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Win the White House
Pros: Get students to explore real-life political issues and the election process. There's tons of in-game help as well as extension resources.
Cons: The student goes first in each round, gaining an unfair advantage. It's unclear what the effects of some choices are, like running mate and home state.
Bottom Line: This game gives students a valuable perspective on the nuts and bolts of political campaigns, and the tough choices they must make.
Teachers can use Win the White House as a stand-alone mini-civics lesson during election season, or as part of a larger civics curriculum. Teachers and students can even choose a grade level (elementary, middle, high), which customizes the content, including which issues students can choose from. If there's not enough class time to dedicate to the game (one to two hours), students can play the game as a homework assignment, sharing their results in class via the printable certificate given at the end of the game. The Game Guide can get teachers started if they haven't played the game before, and the Extension Pack can also be used to add pre-game and post-game context, complete with a Google Slides presentation, student worksheets, assessment, and plenty of discussion questions. There is also a helpful Issue Guide for all the issues included in the game, which can really fuel class and group discussion.
This game -- whether played in class or at home -- will provide a rich context for discussion about political parties and issues, the Electoral College, and other campaign-related topics. Of course, Win the White House will shine during presidential election season, and teachers can encourage students to watch election coverage, browse websites, and read newspaper articles to follow along with the real-world campaigns. Encourage students to then write about or discuss how the actual candidates' campaigns compare to their own from the game.
Win the White House is an iCivics game available on the web and as an iOS or Android app that places students in control of a run for the U.S. presidency. After choosing a grade level, students select a political party and important campaign issues, choosing either five from their own party, or four from their party and one "maverick" issue from the opposing party. Next, students play through their party's primary season, which serves as a short tutorial. They then head to the convention where they select a running mate -- who is mostly pointless and could be better used in the game as a surrogate on the campaign trail -- and begin the 10-week general election season. There, students will first raise funds to poll voters on issues and political leanings, and to attend personal appearances and run media campaigns, either promoting their own issues or running negative ads on their opponent. By successfully campaigning in a state, students gain momentum, which keeps the popular support tally increasing toward their side. But students must keep an eye on the national map to monitor their net gains and losses. The opposing candidate can influence states as well, so gaining and maintaining momentum early -- especially in battleground states and those with large populations -- is important to capture electoral votes. Your current electoral vote tally is kept at the bottom of the screen, but it only includes states that have been polled so far. If students prioritize their spending appropriately and focus on campaigning in the right states, they'll likely win the general election, accumulating enough electoral votes to beat out their opponent. After the general election, a printable certificate shows details from the campaign, including the number of electoral votes received, battleground states, states that flipped sides, issues chosen, how persuasive and efficient the campaign was, and more.
While Win the White House has been around for a while, it's also been recently updated. The game now includes a campaign manager, Ana, who can help students with their campaign. Although the game is a very simplified simulation of how election seasons actually work (e.g., more campaigning doesn't automatically translate into more votes in the real world, and in the game you can't raise money in states where you don't have the lead), it's an empowering introduction to presidential campaigns and the electoral process.
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.
Win the White House teaches students about the process of electing a U.S. president, and the strategy campaigns must use to win over the U.S.'s unique political system. Learning how to campaign in states across the country will give them an idea of how politicians make choices during election season. After playing for a while, it does feel more like a strategy game than one about the political process -- especially since correct responses on issues don't vary or go deeper -- but there is valuable learning all along the way. For instance, students will need to promote political issues that are important to them and to their constituents, and make difficult choices about how and where to allocate campaign funds to attract the most popular (and electoral) votes. Students choose their preferred issues, explain why they are important, and, in some cases, show how they'll address those issues, in an easy, multiple-choice fashion. The issues are modern, real-life campaign issues and not just theoretical options (possibly providing inspiration for further research). Their campaign manager, Ana, can help them if they get stuck. There's also a glossary of terms, voice-over options, and the ability to play in Spanish.
Although students will lose ground in some states, they have 10 rounds to gain (or gain back) enough states and electoral votes to win the election. The game shows how quickly the tide can turn, both in students' favor and against them. Students will learn to strategically weigh options about which states are worth their campaign money and effort. It won't be possible to gain momentum in states with no issues in common with your campaign, however. Large population states have the most electoral votes, but players must also court the vote of at least some of the small population states to get to the requisite 270. In the end, students will be more familiar with the Electoral College, how media influences voting habits, and how parts of a system can influence the outcome of the larger picture. They'll learn how the Electoral College is instrumental in how presidential elections work and why candidates focus only on certain states rather than appealing to voters everywhere. They'll also learn how important money is to the campaign process. Though it simplifies the process of campaigning and gaining political support, the game's general idea is very sound. Carefully choosing which states in which to campaign can help you gain and maintain momentum to increase support there, but misplacing your efforts might cause you to lose the election.