MTV is using gamification as part of their latest election year outreach to increase youth turnout at the polls. Inspired by Fantasy Football, MTV’s Fantasy Election ’12 is a much better strategy for the music network’s Rock The Vote effort than, say, P. Diddy threatening to kill you. Here are 5 reasons why you should start drafting candidates before November 6th.
1. You’ll quickly learn who the candidates for national office actually are.
At the start of the game I was asked to choose two candidates to draft for President. Obama and Romney were the first options, but listed underneath them were people like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson – third party candidates not widely known to the general public. The game incentivized me to do a quick google search of which candidate belonged to the Green Party or the Constitution Party to make sure I knew all the choices I had for my ballot. I was now aware that these people were running for office trying to offer alternatives to the two major party candidates.
It doesn’t stop at the presidency ballot either. FE ‘12 enables players to browse through their list of almost 50 U.S. Senate candidates and nearly 435 House candidates (complete with mini photo, state, and party identification) in the span of minutes. After a cursory glance I was aware of who’s running in other parts of the country, how many women are running for office compared to men, the children or wives of popular politicians who are running, who is running to be America’s first openly gay US Senator, who is still in office (after all these years, that bum!), and even who’s still alive.
2. You’ll learn which candidates have the most personal integrity, very quickly.
Fantasy Election 12’ employs a point system that is central to educating players. All candidates, whether running for the Presidency or the House of Representatives, earn points when their activities in real life uphold civic ideals and lose points when they behave cynically. If an online political watchdog group such as OpenSecrets.org gives a candidate a high rate for disclosure, they will earn several hundred points, but if their campaign makes a factually inaccurate statement they lose an equally large number of points. Candidates earn a smaller number of points each time their campaign interacts with constituents on social networks, but those points can quickly add up.
Candidates are ranked amongst each other weekly in their national office category based on the total number of points earned, and the top earners are drafted. The game makes it very clear to users which candidate had a lousy week or a great one, but more importantly, when players are choosing who to select for their “draft cards,” this number lets them known who has what I call the “highest integrity rating.”
One of the biggest controversies about gamification in electoral politics is whether it cheapens civic responsibility and turns choosing a candidate into a trivial game. Fantasy Election 12’ rewards players for choosing the candidates who behave the best on the campaign trail- whether or not players find their views personally reprehensible. I couldn’t bring myself to put certain candidates on my draft ballot even if statistically they were likely to get drafted and allow my team a victory. Upon further reflection I realized this dynamic was an amazing lesson to teach young people: even public figures whom you disagree with you can behave honestly and follow the rules. This a perfect way to counter some of the cynicism that often discourages young people from voting.
3. You’ll be able to get your political crusader friends and politically disconnected friends on board with you in a forum more suitable for political conversation than Facebook.
Like many online fantasy draft games, such as Celebrity Fantasy Draft, the game is designed so that a league is moderated by someone with an interest in maintaining the group, and these people tend to be exceptionally enthusiastic about the topic. The game incentivizes players to grow their league by inviting friends through their Facebook page. I tended to invite politically aware friends to join my team so that we could have a debate about my initial draft picks and choose the best candidates to be on the ballot for the following week. I also chose some friends who weren’t as politically conscious simply because they lived in another area of the country, and they might have greater insight on a candidate running in their state.
Fantasy Election ‘12 can definitely be used as a tool by student activists to bring their disengaged friends on board. For any friend who says “I want to be more involved, but I don’t know how this works,” this game makes discovery of the political process more fun than a didactic civics lesson, and as mentioned brings awareness in less time.
4. You could…you know…change the world.
Rock The Vote has long cited the sheer political force young American voters could be if they voted as a bloc, shifting the nation’s priorities on issues ranging from foreign policy, national debt repayment and civil rights laws. Fantasy Election ‘12 provides a link for players to register to vote so that they can use the information they’ve gleaned from the game to make decisions at the voting booth. How many online games have you played have the potential for this type of impact?
5. You Could Win Some Cool Prizes
Sports fantasy leagues are powered by the zealotry of fans who want to obsess about their favorite athletes even when they’re not competing – weeks before and after a game, and during the off-season. There are political and news junkies who are just as zealous as sports fans, but in New England, debating the strengths and weaknesses of Scott Brown just doesn’t inspire the same enthusiasm as Tom Brady.
To give players an extra incentive to stick with the game, MTV rewards teams whose candidates are drafted into a sweepstakes to win an array of prizes. Their SAPS model includes: tickets to the VMAs (access), control of a league as a team leader, (power) as well as cash, electronics and giftcards (stuff).
As with many other uses of gamification, using a game to effectively communicate with this generation’s youth is the most effective way to speak their language. The upside is this game’s benefits are not lost on the older populations either. MTV’s Fantasy Election ’12 manages to speak a universal political message that aims to educate in an unbiased manner. Let’s hope that this political gaming will translate into voter numbers, come November 6th.