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Pros: A rich selection of options lets players pursue causes that matter to them.
Cons: Mini-games can distract from learning.
Bottom Line: Provides a clever introduction to community organization and social change, showing both on-the-ground and strategic levels, but the mini-games seem a bit tangential.
Teachers can use Activate to get kids thinking about how social change happens and how they can play a role in making a difference. By linking small actions -- such as putting up anti-bullying posters in school -- with bigger, long-term changes like new laws and national public awareness, teachers can use this game to motivate kids to care. The game offers a good selection of social issues for kids to play through, and the platform can encourage discussion about social topics close to home.
Editor's Note: Activate is no longer available.
Activate asks players to pick a cause, from bullying in school to animal welfare, and then to work for that cause. Starting out as a little cartoon character in a cartoon bedroom, players first work alone -- running a bake sale to raise money for a local animal shelter, for example. Activities such as managing the bake sale, organizing marches, writing to politicians, hanging up posters, and cleaning animal cages are all accomplished via simple point-and-click mini-games. These basic games provide the play in what is otherwise a sort of elaborate multimedia narrative taking players from their bedrooms to organizing action on the national stage.
As the game advances, on-screen volunteers show up to help do the heavy lifting. So when flinging pastries in the bake sale mini-game grows dull, kids can assign that task to a helper who will go out and earn the money without the player having to slog through another basic game. By the end of the adventure, play consists mostly of assigning minions to perform organization tasks while the player focuses on campaign strategy.
Full Disclosure: iCivics and Common Sense Education share a funder; however, that relationship does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.
Presenting community organizing as a game is a tough proposition. Doing so in a 30-minute play session is even more so. Activate splits the middle and offers a cute, accessible walkthrough of the trip, from doing the right thing in your own neighborhood all the way up through national marches, ad campaigns and country-wide change. The gameplay, though, comes as frosting on this content-rich cake. That means the play sometimes gets in the way of the story -- how small changes add up, through organization and effort, to important changes.