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Unlocking Civic Knowledge: Library of Congress Game Development Challenge

by on September 11, 2023

Prizes and Recognition Await: Your Chance to Make an Impact

The Library of Congress (LOC), is presenting game developers a challenge- to make games that help improve public knowledge on civics. The LOC will award a cash prize of $20,000 for the winning entry, $10,000 for the second-place entry, and $5,000 for the third-place entry. The winning games will be hosted on the LOC site for use by the American public and the winners will be honored in a public ceremony. The deadline for entries is 11/27/23. Exact details and qualifications can all be found on the official website.

What does this mean for us, librarians? Well, if your patrons or colleagues are game developers, it’s crucial to promptly share this news with them so they can kickstart their development process. The earlier development begins, the more time there is for prototyping and polishing.

Crafting Your Civic Game: Tips for Game Developers

The first step you should take is to ensure that the game mechanics are up and running, to determine if the concept is enjoyable and worth pursuing. Afterward, you can focus on refining animations, graphics, and sound. Depending on the game’s complexity and the composition of your team, it’s highly advisable to create a Game Design Document (GDD). GDDs serve to establish clear objectives for the game and provide a roadmap for everyone on the team, ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding the game’s direction.

Even if you’re working independently, maintaining a record or dev-log of your progress is beneficial in the long run, especially for retrospection. Well-crafted GDDs serve as a source of inspiration for the team and are considered living documents. Some teams prefer using a Wiki format, while a simple Google Doc can suffice. In summary, your GDD serves as a showcase of the project’s scope and sets the groundwork for your game development endeavor.

Technical Considerations and Accessibility: Making Your Game Stand Out

It is required that the games must be playable on modern web browsers- this is important for developers to know because not every game engine is capable or optimized for publishing to a browser. For example, even though Unreal Engine 5 (UE5)  is out, as stated in Epic’s guide for HTML5 Projects you’d have to load up an earlier version of Unreal Engine (UE4) to publish it. If anything, Unity might be the better platform since WebGL publishing makes publishing on a browser easy to do. Of course, if you don’t like Unity, there are tons of other gaming engines with their own pros and cons. Technically, you could also make the game with Twine, and if you are someone who hates coding and would rather just focus on the storytelling aspects- Twine might be the better choice. Many developers post their web-based games on itch.io, which can also be where you host your own game.

It is also required that the game is Section 508 compliant and works with screen readers like Jaws, NVDA, VoiceOver and etc. Making the game accessible to individuals with disabilities is vital for the competition as well. You must make sure the game will be rated E from the ESRB, and incorporate Library of Congress resources. Unity has a very thorough accessibility course that can be applied to other industries besides gaming.

With the rules set in mind, you probably have some ideas in mind for a great Civics video game. However if now you find yourself with writer’s block- don’t worry, I asked ChatGPT for ideas in advance. After all, if you choose to use Unity ChatGPT, it can help write the C# scripting for some of the mechanics.

From ChatGPT:

  • Democracy Simulator: In this game, players can take on the role of a citizen in a virtual city or country and participate in the democratic process. They can run for office, campaign for votes, propose and debate laws, and make decisions that impact the virtual society. The game can provide a realistic simulation of the challenges and complexities of democratic governance.
  • Constitutional Quest: Players embark on a quest through a fictional land where they must collect pieces of a fragmented constitution. Along the way, they learn about the different branches of government, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the importance of upholding democratic principles. The game can incorporate puzzles, challenges, and interactive storytelling elements.
  • Global Diplomacy: This game focuses on international relations and diplomacy. Players represent different countries and work together or compete against each other to address global issues such as climate change, trade agreements, and conflicts. They must negotiate, form alliances, make compromises, and consider the consequences of their decisions, teaching them about the complexities of international politics.
  • Justice Defender: Players become lawyers or judges in a virtual courtroom setting. They investigate cases, gather evidence, interview witnesses, and argue their cases in front of a virtual judge and jury. The game can cover various legal concepts such as due process, the rule of law, and the role of the judiciary, while also exploring ethical dilemmas and the impact of legal decisions on society.
  • Civic Heroes: In this game, players take on the role of everyday citizens who become community activists and work to solve local issues. They engage in grassroots organizing, hold town hall meetings, create awareness campaigns, and collaborate with others to make a positive impact. The game can cover topics such as community development, civic engagement, and the importance of active citizenship.
  • Media Literacy Quest: This game focuses on teaching players about media literacy and critical thinking skills. Players navigate through a virtual media landscape filled with fake news, misinformation, and biased sources. They must identify reliable information, fact-check claims, and make informed decisions based on evidence. The game can provide resources and strategies for evaluating news and media content.
  • Historical Simulation: Players can be immersed in historically significant events and periods, such as the American Revolution or the civil rights movement. They can experience the challenges faced by historical figures, make choices that shape the outcome of events, and gain an understanding of the social and political contexts of those times. This can foster an appreciation for the impact of civic engagement throughout history.

Remember, the effectiveness of a game in teaching civics will also depend on how well it incorporates engaging gameplay mechanics, clear learning objectives, and opportunities for active participation and decision-making.”

Collaborative Opportunities: Libraries as Game Development Hubs

Well, there you have it: a game’s complexity in its development is entirely at the discretion of the developer. Whether you choose to embark on this journey solo or collaborate with others depends on the resources available to you. If you possess the time and determination to create something entirely on your own, go for it, but it’s essential to maintain a realistic perspective.

For instance, if your vision for a civics game rivals the scope of titles like “Ghost of Tsushima” or “Assassin’s Creed” set during the American Civil War, attempting to handle all aspects of coding, 3D modeling, and animations by yourself might lead to burnout. This is precisely where the value of assembling a team and connecting with like-minded individuals becomes evident.

Fortunately, the internet provides convenient avenues for such collaborations through platforms like Reddit or LinkedIn.

However, libraries can also play a pivotal role in supporting game designers by providing spaces for them to collaborate, similar to how some libraries host Writing Circles, where patrons share their written work with one another. In this context, game designers can convene, whether in-person or virtually.

There are instances where you might prefer to work with a collaborator who is local to you, especially if your civics game is centered around your hometown. However, if financial constraints make it challenging to hire talent for creating assets, you may find yourself in a situation where you must either acquire the skills to create assets yourself or rely on your networking efforts to connect with someone willing to join you in developing the game, regardless of your skill level.

Whichever path you decide to take, I wish you the best of luck in the development of your game! Even if you don’t emerge as the winner, there remains the potential for it to attain cult classic status, potentially yielding greater rewards over time than the immediate cash prizes. Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to remember that the LOC is seeking games that not only encourage civic engagement but also educate players about LOC resources.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

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