In early 2007 the Center on Congress will begin design and production of an ambitious and innovative program to help young people learn about representative democracy and their role as citizens: a multiplayer online role play game, tentatively titled Virtual Congress. To give students an insider's view of how Congress works and the importance of civic engagement, the Virtual Congress will use the same technology underlying popular multiplayer online role-playing games being played by millions of players every day.
Players from across the country, represented by three-dimensional online characters, or "avatars," will hold the 535 House and Senate seats. The game will function much like the real Congress with committees, floor action, amendments, back-and-forth discussions, input from constituents, and random events that can help shape the legislative agenda.
Our graphically rich role-play game will allow students to develop their own identities, work with other players to develop strategies, and make their own decisions about what bills or amendments to propose. Not only will they learn the nuts and bolts of the legislative process, they will have to learn how to be successful legislators by working out acceptable compromises among multiple valid viewpoints. Students will experience how Congress works, rather than just read about it in textbooks.
As Members of Congress, they will receive opinions and requests from every direction—constituents, colleagues, members of the press—and will learn what works and what does not when trying to influence policy. Effective communication is one of the most important skills in civic life, so the social nature of an online role-play game makes it a natural environment to simulate Congress.
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