Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters, Richard Heraud

Teaching Democratic Norms and Values with Analogue Games

  • Saskia Ruth-LovellEmail author
  • Rebecca Welge
  • Robert Lovell
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-2262-4_44-1


This entry offers an introduction to the use and usefulness of analogue games to teach democratic norms and values. Understanding the different meanings and values of democracy provides – especially young – citizens with the necessary tool kit to make sense of their role as democratic citizens. After all, democracies need democrats. Games and game elements lend themselves especially well to teach democratic norms and values – due to the affinity of game mechanics to modelling human interactions (like cooperation and conflict) as well as their ability to convey highly complex and morally charged topics in an engaging way.

The first section of this entry provides a short introduction on democracy education, especially highlighting the recently developed transnational “Reference Framework of Competences for Democracy Culture” from the Council of Europe, which offers a systematic approach to teach topics like human rights, democracy, and the rule of law (Council of Europe 2018). The second section reviews the history of game-based learning, its use and usefulness in educational settings, as well as the frameworks that have recently been developed to integrate games and game elements in the learning process. In the context of game-based learning, the potential of analogue games has so far been overlooked compared to their digital siblings. This entry, therefore, shines a spotlight on two categories of analogue games – card and board games – and their use and usefulness in democracy education.

Teaching Democratic Norms and Values

Providing learners with the knowledge and capacity to effectively engage in democratic processes is highly relevant. However, democracy education is also a morally charged and highly debated issue both between and within different national contexts (see Biesta 2010). Different approaches towards democracy education can be distinguished depending on the extensiveness of their aim. Learning about democracy aims at increasing the factual knowledge and critical thinking about democratic processes. Learning through democracy centers on the self-efficacy of learners and on training democracy-relevant skills. Learning for democracy fosters beneficial dispositions (attitudes and values) towards democracy.

The Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (RFCDC) of the Council of Europe addresses all of these aims, taking a particularly transnational perspective (Council of Europe 2018). In this framework, different competences which may be fostered through democracy education are divided into four clusters:
  • Knowledge and critical understanding: Competences in this cluster refer to both the factual information as well as the comprehension and critical understanding of their meaning in the context of democratic processes. For example, politics, laws, or cultures.

  • Skills: Competences in this cluster refer to the capabilities learners need to fulfil their role as democratic citizens and behave efficiently within democratic processes. For example, analytical thinking, co-operation skills, or communicative skills.

  • Values: Competences in this cluster refer to the general beliefs learners hold about democracy and democratic processes. For example, fairness, equality, or justice.

  • Attitudes: Competences in this cluster refer to the mental orientation of learners towards democracy and democratic processes. For example, tolerance, responsibility, or respect.

The RFCDC as a model for competence-oriented democracy education is aimed at educators from formal, nonformal, and informal education, from preschool work to adult education and vocational training. The key structural elements include, for example, increased per-student participation through simultaneous interactions, activation of less articulated students, and positive interdependencies in which all learners share experiences.

The guidance for implementation of the RFDCD does not discuss game-based learning explicitly, but it includes various experience-based and process-oriented methods and approaches, such as modelling democratic attitudes and behavior, co-operative learning, and project-based learning. Some of the key structural elements of these approaches, which promote the teaching of democratic competences, are also central in the field of game-based learning.

Games, Learning Processes, and Learning Outcomes

Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems. (Kapp 2012, p. 10)

Gamification refers to the transfer of games and game elements to other non-game-related areas (not just education). While games have always been a method of learning, the spread of game-based learning at different levels of both formal and nonformal education was particularly reinforced at the beginning of the twenty-first century by the digitalization of society and the success of online games. Nevertheless, until today the use of games and game elements in teaching – especially in formal education – is sometimes criticized to put too much emphasis on entertainment and fun over serious engagement with the matter at hand (also referred to as edutainment). In recent years, however, serious games (both analogue and digital) have been developed to teach a diverse set of students on many different topics and at different educational levels beyond the mere purpose of entertainment (Kapp 2012). Well-designed serious games are not exclusively about entertaining students or the joy of playing but also about providing a safe, inclusive, and engaging learning environment in which students approach the topic at hand from different perspectives (Garris et al. 2002).

In recent years, a lot has been written particularly with a focus on digital game-based learning, while the specific potential of analogue game-based learning has often been overlooked. Although analogue games share a lot of the characteristics praised in digital games, only few studies provide insights into the development, application, and evaluation of analogue game-based learning tools in particular (Sardone and Devlin-Scherer 2016). While both analogue and digital games foster interactive and experimental learning, the latter require lower investments in technical equipment and training of personnel. More importantly for democracy education, they put a stronger emphasis on direct (face-to-face) social interaction in the class room.

The integration of game-based learning in the learning process: Most existing frameworks with respect to learning processes and outcomes have been developed for digital games; nevertheless, they can be easily transferred to analogue games and game elements as well. Analogue and digital games offer the opportunity to interact with other players, to try out different strategies, and (re-)evaluate one’s own actions. As such they incorporate many elements associated with Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle. Learning takes place in a four-stage process: the cycle starts with a new, concrete experience which is followed by reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Throughout this cycle, knowledge is derived from experience. Relatedly, Garris et al. (2002) emphasize that game-based learning aligns well with the experiential learning approach, especially when games are embedded in an instructional process which provides an effective learning environment. Therefore, game play (or the game cycle) needs to be flanked by both an input phase – in which instructional content and the rules of the game are explained – and an output phase – in which core learning outcomes are distilled through a thorough debriefing of the learners.

Games as experiential learning tools within instructional processes can accommodate different learning styles. Different learners have different preferences as to whether they absorb knowledge through internal cognitive processes or externally through active experimentation (Kolb 2015). In comparison with classical (frontal) teaching formats – such as lectures – game-based learning offers learners more opportunities to become actively engaged in the learning process. Game-based learning tools create a more efficient learning environment and combine the theoretical transfer of knowledge with the practical application of what has been learned.

Theories of learning outcomes and game-based learning: Although still in its infancy, researchers have begun to systematically test the efficacy of game-based learning tools and developed several frameworks to design serious games and to integrate them into formal and informal educational settings. Most theories on learning outcomes refer to the trias of (a) cognitive outcomes (like acquiring and transferring knowledge), (b) skill acquisition, or (c) affective and behavioral outcomes (like changing opinions, feelings, and actual behavior) (Kraiger et al. 1993). The four competence clusters from the RFCDC presented above mirror these learning outcomes.

Several characteristics of (analogue and digital) games are associated with desirable learning outcomes (see Garris et al. 2002). For one, games may encourage learners to use already acquired knowledge and train them to apply and transfer this knowledge in the game. Game-based learning is also associated with skill acquisition, especially in technical areas or corporate training. Moreover, games offer a protected learning environment in which students can train social interactions, try out, evaluate, and adapt actions and strategies through repeated play without social risk. Finally, in connection with the use of games and game elements in education, the most frequently mentioned advantages relate to affective and behavioral outcomes: the promotion of (intrinsic) motivation of learners and the increased interest in the learning object. Both (intrinsic) motivation and interest of learners are among the basic prerequisites for successful learning.

Game-based learning tools can be integrated into teaching, giving teachers and learners the opportunity to apply and transfer knowledge, increase motivation, and enable a hands-on examination of abstract and complex topics.

Democracy Education Using Card and Board Games

[G]ames foster civic learning when they help players to develop knowledge, skills, and dispositions that players then apply to public matters in the world outside the game. (Raphael et al. 2010, p. 203)

Game-based learning helps to advance democracy education with respect to learning about, through, and for democracy. The field of serious games for democracy education is vibrant and fast growing. Educational researchers contribute extensively to the discussion and evaluation of digital games, in particular (Raphael et al. 2010). However, only very few contributions focus on the potential of analogue games in teaching (see Sardone and Devlin-Scherer 2016).

In any case, teachers have to decide if they want to use off-the-shelf games or existing custom-built games, or if they want to engage in the adaptation of existing games for their own purposes or even the development of their own custom-built solution. Each strategy has its promises and pitfalls. While off-the-shelf games are usually easily available, they are customized for a different audience and focus more on a refined game play experience than accurately depicting the content of the game. Custom-built games, on the other hand, are less frequently available for specific topics and they often put more emphasis on accurately depicting the specific content of the game than on the quality of game play (e.g., flow, agency, or symmetry). Finally, teachers may adapt (either off-the-shelf or custom-built) games for their own purposes to better match their educational purposes or even engage in the development of their own solution – balancing content and game play according to their specific needs. While the latter two approaches are particularly laborious, each strategy requires teachers to invest considerable time and effort in the preparation of an adequate game-based learning experience: preparing the necessary instructional input before playing the game (including content and rules of the game), facilitating game play, and preparing the subsequent debriefing phase (Garris et al. 2002).

Preparatory efforts differ depending on the type of analogue game that is used. Analogue games can be subdivided into different (non-exclusive) categories: from simple quiz-games, building games, card games, and board games to role-playing games and simulations. This section shines a spotlight on card- and board-games and their potential in democracy education.

Card games offer a plethora of possibilities to teach on different facets of democracy. They come in different degrees of complexity with respect to both game play and content. Simple card games usually aim at training competences with respect to knowledge acquisition and critical thinking. For example, the off-the-shelf game Anno Domini (Hostettler 1998, Fata Morgana) combines the learning of facts (chronology of events) with an engaging quiz and bluff element. Different thematic sets of the game are available in English and German, moreover, the game logic can be fairly easily adapted to other topics and languages. Another card-driven off-the-shelf game which is particularly well suited to be adapted to many different topics is Tabu (Hersch 1989, Parker Brothers/Hasbro). Essentially a (team-based) word-guessing game, Tabu builds on the association between different terms and concepts and challenges players’ communication skills. A customized Tabu is, therefore, very convenient to deepen already existing knowledge, to highlight overlapping concepts and to train communicative skills – requiring students to describe and explain democracy-related phenomena in new and engaging ways. Another type of card game which particularly trains communication skills as well as social interaction is Mafia/Are you a Werewolf? (Davidoff and Plotkin 1986, Public Domain). So-called Werewolf games are hybrids of both card and role-playing games. Players are secretly (!) divided into two groups of either “honest citizens” or “mafia members/werewolves” which compete to win the game by eliminating opposing group members. The game is particularly suitable to engage in the discussion of diverse group interests in democratic processes, the role of asymmetric information, as well as power dynamics within and between groups. Integrating Werewolf games into the class room demands moderation skills from the facilitator and requires a thorough debriefing phase, to ensure that group dynamics within the class room are openly discussed and resolved. A custom-built set of card games to teach about democratic principles and functions is Let’s Play – Demokratiebarometer (Ruth-Lovell et al. 2019). The card games come in different levels of complexity and allow learners to engage with both the concept of democracy as well as its empirical expressions in several European countries (and Switzerland). The games are based on the Democracy Barometer research project (www.democracybarometer.org) which provides an instrument to measure the quality of democracy across different countries. Another set of card games, which aim at teaching about the inherent logic of democratic processes (i.e., politics), have been proposed by Michael Laver in his book Playing Politics (Laver 1997). These games can be played with a classical deck of playing cards and enable teachers to introduce political topics like agenda-setting, coalition formation, or campaigning and winning elections in an experience-based way.

Board games have recently become popular in educational contexts as well. Board games are beneficial to train competences in all of the aforementioned areas, beyond the mere teaching of factual knowledge. A very basic and abstract board game which lends itself very well to teach complex and abstract phenomena (like democracy) is Concept (Beaujannot and Rivollet 2013, Repos Production). The game translates the logic of concept formation onto the board and challenges players to describe concepts using nonverbal clues (pictograms). With a little bit of effort (e.g., searching for suitable pictograms to explain democracy related words), the game can be adapted for democracy education. Similar to some of the above-mentioned card games, Concept trains the application and consolidation of knowledge and strengthens analytical and conceptual skills.

Thematic board games, on the other hand, enable learners to change their point of view, cooperate or contest with each other, and try out different strategies and actions to achieve within-game goals. They are most beneficial if they combine a thematic narrative with clear player roles and goals, and provide players with enough agency to reach these goals (and win the game). Several politically themed off-the-shelf board games exist covering topics like international relations, elections, or policy-making. While most of these games do not aim at full accuracy in depicting these topics, they nevertheless may serve as appropriate tools to start a discussion with learners or highlight specific aspects of a topic. To give just one example, the narrative of the board game Founding Fathers (Leonhard and Matthews 2010, Jolly Roger Games) circulates around the constitution-building process of the United States at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. Players take on the role of a renowned delegate of this convention (James Madison, Roger Sherman, William Paterson, Charles Pinckney, or Alexander Hamilton). Throughout the game they aim to make an imprint on the American Constitution. The game allows an immersive introduction to topics like constitution building, institutional structures, as well as the origin of the US Constitution. The game also provides a booklet which includes background material on the convention and different historical figures.

This section gave a short overview over a selected set of card and board games which may be used to teach democracy-related topics. Since the field of analogue game-based learning is still in its infancy, finding relevant information about appropriate off-the-shelf games or even custom-built games is difficult. The following online platforms help interested teachers to find thematically relevant analogue games for different educational purposes: www.boardgamegeek.com or www.gvlibraries.org.


Democracy education often remains abstract, and topics – like the diversity of group preferences, the variety of democratic procedures, as well as how democratic outputs come about – are complex and multidimensional. Analogue games and game elements offer many opportunities to motivate learners to engage with the topic of democracy, enable them to engage in the topic in an experience-oriented way, and foster participation in the class room as well as dialogue and (face-to-face) social interaction between students. Hence, highly complex topics like democratic norms and values can be conveyed in an activating and experience-oriented way through game-based learning. Analogue games hold immense potential to teach about democracy and increase learners factual knowledge and critical thinking abilities, democracy-relevant skills (like co-operation, conflict resolution, and dialogue), as well as democratic values and attitudes. Practitioners and researcher alike need to integrate analogue games into the framework of game-based learning more systematically in the future.



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List of Card and Board Games

  1. Beaujannot, G., & Rivollet, A. (designer). (2013). Concept. Repos Production.Google Scholar
  2. Davidoff, D., & Plotkin, A. (designer). (1986). Mafia/Are you a Werewolf? Public Domain.Google Scholar
  3. Hersch, B. (designer). (1989). Tabu. Parker Brothers and Hasbro.Google Scholar
  4. Hostettler, U. (designer). (1998). Anno domini. Fata Morgana Spiele.Google Scholar
  5. Laver, M. (designer). (1997). Playing politics. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Leonhard, C., & Matthews, J. (designers). (2010). Founding fathers. Jolly Roger Games.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saskia Ruth-Lovell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rebecca Welge
    • 2
  • Robert Lovell
    • 3
  1. 1.German Institute of Global and Area StudiesHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Demokrative & RM WelgeZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Consultant for Game Based EducationCologneGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Yanina Welp

There are no affiliations available