Fantasy Politics Turns Members Of Congress Into Competitors
Fantasy football prompts millions of Americans to obsessively wonder how many yards Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will accrue – or whether Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas can shake off a pesky ankle injury.
Now, several St. Louis entrepreneurs want to parlay the intricate passion for statistical performance to the congressional process. They're calling their endeavor, appropriately enough, Fantasy Politics, and it made its debut earlier this month at the Startup Weekend St. Louis.
Fantasy Politics got second place in the competition, but the people behind the game are working to make it a reality. They contend the game could spark interest in politics in a similar manner to how people get into football through fantasy leagues.
“I like the idea of trying to gamify legislation,” said Kyle Tabor, the creator of Invisible Girlfriend and a founder of Fantasy Politics. “You actually say, ‘Alright, let’s get report cards on these guys and see how effective they really are.’ Are they really helping constituents? Do they just follow the party line? That kind of thing.”
Playing the game of politics
Although the parameters and scoring system of the game are still in a bit of flux, the idea is similar to fantasy sports. Players form leagues and select members of Congress to be on their teams.
Each member of Congress would then receive points based on sponsoring legislation and getting it to move through Congress. The congressperson will also have a constantly changing news feed so that a player can read up on what they’re doing in Washington, D.C.
One of the novel aspects of Fantasy Politics is that high profile lawmakers may not be the people a person wants on their team. Rather, the strongest “players” would be people who put their nose to the grindstone and pass legislation – even if it’s not dominating the cable news cycle.
“You want to get people who are going to get things done,” said Martin Casas, a co-founder of Fantasy Politics. “So, whether that’s getting the most bills signed into law, the most resolutions written, the most committees they’re on – that’s all scored. You’ve got to look at your caucus members and determine your best players that are going to get you ahead.”
Some of the best players may not be obvious. Casas provided the example of U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican who was recently indicted. Even though he could be trading his congressional seat for a prison cell, Casas said he might be a team’s ace in the hole.
“He’s doing a pretty good job in writing bills, so what I want to do is keep him on my team for as long as possible,” Casas said. “Because my guess is he’s going to be signing onto legislation to name post offices or do a lot of constituent outreach to kind of make his name better before he goes off to jail.”
Attracting political junkies and creating new ones
Tabor said the game could obviously interest folks who are really into politics. But he said it could also appeal to people who don’t know much about Congress or the legislative process.
As an added bonus, he said, the game may force people with rigid ideologies to step out of their comfort zones.
“What I think is exciting is in politics, everyone has their own opinion,” Tabor said. “Everyone thinks that they’re right. But when you turn it into a game, to actually win this game, you’re going to actually have to go outside your boundaries, go outside your own beliefs and actually look at stuff. I think it’s going to make legislation more transparent, hopefully.”
It may take a little bit of time before Fantasy Politics is ready for mass consumption. The platform itself is still under development. And, of course, there’s the issue of getting some money to accelerate the product’s growth.
But, Tabor said, it helps that two members of the team are “really awesome developers.” That includes Cole Bradley, who is Fantasy Politics’ co-founder and project manager.
Bradley said that if all the pieces fall into place for the game, it could find an unexpected niche among schoolchildren – an audience that may find politics to be duller than watching the New York Jets.
“We’ve had a number of interested parties,” Bradley said. “One party I’m excited about would be high schools. We’ve already received some feedback from high school teachers saying that they would love to get a product like this in their classroom to get students engaged in the politic process in a fun and competitive manner.”
“There’s a lot of people who play fantasy football that aren’t even football fans,” he added.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.
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