Photo Credit: Flickr user Theresa Thompson
Engaging young people in civic life is a perennial challenge. This year, Knight Foundation, MTV and a group of non-partisan civic media partners are teaming up to make youth engagement a reality through fantasy. They will build Fantasy Election, a game modeled on fantasy football but built around the 2012 presidential and congressional races.
“It’s a fantasy game but the stakes couldn’t be higher. If a fun format, competitive prizes, and credible information give young people the habit of engagement in civic life, it will be a big win,” said Alberto Ibargüen, CEO of Knight Foundation, principal funder of the game.
A record 52% of Americans ages 18-29 voted in 2008, totaling nearly 23 million votes— 16% of the total electorate. A growing body of research shows that new voters who vote twice are considerably more likely to continue voting for life. The challenge, then, is to sustain or increase youth participation in a year with a different political environment, to help young people develop a lifelong habit of civic participation.
For decades, MTV has used its reach with young audiences to run social campaigns on issues from sexual health to cyberbullying to civic participation. Chief among these was the Choose or Lose campaign, an election participation initiative, in partnership with Rock the Vote, encouraging young people to make their opinions heard. This year, MTV's Power of '12 campaign is focused on encouraging young Americans to understand and leverage their immense power as a demographic group, and in providing new "onramps" to participation for young people who haven't been engaged in the past. That's where Fantasy Election enters.
The game, going live this summer, will give players control of a "team" (of their choosing or drafted automatically) of presidential, Senate and House candidates to play each week against other friends in a league, much like fantasy sports. Players receive points for their candidates' performance and for the player's own activity. Players of all activity levels will be eligible to win a variety of prizes, and encouraged at every stage of the game to register and vote.
Knight Foundation's $250,000 grant to the project, through the Get Schooled Foundation, is supporting the development of civic components for the game, notably, the use of data from a group of non-partisan nonprofits including several Knight Foundation grantees. Players' teams will gain or lose points for metrics such as honesty (Politifact's Truth-o-meter database), campaign finance (Wesleyan Media Project's tracking of contributions), transparency (Center for Responsive Politics) and polling performance (RealClearPolitics). Players will also receive points for registering to vote (in partnership with Rock the Vote), checking in to physical and televised events (foursquare and GetGlue), and engaging with news about the election.
Get Schooled Foundation and other partners with help MTV distribute and test the game with civics classrooms and college campuses nationwide. Players can also gain points by interactive with the game through Facebook, Twitter and foursquare.
MTV, Get Schooled Foundation, and Knight Foundation are committed to publicly sharing lessons from the project, with a focus on carrying what is learned forward into future projects.
By Chris Sopher, journalism program associate at Knight Foundation