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Gamer Takes on Congress

Have you got what it takes to claw your way from freshman lawmaker to the Oval Office? The new Congressional simulator, “For the People,” allows political junkies to do just that — without having to smooch a single baby, beg for cash or clumsily defend any nonsensical views on rape.

Creator Shel Mann, who helped bring to market diversionary gems ranging from the bloody-as-hell shoot ’em up Duke Nukem to popular hunting and fishing titles (Deer Hunter and The Strike, respectively), tells HOH the political sphere is the undiscovered country of fantasy gaming.

For the People committee screenshot
(Courtesy For the People Fantasy Politics)

“There’s always new drama,” he said of the topsy-turvy world where pols rise and fall by the latest sound bite. Mann caught the bug during a decade spent walking the halls of Congress on behalf of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and estimates that up to 60 million armchair wonks could flood the chambers of his virtual Capitol.

Those who sign up are immediately welcomed as the fictional 436th Member of the House. Players must design and dress their official avatar, furnish their inner sanctuary (modeled after a floor plan cribbed from the Cannon House Office Building) and then … take their first meeting with a lobbyist?

For the People lobbyist screenshot
(Courtesy For the People Fantasy Politics)

Virtual lawmakers must answer daily polls about topical issues, address Congressional meetings and floor debates via action-enabling “power” cards (a la Magic: The Gathering) and tend to re-election demands, all while delicately balancing their most precious resources: reputation, clout, money and energy.

For the People debate screenshot
(Courtesy For the People Fantasy Politics)

Under the current construct, players from across the political spectrum can ascend the ladder from mere Representative to committee chairman, and ultimately Majority Leader.  Mann suggested that players might later be able to migrate over to the Senate and eventually make a run at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

To add to the realism, Mann and his crew have seeded their data with the past three years of actual Congressional votes. He’s also brought in former Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), as well as Democratic adviser Joe Trippi, as consultants, and said his development team met with staff for several sitting lawmakers, including: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

Mann is also excited about the ripped-from-the-headlines polling built into the game, billing it as a real-time snapshot of public opinion. “It will be a platform that politicians will not be able to ignore … because this will be the voice of the people,” he said.

The game is in beta test right now, but is open to the general public. Congressional staffers can attend a hands-on demo Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Rayburn 2168.

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