what is civic engagement OR how do we make things better

globalkids and gamelab recently released a pretty impressive flash game called ayiti: the cost of life where you a play a family in haiti trying to get ahead. it’s compelling and educational (and addictive). in playing, you directly experience the obstacles that keep people in the poverty cycle.

the first time i played, my whole family died of various tropical illnesses. it was upsetting. i did better the second time. the designers purposely made it so the game was hard, but not impossible. it gave me a better idea of the kinds of challenges people in developing countries face. you can “know” intellectually, but i think playing actually gave me a better sense, because it gave me the chance to understand through experience.

and then i started thinking, does this game count as civic engagement? the hardcore civic engagement people would say no, and probably more ‘progressive’ people would agree. it doesn’t actually get me to act, but i think getting a better sense and having more empathy is something.

but then really, what is a tangible outcome of any form of civic engagement? the only one you can really measure is voting. i used to go to protests all the time, did anything change? not really. i keep myself informed and write about stuff on my blog, did my community improve? again, not really. ugh, i’m too pomo. i want revolutionary change on a grand scale!

maybe part of the problem is that no one really knows an effective method for making change in the world. humans are so slowwwww.

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