We Brought Our Election Simulation Game To Chicago… And Learned The Chicago Way

from the russians in a dimly lit shipping container dept

You may recall that, back in June, I wrote about a bizarre situation in which an election simulation game, that I helped co-design, called “Machine Learning President,” somehow had some of the rules sheets leaked to Rebekah Mercer, from which they were leaked once again to Jane Mayer at the New Yorker, who wrote up an article there, not knowing the provenance of the game. This caused many, many people to assume that the Mercers had somehow made up this game to “relive” the success of the 2016 election. This resulted in a ton of angry headlines and tweets — including the host of NPR’s comedic news-based “game show” Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Peter Sagal, who alerted his friend, Cards Against Humanity designer, Max Temkin, who tweeted angrily about the game.

The next day, when I wrote up my post explaining what the game really was about — we had a lot of people reach out to ask if they, too, could play the game. Unfortunately, it’s a ton of work to put on, and the crew who designed the game — lead by Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath from Scout.ai and Guardians.ai, who initially conceived of the game, along with Randy Lubin (who is our partner in our CIA game project), and science fiction writer, Eliot Peper — are all super busy. However, by far the most aggressive in getting us to play the game were Max Temkin and Peter Sagal.

It finally happened two weeks ago in Chicago, and Charlie Hall at Polygon has a brilliant write-up about how the game went:

Inside a warehouse on Chicago’s North Side, within the thin strip of industrial property between Bucktown and Lincoln Park, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pandering to a small group of powerful evangelicals. Just a few feet away, near a bowl brimming with 20-sided dice, Vice President Mike Pence is honing his next batch of TV and radio ads. Meanwhile, within a dimly lit shipping container, Russian oligarchs are desperately trying to funnel money to Sen. Kamala Harris through Black Lives Matter.

No, it’s not the fever dream of some political wonk stranded here along the nation’s third coast. It’s a 40-person live-action role-play of the 2020 presidential election. Formally, it’s called a “scenario planning game.” In motion, it’s a vehicle for some of the most engaging political theater that I’ve ever seen.

This was really only the second time we’ve run the full game (there have been a few playtests of part of the game). The first time was back in San Francisco in February and then this time in Chicago. The San Francisco game was incredible, but the crew that Max and Peter brought out to play in Chicago took it to the next level in terms of truly inhabiting their roles… and learning from the experience:

For Sagal, who every week tells jokes about political figures set against the backdrop of real NPR News stories, Machine Learning President was an educational experience.

“I make my living reading the news,” Sagal said. “All that shit is real, but it’s not important. The important shit we never find out about, and I honestly think this game illustrates that.

“Look at it this way: All of the candidates tonight got to make speeches, and these speeches were important. […] But what was also interesting was that there was no attempt on anybody’s part to use those speeches to convince anybody of anything. That all happened during the 15-minute rounds. The speech was just about signaling. The speech was not making the deal or convincing anybody to do anything. It was just about delivering on something and positioning yourself to confirm a deal you’ve already made. There was no persuasive aspect to any of the things that any of us said, because the persuading had already been done. Or, as in our case with the Evangelicals, not done.

“What the game teaches you,” Sagal continued, “is that the shit that we get to see, as citizens who watch the speeches and get the emails […] is nonsense and not important. The stuff that’s really important is happening behind the scenes.”

That may be the best endorsement we’ve seen of the game yet — and the article only barely touches on some of the crazy alliances, use of technology, dealmaking, events, and backstabbing that played out over the course of a truly frantic evening. As the article notes, a big part of the point of the game is to get people to better understand how politics and tech and money intersect, and we heard from multiple people who played in Chicago saying they couldn’t stop thinking about it after playing (we also had a few veterans of actual political campaigns note that it hit a little too close to home). Chicago has a reputation in politics, and I will say that the folks who showed up to play demonstrated that quite effectively.

Either way, we’re still hoping to set up additional events for the game, even though it’s quite a bit of work to run, and all of us are pretty swamped with other stuff. However, since people keep asking for it, we’re trying to figure out ways to run it perhaps a bit more often.

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Comments on “We Brought Our Election Simulation Game To Chicago… And Learned The Chicago Way”

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Joe from Chicago. -- How do you know that? 'Causesays:

Maybe you can simulate a "win" over Populism, but not IRL.

"The stuff that?s really important is happening behind the scenes."

Sheesh. Just now learned that The Rich manipulate the system out of sight? Like with "electronic" voting machines flipping votes? Like GOOGLE manipulating search results to favor Hillary?

Brazil just elected the Latino Trump. But I don’t predict how the US "election" will go because are too damn many of those rigged "electronic" systems around… Just keep in mind that Populism got Trump into office and don’t be surprised if happens again, even more after the shenanigans of "the left" for last two years.

Now, speaking of hidden manipulation: this’ll be censored by Techdirt’s mysterious "voting system". Techdirt / Masnick won’t even answer whether an Administrator makes a decision on that. Masnick knows LOTS about hidden manipulation…

Mike Masnicksays:

Re: Re: Maybe you can simulate a "win" over Populism, but not IRL.

Hey, how long has it been since you promised to leave the site forever if I answered your question… which I did?

Oh, right. Looks like 37 days. And yet you’re still here. Every day. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180922/11374040692/this-week-techdirt-history-september-16th-22nd.shtml#c14 Funny that.

That One Guysays:

Re: Re:

Yes but see it doesn’t count because you were supposed to dedicate an entire gorram article rebutting them, as the comment section doesn’t count because they said it didn’t.

(I wish I was being sarcastic rather than repeating what I understand their excuse for refusing to honor their promise is.)

Mike Masnicksays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes but see it doesn’t count because you were supposed to dedicate an entire gorram article rebutting them, as the comment section doesn’t count because they said it didn’t.

Ha! Now reading over his response, I see that. And, actually, that was my initial read as well, but even that’s not accurate. He’s saying he’ll never darken "the site" but then qualifying that "the site" does NOT include "the comments" because he considers "the comments" separate from "the site" and under his bastardized, ridiculous, nonsensical understanding of the law, we have no control over our own comments, and thus it is not part of the site we can control, and thus he’s not promising to leave the comments.

And thus he’ll continue doing exactly what he’s been doing all along. Under his own definitions, he’s only saying he’ll never write for the site, which, you know, is already a done deal.

This is truly galaxy brain moronic trolling.

That One Guysays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re:

… That’s almost impressive(for all the wrong reasons). I thought their excuse was already face-palm-concussion levels of absurd, but if your reading of it is correct even that was giving their excuse far too much credit than it deserved in that they ‘promised’ to never do something they were never going to be able to do when you met their ‘challenge’.

“…the shit that we get to see, as citizens who watch the speeches and get the emails […] is nonsense and not important. The stuff that?s really important is happening behind the scenes.? “

yup, that’s the distilled essence of the eternal government/media racket waged against the public.
Don’t bother voting next week — it doesn’t change anything in the oligarchy.

James Burkhardtsays:

Re: Re:

Yeah, that’s actually not the point. The point was that a lot of what we see in speeches and debates is not speaking directly to people, but is rather signaling to various other groups.

This doesn’t mean your voting choices mean nothing, or not to vote, but rather that this game gives us insight into how to assess candidates better.

Mike Masnicksays:

Re: Re:

yup, that’s the distilled essence of the eternal government/media racket waged against the public.
Don’t bother voting next week — it doesn’t change anything in the oligarchy.

This may be the dumbest take I’ve heard in a while. (1) If this were true, then there’s no harm in voting either because you can’t change anything by not voting either. (2) This kind of cynicism leads to even worse outcomes. Anyone who thinks "they’re all bad, so who cares" is not just clueless, but is actively supporting making things worse.

Bamboo Harvestersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Depends on where you live, and which seats you’re voting for.

NYC decides all Federal elections for the Democrat, no matter how all the rest of the State votes. Same for LA and Chicago.

At the State and various Local levels, votes in those states may mean something. But at the Federal level, your vote is worthless – those cities will swamp the polls with Democrat votes.

Bamboo Harvestersays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

There’s a tremendous amount of back room and behind the scenes dealing with Federal and State “funding” to cities.

If NY qualifies for a billion dollar grant to put a hydro dam on the Outtadaway River up in the Adirondacks, you can be sure it’ll be siphoned into NYC “projects”, leaving nothing to build the dam.

That One Guysays:

Re: A good old fashioned self-fulfilling prophecy

If you do vote you at least have a chance to change things, even if other forces are tipping the scales such that it might not succeed.

If you don’t vote then you don’t even have that much, and the ones that are attempting to rig things in their favor get to win unopposed, with minimal effort on their part.

Better to try and fail than not try at all, or looked at another way, ‘Better to make the ones trying to screw you over work for it rather than handing them victory on a silver platter with minimal effort on their part.’


Re: Re:

If it were constitutional we should enact a law that forbids reporting what political figures say, ban political speeches, prevent any form of public speaking on politicians’ part and let their actions speak for them. Limit their speech to a short description of their platform when running, in print, and let the reporters and public fill in the blanks with who has contributed to their campaigns, how they’ve voted in the past, what their political affiliations are and how they are likely to proceed once in office.

Oh, and do away with the electoral college.

That One Guysays:

Re: Re: Re: 'Of course this is for me, I'm just using them for PR!'

Your comment has me wondering how many would-be politicians would still be interested in running if, while they were running and while in office, they were hit with a ‘Liar Liar’-style curse such that they had to tell the truth about anything related to the job.

Motivations for presenting/proposing/supporting a bill, goal with regards to actions towards other bills/laws, any potential conflicts of interests, that sort of thing.

I’m guessing if they couldn’t lie the number of people interested in the position would be but a fraction of the current amount, and of those that still went with it I’ve no doubt it would certainly make things a lot more ‘interesting’.

Stephen T. Stonesays:

Re: Re:

I hate the idea of politicians lying and speaking out of both sides of their mouths, yet I would never go so far as to suggest they should be legally barred from speaking in public either before, during, or after their time in office. Your idea would preclude politicians from defending votes on controversial issues where they believe they voted ?the right way??e.g., someone who voted against FOSTA/SESTA could be barred from explaining why they voted against it.

What we need in the United States is better journalism. We need journalists who have no fears in re: holding liars accountable, even if they like/voted for a liar. We need journalists who will ask tough questions of our leaders, press them for answers, refuse to accept lies or deflections as answers, and stop trying to do ?view from nowhere? reporting on such lies. What we do not need, however, is a law that shoves a ballgag in a politician?s mouth from the beginning of their first campaign for public office to the end of their life.

Bamboo Harvestersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Is anyone really unaware of it?

It’s not all corruption. If you put everything to a public vote, nothing ever gets done – the only people who show up to vote are the naysayers.

We “hire” (elect) people to do a job. Second guessing them should have been done before you voted them in.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Is anyone really unaware of it?

Call it what you want, idk.
Corruption by any other name would stink just as bad.

“We “hire” (elect) people to do a job. Second guessing them should have been done before you voted them in.”

We did not hire them and we can not fire them, even when they blatantly refuse to do their jobs.

Prior to voting, there is plenty of hot air full of bluster and bullshit, none of which can be believed because these goons lie out their ass – but the voting public is supposed to “second guess” the candidates … I assume this means using your clairvoyant super powers to figure out if they align with your desires of your government. What are you smoking?

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