Argument Wars is game that introduces students to the United States Constitution. The game is a mock trial in which players take on the role of a lawyer, who argues for one side or another of a Supreme Court case. For example, the game includes Brown vs. Board of Education. The player can choose to represent Brown, the plaintiff, who is suing the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas to desegregate public schools, or the player can choose to represent the defendant, the state, who based on the precedent, Plessy versus Ferguson, will argue to maintain separate public schools for blacks and whites. The player must also select the correct constitutional amendment (in this case, the fourteenth amendment) that applies to the case. If the player selects the right amendment, he gets points from the judge. The amount of points a lawyer earns throughout the game will determine who wins.
After a player selects which side of the argument he will represent, the game lays out the facts of the case. After the facts of the case are presented, the player must select the best argument (presented on playing cards) to support his/ her case. The game gives the player a choice of three arguments. A savvy player will almost always select the argument that includes a case law precedent. If the player selects wisely, it will be difficult for the opposing lawyer to object and the judge will validate the player’s argument by giving him/ her more points. During the game, the argument shifts from the plaintiff lawyer to the defendant lawyer, with each one either being rewarded or being punished for good or bad arguments through the giving or taking away of total points. At the end of the game, the judge decides who has the best argument and rewards more points, ensuring that the winner gets the most points. The winner then sees a sign that says he/ she is victorious! The end of the game also takes the opportunity to impart knowledge not only about the Constitution, but also how legal decisions impact the world in which the student lives. At the end of the game, a student can press links to see the oral arguments in the Supreme Court Case, see how the Supreme Court actually ruled and watch You Tube videos of events that surrounded the case. The game also provides teachers with a lesson plan on how to use the game in the classroom and provides a list of other games that students can play that complement Argument Wars.
Clearly, one can find many of the learning principles that are discussed in Gee’s book, What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy embedded in Argument Wars. Developed for students, who find the game on the internet and have an interest in playing it and for teachers to use in the classroom to either help introduce the United States Constitution or to introduce trial procedures, this game offers much more. The game encourages students to make good choices and to use logical thinking to determine the most applicable constitutional amendment in the case. In addition, it requires a student to develop and select arguments that support his/her case. As student is rewarded for selecting good arguments and making good choices, added points build self esteem. By having students be active and critical learners and by taking on a different identity as a lawyer, he/ she becomes immersed and engaged in the learning process
Some weak points of the game include that is difficult to lose this game and once a student wins, it does not challenge the player to play a more difficult version of the game. A player can only move from case to case, playing at the exact same level of difficulty. That said, the strengths of the game compensate for the weaknesses, as it is a game that fosters strong cognitive and strategic thinking skills, as Gee would applaud. It also fully engages students in learning about an educational topic, the Constitution, that he/she can then apply to future studies in history and law. Thus, it is a game that includes intellectual content as well as providing opportunities to teach effective learning skills. Another beneficial component to the game is that it whets a player’s appetite to want to learn more about history and the law by providing links at the end of the game that relates the game to real life events, articles and Supreme Court decisions.
I believe this game to be a valuable addition to the list of video games that can be found on the web. I believe that Gee would agree that Argument Wars is an example of the kind of game that he would like to see incorporated into the classroom. I look forward to demonstrating the game in class.