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Developing Civic
Identity
 

Success in video games is often framed at the personal level: the last person standing in Fortnite, achieving high viewership on a Twitch stream, the best player in Rocket League. However, many video games choose to focus players on a wider view, on working for the greater good of the world in which they live.

Games can develop a deep sense of civic identity. Civics is the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society. Our civic identity comes from situating oneself within a larger group, often committing oneself to public action. Games give children a chance to try out taking public action within society for the greater good.

This list of games offers space for players to develop a sense of civic identity. We put it together with Barry Joseph, who has worked in many contexts to empower children to achieve this. Whether at Global Kids, Inc, where he helped youth acquire leadership skills and engage in efforts to address global issues through the production of digital media, in founding Games For Change, where he worked with video games as a form of youth media, or at Girl Scouts of the U.S.A, where he piloted digital engagement for girls around the country.

There are many mainstream games, not created specifically for education, that are a great way to engage with civic identity. This includes games that invite players to take control of civic space, like Alba, One Hour, One Life, Civilization, Sim City, Thousand Threads and Pine.

Then there are games where civic space is presented as dysfunctional and in need of repair, like Papers Please, Not For Broadcast, Do Not Feed The Monkeys, Orwell. Other games let you take civic space in questionable or futile directions, like Headliner: NoviNews, Beholder, Bad News and Photographs Puzzle Stories.

Finally, there are some games specifically created to teach children about civics. The always-growing collection of games from iCivics explores U.S. Government functions, including Argument Wars, Branches of Power and Immigration Nation. There is the novel Civics! An American Musical that teaches US History through creating a Hamilton-style musical. Digital Compass teaches digital citizenship through an interactive story and MP For A Week teaches children about being an MP in UK Parliament. Finally, the Democratic Socialism Simulator is a puzzle game where you run for office and then run a country.
 
This list includes 90 games from the last 35 years, with 1,399 likes. They come from a range of different genres and play-styles and are all good games if you want to understand government.

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Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

Release Date: 11/12/2020

Out Now: Apple TV, Mac, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and iOS

Skill Rating: 5+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person and Cartoon

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is an adventure game where you play as a young girl who starts a wildlife conservation club. Play involves exploring the island, using the bird song you hear to find and photograph all manner of real-world birds. It stands out...

Rainbow Billy

Release Date: 05/10/2021

Out Now: PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Skill Rating: 8+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person, Cartoon and Hand-Made

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a role-play adventure where you save the world from colourless darkness. Unusually, battles are won through listening and conversation rather than traditional attacks. It combines the excitement and strategy...

Road 96

Release Date: 16/08/2021

Out Now: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person and Cartoon

Road 96 is a narrative adventure where you play a teenager trying to escape an oppressive, authoritarian country by reaching the border. Through a series of vignettes, you experience the most important and poignant parts on an epic road trip through a...

Lil Gator Game

Release Date: 14/12/2022, updated in 2023

Out Now: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 6+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person, Cartoon and Open World

Lil Gator Game is an action-adventure set on an island playground where a young brother invents exciting games to try and get his older sister to play like they used to. You guide your waddling gator to explore the world as you bop cardboard baddies,...

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (Series)

Release Date: 12/12/2014, updated in 2019

Out Now: 3DS and 2DS, Android, GBA, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and iOS

Skill Rating: 11+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Cartoon

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is a courtroom murder mystery series where you piece together clues to challenge testimonies and uncover the truth. It’s like a visual novel, although you must interact with characters and evidence to progress.

The Tomorrow Children

Release Date: 06/09/2016, updated in 2022

Out Now: PS4 and PS5

Skill Rating: 8+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person, Day and Night, Open World, Persistant World and Weather

The Tomorrow Children is an online strategy game where you collaborate with other players to build, explore and develop communities. Unusually, it uses social economics and a Soviet Union-themed post-apocalyptic dystopia as the setting. You play a clone...

Orchids to Dusk

Release Date: 03/12/2015

Out Now: PC

Skill Rating: 13+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person and Open World

Orchids to Dusk is a short wandering adventure. You are an astronaut stranded on an alien planet, with only a few minutes of oxygen. You explore the world and discover fantastic gardens on the planet.

King Of The Castle

Release Date: 02/03/2023

Out Now: PC

Skill Rating: 12+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Cartoon

King Of The Castle is a narrative strategy game where you play a monarch battling nobles for power in a kingdom. The twist is that the nobles are controlled by other players who also have their own factions and objectives. You play by making decisions...

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Release Date: 08/11/2012, updated in 2016

Out Now: 3DS and 2DS

Skill Rating: 7+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Cartoon, Day and Night, Open World, Persistant World and Weather

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a life simulation game where you design your dream village in a world filled with anthropomorphic animals. Like other Animal Crossing games, you design and decorate your home, collect and sell items, chat and play with...

Papers, Please

Release Date: 08/08/2013, updated in 2017

Out Now: Mac, PC, PS Vita and iOS

Skill Rating: 12+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Pixels

Papers, Please is a narrative puzzle game where you play the role of a border-crossing immigration officer in the fictional dystopian Eastern Bloc-like country of Arstotzka. You review each immigrant’s and returning citizen’s passports and paperwork...

Stacklands (Sokpop)

Release Date: 08/04/2022

Out Now: Mac and PC

Skill Rating: 8+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night and Hand-Made

Stacklands is a strategy game where you stack cards so that your village can survive. You combine cards to grow food, build structures and fight monsters. Each of these three actions is a choice, make the right choices and your village grows, make the...

Not For Broadcast

Release Date: 30/01/2020

Out Now: Mac and PC

Components: 2D Side-On

Not For Broadcast is a narrative puzzle game where you control the National Nightly News just as a radical government comes to power. By deciding the angles, adverts, images and censoring in the show you control what the people see and determine...

One Hour One Life

Release Date: 27/02/2018

Out Now: Android, Mac, PC and iOS

Skill Rating: 9+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Hand-Made, Open World and Persistant World

One Hour One Life is a civilisation survival game where each player lives a whole life in an hour of play and then passes away. Born as a baby into the care of anonymous other online players, you initially depend on them for food. Quickly growing, you...

Thousand Threads

Release Date: 30/07/2020

Out Now: Mac and PC

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 3D First-Person, Hand-Made and Open World

Thousand Threads is an open-world game of consequences. You are free to interact with the world, animals and people however you like, give, take, save, kill, inform, hide, befriend, and betray. But how you do this will have ongoing and unavoidable...

Sim City (Series)

Release Date: 02/02/1989, updated in 2014

Out Now: Amazon Fire, Android, Mac, PC and iOS

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night and Grid

Sim City is a series of city-building games, created by Will Wright. Since their inception as educational experiences in 1989, the games have enabled players to design ambitious cities. The attraction is the openness of play, where you can let your...

Sid Meier's Civilization (Series)

Release Date: 21/10/2016, updated in 2019

Out Now: PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night, Grid and Open World

Sid Meier's Civilization is a long-running strategy game where you develop a society from hunter-gatherer to space travel. There are many ways to approach this challenge; socially, militarily, politically or perhaps by building wonders to impress other...

Garden Story

Release Date: 11/08/2021

Out Now: Mac, PC, Switch and Xbox One

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Open World and Pixels

Garden Story is a role-playing adventure, crafting and farming game similar to Stardew Valley. It also features combat, dungeons and puzzles similar to the Zelda games. You defend your garden home from an invasion of...

Wildmender

Release Date: 28/09/2023

Out Now: PC, PS5 and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 11+ year-olds

Components: 3D First-Person, Cartoon, Day and Night, Open World and Weather

Wildmender is a world-building game where you unearth the past in the desert. Play involves exploring to discover what has gone before, so you can restore the environment for your future. You work to revive withering plant life, cultivate a garden and...

Disney Dreamlight Valley

Release Date: 06/09/2022, updated in 2023

Out Now: Mac, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 6+ year-olds

Components: 3D Third-Person

Disney Dreamlight Valley is a world building game about restoring a broken Disney world. You interact with famous Disney Characters and decorate the valley with a wide variety of items and famous locations. Like a cross between [link to...

Wytchwood

Release Date: 09/12/2021, updated in 2022

Out Now: PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Hand-Made and Open World

Wytchwood is an adventure in a land of gothic fables and fairytales. You are an old witch of the woods and must explore the countryside, collect magical ingredients and brew enchantments. That much is relatively common, here though, your role is to pass...

Reigns

Release Date: 11/08/2016

Out Now: Amazon Fire, Android, Mac, PC, Switch and iOS

Skill Rating: 7+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On, Hand-Made and Text

Reigns is an adventure strategy game where you take charge of a kingdom, one decision at a time. Each choice is presented to you as a playing card with some advice or a question from one of the 38 different characters. Swipe left or right to make a...

Democratic Socialism Simulator

Release Date: 20/02/2020

Out Now: Android, PC and iOS

Components: 2D Side-On, Hand-Made and Text

Democratic Socialism Simulator is a puzzle game where you run for office and then run a country. It offers a flow of questions with a yes or no response. Each answer has consequences in the minds of the voters and the prosperity of the country. It's an...

Imagine Earth

Release Date: 25/05/2021, updated in 2021

Out Now: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 11+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead

Imagine Earth is a simulation strategy where you manage space colonies for a huge corporation. You gather resources, manage your finances, shape the planets and expand your cities while fending off rival companies and alien invaders. It stands out for...

Photographs - Puzzle Stories

Release Date: 03/04/2019

Out Now: Android, Mac, PC and iOS

Components: 2D Side-On and Pixels

Photographs - Puzzle Stories is a narrative puzzle game where you witness the lives and memories of five different characters. You investigate old photos for memories that advance the story and solve simple puzzles that reflect their lives. It stands...

Through the Darkest of Times

Release Date: 27/05/2020, updated in 2020

Out Now: Android, Mac, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and iOS

Components: 2D Side-On and Hand-Made

Through the Darkest of Times is a strategy game that conveys the sombre mood of the dark period of history between January 1933 and May 1945. With interactive drama, it tells the story and the struggles of average people living in the 3rd Reich.

Parkasaurus

Release Date: 13/08/2020, updated in 2022

Out Now: PC and Switch

Skill Rating: 7+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night, Grid and Weather

Parkasaurus is a strategy simulation game where you create a dinosaur park for people to visit. You need to construct well-designed exhibits, research specialised technology and maximize profits so you can expand with more dinosaurs. It combines pet...

Strange Horticulture

Release Date: 21/01/2021, updated in 2024

Out Now: Android, PC and iOS

Skill Rating: 11+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Hand-Made

Strange Horticulture is an occult puzzle detective game where you run a plant shop. While you identify and sell new plants to your customers you discover and influence their interweaving lives. It's unusual because your power is in your knowledge of...

Timberborn

Release Date: 15/09/2021

Out Now: Mac and PC

Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night, Grid and Weather

Timberborn is a construction strategy game where you control a population of beavers, building a civilization and preparing for drought. You build waterways, storage houses, dams and more in a densely packed city as you manage resources, allocate...

Aviary Attorney

Release Date: 22/12/2015, updated in 2020

Out Now: Mac, PC and Switch

Components: 2D Side-On and Hand-Made

Aviary Attorney is a courtroom drama set in nineteenth-century Paris, populated with beautifully drawn animals. Guiding JayJay Falcon, defence attorney, you help investigate each case before each of the four court dates; combing crime scenes,...

Do Not Feed the Monkeys

Release Date: 23/10/2018

Out Now: Android, Mac, PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Components: 2D Side-On

Do Not Feed the Monkeys is an adventure game where you sit at a computer and spy on live video feeds of various events and characters. Your job is to gather information about "the monkeys" while also looking after your character's health and apartment...

Argument Wars

Release Date: 16/09/2016, updated in 2020

Out Now: Android, Web and iOS

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Cards

Argument Wars is an adventure game where you play a lawyer in a U.S. Supreme Court. It's a card game that recreates constitutional arguments behind some important historical cases.

Headliner: NoviNews

Release Date: 05/10/2019

Out Now: Mac, PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Components: 2D Side-On and Text

Headliner: NoviNews is a narrative-driven simulation game where you play as the person in charge of the headlines and stories that are released to the public. Each article you approve from your office has a direct impact on the world outside. Which news...

Humankind

Release Date: 17/08/2021, updated in 2023

Out Now: Mac, PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Components: 2D Overhead, Grid and Open World

Humankind is a strategy game where you develop a civilisation through the many ages of humanity's existence, from the nomadic tribes of ancient history to the space age. In many ways comparable to [link to game/Sid+Meiers+Civilization The Civilization...

Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You

Release Date: 27/10/2016

Out Now: Android, Mac, PC and iOS

Components: 2D Side-On and Text

Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You is a narrative game where you play fictional research using a surveillance program called Orwell. Through a series of episodes, you are tasked with using Orwell to help solve mysteries like the bombing of a public plaza. To...

Hypnospace Outlaw

Release Date: 12/04/2019, updated in 2020

Out Now: Mac, PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Skill Rating: 13+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Hand-Made

Hypnospace Outlaw is a puzzle game where you explore a simulation of the internet in the 1990s. Your role is to enforce good behaviour by finding misconduct on the pixelated pages. It's not only a unique piece of historical fiction but because its web...

PJ Masks: Heroes of the Night

Release Date: 29/10/2021

Out Now: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 4+ year-olds

Components: 2D Side-On and Cartoon

PJ Masks: Heroes of the Night is a running and jumping game where young children play as the heroes from the TV show. Its simple controls and straightforward levels, which have lots of collectables to find, provide a simple yet enjoyable interactive...

Moonlighter

Release Date: 29/05/2018, updated in 2022

Out Now: Android, Mac, PC, PS4, Stadia, Switch, Xbox One and iOS

Skill Rating: 9+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead and Pixels

Moonlighter is an action role-play game where you play an adventurous shopkeeper who secretly dreams of becoming a hero. It's a game of two halves: shopkeeping and adventuring. It's novel because of how the two aspects play into each other. The better...

Time on Frog Island

Release Date: 12/07/2022

Out Now: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S

Skill Rating: 7+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead, Cartoon, Day and Night and Weather

Time on Frog Island is a world building adventure set on an island of anthropomorphised frogs where you solve puzzles to survive and thrive on an island after a shipwreck. You explore at your own pace and solve sticky situations for the colourful locals...

Tomodachi Life

Release Date: 06/06/2014

Out Now: 3DS and 2DS

Skill Rating: 6+ year-olds

Components: 2D Overhead and Cartoon

Tomodachi Life is a social simulation game where you develop an island to accommodate inhabitants and offer them a fuller life. You do this by interacting with islanders and solving their problems to earn buildings that expand the options for your...

Bad News

Release Date: 01/12/2019

Out Now: Web

Components: 2D Side-On, Hand-Made and Text

Bad News is a role-play game about building a news media organisation. It's designed to highlight bias in the news by putting you in charge of a series of decisions to build a profitable company. All you do is answer questions, but as you do the...

Taming Gaming Book Written by parents for parents, the database complements the in-depth discussion about video game addiction, violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. We are an editorially independent, free resource without adverts that is supported by partnerships.

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