Vinícius de Oliveira

How to Innovate

Game gives students a chance to run a city and discuss politics

"City in Play", created by the Brava Foundation, also provides material for teachers who wish to work with education focused on citizenship

by Vinícius de Oliveira 01/12/2018

With each new election Brazil is faced with another crop of politicians who promise to improve the lives of ordinary people yet, once elected, simply change their priorities. Overnight their biggest concerns become personal marketing and the construction of pharaonic building projects, while turning a blind eye to costs. But if you were mayor, what would you do? To introduce this subject into the classroom, the Brava Foundation, in partnership with the Brazil Institute of the Wilson Center, a center of academic studies linked to the US government, has created “City in Play” (Cidade em Jogo, in Portuguese), a free app similar to the computer game Sim City, but dealing with issues typically found in Brazilian cities.

With the class divided into small groups to stimulate consensus building, the game begins with the choice of setting (rural, coastal or metropolis) and three areas of priority. Students are challenged to decide what is best for their city based on financial indicators, the satisfaction of residents and the infrastructure of the city. Each decision has a direct impact on the indicators and provides an opportunity to discuss taxes, transportation, education and health, in the context of taught content in biology, philosophy, mathematics, geography and history. Want to argue and persuade colleagues more effectively? Then improve your Portuguese!

“City in Play” is aimed at high school students, a stage when young people have already had contact with more complex content and, because of the university entrance exam, are more attentive to current political issues, according to Henrique Krigner, Brava Foundation analyst and the project’s coordinator. “We recommend that the app is used at high school because, although the language is simplified, it may still be too sophisticated for elementary students due to terms like taxes and nominal rates,” he says.

A common sense challenge
With the city’s fate in their hands, students need to make balanced decisions that may conflict with their personal opinions and what “everyone says.” According to the Brava Foundation analyst, the most common concerns include “investing in the future” (a set of measures aimed at education and health) and cutting taxes. “Many players attempt this, but few are successful as they automatically adopt the line that ‘in Brazil we pay a lot of taxes’. Then in the third or fourth round they need to spend money and have no resources left,” says Krigner.

Throughout 2017 the City in Play team accompanied game rounds at private schools (Sidarta, Pueri Domus, Fecap) and in the public network in state schools such as Monsenhor João Batista de Carvalho and Manoel Bandeira, in the south of Sao Paulo, and Residencial Parque Bambi, in Guarulhos. The social reality of the schools, according to Krigner, influenced the way each student played.

“We visited private schools where students have 100% access to digital technology and then public schools where there wasn’t even asphalt on the street. The priorities and how to manage the city in the game are different. In the public schools, students are more attentive to social issues, while in the private schools there is more discussion about outsourcing. This rarely comes up in the public network, not because the students don’t know what it means, but because their needs are different.”

In a feature that shows how technology mimics reality, if the mayor ignores education during the game, he or she may have to deal with a school occupation or a teachers’ strike. Their response to these problems, again, will impact the indicators and personal evaluation of the mayor-student.

Next step

For the 2018 teaching year, the Brava Foundation aims to expand “City in Play” beyond São Paulo. From January, teachers that register on the platform will have access to a booklet with instructions and lesson plans to deal with citizenship issues. To facilitate timetable flexibility, the institution also works with schools that want to adapt the game to their curriculum subjects.

*Translated by James Young


games, high school, sustainability