Playing with Justice: Argument Wars

Here’s the issue.  You’re trying to get students to understand the Supreme Court.  Not just that it’s an organization that consists of nine justices and that it interprets the law, but how it actually goes about doing so.  How does the court hear and structure arguments?  How is it that over the decades, the Court can by interpreting the same document, reach so many different conclusions?

Enter Argument Wars, a game designed to simulate arguing cases before the SCOTUS.  You begin by choosing a lawyer, and then choosing a case.  Your choices range from classic cases such as Brown v. Board of Education to more hot button issues such as Snyder v. Phelps, and you can argue for either side successfully.  This is one of the more interesting hidden messages of Argument Wars.  It’s not about perceived who has the moral high ground, but who can structure the better Constitutional argument.  It’s actually more fun to play the side that historically lost to see how workable their argument was.

The game does a great job of summing up both sides of the case in one sentence and then sets you to work.  You start by selecting one of

to make your case.  On the one hand, the cards are structured into real categories of argument, on the other, some of them are ludicrously easy.  Your opponent can then object to your argument if its silly.  If no one objects you then move onto the next portion.  At this stage you select which Constitutional amendment or clause justifies your argument.  The final part is perhaps the most challenging, though more so for being arbitrary than for being actually difficult.  You are required to string together a fill in the blank sentence which sums up the argument, picking from three sets of fragments.

Based on all of this, the judge awards you points, and the side with the most points wins.  At this point, you’re informed how the case actually turned out, and are given the option to “certify your victory” printing out a certificate that can be turned in to a teacher.  It’s easy to see how this game could easily be applied to a history, or street law class.  While it is built for middle school students, it’s actually worthwhile at any level.

This game deserves kudos for a lot of reasons.  It allows students to see how the Constitution is actually applied to law, and how to make a legal argument based upon it.  It simplifies complex legal arguments without unduly sacrificing their meaning, and it’s actually quite fun.  I especially got a kick out of the look of disappointment on my opponent’s avatar when he lost his case.  “Yeah take that Brown,” I found myself saying, “No desegregation for you!”  But then, I tend to get a bit competitive.

Of course, by reducing these cases merely to their Constitutional arguments, and divorcing them of their cultural context, students can loose some important perspective on the social role in Supreme Court cases, and the singular impartial Judge is certainly not at all typical of the Court.  This game, however, is about the meat and bones, not deep analysis.

5 Replies to “Playing with Justice: Argument Wars”

  1. This is a fantastic educational tool. I really like how it makes arguing these huge cases interactive and dramatic (maybe a little too dramatic, but hey). It's easy to take for granted some of our basic rights that have been won in the Supreme Court, so seeing our preconceptions of right and wrong challenged is a worthy activity. This would be a great tool to use in a middle or high school classroom for a civics/government class. The class could be divided into two and forced to debate amongst themselves. What a nice little exercise in ethics and logic! A very cool and well done site. I'll pass it along.

  2. This is a great educational tool for elementary school students. I have a younger brother and this would actually benefit him greatly. Not only do students learn how arguments in court work, but through this they can easily learn about Supreme Court cases. I like how they cited other court cases on evidence, encouraging kids to learn about cases beyond what's in their history books. I was not that big a fan of the make-your-own-argument segment as the choices were really obvious and required little thought, but I think that could work for elementary school students and help them on reading comprehension as well. I think it's great that either side can win so you can have a little lesson in alternate history and that it tells you what really happened at the end of the game.

  3. Of all the free online video games that we looked at in class, I thought this one was the most successful. In order to play you really have to read through the material, which is nice because it is a more practical educational tool than either 1066 or Jamestown Adventure. I like that you can play either side and that the game does not tell you the outcome prior to playing. It gives you great information along the way and uses simple enough legal-ese for children / young adults to understand. This would be a great tool for an eighth grade government class. The only thing I would change would be to find a different format for the 3-part sentence structure scenario. It's too easy to create a sentence since most of the other ones make no sense.

  4. When searching for educational yet entertaining games, Argument Wars is definitely a good place to start. Not only do these games have appealing graphics but they also provide a multitude of learning opportunities for all ages.

  5. Argument Wars is a game designed to highlight the role of argumentation and reasoning in civic engagement. Step into the shoes of a lawyer and participate in trials ripped straight out of the history books. In order to win points with the judge, you must analyze your arguments and evidence carefully and be prepared to not only back up yours claims, but to pop your opponent's bubble when they make a misstep. Can you tip the scales of justice in your favor? I think this is very entertaining and at the same time very challenging for us gamers. Push yourself to the limit.

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