DVF Award Winner Urges Parents To Rethink Online Gaming For Kids

“Gaming is overtaking our world. Let’s use gaming for good. Let’s use the tools that we have to engage this generation in the best way possible. I think we are missing out if we don’t do that,” says Louise Dubé, Executive Director of iCivics, the online civic education platform.

iCivics, provides games and digital lessons as tools to educate children about how the government works. More than five million students in all 50 states used the free, online resource over the last school year.

Dubé began working as Executive Director for iCivics in July 2014. She first heard of the organization when her son’s teacher assigned him the online game ‘Win The White House’, as homework. Dubé was ‘very skeptical at first,’ because after 20 years of working in education technology she says that she had ‘never heard of anything like this’ but found it to be ‘really revolutionary.’

Dubé will be receiving 2017 DVF Peoples Voice Award, in recognition for her work. The award will be presented to her by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, in a ceremony held on April 6th in New York City.

In this interview, Dubé shares how educational online gaming can support parents and teachers to engage children in politics and involve them in their local community.

Michelle King: Why is it important to get kids involved in their civic responsibility from a young age?

Louise Dubé: I think we make a big mistake as parents not to understand that kids don’t live in a bubble separate from ours. There is no age at which you shouldn’t understand that you are part of a community … and you can, from your actions, make a difference.

We create the mental framework by which kids can hook onto information about politics in a way that makes sense. We are trying to prepare kids to take that responsibility of citizenship very seriously.

King: What are the outcomes of kids using iCivics?

Dubé: Kids in the classroom, especially this year, (and we hear this from teachers all the time,) are ahead of us. They want to discuss these topics. They understand what is at stake for our democracy, they understand the issues surrounding the travel ban or any issues that are lively now. They want to know what the context for that is. What could happen, what could not happen.

These are very divided times, where the classrooms are often polarized. This is difficult for teachers to handle, yet shirking these current events is not an option. Kids are already there. We are seeing kids understand how the system works and relate that to things that are happening in their community.

King: How important is it for parents to get involved in this?

Dubé: I have seen parents shirk from technology or games because we all know the issues with screen time and how it can be scary. In order to have the world that we want going forward (and we are in a time of huge disruption), we need all the talent we have, to contribute.

I really feel that parents need to promote that in their own families and take that up and play the games with their kids.

King: Is this work particularly important for girls who may want to be take on a leadership role one day?

Dubé: For girls it is very important… that they see themselves in role models and that is why all our games are customizable, so that you can see yourself in the role of country supervisor, lawyer or as a president. Our games are role playing games where you are the center of the action. That gives agency and power to girls.

King: You are a recipient of the DVF Award, what are your next plans for iCivics?

Dubé: This year the election has driven incredible interest in civic education and particularly in iCivics. We want to build on this success. We are going to do this through a teach local campaign, where kids look at how their local communities work. We are going to publish more resources at a high school level. We are also going to focus on English language learners.