The Evidence Game

The online card game tests a series of related Rules of Evidence called the character evidence rules. The game is structured as a criminal trial, in which the computer assumes the role of the prosecutor and attempts to introduce different items of evidence-- twenty in all, presented in twenty consecutive screens. The player assumes the role of defense counsel and has a limited time to object to the introduction of an item of evidence by playing the correct card for the evidence to stay out. (The player also has the option not to play an objection card.) The player has a limited number of objection cards.

In the game, items of evidence are assigned different point values, depending on how “damaging” the evidence is to the defendant’s case, i.e. how likely it will weigh in favor of a conviction. The player does not know how many points each item of evidence is assigned. With the admission of each item of evidence, the prosecution accumulates points. When it has accumulated a threshold number, it wins – i.e. obtains a conviction. Conversely, defense counsel obtains an acquittal if he/she prevents the prosecution from accumulating the necessary number of points, by making correct objections to the most damaging evidence. To win therefore a player has “to play her cards right.” Not only does she have to make correct objections under the rules, she must also make strategic decisions as to when to object to keep out the most damaging evidence. Otherwise she risks running out of cards and preventing the prosecution from introducing highly damaging but inadmissible evidence.

The game tracks a highly simplified trial, based on a case file provided to players to download at the introductory screen. The game simulates two aspects of a trial that are difficult to replicate in a classroom setting: 1) As in a real trial, the game gives players a limited time to object; 2) because items of evidence are given different weights, players have to make strategic decisions about when not to object to evidence that is technically inadmissible. (In real trials, juries begin to be wary of lawyers who object all the time, suspecting that the lawyers are hiding something.) To be a good trial lawyer, an advocate has to develop a tacit understanding of the correct application of the rules as well as a sense of how different types of evidence will shape a jury’s thinking.

The goals of the game are to assist student in mastering the rules and to increase engagement with the materials overall by creating an enjoyable experience that includes the need to make strategic decisions under a time limit. In replicating some dimensions of a trial, the game also seeks to encourage the development of tacit trial skills.

Questions of inquiry

In developing the game, we implemented an instructional design process in which we mapped learning objectives onto research questions, game actions, and data collection. Our methodology permits triangulation of the data sources to allow us to address the research questions we created based on the learning objectives identified. In particular, our methodology allows us to explore correlations between game play and learning outcomes (including procedural and embodied knowledge; perceived helpfulness (by students and instructor) of the game for content learning, and enjoyment and/or are engagement when playing the game.

Three types of data have been collected, correlated to student net id numbers. The first type is game play, which includes when and how many times a student played, whether a student won, and other data. The second are responses to a survey, developed based on a validated published survey. The third type of data are student exam scores, in which scores on questions testing character evidence are disaggregated from scores overall. (This permits analysis to determine whether increased game play correlates with improved performance on the particular rules that are intended to be taught by the game.)

Analyses of the game play, exam score, and survey data are in progress. Preliminary findings from the survey indicate that those who played the game responded favorably to it and agreed that the game engaged their attention and helped them apply their knowledge. Most students reported playing the game to study, prepare for the exam and/or increase their learning of the material. The majority of students who played the game did so multiple times, and were motivated to do so to improve their performance within the game, try to ‘beat the game’, or see if they improved their performance after studying the material. While students had many helpful suggestions for improving the game, 85% recommended that it be used for future courses.

Our study has been accepted for presentation at the ISSOTL conference in October 2014. I have presented the game at Georgetown Law in June 2014 and expect to present it in other venues after our analysis of the data is complete. In addition, I have applied and been admitted to the “Games and Simulation” cohort in the most recent ITEL grant cycle with the expectation that our experience in building and testing game will provide insights to Georgetown faculty more broadly.