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Enhancing civic engagement in high school students through online gamification: the case of “Cities in Play”

Brazil has faced many corruption scandals, which is causing Brazilians, and mainly its youth, to increasingly distrust public institutions in general. A a result, we launched "Cities in Play", a free online game to be played in schools that puts the students in the position of an elected mayor, who needs to choose among different public policies to make his best to succeed in his administration. Our main goal is to enable political awareness in Brazilian youth to allow them to play an active role in politics, assessing governmental activities and standing for their rights, as well as knowing what are their duties as Brazilian citizens.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Brazilian citizens are discouraged and they lack trust in public institutions. According to a survey conducted in 2018, 6 out of 10 citizens do not trust their government, including actors such as deputies, senators, ministers and the president. This has also had a direct impact on the young population in Brazil - in the years of 2014 and 2018, when presidential, state and legislative elections occurred, citizens aged 16 and 17 (that have optional vote in brazilian legislation) had extremely low voting rates compared to the previous years. Nevertheless, according to a research conducted in 2014 in Brazil, with more than a thousand youngsters (“Sonho Brasileiro da Política”, by Box1824), 65% of them would like to learn more about politics at school.

Hence, we decided to develop a solution to engage teenagers in politics. By searching for international examples, we found many “serious games” – which primary purpose is not entertainment, but learning. One of the initiatives, developed by Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC), is the game “Fiscal Ship”, designed to teach about the role of U.S. Federal Budget.

Following this example, we decided to develop, with support of WWC, a game for Brazilian youth that would help them not only to understand politics, but also to develop critical thinking and decision making skills. As an educational game, we though its use in schools would have much more impact, since students would have a moment to play and also to have an informed discussion about their city, its main challenges and how they can help to address them.

In 2017, we launched "Cidade em Jogo" (“Cities in Play”), an interactive and fun game that seeks to develop political interest in Brazilian high school students. We put high school students in the shoes of a mayor so he or she can decide the best policies to have a successful administration. The policies chosen will affect the city’s finances, the overall satisfaction of its citizens and the city infrastructure for the next administration and the players has to chose wisely to not jeopardize any of this indicators.

Our main goal is the creation of political awareness in Brazilian youth in order to allow them to play an active role in politics, assessing governmental activities and standing for their rights, as well as knowing what are their duties as Brazilian citizens. We have achieved more than 35,000 users, and we have a network of more than 1,400 teachers and 2,500 engaged students. More than 50 schools had played the game in all Brazilian regions.

Our main criteria are reach indicators - how far is the game going, relating to the number of professors using it. We have already conducted research on what the first hundreds of students think about the game and also its influence in their willing to participate in politics and its role on their political learning. During the interviews, around 2/3 of the students who played the game claimed they felt more interested about politics (67%), more willing to monitor the actions of the public power (69%) and believing more in their ability to influence policies (67%) after the experience.

For the next years, we aim to expand the game by providing a toolkit for teachers to help them use "Cities in Play" as a pedagogical tool. Teachers will be able to engage in discussions on different subjects, becoming more independent and being able to teach in an innovative way. We have developed this toolkit with an education consultancy during six months. Recently, we had a training round in which more than 50 teachers learned how to use the material and experienced a new way to engage their students.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Cities in Play is the first online educational game developed for civic engagement to be played at schools. As it is online, it helps us gather data and to get to know the players' profile, which will help us to create strategy to keep improving the game.

Also, digital games are also more appealing to young students in Brazil. Moreover, an online game depends less on the teacher leading the game experience in class, so he or she can focus on the discussion afterwards, and on the topics that will be covered to complement the learning process. When we put the student in an active role, he/she can developed 21st century skills in school, which is now part of Base Nacional Curricular Comum, the new curricular standards for all schools.
We were awarded in 2018 by British School of Creative Arts (EBAC) for best Game and came second in the games category of the Festival ComKids.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Our main partners are:
- Woodrow Wilson Center, who offered us support and inspiration for the game;
- The students and teachers, who were listened in focal groups to develop the game and are our target group;
- Flux Games, who had designed Cidade em Jogo;
- City Hall of Jundiaí, with whom we developed a strategy to students create projects for the city;
- State of São Paulo, with whom we signed an MOU to expand our activity.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Our main beneficiaries are the users of the game and the teachers. The students is given the chance to have a class with critical discussion to learn how they could become more engaged citizens, even with only 14-17 years old. The teacher has the chance to innovate the class plan, helping students to use the game as a tool for later having qualified and critical discussion. With that, teachers become great supporters for students getting engaged in their communities.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Our main results through these years were:

2017 (Launching and Piloting):
- 8 schools had workshops for playing the game;
- 300 students were affected by the game;
- More than 9,000 overall users have played it;
- More than 50% of students stated that, after playing the game, they got more interested in politics;

2018 (Expanding):
- 50 schools had workshops to play the game;
- More than 1,500 students were impacted through the project;
- More than 35,000 overall users;
- Around 65% of students have changed their mind about politics;
- A pedagogical toolkit was developed in order to give teachers more autonomy to play the game whenever they want with students and to develop projects from it;
- 50 teacher were trained to use the toolkit for using in their classes.

2019 (scaling) - expected:
- More 3,000 students trained through its use inside projects developed by partners (other NGOs, ed-techs, public schools, etc).

Challenges and Failures

The greatest challenge is to assure the game will increase its scale and truly get to all 7 million students of public schools in Brazil, which is the 5th biggest country in the world. The way we can overcome this is by trying to include "Cities in Play" within government programs, specially because the Federal Government had implemented a new Standard Curriculum related to 21st century competences.

Also, since our game is played online, it can be a challenge to reach schools in marginalized communities, since they lack of access and internet connectivity. We aim to address this problem by working with partners whose mission is to improve connectivity and technology in the country.

Conditions for Success

- Institutional Support: we have to be aligned with government guidelines for education, and mainly to standard curriculum for high school classes.
- Support by local government: partnerships with government is what will guarantee scale of Cities in Play.
- Support by school staff (teachers and director): the project will only be a success and have continuity if all the school staff is aligned to its goals.
- Updated tools and software: our game has to be constantly updated to assure great user experience by students and teachers.


Online games developed for use at schools have been growing in order to help kids and teenagers to learn by doing. However, Cities in Play is the only one focused on citizen engagement.

The great potential of replicating the game is the possibility to include it as part of the strategy or curriculum provided by national and international NGOs or edtechs, that already work at schools with great number of students. There are already many organizations focused on 21st century competences, and the game is a great tool to be included as part of their project.

Other edtechs in Brazil or worldwide can use our game as well, by including it in their chart of activities to reach a high number of high school students.

Lessons Learned

The greatest lesson learned is that, although it seems our students are lacking trust in government, we can see they have genuine interest in changing things in their neighborhood or city, but they do not know how they can actually accomplish it. The game thus helps them to not only know what a mayor does, but also to know how a city works and how they can help to improve it.

Also, we could see the reality is quite different when it comes to technology at schools. We are working to improve the game, so it can reach the marginalized segments of the population, to increase their participation in the design and delivery of public services. There is great potential to increase the diversity of voices in policy, so young people can know their rights and claim them.

Anything Else?

Our game has affected many young students by showing them that they can indeed have real knowledge and participation in Brazil’s politics, encouraging their decision making and sense of responsibility. Some have already used the game as an inspiration to produce law projects, create student groups and ask the mayor to solve specific city problems.

Thus, I would like to thank you for sharing our case, since this recognition will be quite importante for our growth and legitimacy! We are a high-perfomance, small team but with huge ambitions to reach as many students as we can and have worldwide recognition for creating a new generation of engaged citizens.

Project Pitch

Supporting Videos

Year: 2017
Organisation Type: Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)
Level of Government: National/Federal government

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

9 April 2017

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