Fantasy Geopolitics begins test drive

Teachers can sign up online

Fantasy2

Students in Eric Nelson’s social studies class at North Lakes Academy gear up for Fantasy Geopolitics, the game he developed. (Photo submitted)

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

Eric Nelson is back, and his game is ready to play.

Last November the Forest Lake Times profiled the North Lakes Academy teacher and his plan to engage high school students in world affairs.

In Fantasy Geopolitics, students draft teams of countries and then earn points every time their countries are named in the news.

Nelson attended a Startup Weekend event in Chicago, where he presented his idea to developers. Then he spent three weeks in New Orleans at a 4.0 Schools Launch program, bringing teachers and entrepreneurs together. His assumptions were questioned in New Orleans.
“If I said it works,” Nelson said, “they asked, ‘How does it work? Why?’”

He also found new ideas about how to use the game.

“It’s best if we let teachers use it however they want,” he explained. In addition to teaching geography, teachers might use the game in a world war history course, a foreign policy unit, or a seminar for middle schoolers, he said.

Nelson

Nelson

The game now is fully automated: Counting and scoring are done online, freeing teachers from clerical work. Nelson teamed up with two software developers from Madison, Wis., whom he met through a college friend.

Classrooms in New Orleans, Wisconsin and Minnesota have tested the game.

Now he’s back in the classroom, Fantasy Geopolitics has a new website, and the game is online. Just in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 7 to Feb. 23, teachers anywhere can set up a game of Fantasy Geopolitics for their students.

On Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowd-funding platform, backers make donations to help fund creative projects. For the next month, anyone can visit  the site and make a donation. If you contribute $5, you get a button, and $25 is good for a T-shirt. For $50, teachers can organize leagues in all their classes. For $100, anyone can organize a league. Kickstarter receives a 3 percent fee for credit card processing.

The 30-day Kickstarter campaign began at 5 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16. By 3 p.m. Fantasy Geopolitics had raised $906 from 14 backers.

A screenshot from the online game shows how a map is used to for keeping score. (Photo submitted)

A screenshot from the online game shows how a map is used to for keeping score. (Photo submitted)

If you’d like to check it out, go to www.fantasygeopolitics.com and click on “LET’S PLAY.”

The map shows which countries are trending in the news every day. The news sources is the New York Times, which offers “open APIs,” meaning the data are open to outside users.

Teachers sign in to create leagues and get results daily.

Scoring is one point per mention in the news, but teachers can structure the game however they want. For example, during the Olympics, a sport like curling could be used to frame “the fantasy geopolitics of curling.”

During testing, Nelson said, one teacher did a study of continents, drafting teams for each continent.

As in Fantasy Football, it’s important to choose teams (countries) with care.

“China is averaging 30 a day,” Nelson said. “Whoever gets China has an almost unfair advantage.”

“I’m hoping everyone who thinks this is a good idea and wants to test it with their second semester classes will go through Kickstarter,” Nelson said. Fantasy Geopolitics is also on Facebook, and people tweet each other about it on Twitter.

Nelson is not sure what will happen after the 30 days ends on Feb. 15. Fantasy Geopolitics might become a nonprofit, or schools could purchase the curriculum as linked resources. Fantasy Geopolitics could someday be a for-profit venture.

“I don’t know yet,” Nelson said. “I’m more concerned about making a difference than making a profit.”

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