Being an MP is No Fun for Gamers
With the backlash being thrown at MPs in the last 18 months, it’s hard to imagine that references to MPs and ‘fun’ could ever co-exist within the same sentence. You could be forgiven for thinking then, that when an e-learning developer won a tender to develop an educational game for the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, on behalf of the UK Parliament Education Service, stated that some element of fun might be returned to British Politics to garnish the otherwise bad taste left by MPs in recent years.
The problem with this, of course, is that you’d be wrong. Despite having a publically funded budget of what one would estimate to be in the region of £250,000 to reconnect politics with 11-14 year olds, it seems that all that has been achieved is the creation of a literally flat ‘game’ that is quite possibly less fun than being an actual MP.
Would Your Child Like It?
The problem here is that I have an 11 year old nephew who likes to think he plays Wii and DSi better than me. I have to concede, in most cases, he usually does but of course, this is no doubt down to the weeks of practice he’s had on the games in question and not, I like to think, down to my lack of ability. What is evident here though is that for him to have been engaged enough to train (and play) for this long, the content must have been pretty fun and that, to him at least, is what a ‘game’ is all about.
That means that trying to pass off ‘MP for a Week’ as a game to my 11 year old nephew is not that far off impossible.
What’s The ‘Game’ All About?
‘MP for a Week’ is supposed to help you experience the daily life of a backbench politician hour by hour and task by task, using only a smartphone as your gateway to the manic world of politics. The game will have you answering questions from your constituents and fellow members, deciding on new laws, dealing with the Press, composing Parliamentary speeches, attending meetings and events and much more.
Like many games with reward and recognition mechanics, everything you do determines your approval rating with your party, voters and the media. You even have a “daily survival report” that keeps you informed of your progress. Ultimately, your aim in the game is to get to the end of the week without your party or voter support dropping too low. And that, in a nutshell, is both the objective and the problem with this game.
If you can maintain your interest in the game to last the full week then you may receive some sort of gameplay reward for playing to the end but this is unlikely. I am a 28 year old with some interest in the political topics highlighted in the game but after about 30 minutes of gameplay, found my interest and fun factor dwindling. Everything I was doing felt distant and uninteresting and invoked very little emotional reaction within me – except perhaps frustration. This meant that I was unable to finish the week and therefore potentially missed the whole point of this game – or did I?
There is the argument here that if the point of the game was to educate people in how hectic and demanding the week long MP’s schedule is then perhaps the game achieved this. By frustrating me to the point where I no longer wanted to play, this certainly made me think that the life of an MP wouldn’t be an enjoyable one. But did I choose not to play any further because the MP’s life was too demanding or was it because the game was too static, flat and uninspiring? I sent the link to my nephew and asked him to have a go himself to find out.
After about an hour, I got a fairly short response that, politely paraphrasing, said that the game wasn’t that much fun and isn’t something he’d play again. With nothing by way of further explanation, I took that as being all the evidence I needed about how he felt about the game.
Missing the Trick of the ‘Game’
After seeing this, I couldn’t help but feel that the UK Parliament Education Service had missed a real trick with this campaign. This was a real opportunity to reach a younger audience with a potentially innovative idea and it may be a long time before current budget restraints ever allow this kind of thing again.
At an estimated cost of £250,000, it is a shame that a more contextual, immersive game that was more in line with the expectations of the target audience wasn’t created for this project; the likes of which they’d find on their Wiis or Xboxes. Without doubt, we are now firmly in an age of immersion, context and mobile gaming and ‘MP for a Week’ strikes me as ticking none of the above.