Civic Games Contest 2017 – Call for Submissions

The Civic Games Committee (Daniel Levine, Joshua Miller, and Sarah Shugars), with the support of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, are proud to announce the 2017 Civic Games contest, a design competition for analog games that seek to promote the understanding and/or practice of good citizenship!

The contest starts from two fundamental ideas:

  • Games can not only provide welcome distraction in dark times, but also help us solve our problems;
  • The heart of democracy is not just its institutions, but the convictions, skills, and commitment of its citizens.

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What is Civics?

Civics aims to answer questions like: “How can we make democracy work like it should?” or “How can we enhance citizens’ abilities to act as equal co-creators of our shared world?” You are a citizen of a group (regardless of your legal status) if you seriously ask: “What should we do?” (more) Civic activities include deliberation, community organizing, social entrepreneurship, protest, and–in a pinch!–electoral politics.

What is a Civic Game?

A civic game is any game that, in some way, aims to promote or enhance people’s ability to engage with the social and political world around them. Civics can be about working with and within formal structures of government, but it can also be about reforming or opposing injustice, or about being a member of a community in other ways. We welcome games that address any aspect of civics, including:


  • Personal: having moral integrity, taking responsibility for one’s actions, reflecting on one’s personal morality
  • Communal: openness to dialogue, communal service (e.g., charitable work, helping neighbors), involvement in community organizations (e.g., religious institutions, social clubs)
  • Political: engagement with or challenge to formal political structures (e.g., advocacy, protest, running for office, voting, revolution)

There are many ways that a game could address one or more of these themes. For this contest, we’re interested in seeing examples across three categories of games, that we’re calling awareness-raising, skill-building, and inherently political. We plan to pick a winner in each category.


Perhaps the most common type of civic-minded game found among existing games is what we might call awareness-raising games. These are games that educate their players about some important aspect of civic life – they may be historical games that ask player to imagine themselves into a moment political importance, or they may call attention to a contemporary political problem.

There are a lot of very good games out there that fall primarily into the “awareness-raising” category. For example, Moyra Turkington’s Against the Grain asks players to take on the roles of managers and workers in a Baltimore factory producing materials for World War II, on the eve of a wildcat strike protesting the appointment of the factory’s first Black inspector. Playing the game can help players understand the dynamics of race and labor relations in the mid-20th Century US. It may also have aspects of a “skill-building” game, since it encourages players to build empathy for people unlike themselves, or who may seem unlikeable or to hold odious political views.


A different approach, which we’ll call skill-building, aims to better prepare the players to take political action outside of the game – a game that, for example, simulated canvassing for a political candidate and thereby made players more comfortable actually doing it, would fall into this category. Despite the term “skill,” we understand this category to include games that build dispositions to take political action as well – say, games that build empathy for people experiencing some problem, and make the players more likely to act to alleviate it.

Nomic was designed by Peter Suber to illustrate a conceptual puzzle about legal systems that direct and constrain their own amendment: “Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes, deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it. Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed.” Nomic has many elements that teach and build the skills of designing and debating social rules. It may also have an awareness-raising component, of course: serious games of Nomic usually begin with democratic voting procedures but often end undemocratic.

The National Coalition for Deliberation and Dialogue maintains a list of participatory practices for which practitioners might need to build their skills based on an earlier “Citizen Science Toolbox” of Process Arts. Feel free to use it for inspiration.

Inherently Political

Finally, some games might be inherently political themselves, where playing the game is an act of civic engagement. A simple example – we’re sure you can come up with a better idea! – would be “gamifying” voting, recycling, or participation in local governance, giving points for those activities that could then be used for some in-game purpose.

Games have been incorporated into real-world political processes such as such as participatory budgeting. Most famously implemented in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, this process in that case allowed ordinary citizens to identify, discuss, and ultimately set budget priorities for $200 million in construction and service projects in the city. Many American cities are also experimenting with participatory budgeting, including New York City, Boston, and San Francisco. In 2011, community leaders in San Jose, CA were invited to an event to play a budget-negotiation game, the results of which were then used by the city government in making actual budget decisions – meaning that, at least in this case, playing the game was an inherently political act with real-world impact.

Submission Guidelines and Rules

  • Your game must be an analog game – that is, not a video game. Analog games include role-playing games (both those played at a table and live-action games), card games, and board games. Your game may have electronic components (e.g., an mp3 played as part of the game play, an associated phone app), but the core of its play should be non-electronic. There may be weird corner cases – we’ll try to be generous.
  • We will try to be broad-minded about what constitutes a game – however, note below that part of our judging rubric includes playability and fun, so experimental projects may be formally intriguing but will be at a disadvantage in this context. We are looking for games that people will want to play, even independent of their civic content.
  • All components of your game must be able to be sent to the judges in electronic format. If there are pieces that need to be printed out to actually play (e.g., print-and-play board game components), that’s fine.
  • Your game’s text and any required printable components should not exceed either 5,000 words or ten printed pages (that is, it shouldn’t be more than either – if you have eight pages of printable components, please don’t also send ten pages with 5,000 words of rules text). We very much welcome shorter games (and brevity is often a plus for accessibility, see below).
  • Currently, we only have English-language judges; please provide all text in English. We encourage you to provide it in other languages as well, if you can, though judges will refer to the English text.
  • Games submitted for this contest cannot have been previously published, or made publicly available in completed form for free, prior to submission. You may draw on previously published materials; compliance with all relevant intellectual property rules is the responsibility of the submitter. Basically: don’t just send us a game you already have lying around, don’t steal stuff.
  • You may submit materials that are intended for use with another game, subject to a couple caveats:
    • We are looking for complete experiences that can be used in a relatively self-contained fashion. So, we would accept something like a module intended to be run with the Swords and Wizardry rules. But a set of playbooks for Apocalypse World (The Politico, The Fact-Checker, etc.) is not the sort of thing we’re looking for.
    • Any materials required to use your game may impact its scoring on accessibility (see below). Basically, if you need $200 worth of rulebooks and supplements to play your game, that will count against you.
  • Teams may submit games. Your name may only be on a maximum of one solo submission and one team submission.
  • Submissions are due by midnight on 15 April 2017. Please send all submissions to Don’t forget to include your name(s) as you’d like them to appear in any mention of your game.

Other Rules

  • You retain all rights to your game. However, by submitting your game to the contest, you are agreeing to allow us to:
    • Make any copies of the game necessary for the judging process, in physical or electronic format.
    • Distribute your game in print or electronic format, for free, to participants in the 2017 Frontiers of Democracy conference.
    • Make your game available for free via our website (in electronic format).
    • Instruct people who receive your game from us at the conference or via the website that they are permitted to download it and make copies (physical or electronic) for personal use, educational use, or use in political activism.
    • Include language in any copy of your game we distribute that indicates that it was a submission to the 2017 Civic Games Contest, that the contest was sponsored by the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, and that the game can be copied for personal, educational, or activist use.
    • If you decide that you would like to withdraw these permissions, you must do so before judging begins on 15 April 2017, by notifying us in writing at If you withdraw these permissions, your game will not be considered for any award.
    • Submitting your game to the contest means you are representing yourself as having the right to give us these permissions.
  • We reserve the right to decline to make any game available on the website, at our discretion.
  • If you are selected as an overall winner or a winner in a special category, you may be offered the opportunity to have your game published in The Good Society (see below). If (and only if) you choose to do so, you will need to transfer copyright to the journal. No winner will be required to publish in the journal if they prefer not to.

How will you pick a winner?

We’re looking for games that work as games as well as as educational or activist experiences – our ideal game is one that people who had no idea it had a civic purpose would still want to play. More specifically, our judges will be assessing games for:


  • Fun: Does this game look like it’ll provide an experience of play that people will seek out and appreciate? We recognize that “fun” may not be quite the same as happy-making or enjoyable – a deeply engaging tragic story can be “fun” in the relevant sense.
  • Civic Impact: How likely is this game to achieve some civic purpose through its play? Will people who play the game leave more aware of some civic issue or history? Will they acquire new skills? Will they change the world for the better through play of the game?
  • Accessibility: Is this game open to a wide range of players? Does it have rules that are easy to teach and learn? Is its social footprint one that people can integrate into their lives? Does it take steps to ensure that physical/mental impairments and limited resources are mitigated as barriers to play? This is an issue that still needs a lot of work, and we’re hoping some innovations may come out of this contest! Accessible Games has some resources and information. You can find some solid ideas for accessibility in video games here, which has some advice relevant for analog games. There’s an interesting discussion of accessibility in board games in these two blog posts as well.
  • Inclusivity: Does this game speak either to a broad range of experiences, or to experiences less often addressed in games and/or mainstream discussions of civics? Does the game address issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or related divides in interesting and worthwhile ways? If you’ve got a kick-butt game about the operation of a bicameral legislature, that’s great – but we want you to at least consider taking note of the fact that sometimes bicameral legislatures have their operations affected by sit-ins, or that Montesquieu proposed the notion of a bicameral legislature to ensure that nobles would have a voice to check that of the people.

We will select one overall winner for each type of game – awareness-raising, skill-building, and inherently political. We may also decide to award special recognition to games that make a particular contribution in one of our areas of interest or genre-bend in ways we did not predict.

The games will be judged by a panel of six fabulous game designers, game theorists, and scholars of civics:

What Do I Win?

Mostly, bragging rights and the knowledge that you’ve created something that might make the world a better place. We will announce the winners via the website on 1 June 2017.

In addition, the three overall winners will have their games presented at the Frontiers of Democracy conference in late June 2017. Frontiers is the birthplace of civic-studies and the field’s premier conference. It will be a chance for your game to be known by educators and scholars from around the world. We will work with you to develop a 30-minute demo of your game (if it is not already played in a similarly short time-frame). Thanks to a generous sponsorship by the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, any winners who are able to attend the conference will have their entry fees covered. We will work with winners who cannot attend the conference to set up a video question-and-answer period after the presentation of their game.

In addition, the three winning games, along with any other special category winners that space permits, will be considered for publication in a special section of the journal The Good Society.

Who is the Civic Games Committee?

Really, we’re just a few friends, who share an interest in both tabletop games and deepening democracy, who had an idea and decided to see if it had legs. We hope it does!

  • Daniel H. Levine is the School Mediation Coordinator for Baltimore City Community Mediation, and a co-founder of the Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) Prison Scholars Program. In a previous life, he was an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Program Officer in the Education and Training (International) program at the US Institute of Peace. In a future life he is working on a game about the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation (aka “Jane”).
  • Joshua A. Miller is the Assistant Director of the Second Chance program at the University of Baltimore, which offers a degree in Community Studies and Civic Engagement to incarcerated men; he is also a founder of the JCI Prison Scholars Program. His heart will be especially warmed by any civic-minded Ars Magica hacks we receive.
  • Sarah Shugars is a doctoral student in Network Science at Northeastern University. She received her BA in Physics from Clark University, where she graduated Cum Laude in 2004. She received her MA in Integrated Marketing Communications from  Emerson College in 2009, and participated in Tisch College’s Summer Institute of Civic Studies in 2013. An active member of the Somerville, MA community, Sarah serves as vice president of The Welcome Project board and on the board of the OPENAIR Circus.

I Have Questions!

Please contact us at and we’ll do our best.

Special thanks to James Mendez Hodes, Jessica Hammer, Laura Simpson, Jason Morningstar, Graham W, and Nick Wedig for their input on this document. Any remaining errors or infelicities are the sole responsibility of the Committee.


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