An Online Game for Civic Education

By: Joe Rominiecki

To teach kids about the work of county governments, the National Association of Counties reaches them at their level with an online game.

Counties Work

What's the great idea? Educate children and adults about your profession with a free online game.

Who's doing it? The National Association of Counties

What's involved? NACo partnered with iCivics, a foundation created by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, to develop the Counties Work game. Players take on the role of county commissioner, responding to citizens' requests, balancing tax revenue and expenditures, and maintaining a sufficient satisfaction rate to win reelection.

NACo provided the expertise on the role of county governments and matched it with iCivics' experience in creating educational video games and teaching materials. NACo and iCivics split the development costs of about $100,000, and NACo defrayed half of its portion with $25,000 from a corporate sponsor.

What are people saying? The educational goal of Counties Work is one that all of NACo's members can get behind, says Bill Cramer, marketing director at NACo. He says the game has been a success "in terms of giving members a product that they can go out and be proud of and be placing a good educational tool for free in the hands of educators in the community."

In the eight months since the game's launch, it has drawn 180,000 unique players, 40 percent of whom return to play more than once, and about 2,000 teachers have downloaded lesson plans for using the game in classrooms. "A lot of people know a lot about their federal government and maybe even their state government, but they don't always know a lot about local government, particularly their county government," Cramer says.

The online game format meets kids at their level. Some real-life county officials have even played the game and lost, failing to be reelected to virtual office, says Cramer. "It's kind of funny to watch our own members play the game," he says, but "the students just pick it up so quickly."

—Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor to Associations Now.