Legal education through games? Other fields are now turning to games, and similar moves in the legal sphere could benefit both lawyers and non-lawyers

“If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein in Culture and Value)

Games are the fastest growing entertainment and educational resource for a reason. There are more than 3 billion video game players across the world, and games outsell film and music combined in the US. In the UK they now account for more than half of all UK entertainment revenues.

One of the main reasons games are a powerful medium for teaching is that they require meaningful engagement and interaction. They are also very well suited to what is referred to as “invisible learning” – through play, students can learn without realising they are learning. Games can be personalised and adaptive, allowing each experience to be catered to an individual, and education to be more inclusive.

Digital education (“edtech”) has been drawing heavily on games to enhance the learning experience. “We think some of the most important and most successful learning companies of the future won’t necessarily be hardcore games but will absolutely take lessons from games and game mechanics to make powerful learning experiences”, says Jason Horne, from GSV Ventures, which funds some of the biggest players in edtech, including Coursera.

I have been working with UNESCO's Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace & Sustainable Development, along with the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, on a project called “Digital Games for Peace”. It brings together young people from the fields of game design, prevention of violent extremism and promoting intercultural dialogue. We are working together to build and learn from games to engage communities meaningfully in the prevention of violent extremism.

I previously won, jointly with the University of Melbourne, the Lawyers Without Borders Rule of Law Innovation Challenge, in which I created a game developed for the Counter-Terrorism Institute in Nairobi, Kenya. It was designed to help train prosecutors about evidentiary objections in complex criminal litigation. Lawyers Without Borders outlined this area as one which required some innovation in teaching, as evidentiary objections can be dense, nebulous and the list of exceptions never-ending. I created a modifiable card game as a potential solution for this. I am very excited to continue working in the games for impact space and there is a lot that law can learn from adoption of game technologies and design in other sectors.

Games for law school

In general, education programmes which utilise integration of games or gamification measurably improve learning outcomes. For instance, games utilise repetition in an entertaining way: players in games replay scenarios until they succeed, a behaviour uncommon in traditional learning. Quizizz is a company which allows students and teachers to create gamified quizzes and then compete with their peers and take quizzes over and over to improve their scores. They have found that students actually enjoy repeating quizzes once game elements are introduced.

Combining curriculum design with game design can enable learning outcomes to be achieved more effectively. For instance, games with good design do not take players through long introductions and customisations: they will bring players directly into play and layer the information so that the information is best retained. These are techniques that good educators already use and can learn to expand their practice by incorporating elements of game design.

Leading game companies are also leaning into education. Ubisoft have created Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tours, where learners can freely explore Ancient Egypt and Greece with guided tours and historical sights. When we compare that with a lecture or textbook, or at best a visit to a museum, the scope of games to enhance the efficacy of learning becomes clear. This is also great for increasing access to quality education, as virtual worlds are accessible to students who can’t afford a trip to Athens or Cairo.

Games for civic engagement: Legally Wed

I spoke to Felicity Belton, lecturer at the University of Glasgow, who along with Professor Jane Mair and Professor Frankie McCarthy has been prototyping a board game which explores the various requirements and obstacles on the way to getting married in Scotland. It takes you through the three Cs of marriage: consent, capacity, ceremony, and a new bonus one – calamity. You might have to draw a card which tells you that “Your gender recognition certificate has gone through the wash, go back three spaces while you wait for a new one.” Or you could find out while you are at the aisle that all the groomsmen’s kilts have gone missing.

When designing this game, Felicity said they wanted to engage players in “law by stealth”. They wanted players to have fun, and not realise they were learning law. The game is aimed at people who know very little or nothing about the law, but on playtesting the game they found it appealed to a wide range of groups, including children in primary school.

Felicity acknowledged that some players probably won’t remember the legislation or the rules from the game, but hope that some of the concepts will stick. “We hope that this will give players a framework or scaffolding of knowledge which can help them verbalise when something isn’t right and know what to watch out for in their experiences and when to seek professional help.” The game is meant to be a bridge, for the general public to understand the law, but also for those who are engaged with the law to appreciate the diversity of relationships in real life.

Other lecturers at the University of Glasgow are beginning to use games for teaching more advanced modules, for example a third year immigration law course. We spoke about the implications of this type of prototyping for presentation of work from students in the future. “People learn and apply their learning in different ways and this kind of exploration can help us understand how we can incorporate this into academic coursework.”

Felicity and Jane are now using Legally Wed in their project, “Legal Studies in Schools”, which investigates the possibilities for introducing the study of law in Scottish schools which, unlike schools in Australia for example, do not currently provide law as part of the curriculum.

You can follow Legally Wed on the University of Glasgow School of Law website or on their Twitter: @lawful_games.

Games in practice

The benefits of games reach far beyond teaching in school and university. Level Ex is a games company built around advancing the practice of medicine. It uses deep game design to accelerate the adoption curve of new techniques, technologies and skills in medicine. It has been capturing the challenges in the medical profession into games to make training and adoption easier and more widespread. It can simulate complicated medical cases for training purposes. For example, in cardiology the company has created a puzzle racing game with the goal of using the right tools in the right sequence to restore blood flow to the heart without causing further damage.

Level Ex has found that one area where games and simulation are especially useful is for training doctors about novel and rare medical conditions, which can often be misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed entirely. Games offer a low-stakes platform for doctors to understand and simulate novel scenarios. Level Ex is also working with NASA to train astronauts to deal with medical emergencies.

There is so much that law can learn from game design, and it is not limited to the classroom. Practitioners can use design techniques generally, but also game design specifically to reconceptualise how they deliver their services and engage their stakeholders. Maybe what your service design needs is a little fun.

The Author

Anzal Baig is a trainee solicitor with Thorntons

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