CivRep: Civic Learning RPG
A Transformational Educational RPG
CivRep was a 14-week client project, where as part of a team of 5, I worked to translate an in-class multiplayer role-playing activity about Civic Engagement into a single-player Civic Learning RPG. In the final product, the player roleplays as a city council member and experience the legislative process of local goverments.
My Role: Narrative Designer and Producer
Skills: Transformational Design, Research, and Client Management
What I did
Research for Educational Content
Our client, Ron Idoko of the University of Pittsburgh, made it very clear that he wanted to focus the subject matter on local governments, and that the game should be educationally accurate, and properly reflect what it was like to be a representative on a city council. In order to provide the gameplay our client was seeking, I dove into researching the subject matter immediately.
My Steps to Transformational Design
Conduct thorough research to understand educational content.
Design gameflow which accurately and fully covers client's desired educational content while considering scope
Design interactive gameplay which helps players engage with and absorb educatonal content
I first began by expanding my understanding of the subject matter.
Conducting Interviews with Experts
I first reached out to interview a series of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), ranging from students and professors of Political Science, to actual city council members. I discussed with them not only about how local governments worked, but also what they thought was crucial to convey to the students through our game. Our team learned much valuable information from these interviews. For example, we were surprised to find that many of the experts couldn't stress enough how important letters from constituents were to local representatives, and how public hearings could also have a strong affect on how representatives vote and act on legislation. Learning about such aspects of local government greatly helped flesh out our game content, and also helped us design more effective Civic Learning in our game.
Researching The Legislative Process
I also learned from the SMEs that the Pittsburgh Legislative Information Center (LIC) was a treasure trove of information, albeit a rather daunting one. To help make our gameplay more compelling and accurate, I ventured into the LIC, and studied the legal process and steps the city council takes to draft up, propose, and vote on a piece of legislation.
By reading through the official Rule of The Council document which details each step of the legislative process for the city council, I was able to map out the comprehensive legislative process and collaborated with the team to distill the entire process into 4 main steps, as shown below.
The Legislative Process distilled into 4 main steps
Creating a Gameflow
I then worked with the game designer to expand these 4 main steps into a full gameplay flowchart, which incorporated the various aspects of Civic Learning our client desired to have in the game, plus the recommended content from the SMEs, while consulting with the artist and programmers to maintain realistic expectations on scope.
Our gameplay flowchart built off of the 4 main steps of the legislative process
To help flesh out this flow even further, I went into the city council archives to look at dozens of examples of bills, resolutions, and video footage of public hearings, and provided notes and references to the game designer and artists so we could faithfully recreate them in our game.
Gamifying the Public Hearing process
Creating Interactive Content
I designed and created interactive content so the players could engage with the subject matter in a way helps them absorb the material, while staying on theme.
For CivRep, I themed the interactive content to be letters from constituents, and interviews with experts, and utilized it as a way for players to learn not just facts, but the various perspectives constituents could have on a political topic.
The interactive content had two steps, where the players first read information, then crafted their own replies and statements in 'Mad-Lib' form. The purpose of the 'Mad-Lib' section was to help players dissect and absorb the information being presented into smaller chunks, and by replying to each info chunk, start to form their own position on a topic.
Coordinating and Conducting Playtests
To help our team make better informed decisions about how to iterate our game, I worked as the playtest coordinator for this project, and took the following actions:
Identifying Playtest Goals
In order to ensure that our playtests were fruitful, I always conferred with my team about what we aimed to learn from each playtest. I then sent out a series of surveys to potential testers to assess and collect a pool of candidates. Then, based on what we hoped to test in a certain playtesting session, I invited the most helpful type of testers to join us. For example, if we wished to test how accessible and understandable our game was, I invited naive testers. If we were hoping to gauge the accuracy of our game's educational content, I invited testers who were familiar with the topic of Civics, or were experts in the field.
Hosting the Playtest
I prepared scripts, event flowcharts, on-boarding presentations, and exit interviews for all of the playtests, to ensure everything went as smoothly as possible. I was the primary host for our playtests, and worked to create an environment that was comfortable for our testers, and informative for my team members.
Footage from one of our playtests
Facilitating Client Communications
As the producer of the project, I worked to maintain effective client communications throughout the project, through the following steps.
Aligning Team and Client Expectations
I scheduled weekly meetings and prepared presentations which shared to our client our playtest results, iterations, planned iterations, and questions and thoughts for moving forward. I always made sure to meet up with my teammates and gather all of their questions and concerns for the client beforehand so the client and our team could work through anything that was unclear together, and make sure everyone was on the same page before moving forward
Maintaining Clear and Robust Communication
To makes sure all of our meetings were productive and efficient for everyone, I prepared agendas before each meeting and sent them out to every participant beforehand, to make sure everyone is aware of what topics will be discussed, and also so people could mention and add on topics they wanted to talk about to the agenda. After each meeting, I wrote up a summary of the points discussed and sent them out to the participants to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Thanks for checking out CivRep!