What is MTV Fantasy Election?
To educate and engage 18-29 year olds around the 2012 U.S. elections, MTV launched Fantasy Election – a game in which players create teams of politicians and track their performance in five categories – transparency, honesty, social media engagement, civility and public opinion.
Players lose or gain points based on their teams’ behavior as judged by five independent websites including PolitiFact.com and Project Vote Smart.
How it works
Players and members of their leagues can change their teams on a weekly basis and earn bonus points by answering daily trivia, checking in to televised debates on GetGlue and events on Foursquare, and by reading news articles.
Jason Rzepka, MTV’s senior vice president of public affairs, hopes the game will “instill the habits of good citizenship among young voters,” over a sustained period of time. He also said:
“Being a savvy spectator won’t be enough to win the game, he says. Players will need to keep abreast of the latest news, register to vote via a streamlined application on the Rock the Vote website and exert subtle peer pressure on their fence-leaning friends.”
MTV motivated players to stay engaged with over 3,000 prizes, ranging from $5 gift cards to the grand prize – an all-expense paid trip for four to the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards and $25,000 in cash.
The prizes are plenty, but so are the challenges MTV faces in meeting its vision.
A step away from MTV “Choose or Lose”
With few exciting jobs and growing debt, the 2008 election marked the year U.S. youth chose but yet lost. As a result, MTV has moved away from its 20 year election slogan “Choose or Lose” and created the new entity Fantasy Election.
As Keith Wagstaff, writer at TIME Technland, commented:
“Why ditch MTV’s classic “Choose or Lose” motto? Because despite the fact that more young voters turned out in 2008 than for any election since 1992, young people in this country face grim job prospects with $1 trillion in student-loan debt. In other words, they chose and they lost, not exactly an empowering experience for a first-time voter.”
Lack of youth interest in 2012 elections
Even with the new campaign, MTV faces a steep challenge – 45 million millennials (aged 18-29) are eligible to vote, but studies have found they are less enthusiastic and less likely to vote as compared to 2004 and 2008.
A July 2012 Gallup poll found:
“Fifty-eight percent of U.S. registered voters aged 18 to 29 say they will “definitely vote” this fall, well below the current national average of 78% and far below 18- to 29-year-olds’ voting intentions in the fall of 2004 and 2008.”
The MTV Fantasy Election thus is very relevant and serves a good purpose. As Govind, National Creative Director at MSLGROUP Creative+ and member of the MSLGROUP Insights Network, commented:
“This [campaign] is really good. Sensitizing disinterested youth so they get involved in the electoral process!”
A better platform for political discussions
Despite the youth’s tendency to over-share, they tend to avoid political discussions on social media. Bloggers point out the MTV Fantasy Election may offer a better platform and also spark more political conversations.
As L.A. Times journalist Rebecca Keegan noted:
“Hangovers, breakups, Katy Perry lyrics — millennials are notorious for posting information online that older generations find either too personal or too trivial to share. But there is one topic where young people cry TMI — politics. At least that’s what MTV found in a 2011 poll of some of its 15- to 24-year-old viewers, only 36% of whom said they would post a political opinion on a social media site…
To get millennials… thinking harder about the election, MTV has turned to a format the age group is very comfortable with — games.”
Gamification to educate and engage
Bloggers commended MTV for using gaming techniques to educate young people about politics and for making the subject more accessible and interesting.
As Gary Henkle pointed out:
“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.”
Fast Company contributor Lydia Dishman praised MTV for its mature and intellectual approach to creating political awareness:
“Rather than simply showcasing a pop star wrapped in an American flag (hello Madonna!) and calling it cool, Fantasy Election ’12 is attempting to channel the intellectual core of political activism’s heyday during the 60s and 70s.”
Is gaming an appropriate approach?
Several people however have criticized the gaming approach: they do not believe that gaming techniques should be applied to a matter as serious as voting, and consider it a frivolous waste of time.
As JackiMaddie commented at CNN.com:
“If it takes a video game to get someone to vote, I’m not so sure we want that person voting to begin with.”
Another CNN reader, nelly0042 commented:
“Considering that half of recent grads are unemployed or under employed, they might be better off paying attention to that instead of some fictitious game.”
CNN reader StopItB on the other hand embraced the MTV Fantasy Election format as the ‘future of communications:
“I beg to differ here. I think this could be a rather successful venture if handled correctly. There are many political discussions that occur on Facebook… This is the future of communications. It should be embraced rather than ostracized.”
Ranking tool helps combat skepticism
People have also applauded MTV’s innovative ranking system which helps voters digest the overwhelming amount of information available and focus on candidates’ performance in areas that matter.
As AWM1983, a reader at Time.com, commented:
“While I don’t really care about earning points or playing the game, I do like the idea of on going ranking system that takes multiple factors into account. It is a shame that it has to stop with the election. It would be great if they continued to track and rank elected officials on honesty, campaign promises, and lobbyist connections.”
Indeed, it was this skepticism of political claims that led to the ranking system. As Jason Rzepka of MTV said:
“Because of the skepticism of our audience, we decided to use the game as an accountability tool.”
Tracking candidates is hard work
It is important for voters to actively tracking candidates’ claims and elections throughout the elections season, and MTV generously offers plenty of incentives to keep young voters engaged.
As Keith Wagstaff wrote:
“The idea is that while Millennials might not venture to a host of dry political sites to keep track of which politicians are disclosing funding sources and making false claims, they might pay attention if their Fantasy Election team loses points — especially if those points can lead to prizes like a trip for four to the Video Music Awards.”
However, players have still found the effort strenuous and hard to sustain. As dspringfield commented:
“This thing is pretty exhausting. I hope it pays off.”
His sentiment is evident amongst the larger pool of players. While ten thousand people have joined the MTV Fantasy Election, MTV’s Rzepka shared that “a lot of the audience is turning away.”
Can MTV convince youth to vote?
Bloggers acknowledge the need of reaching millennials online, but question if gamification of politics is enough to motivate millennials to vote.
As Keith Wagstaff said:
“Will it get young voters to turn out on Election Day? It’s doubtful that the “gamification” of politics is enough to counter the disillusionment of moving back in with your parents or staring down $100,000 in student-loan debt. Still, the days of simply prompting young people to vote from a rock concert are over; twenty-somethings expect everything to be online — and that includes political engagement.”
At the very least, MTV believes it can help create more informed and active citizens in the long run. CNN journalist Gregory Ferenstein quoted MTV’s Rzepka on this:
“Even if MTV can’t make Generation Y a huge voting bloc, Rzepka believes the network can still be influential.
“We’re not going to solve the problems we face with voting alone,” he said. “If we as MTV can get them [young citizens] when they’re 18 and when they’re 22, they are a long way on their way to being active and informed participants in our democracy from now on.””
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