Thursday, October 18, 2007

Redistricting Game at the ONA conference - online journalism

Duane Dunfield, lead engineer and one of the designers of The Redistricting Game, presented the game at the Online News Association conference in Toronto on Oct 18.

These are interesting times for traditional journalism outlets - especially newspapers - because circulations are dwindling as more and more people embrace the internet. As a result these businesses are working hard to figure out how they can transition online in a sustainable way. This spells opportunity for online professionals.

At the conference Duane talked about "Using Serious Games to Engage Readers". The session was packed and many journalists wanted to talk about The Redistricting Game and serious games in general. A good write up appeared in Editor & Publisher magazine.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Presented at DIGRA 2007 conference (University of Tokyo)

I wrote a paper called "Designing Games to Effect Social Change" for the DIGRA 2007 conference. DIGRA stands for Digital Games Research Association. At the conference I talked about The Redistricting Game on a panel with Ellen Scott from the Games for Change organization, Rafael Fajardo from University of Denver, and Doug Thomas from USC.

The audience was interested and asked good questions. This was a bit surprising considering how diverse they were - many of them were academic game researchers who do not study persuasive games and many of them were European and thus do not have much concern about U.S. redistricting policy.

I saw this post from one of the attendees, Cindy Poremba. She says some interesting things about my talk.

Aside from my presentations it was fantastic to spend a week in Tokyo with a bunch of game researchers and designers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Redistricting - The Movie?

Filmmaker Jeff Reichert is putting together a movie about redistricting. He contacted me recently and had this to say on his blog:

"We’ve recently befriended the folks behind the ultra-cool Redistricting Game. I’ve had a number of calls with project leader Chris Swain, and am currently preparing some visual treatments that we’ll hopefully use as a basis for future collaboration. In an ideal world, we’ll work closely with the game designers to create animation sequences tailor-made for the film. Please do check out the game. It’s very elegant, informative, and most of all, fun."

Jeff has been meeting with the usual redistricting reform suspects in DC including John Tanner's office. It would be exciting to see The Redistricting Game included in Jeff's film.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Interesting discussion about The Redistricting Game in a Second Life forum

There's an interesting discussion about the game going on in a Second Life forum here. Second Lifers are generally into technology, games, and politics for whatever reason so this project resonates with them. Interesting...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cool video story on home page of

I was interviewed by the good folks at the other day. WhyTuesday is an activist organization that seeks election reform - especially any measure that would increase voter turnout by moving Election Day from a Tuesday (e.g. a workday) to the weekend or holiday. They have a relationship with YouTube wherein their videos are featured on YouTube's homepage on the day they are released. This video was on the homepage on August 10.

Jacob Soboroff is the correspondent and a good guy. He did a nice job with the piece don't you think?

Friday, June 29, 2007

lead story on

Today the game was featured in the lead story on (read it here). is the leading online community and news source in the game industry. So it's a big deal to be the lead story.

One interesting thing in the story is the point about how serious games have much lower budgets than commercial games and thus are not as polished. The author, Bryan Ochalla, cited me as agreeing with that (which I do in general) but he didn't include my comments that serious games also provide more creative freedom for the game makers. Here's the full text of what I sent to Ochalla about this:
I want to design play systems that create meaningful and dramatic experiences. I transitioned from industry to academia because I wanted creative freedom to pursue ideas without being governed by a publisher and without the design constraints that come along with having to sell lots of units. There are pros and cons to designing in an academic environment. The pros are: broader set of problems to pursue and much more creative freedom / flexibility once you secure funding for a problem. The cons are: production budgets are smaller and you have less access to experienced talent. Right now there is tremendous opportunity and so many interesting problems to pursue. And we are finding (and growing) more and more talented developers who want to work in this environment.

Monday, June 18, 2007

on CNN!

Back in LA. Today CNN came to the USC Game Innovation Lab and interviewed me about the game. The correspondent, Kara Finnstrom was really sharp and produced a great piece. You can watch the full video here.

I have been getting emails from the parents of my friends on this one. Ha!

This is a picture of Finnstrom interviewing me on campus.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The blogosphere speaks...

I am pleased to see the digerati set writing positively about the game online. I haven't seen any real trash jobs on the game which is normal on blogs. Some of the prominent sites from the blogosphere that have been writing about the game include: Kotaku (game culture), Slashdot (technology). Getting on these two is huge. Also we have received over 600 diggs on!

I posted a full list of the places the game appears online here.

It is especially interesting to read the user comments. There are hundreds on Slashdot right now. Here are a few pull quotes from user comments from around the web:

· It's great to see games being used as a serious medium for communication and political reform. The game itself was entertaining enough to keep me engaged, and highly illuminating to boot. I was surprised to see how easy it is to 'cheat' (abuse power) to determine the outcome of an election! Even so, the game has an optimistic outlook, showing (in level 5) how reform like the Tanner Bill can help the problem. Well done, USC!

· A good game has a well defined difficulty curve. What I found really interesting about this one is that the final stage is a hypothetical environment where redistricting reform is implemented and you're forced to define zones of near-equal population without any information provided for race or party affiliation. That "final environment" is impossible to complete while keeping all the incumbents in their seats. Which is the whole point, AFAIK, one I wholeheartedly agree with.

· That intro is fairly awesome... How can an animation of a map turning into a dinosaur and eating people not be the coolest thing? I want to get this redistricting game! When does it come out for the Wii? Also a plus of that introduction is the dramatic voice that accompanies that quote.

· This game is on the right track, explaining a complex concept to people in an easy to understand way is a great thing.

· It's nice to see a game that makes a serious statement about a political topic and doesn't suck! I hope the whole serious games industry is getting ready to be taken as valid social commentary.. and not just 'beat up bin laden' type of crap. I think eventually we will all be playing games like this the same way we watch documentaries or read non-fiction... as long as titles like this that actually have some polish continue to be released.

· As a huge political nerd, I found this game wildly entertaining

· It is entertaining. Great for teaching government in school.

· I shouldn't enjoy making a mockery of democracy this much... but I do.

· I hate you. Okay, okay, I love you. But all my co-workers probably hate you since I can’t finish the last level and I can’t get anything ELSE done until I finish the last level.

· This may fill the void for me when the WoW servers are down. =P That said, a wicked creative way to get people involved.

· Really dorkily fun!

Extended list of pull quotes here.

Press coming in strong...

Press is coming in strong now that the game is officially launched. Also we are getting tremendous traffic on the site. My email inbox is filling up with people wanting to talk about the game. Woo hoo!

Over 100 articles have appeared about the game. Some of the good ones include: NY Times Online, NPR, Wired Online, USA Today Online, National Journal, Roll Call, Chronicle of Higher Education, Toronto Globe and Mail, and PC World.

Matt Peckham from PC World was particlularly glowing. He said:
“What a fascinating experiment, and what an inspired idea for a teaching tool that marries the accessibility of a casual game with sophisticated and politically relevant strategics. Imagine this sort of thing deployed in an American Government or Civics classroom. Between all the recent sound and fury over "killer games" and legislated ratings, it's refreshing to see the seeds of the medium's real potential as a vehicle for heightened cultural discourse quickening. Wherever you fall on the issue--and the game is careful not to take sides, or rather, to let you--I can't recommend The Redistricting Game highly enough.”

I pulled a bunch of good quotes from various sources and assembled here (see this link also in the right margin of this blog).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Event at the Capitol Building

This week has been a blur of activity. Today we launched the game out of the Capitol Building. Rep Tanner hosted us. We dressed the room with posters related to the game. Four people spoke: Rep Tanner, me, John Anderson (the former presidential candidate who is now Chair of, and Gerry Hebert (exec director of The Campaign Legal Center). After the speeches we were interviewed by various members of the press including the NY Times, Roll Call, and NPR.

Here are some pictures from the event:

Speeches - This picture gives a sense of how the room was dressed. Big posters + laptops running the game. Press and guests in the audience.

Interviews - this pic gives a sense of the atmosphere after the speeches. In this picture Tanner is talking about the game while one of his interns plays and I look on.
Writer/Designer Jeremy Bernstein jokes around with Andrea Seabrook from NPR. He did a great job in the interview and was quoted in the piece she produced (listen to the NPR piece here).
Wrap - here is the team with Rep. Tanner and John Anderson. From left to right: Rep John Tanner, Peggy Weil, me, John Anderson, Jeremy Bernstein, Duane Dunfield. Tanner really impressed me with how welcome he made everyone feel and how articulate and sincere he is about the issue of redistricting reform. Also it was a treat meeting John Anderson whom my dad voted for for president in 1980. I told him that and he said "always grateful for the support."

The event was a big success. Thanks to John Zollinger from USC for producing the event and getting all the people there.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Presented at the Games for Change Festival

I flew to NY yesterday to present the game at the Games for Change festival. We are excited to be here. Five people from the team made the trip, me, Duane Dunfield, Peggy Weil, Jeremy Bernstein, and Doug Thomas. We demo'd for the press during a press event Monday night. Bob Kerrey, president of New School University (which was the venue) gave a hilarious speech about the power of games and the internet.

Here is the banner that we used during the press event:

Here is a picture of me on a panel at the festival with Tracy Fullerton and Ian Bogost. The title of the panel was "A Moment of Crisis! Case Studies from the Trenches ".

The idea was to talk about design crises that happen during game productions and give case studies of how you solved them. I haven't seen a panel like this before and thought it was an astute concept because every game goes through design crises. It is good to acknowledge that fact and share info with fellow designers. I like to share this fact with my students so they don't feel like failures when it happens to them. I had a good time putting together the slides for this talk (full slides here).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Great article in the Washington Post - too bad I wasn't quoted

A great article appeared in the Washington Post today. Aronson and I spent a lot of time with Mike Musgrove at the Washington Post during our trip to DC last month. Musgrove showed us around the news room at the Post and we walked by Bob Woodward's office (he wasn't in it). I was surprised to find out that all reporters are on one open floor - the same setting as in All the President's Men. We met in the little conference room where they decide on the editorial for the paper and there were framed prints from the Nixon/Watergate issues from 1973. The piece that Musgrove wrote is excellent though I was disappointed to not be quoted.

This will hopefully be the first of many articles about the game.

Game Launches!

We all put in a superhuman effort these past few weeks to squeeze out remaining bugs in the game and website and officially launch on Sunday June 13. Duane, Chris, and Andrew at Red Hot Learning in particular did crack work as usual. RHL is world class. We put out media alerts last week announcing that we will be at Games for Change festival and at the Capitol Building. The idea was to get lots of press to show up at these two events and then write stories to coincide with the official launch. However lots of outlets just ran the media alert like a press release. This meant that articles were appearing before the official launch and traffic on the site started spiking - even though the game wasn't live (ugh). I called Duane in a panic and told him to "launch the site!". He smartly deflected that nonsense and suggested that we point visitors to our (previously private) Beta version of the game until the real site was ready.

It's exciting to see press come in in any case. I was interested to see that lots of local television stations were covering the launch during their broadcasts - places like Arkansas, Alabama, etc.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pre-launch trip to Washington

Jonathan Aronson and I went to Washington DC this week and met with reporters, redistricting advocacy groups, Rep Zoe Lofgren's office, and Rep John Tanner and his staff. Lofgren and Tanner both have redistricting reform bills before congress. We model Tanner's bill, H.R. 543, in the game.

This trip was taken in prep for the launch of the game next month. Here are some pics from the trip:

Randy Ford (Tanner's press secretary), me, Carling Dinkler (Tanner's Legislative Assistant who put together HR 543), and Jonathan Aronson (Exec Director of the Annenberg Center) in Rep Tanner's office. We brainstormed after the meeting and came up with the idea of launching the game out of the U.S. Capitol building along with democrats and republican reps. This is an exciting idea and we are going to do it.

This is a picture of Tom Mann from the Brookings Institute and Gerry Hebert, Exec Director of the Campaign Legal Center. These are two of the leading thinkers about redistricting and redistricting reform. I invited Gerry to speak at our launch event at the Capitol building and he agreed to do it.

The most interesting thing about the trip was how receptive everyone was to the idea of a game about redistricting. I was expecting a lot of skepticism and tough criticism - considering that these are really the leading thinkers about redistricting reform - however people were not critical but rather excited that a game was coming out about the issue. The only person during the trip that offered real criticism was Prof Bruce Cain from UC Berkeley (but based in DC) who took issue with the way the reform mission was presented. He thinks it's too preachy and doesn't show how independent commissions work accurately. He offered some good suggestions which we will go back and implement.

Another interesting thing that I learned is that USC has a great office in Washington DC - right by the Navy Memorial. Jennifer Grodsky is the exec director. She got us the meetings with the congresspeople and has been terrific fun to hang out with the whole week.

Friday, January 12, 2007

lectures at Columbia and Carnegie Mellon

This week I gave invited lectures about game design - including The Redistricting Game - at Columbia U and Carnegie Mellon. Both talks were well attended. In fact about 200 people came to the Carnegie Mellon talk. Once again the interest level in this game exceeds my expectations.