Slick ethics game teaches students to make tough decisions

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Subjects & Topics

English Language Arts, Social Studies

Price: Free
Platforms: Web

Pros: Students make thought-provoking decisions that have no right or wrong answers, learning important critical-thinking skills.

Cons: Point-and-click game mechanics aren't very engaging; in-game help is sparse.

Bottom Line: This versatile game that can teach ethics, argumentation, and civics is light on interactivity but will come alive through discussion.

Because it's a branching narrative, students can replay the same scenario in Quandary, but choose differently to achieve different outcomes. For teachers, this can be a conversation starter. You might want to have students play alone or in pairs, running through the game twice. After each session, facilitate group discussion. Why did you choose the solution you did? Does the game accurately reflect real choices that leaders make? What elements might the game leave out? To what degree are people biased? Can a decision be good even if a majority of people disagree? This discussion can be extended through project-based work. For instance, students could analyze local government or political media to see how arguments are made and solutions are proposed, how they employ facts and opinions, and how they divide people. In addition, the game's website includes a lesson plan that teachers can follow and a teacher forum for comparing notes with others. Use the teacher dashboard to compare student and class stats, and see who may be struggling with the assignments.

The game is interesting, well-thought-out, well-organized, and quite engaging. The comics will appeal to students as well. The investigative step could use clearer instructions, however, so students will rely on teachers to guide them through that step, especially the first time. A Quandary curriculum, as well as a mobile version and an update to the web version, should be coming out in fall 2018, making it even easier for teachers to help students learn skills like distinguishing fact from opinion, problem-solving, decision-making, taking the perspective of others, and leadership.

Quandary is an online ethics game (and app) that teaches students how to gather and evaluate information to make better decisions. Students play the captain of a human space colony on Planet Braxos and must solve four difficult challenges. They do this by consulting colonists and choosing a solution that's likely to be most beneficial, such as whether to force a private well owner to share his water when the community well becomes polluted. Each challenge takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

Students first view a comic introducing the problem facing the colony. Once in the game, they listen to or read colonists' positions on the issue and categorize the positions as facts, opinions, or solutions based on what they know about the person and the issue. Eventually, the student must isolate two possible solutions, learn the colonists' positions on those solutions, and possibly attempt to change minds on the issue using facts. As captain, you decide which solution to pursue and present that to the Colonial Council, along with the best arguments for and against the solution. The Council comes back to you with their decision, which usually includes some amount of compromise. Then players determine which of the colonists will agree and disagree with the Council's decision. An ending comic then wraps up the story, showing how students have shaped the future of their space colony. If players use the tablet app, they can also create their own colonists and set up different quandaries with the Character Creator tool.

Rather than giving dry instructional material, Quandary cleverly gets students learning by forcing them to think critically, make decisions, and confront realistic challenges. So, while players don't get a highly interactive gaming experience, they do get guided but not pedantic help understanding ethics. The familiar mechanic, comic-style imagery, and the fact that the game's direction is in students' control will all help them stay engaged and learning. There are no clear right or wrong answers; students learn to separate facts from opinions, investigate possible solutions and potential outcomes, and understand different viewpoints before making a final recommendation. Students will learn fairly quickly that a successful solution means getting buy-in from colonists -- all of whom do not agree and all of whom have valid positions -- while minimizing (but never eliminating) the negative effects of a decision. It's best if students take time to think through choices, but they aren't prevented from cruising through the game.

The game doesn't tell players what to think but encourages them to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. Students don't get a lot of feedback about how their actions or choices lead to the Council's decision, however, which would be a helpful addition. But the more thoroughly students investigate the issue at hand, the higher their score will be. Because there's a fair amount of learning to be had inside the game, students will benefit from class or group discussion, which shouldn't be too hard to spark since the game encourages ambiguity. To make facilitation easier, the Quandary website includes a walkthrough, list of standards, lesson plan, worksheet, and videos of classroom implementation. Students can then transfer what they learn in the game to their everyday experiences, helping them recognize similar areas of conflict among friends, family, or in the media.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

Attractive artwork, a space colony setting, and familiar mechanics get students comfortable running their own colony in no time. The comic intro and outro add to the fun.


Students are in control of the decision-making in their colony, sorting out and weighing facts and colonists' opinions. The limited choices help students focus on the process.


The website includes a teacher dashboard to manage classrooms and students, and materials such as a lesson plan, game guide, and support forums. A small amount of help is given to students in the game.

Community Rating

Comprehensive reading activity with interesting graphics following a comic book layout

I found that students lost focus relatively quickly. Those with a higher reading level were more successful but with a relatively basic layout, keeping the attention of a whole group was almost impossible.

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