In Race to Ratify, a game in the iCivics library, the U.S. Constitution has just been written and signed, and states are contemplating its ratification. Race to Ratify covers the platforms of the federalists and the anti-federalists in this debate. Players act as pamphleteers and travel around the 13 U.S. states to interview people and learn their stances on ratification, along with some good arguments for and against. The characters that players interview are based on real-life people of the time and include farmers, officials, enslaved people, businesspeople, and statesmen. As players hold their interviews, they acquire argument tokens, such as Solving a Known Problem, that contain ideas they can use in interviews or when composing persuasive pamphlets. Once a token is earned, players drag it to the federalist or anti-federalist side of the screen for easy access later. Students can view their interview transcripts at any time to refresh their memory.
After initial interviews, the first state holds its convention to decide on the issue of ratification. At that point, players need to pick a side — federalist or anti-federalist — and create a persuasive pamphlet. In the pamphlets, students compose up to three articles by choosing previously earned argument tokens that support the side they have chosen. No actual writing is necessary, however. The game then evaluates how persuasive their arguments are, and players set up their printing press where it can do the most good — that is, near states that need convincing to vote for the player’s chosen side. To provide some challenge, there’s a rival pamphleteer supporting the other side. By the end of the game, players will need to have swayed enough states to pass the overall ratification. Once nine states ratify the new Constitution, it goes into effect for those states. But if just five reject it, the whole thing is rejected and they have to start over.
How Can I Teach with This Tool?
While Race to Ratify is an excellent learning experience all on its own, teachers can make the lesson much more complete by taking advantage of the resources available on the iCivics website. These include a teacher’s guide filled with activities, corresponding PowerPoint slides, a game guide, and a document entitled The History Files that includes additional activity ideas, a ratification timeline, a glossary, a biographical sketch worksheet, in-depth research for each character in the game, and a list of additional resources.
Unlike some of the other iCivics games, Race to Ratify isn’t fast-paced, so students can take their time. Delve into the attitudes on both the federalist and anti-federalist sides at the time the U.S. Constitution was written. Start with the activities called Ye Olde Social Media and Before the Constitution. Then play the game as a class, or assign it to individuals or groups of students. Afterward, tackle as many of the follow-up activities as time allows, and consider holding a class discussion to draw parallels between the federalist and anti-federalist arguments and our political issues of today, as well as comparing the publishing of pamphlets to today’s social media influencers. Poll your students to see which side they chose and why. They can then write their own persuasive pamphlets to try to convince the rest of the class to join their side.
Immersing students in the human side of history — allowing them to see what it was like to live during this time and why people formed the opinions and stances they did — brings history to life and helps students realize that these people weren’t all that different from people today. Their debates may have been on different topics and their methods of communication were different, but they still fought for many of the same issues relevant today.
Is It Good for Learning?
Race to Ratify is a rich learning experience with an enjoyable story and a lot of player agency and critical thinking. The game will keep students’ interest, and get them engaging material they might not have expected to find interesting. They may even want to play it more than once, to uncover some of the arguments that their storyline didn’t address the first time. Paired with the rich teacher resources, Race to Ratify helps students learn the differing positions of the federalists and anti-federalists and the ratification process for the U.S. Constitution. Students simulate exactly what was going on in political debate at the time, and the game draws attention to different articles of the Constitution and their effect on government and representation. Advantages and disadvantages of the Constitution are discussed, including how these relate to taxation, slavery, and the branches of government. Students also learn about a few actual historical people who held a variety of opinions and perspectives, lived in different regions, and came from different socioeconomic classes. At the end of the game, students unpack how the game’s version of events differed from what really happened during the ratification years.
As students work their way through the game, they’ll expand their vocabulary with era- and context-specific words that are highlighted in the text. Students can click on the words to see the glossary entries for them. They can also play the game with one of two game modes: Historical or Free Play. In the former, the starting conditions are identical to how they really were in the fall of 1787; in the latter, the game randomly changes the starting conditions and convention order.
While it’s an effective game, there’s a little room for improvement. Sometimes interview options are worded in a silly fashion, undermining the difficulty of answer choice. This doesn’t prevent students from learning about the topic, but it seems to be a missed opportunity for practicing crucial critical thinking skills. There’s also a lack of audio to accompany the written text, which might make it a no-go for some students.