Sep 14 2015

Gamified Social Studies Takes Off in Fantasy Geopolitics

A game born from a teacher's frustration has blossomed into a new way to teach geography and current events.

A new online game called Fantasy Geopolitics has sparked students' interest in global politics and geography by applying the ideas behind fantasy sports to world events.

The idea for Fantasy Geopolitics was born out of the frustration that Eric Nelson, a former high school civics and history teacher in Minnesota, experienced after seeing his students act like zombies in reaction to his tutelage on world affairs, according to Engadget. To pique their interest in class, Nelson incorporated the game mechanisms of his favorite hobby, fantasy football, into his subject matter.

During the draft period students choose countries they think will have an impact on world news in the coming weeks. Those whose guesses pan out accrue points.

When Nelson first rolled out the game to his classroom in 2009, he was initially discouraged when one student described it as “wack, but not in a bad way. But kinda weird.”

However, when Nelson asked the student if he had learned anything from the game, the student listed off details of North Korean aggression, Congolese history and Somali piracy that he had never known before. That encouraged Nelson to continue iterating with the game.

Nelson has since left the classroom environment to expand the Fantasy Geopolitics idea as an educational entrepreneur. Thanks to that expansion, other teachers can share in the fun of Nelson’s game online and have their students create their own geopolitical fantasies. The game can now be played on the web or on mobile devices.

The excitement around these student-led drafts can be seen regularly on Twitter via the hashtag #FantasyGeopolitics.

The success behind Fantasy Geopolitics is among the fresh ideas that push back on the notion that gamification isn’t at the cutting edge of classroom innovation anymore. In the 2015 New Media Consortium’s (NMC) Horizon K–12 report, gamification was bumped from the list of the most influential technology trends in classrooms, in favor of rising trends, including wearable technologies, 3D printers and drones. NMC CEO Larry Johnson said he didn’t see gamification “making the mainstream” because its concepts are difficult to integrate into the classroom, with no tools to simplify the process.

Despite this shift, other classroom technology components with gamification elements, such as badges, remain on NMC’s list.

Nelson says the report’s findings won’t stop teachers from innovating, just as “game over” screens don’t stop players from trying again.

“We care more about the ‘learnification’ of gaming than the gamification of learning, so game on,” Nelson says. “You can make games BYOD to play them, the best are mobile and lots of groups are starting to publish really interesting assessment analytics from them. That’s everything on the horizon.”

Perhaps it’s simply up to educational entrepreneurs like Nelson to come up with gamification concepts that are more easily propagated across classrooms and districts, to help gamification spread far and wide.