From Civic Lessons To Everyday Democracy: Democratic Habits, Video Games, And Collaborative Game Making

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Civic education
Instructional Media Design
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The civic world is rapidly changing in response to the affordances of the digital age, which ushered the rise of participatory politics: interactive, loosely-structured and collaborative modes of civic action. Though still a nascent field, civic video games have been presented as a ripe setting to respond to these changes, offering students engaging and situated learning contexts. My dissertation reconceptualizes citizenship education broadly conceived, and video games’ contribution to this endeavor, by developing Dewey’s framework of citizenship education as the cultivation of habits of democracy. Schools’ influence on students’ civic behaviors goes beyond direct civic lessons: through the pedagogies, norms and routines practiced throughout the school, children develop habits of interactions with peers and adults. Dewey’s use of the term ‘habit’ deviates from the everyday connotations of mindless, repetitive modes of action. Instead, habits are ingrained solutions to problems we encounter in the environment. Therefore, democratic habits are best developed by presenting students with situations that indirectly encourage behaviors such as collaboration, deliberation, and compromise. I identify and develop three attributes of habits that distinguish them from the prevailing emphasis on civic skills and dispositions, and that facilitate a more refined understanding of the democratic role of schools: habits are (i) social; (ii) a form of practice; and (iii) interconnected. I then apply this framework to civic video games, arguing for extending citizenship education beyond game-playing and into the realm of connected gaming. Striving to challenge and enrich my theoretical arguments, I present vignettes from a series of collaborative game-making workshops conducted with high-school freshmen. These vignettes highlight two aspects of game-making conducive to practicing democratic habits: first, the loosely-structured, collaborative and iterative nature of constructionist learning environments is reflective of today’s civic sphere. Second, game design can support a unique form of iterative perspective taking, stemming from designers’ attempts to assess and predict the conduct of players. Whereas most educational projects are evaluated by a teacher, games are created for the use of diverse others, and are hence civically-minded. These analyses unpack the complexities of game-making, and democratic habits more broadly, and establish a conceptual roadmap for further investigation.

Sigal Ben-Porath
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