Young people under the age of 30 will be the largest potential voting bloc in the 2012 elections. To try to get more of these potential young voters to the polls, MTV (in conjunction with several news organizations) will use gamification, creating a political game that mimics fantasy sport play. Jason Rzepka, MTV’s vice president of public affairs, explains the decision to create a fantasy sports game-like experience around the election:
Millennials are increasingly viewing life through a game lens, even just [using] #winning or #fail. Game vernacular has become a part of youth vernacular. By putting that competitive layer on top of it — a lot of people are inherently competitive, so if the path to winning is being informed, there could be a really great civic benefit.
Dubbed ‘Fantasy Election ’12,’ the game will work extremely similarly to a game of say, fantasy football: players start by creating a league with friends. Each player in the league will then create a team comprised of 12 congressional and presidential hopefuls. Just like in fantasy sports games, players will pit their teams of candidates against each other. The game will play out in real-time, with players earning points when hopefuls on their team ‘do well.’ Players will also have the ability to trade candidates on their team who aren’t performing well.
‘Fantasy Election ’12′ seems easy enough to understand on initial read, but on closer inspection, there will be many challenges in translating a game that works in the world of sports to make it work in the realm of politics.
First, player selection. The game will launch for the general public on September 1st, after the Republican National Convention has narrowed down the field of hopefuls to one presidential candidate. The Democratic National Convention will end on September 6th, but in all reality, America already knows the Democratic nominee. Players, then, will only have two choices when it comes to choosing their ‘presidential’ player. And although there are 468 regular seats up for grabs in the Congressional elections (435 in the House, 33 in the Senate), these hopefuls are on the state level, which brings in the question of team selection in a game that’s played on a national level. Unlike in sports, where fans don’t base their affiliations for players and teams on a geographical basis, there isn’t as much incentive for players in ‘Fantasy Election ’12′ to choose someone for their team outside of their constituency. And in areas where incumbents will run unchallenged or where the field is small for Congressional elections, it may be even more difficult to engage players.
Second, game mechanics. With fantasy sports, it’s very clear to players when a member of their team performs well and when it’s time to trade them. Points are awarded on an objective basis- based on game play stats. There are no objective stats in politics. MTV will use the following measures to award points: ‘a candidate’s willingness to take Project Vote Smart’s Political Courage Test, which gets them on-record about issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, aggregated polling data from Real Clear Politics, fact checks from PolitiFact, frequency of Twitter and Facebook activity as a way to gauge engagement with potential constituents, civility as tracked by the Wesleyan Media Project –which analyzes all broadcast ads aired by or on behalf of candidates in every media market, and funding disclosure as monitored by the Center for Responsive Politics.’ Unlike in sports, these measures don’t give a clear indication of performance- there is no definitive point system for candidates until the dust has settled on election day, and while touchdowns and RBI’s give clarity to a player’s performance in fantasy sports, these measures for the political version are cloudy.
It’s an interesting effort to engage young voters, and one PSFK will be watching closely come September 1st. The objective of the game is commendable, ’to engage players with the election process in real time, and to draw in those who have been put off by elective politics…to help young voters break down the key issues and come to conclusions themselves,’ and it wil be fascinating to see if the fantasy-sports game play can be replicated successfully in the political arena.