TL:DR: to save the world.
We’re making Political Arena first and foremost because it’ll be an incredible game – one that we’ve wanted to play for years. But there’s another important reason why we’re doing this (and I’m sure you already guess where I’m going):
It might save us from being killed.
OK, maybe that’s not where you thought I was going, but hear me out:
The growth of dark money and lobbying over the last several decades has led to an imbalance of political expertise. Special interests have gobbled up legions of lobbyists and other political experts who can call upon their experience to craft effective, long term policy campaigns that aren’t always in the public interest [gestures at the courts].
Barring a truly unforeseen sea change in our politics, dark money and lobbying aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so the best counter to all this is for the rest of us who don’t have billions of dollars to become much savvier at how we effect change.
The fact that most people never experience politics firsthand is the biggest continuing driver of inefficiency in politics. Political Arena will let anyone and everyone experience how politics really works on the ground. The more people play, the more they’ll better understand the norms, dynamics and rules that govern our body politic. In turn, players will become more effective stewards of their political time, energy and money.
Time for a quick thought experiment:
Imagine you’ve never played basketball, or even sat down and watched a game. Still, you spend some 30 minutes a day reading about it on the web and you also catch some highlights on TV a few times a week. You’ve read the occasional book about it, too.
You’ve managed to become conversant in the game without knowing it in an intuitive or holistic way: you know the teams, some of the major players and a scattershot understanding of some of the game’s rules.
But now imagine you’ve been named the Knicks’ head coach and are suddenly entrusted with the team’s on-court strategy and development (honestly, this is something the Knicks might actually do, so maybe this isn’t the best example, but bear with me).
You realize quite quickly that it’s one thing to know of a thing, but it’s an entirely different thing to understand the context in which that thing exists. You may know what a foul is, but the nuance of intentional fouling in the final minutes of a close game is completely foreign to you. And also, you wonder, standing courtside at Madison Square Garden, holding a clipboard and wearing middle-of-the-road business attire, what exactly is a pick and roll? And who knew rebounds were so important? And why isn’t there more dunking? All the highlight reels have dunks!
When it comes to our government and politics, most of us are relegated to developing an understanding of it in a second-hand and often warped manner through the media. And to be fair, even in an ideal world, our news organizations have only so many resources and can’t devote all of them to playing civics teacher.
Very few of us have the privilege of watching four proverbial quarters of politics unfold because, simply put, most of what matters in politics doesn’t happen in the public eye. Votes – both legislative and electoral – are just the scores. Most of the gameplay that puts points on those boards happen out of view, with only sporadic bits highlighted by the news.
We’re not usually confronted regularly enough with the political process to really develop muscle memory about it: Yes, you know of the lower courts and the need to reform how congressional districts are drawn, but do you really think about these things considering which candidate to vote for, or which cause to contribute to? And how often have you (or millions of others) given money to candidates who had no chance of winning (or no chance of losing) just because they enjoyed a lot of media attention?
And before you think I’m immune from this, let me add an important qualifier: I’ve spent my entire career covering politics as a journalist, and I’m not sure if I totally get it, either. Hell, I literally wrote a book about *all* of politics, and I’m still shaky on the subject. Politics is huge, comprising numerous parts that each contain their own rules, norms and dynamics. I’m as eager as anyone to put all these pieces together and experience them as a coherent whole. I want to be able to see the entire board in an easily digestible way.
There are a lot of ways people can get a better feel for politics: they can volunteer, run for office, intern, grassroots organize and more. But these things don’t scale easily – most people can’t make the serious time commitment that these activities entail.
But the great thing about video games is their ability to insinuate knowledge about a subject into millions of players’ minds. Just think about games like Oregon Trail, SimCity or Flight Simulator. None of those games’ subjects are in any way simple, and yet 55 million people know intuitively the perils of fording the river.
And the great thing about Political Arena is that you’ll never stop enjoying becoming a better citizen, whether you’re cutting deals with a committee chair, scrutinizing digital campaign expenditures in Arizona or just seeing what would happen if Santa Claus were president. Be as silly as you want with the game, it’ll make you better at fighting the bad guys.