Talking about social justice through games: A challenge for future lawyers!

Posted on Friday, December 6, 2019

The education of law students at the University of Ottawa took an unexpected turn in early November. 

Until this point, students gained experience solving case studies, writing memos for fictitious clients with far-fetched names and preparing fiery closing arguments. This year they were challenged to explore new avenues to express their legal knowledge and know-how.

For the first Game Jam at the Faculty of Law, teams had 24 hours to create a game related to social justice, the theme selected this year. 

The event was organized by Alexandre Lillo, David MacDonald from Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS) Thomas Burelli as well as the International Law Student’s Society (represented by Janice Sebagenzi, Ho-Ly Ha, and Sarah Ali). 

Joanne St-Lewis, a professor in the Common Law Section, kicked off the event. As a guest of honour and social justice expert, Professor St-Lewis highlighted the importance of the chosen theme and shared her passion and enthusiasm with participants. Throughout the event, Professor St-Lewis also served as a guide and consultant for students during various informal exchanges and discussions.

 

Why marry law and games? 

Game Jam is an event during which participants must create a game (in any form) related to a topic of educational importance. In this way, games are used as an active learning approach that places students at the centre of the experience. 

Often organized in other disciplines, Game Jams are extremely rare in the field of Law. Yet, they should be given more consideration by lawyers / jurists.  

In a world where law is becoming more complex and access to it is an increasingly important issue, games provide opportunities to educate, develop awareness, and design new outreach tools. Games make abstract concepts concrete by providing opportunities to apply, experiment, and critically evaluate law and its effects. Played and designed in collaborative, immersive, secure and creatively empowering environments, students have a unique opportunity to explore new ways of representing concepts and issues within the legal universe. 

 

To begin their design work, students were asked to identify one or more problems related to the theme (a game, after all, is a struggle that must be overcome) and then find creative solutions. 

For their game to be effective, students had to understand their subject, communicate key principles, and develop game mechanisms that allowed the players to understand and use the concepts in an engaging way. Not an easy task!
 

The first cohort far exceeds expectations 

Eleven students accepted the challenge. Grouped into four teams, they were actively involved in developing their project for nearly 24 hours. From their initial conception to the design of a prototype, four games were created by the end of the Game Jam

  • JusQuiz – a mobile application that allows you to test your knowledge of social justice associated legal tools. As you accumulate points, levels of increasing difficulty are unlocked. For its creator Simon Garceau, it is a "tool for learning and accessing legal information in the form of an interactive game".
  • Justice? – a board game whose objective is to be the first to complete the course. However, players must overcome a series of random events and the application of legal rules that alter the course of their game. For the creators – Jacinthe Bourbonnais, Marie-Ève Sylvestre and Heeba Ghouri – Justice? “simulates a life in which the player is confronted with imposed situations[...] in order to show how social injustices can affect people in different ways".
  • Stereotypes – a board game that aims to break down the prejudices present in our society by discussing, in a respectful way, ways to put an end to them. Each participant plays a character. The characters are various ethnic groups, religions, ages, sexual orientations and professions. Creators Catherine Rioux, Vanessa Villeneuve and Rafaëlle Osborne want players to understand that we are all equal, but that stereotypes may make the journey of some people more difficult.

 

  • Power Tower – a two-phase board game in which player must, in the first phase, explore past and present social justice issues. In the second phase, they must decide on and adopt a set of legal instruments. But be careful… Each instrument put in place may affect their ability to win the game! The creators of Power Tower, Nadreyh Vagba, Inès Raymond-Daoudi, Koryna Prophète and Anastasia Dumoulin, describe it as an “educational game aimed at educating players and building an awareness of the realities of their world while giving an opportunity to debate issues and reflect on possible solutions they can implement”.

 

The game Justice? won the jury’s grand prize while JusQuiz won the public prize.  

The participants work and reflections on the theme far exceeded the expectations of the organizers who were impressed by the quality of the projects submitted. At the end of the day, not only were the games playable, but they all used original and playful mechanisms to understand the notion of social justice and the legal tools that are connected with it. Keep an eye out of these unique games!

 

 

Participation in the Game Jam was described as “an excellent initiative which offered a creative outlet” and as “a completely new and effective way to learn”. This unique experience of creating and manipulating law was widely appreciated. “I discovered a new side of myself and remember that, in 24 hours, we can accomplish more than we think!” said one of the participants.

In view of the success of the first edition, Game Jam will be repeated next year! Who ever said that lawyers weren’t capable of creativity and having fun while learning?

 

 

The game Jam was sponsored by the Civil Law section (with the support of Dean Marie-Ève Sylvestre) and the Common Law Section (with the support of Dean Adam Dodek) of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law. The University of Ottawa Library provided a room and the Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS) provided prototyping materials and assisted with the creation of the event. Finally, the law firm BLG offered a prize of $500 which was distributed among the various teams. 

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