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Game Politics: A New Web Community Takes New Zealand’s Political Pulse
Billy Matheson, 19 Jul 08
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Pulse of the Nation is a new web based initiative to get New Zealand voters engaged in the build up to this year’s general election, through the development of an active online political community.

“We really want to lift the taboo on talking about politics in a way that doesn’t necessarily involve having to say who you choose to vote for” says the game’s producer and ‘virtual electoral officer’ Craig Neilson.

Pulse of the Nation is the brainchild of Jimungo, a New Zealand company specialising in game design for the web. The new website is based on a game platform where communities of players are asked to predict the outcomes of sporting events. Players compete against friends, family and other community members and can win prizes.

Pulse of the Nation will run a virtual election every two weeks up to New Zealand’s next general election later this year.

After players register and cast a vote for their preferred party, they arrive at the prediction section. Players are asked to guess the outcome of the next election. While all the specific data about individual’s political preferences are kept private and confidential at all times, results from all the virtual elections are freely available on the Pulse of the Nation website.

The gaming experience is designed to be fun and welcoming, but there is a deeper intention. The interface aims to simulate the voting day experience as much as possible to encourage political participation. The creators of Pulse of the Nation hope that the game will to encourage people to have a good think about their vote, and the consequences of their vote, well before they step into the voting booth on election day. They also hopes that Pulse of the Nation will be a way for the nearly 50,000 New Zealanders who live in other countries to connect with the political life of their homeland.

Most political opinion polls in New Zealand are done by telephone and involve relatively small numbers of potential voters, usually between 500 and 1000 people. By contrast over 6000 people had registered and voted on Pulse of the Nation in the two weeks leading up to the first virtual election last week.

The results showed an even more dramatic swing against the current Labour government than recent opinion polls had suggested, with the National party receiving over 57% of the votes cast.

While New Zealand uses a MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system that allows people to vote for both their preferred local candidate and their preferred political party, Pulse of the Nation is only offering one party vote. I look forward to the possible addition of two-vote functionality as the parties release their electoral lists. Watch this space.

Another obvious issue with voluntary data of this kind in an online environment is the ‘non-representative’ nature of people polled. When you register for Pulse of the Nation you are asked to provide basic information about age, ethnicity, and which electorate you are registered to vote in. The intention of the site is to provide information, not analysis. Neilson referred me to Farhad Manjoo’s recent book True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post fact Society (Amazon Link).

Interested readers may also want to check out another similar initiative that has been developed by Qi-Shan Lim at Auckland University called The New Zealand Political Stock Market. Neilson has met Lim and says that while they had similar aims and interests, the approaches of the two projects are very different. Neilson says he is excited to see other young New Zealanders getting creative around the political life of their country.

See also: Gaming For Change

Craig Neilson is a contributor to WorldChanging. He has had no editorial control over this article.

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I like the intention of this site - engaging young voters to get involved with the political system is great and a game with prizes seems like a good start, but the whole thing left me rather nonplussed.

With the obsession our media has of polls and controversy the election seems more of a horse race than anything else. No need to worry about policy or leadership, just grab the popcorn and try to pick a winner.

It is not the attitude of young people that needs to change, it's the system they are being asked to engage with.

Instead of asking them to care about the outcome of a popularity contest based on appearance over substance perhaps we could look at initiatives that give young people power over their lives.

Give them opportunities to engage in real decisions from the moment they enter school and maybe when they come out they will have what it takes to reform this political system that leaves so many people feeling disengaged and apathetic.

Of course that is a lot harder than building a game, which while slick and interesting seems to be reinforcing an unhealthy mindset.

Posted by: Joshua on 22 Jul 08



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