In the classroom, this kind of browser-based game teaches kids about civic issues and empowers them to make difficult decisions. It complements curricula around civics, government, and public finances. Players must be quick on their feet and keep an eye on the tax rate, the overall budget, and their popularity rating. A player also can expand the county to add more neighborhoods, which brings pros (more people, larger tax base) and cons (more requests for services, more expenses). Overall, kids will need a lot of brainpower.Continue reading Show less
Counties Work is an online Sims-style game about the decisions government officials make on a daily basis, balancing citizen requests with available funding and priorities. Add a scale that measures the popularity of those decisions, and you've got an interesting civics game that becomes increasingly complex.
A player begins by choosing the name of her community (or using the random name generator) and an avatar for her character of county manager. An overlay tutorial quickly walks the player through gameplay, and then the requests from "citizens" start coming in. They start slowly but soon pick up steam, and the player must respond to requests for services from an increase in recreational fields to social services to pothole fixes. Each request requires the player to accept or reject it and, if accepted, to find the right government agency to deal with it. There's an allotted time for each request, and if players don't meet the deadline, they get penalized. More and more citizens line up as the game progresses, and it moves players through a quickened calendar, too, as life in the county rolls along. Players must keep in mind that their reelection is coming up, and if their favorability rating drops below 50 percent, the game ends.
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Kids will learn how a decision in one part of government impacts others, and how the interconnected nature of a community creates the need to think ahead. The game also wisely adds a handful of oddball requests, such as taxing people's animals or painting all buildings yellow, to keep it from getting too serious. Toss in a few unanticipated emergencies, such as a fire or hazardous waste spill, and players will soon feel as taxed as their avatars running around the streets of the community.
The main weakness of the game is its limited scope. The gameplay doesn't ever change, although the pace of it does, so students will be engaged but perhaps only for a limited time. They may quickly start making bad decisions just to game the system and see what happens when irrational decision-making enters the realm of county government.Continue reading Show less