Saturday

21st Oct 2017

British techies make game to reach young voters

  • The game has reached hundreds of thousands of voters (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Imagine former neoliberal British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s ghost hunting down Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Imagine current conservative prime minister Theresa May dropping champagne bottles on Corbyn, while the bearded politician shakes money out of bankers.

Such are the dangers lurking around the corner for the Labour leader in a game called Corbyn Run, which has been a hit in recent weeks.

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  • Ed Saperia (l), founder of Newspeak House, and Josh Balfour (r), one of the developers of Corbyn Run (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

“It is a tongue-in-cheek game with a positive message,” said Josh Balfour, age 23. He is one of the developers of the game, and a Labour supporter.

Financial resources for the game, available on app and a website, came through crowdfunding and union contributions.

The inspiration came from a game designed for then French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, “Fiscal Kombat”, in which the leftist politician also relieves bankers of their wealth.

Corbyn Run is more dynamic and through “pledges” made when a certain score is reached, it puts out simplified messages from the Labour manifesto. More and more people follow Corbyn during the game, building a movement.

“I grew up with a Conservative background, where it is us versus them. We knew Conservatives would do 1, 2 and 3, and that Labour will do ‘bad’ things. These pledges help to get Labour’s points across,” Balfour said, adding that the game targets 18 to 34-year-olds.

Balfour hopes the game has contributed to Corbyn’s surge in polls in recent weeks.

The game has received around one million impressions, meaning a million people have seen or played it, and around 100,000 people have downloaded the app.

The Labour party, which has not been involved in the development of the game, congratulated the makers.

Powerful tools

Corbyn Run was born in London’s Newspeak House, a community of "political technologists”, where Josh Balfour is a fellow.

A 32-year-old, Ed Saperia, founded the house six years ago, and named it after the language of George Orwell’s fictional totalitarian state in 1984 two years ago as a constant reminder.

“It means you can’t forget what you’re trying to avoid,” Saperia told EUobserver in the East London building.

Saperia wants to make democracy work better, get people involved in a public conversation, build networks of people - whether in media, unions, civil service - who want to make a difference.

“The entire political ecosystem is really broken,” he told EUobserver. Saperia learned that lesson when he was asked by the Green party in 2014 to help their membership surge digitally.

Saperia is now building a community and also wants to build a college. Newspeak House now has 7 fellows who also live in the building, and 145 paying members.

“Elections are not really what we focus on,” he admits, although the 2017 general elections have highlighted some of the key issues that Newspeak House wants to tackle.

“Politics shouldn’t be about charismatic leaders, but community based organisations, which come together to express political power,” he said.

Saperia is fascinated by how to create a conversation between 100,000 people in a meaningful way, and how institutions could talk to each other more efficiently. He cites Wikipedia as a good example, where a community of people created something useful.

He also highlights the responsibility of giants like Facebook and Google, who “sit on the side”. “If it [Facebook] wanted to keep us in the EU, it could have,” he said.

Besides Corbyn Run, civic technologists at Newspeak House built other websites to advise citizens, such as ge2017.com, which helps voters to find their party matches. It also helps people to swap their votes in constituencies where it could make a difference, and educates about tactical voting in the UK’s first-past-the-post system.

Another program, a browser extension called Whotargets.me, lets users know about which political parties tailor-make Facebook ads to target them.

“We are making powerful tools,” Saperia said.

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