MTV has been active in encouraging younger voters to get to the polls for well over 20 years. In 1992 they brought the "Choose or Lose" campaign to the airwaves, and in the decades since they have frequently partnered with nonprofit Rock the Vote to air initiatives encouraging 18-24 year-old voters to get to the polls and engage with the democratic process.
But your average college-aged voter doesn't sit around watching MTV in his or her spare hours anymore, and hasn't in quite some time. So MTV is going to where they think their audience is: social and mobile gaming.
Fantasy Election '12 will make a literal game of the civic process in two ways. The first is by giving players points for being engaged. Like many a social game, players can gain points for using social media tools to get their friends playing. The game will also use Foursquare and GetGlue to give players points for attending town hall events. watching debates, and showing up at polling places.
The other half of the game is where the candidates for office and their real-world behavior come into play. Players will assemble "fantasy teams" of their own, not unlike fantasy sports games. As CNN describes it:
Players can "draft" any candidate running for the U.S. presidency, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
To encourage players to select honest, inspiring politicians, the most valuable candidates will have measurable integrity as well as strong poll numbers. Each candidate's "value" will be an aggregation of several key data points from specific partners.
The data forming each candidate's integrity scores will be pulled in from sources like RealClearPolitics, PolitiFact, and the Wesleyan Media Project. Players and candidates will also gain points from engaging on Facebook and Twitter.
Meanwhile, there are real-life prizes on the line for the most engaged, highest-performing players. Tickets to MTV's Video Music Awards as well as to the next Inaugural Ball are expected to be the top-tier rewards, as well as smaller items of merchandise and digital downloads.
The entire political process often finds itself treated as a game both by the people running for office and by those who cover the races, so somehow making a literal game of it for young voters doesn't seem entirely misplaced. And yet it seems questionable whether disengaged young voters can or will become engaged voters simply because of a game. Those who are most likely to play and remain playing are likely to be those who already care about the political process.
MTV exec Jason Rzepka said in a statement about the game that, "Our audience grew up gaming, and Fantasy Election '12 will give them a fun new way to participate in the electoral process, while also holding candidates accountable." He's certainly right about the audience having grown up gaming (a voter who turns 18 in 2012 was born in 1994). If he's also right about being able to convince his audience into engaging with the political process, then Fantasy Election '12 may have a powerful real-world impact indeed.