A while back I had an idea of creating a school based civics/democracy program using a social network like Myspace (withouth the iritating music though). My thought was that while kids aren’t familiar with the how to be a citizen (who among us is?), they do know how to work in an online community.
But, the difference between being a citizen and a member of a good online community isn’t all that different. The skills learned at MySpace, how to make friends, how to communicate and discuss, are all skills needed to be a good citizen. We can teach these skills by holding on to what is working right now.
Twyman says the idea that understanding the rules of association online can help you understand the rules of association in the real world has more potential than reality at the moment. But as 13- and 14-year-old members of social-networking communities and MMORPGs grow up, we could see that start to change. These young people may relate back to what they learned online.
In England, the government has decided that all new citizens must take a course in what it means to be a British citizen. The idea is to fight the alienation that many immigrants feel – young Muslims in particular, but all young immigrants in general.
Lectures, videos, and classes are one thing, but what if an MMORPG or online community could be developed to help young people learn more about British history and their duties as citizens? I’m not talking about some Pollyanna version of history: I mean a real game that young people would not see as a chore to play, a game that would also tell the story about Britain and how it came to be.
Twyman agrees that this could be done – he points to a highly successful game developed by the US Army to show young people what it’s like to be a soldier – but he says the determining factor would be the quality of the game. “Most people in the industry tell me that motivation is really not relevant to young people,” he says. “What matters is how good the game is. The Army game was successful because it was fun to play. You could create a game to help young people learn to be citizens, but it would have to be a high-quality game.”
Take that Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.