June 14, 2007

Interactive Politics

Launching An Anti-Gerrymandering Video Game

By John Zollinger

National Public Radio reporter Andrea Seabrook interviews Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and School of Cinematic Arts Assistant Professor Chris Swain during the Capitol Hill launch of the Redistricting Game on June 13, 2007.

Harnessing a powerful communications tool to reach millions of people directly affected by one of the nation’s most pressing political issues called “Gerrymandering,” an interactive media research team from the University of Southern California, supported by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and key political reform groups, launched The Redistricting Game on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, June 13, 2007.

Flanked by Rep. John Tanner (D-TN-8) and leaders from a coalition of reform groups, Professor Chris Swain from the USC School of Cinematic Arts used The Redistricting Game to show how the crafty manipulation of district lines can yield skewed victories for either party—effectively allowing politicians to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians.

“If you think electronic games are just an idle amusement, you should think again,” Swain said. “They are one of the most pervasive and powerful means for communication in this age. The Redistricting Game builds on that; educating, informing and motivating people to take action who otherwise might never have known the challenge Gerrymandering poses to our democracy,” he added.

Deriving its operating rules from current regulations, the free game enables players of all ages and partisan beliefs to see how redistricting works, how it is manipulated, and how it adversely influences the U.S. political process.

The Redistricting Game will help people understand how broken the system is,” said Tanner, author of “The Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act” (H.R. 543). “When politicians can choose their voters instead of the voters electing their representatives, the result is a shrinking political center in Washington where fewer Members feel compelled to break the divide and put the needs of the American people ahead of their political parties.”

The Redistricting Game is an interactive tool that illustrates how the current redistricting process works and how it can be abused,” said Congressman Zach Wamp (R-TN-3) who supports the game, but was unable to attend the session due to a last-minute schedule conflict. “The game demonstrates the flaws in the current system and why reform—like the bill I cosponsored with Congressman Tanner—is necessary.”

Featuring fictionalized characters such as Democratic Congressman “Tyree Hugger” and Republican Congresswoman “Val Hughes,” the game provides hands-on understanding of the real redistricting process, including drawing district maps and interacting with party bosses, congresspeople, citizen groups and courts. In addition, the game provides details on a variety of reform measures—including a playable version of H.R. 543—as well as features that let users get involved in the public discourse: dialoging with citizens online; spreading the word; and writing their congressperson directly from the game.

The USC project is “A funny and insightful game that sheds light on redistricting and the complexity—yet necessity—of reform,” said John Anderson, former independent presidential candidate and chair of FairVote.org. “Be prepared to be challenged in trying to win—and challenged to consider how we can all win,” he added. Joining FairVote.org at the event were representatives from the Campaign Legal Center, League of Women Voters, and other reform groups.

The Redistricting Game is a project of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, and School of Cinematic Arts, and Red Hot Learning, Inc., of Fredericton, NB, Canada.