in improving your skills and your firm feels anticlimactic. In the future it would be great to see a ‘Continue?’ button after the 7 days are up so you can carry on helping your clients and learning more about the rights of American citizens.
Young people can be a powerful force in the politics of any nation, and it is the people at iCivics and games such as Do I Have a Right? that are creating new ways for teenagers and young adults to become interested in the issues of today that really matter.