By Laura Green Eds: For immediate release. c.2012 Cox Newspapers
WASHINGTON (Cox Newspapers) — With Congress’ approval rating about as low as it’s ever been, it’s easy to imagine most Americans think they can do a better job than their elected leaders. And now they’ll have the chance — at least in the virtual world.
“For the People: Fantasy Politics” is a game in which players become the 436th member of Congress. Each newly minted member gets a chance to introduce amendments, curry favor with lobbyists, decorate an office — oh, and campaign enough to stay on the job.
The game is meant to be fun, but it’s also designed to teach players about the partisanship and institutional pitfalls that sometimes lead the bright-eyed and newly elected to become just another member of what some call a do-nothing Congress.
“They’ll get a sense of politics — that it’s not always easy to get things through,” said Shel Mann, who came up with the idea for a political game and is CEO and Founder of Rocket Surgeon Entertainment. He recently unveiled it in Washington.
“The game is going to be fun and engaging, but underneath it all, you’re going to be learning about the real system.”
Americans are frustrated by the lack of action in Congress, said Beth A. Rosenson, a University of Florida political science
professor. But they also don’t like the steps leaders have to take to get anything done.
“If they don’t compromise, people don’t like them for not getting things done,” she said. “When they do compromise and manage to work out a deal that’s not perfect, people criticize them.”
Players of “For the People” may get a sense of the push and pull of Congress.
Mann and his team developed the game, with an eye to keeping it as realistic as possible and with the help of some former members of Congress and other political heavy hitters.
The voting records of members of Congress over the past three years were input into the algorithm so that when a player proposes an amendment, he’s facing the real members of a committee — sometimes obvious from their avatars — as well as their voting patterns.
But that doesn’t mean a right-leaning player can’t get something through a left-leaning committee.
In the game, as in real life, there are ways to turn a vote.
The virtual member of Congress can play a card that influences his colleagues or improves their mood. But it will cost energy needed to play the game.
“The idea is to let people exercise their own beliefs in the game,” said Mann, something of a political junkie who’s been a volunteer lobby leader for the American Israel Policy Affairs Committee, a group committed to ensuring Israel’s security.
Participants of any ideology can win the game, he said.
The game is live now, though in Beta version. Feedback from players will help shape the game, which is intended to be updated frequently with new features, Mann said. The game’s official launch is Sept. 13.
The fictional member of Congress must pacify lobbyists and get amendments passed to progress in the game. He starts with a bare office, with only a desk, desk chair and two chairs for visitors. He must earn “clout” from these encounters to buy a flag or creepy portrait to peer at him or even a coffee mug.
Some fun features include visiting the campaign headquarters where the member of Congress can choose to run a robocall, place either a negative or positive campaign ad and participate in local debates.
During a meeting with a lobbyist, my fictional congresswoman refused to agree to support opening oil reserves in Alaska. She hit the negotiate button once and disappointed the frowny faced lobbyist. When she hit it the second time, the program said: “lobbyist is too upset to further negotiate.”
The congresswoman had better luck when she immediately agreed to support a lobbyist pedaling a home loan modification program for underwater homeowners. The lobbyist left happy and the congresswoman was able to push the program through her subcommittee on amendment.
The victories earned the lawmaker clout, which one needs to win.
Like similar games, players can have some fun creating their avatar. Various skin tone, hair and eye colors and glasses are available. Women can choose from a wide array of pant suits that could be fresh out of Hillary Clinton’s closet. Skirts were not an option, but game developers hope to add them soon, along with “power pearls” female lawmakers can buy and power ties for the men.
Players with a passion for politics can take part in daily polls and, coming in November, they’ll get to predict the winner in every federal race. Mann envisions the game becoming so popular that it will serve as a genuine reflection of what Americans hope will happen in the real Congress.
“As it grows, we think it’s going to be a very powerful voice that government will ignore at their own peril,” Mann said.