Thursday, September 13, 2007

Game theory

Silly me. I always figured I would back Barack or Hillary in the upcoming presidential election.

But it turns out I’m really a Rudy man, according to a new online quiz at It’s My News, which identifies your perfect candidate after you answer 25 multiple-choice questions about everything from gay marriage to Iraq to the national debt.

Although an online quiz to determine your vote for the next leader of the free world might sound goofy, games like this are well worth the attention of news organizations struggling to preserve their audience, revenues and relevance, says Michael P. Smith, the executive director of the Media Management Center of Northwestern University.

“By the year 2020, 71% of the population will have grown up consuming games,” says Mike, who is conducting research into how the characteristics of popular games can be leveraged to make hard news and other serious information more compelling to more users. It stands to reason, he says, that lifelong Doom aficionados may be happier assimilating information from games than from inverted pyramids.

If you’re inclined to dismiss Mike’s idea as a dubious academic abstraction, Jeff Mignon, the creator of the presidential quiz that detected my previously un-discernable Rudy yen, can give you 3 million reasons to reconsider. Before launching the U.S. president-picking quiz called It’s My Candidate’08, he created a similar game for the recent election in France. In little more than three months, says Jeff, more than 3 million Frenchpersons took the presidential quiz.

Games are another of the major forces disrupting conventional media consumption, says Mike. “Young men today are more likely to play video games than watch TV,” he says. And he points to the case of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who turned his faltering football team into a winning club by turning his playbook into a PlayStation game.

Although men are inclined to play shooting games and women like environments where they can build communities, collect tokens or trade information, most popular platforms share five characteristics, says Mike. To the degree serious information is packaged in game-like fashion, there is a possibility, he says, that more of it could get consumed.

Here’s what Mike says you need to get into the game:

:: Collectibility. Competitive games give winners the opportunity to collect weaponry or other virtual products (called “tokens” in the game-o-sphere) that they either can keep to elevate their status or barter with other members of the community. MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn owe a good deal of their popularity to the ability of users to assert their importance by collecting new friends.

:: Points. In addition to c0llecting virtual stuff, games and other popular online sites make it possible for participants to give and get points that establish the status of the participant. Flickr, YouTube and Digg, while not expressly positioned as games, invite users to rank content, encouraging providers and users alike to give their all. Amazon and eBay evoke game-like characteristics by, respectively, inviting users to review books or rate vendors.

:: Feedback. Successful game sites enable participants to give and get feedback, fostering a sense of involvement and community. Many of the most successful online video games encourage players to kibitz with one another in real time.

:: Exchanges. Whether the coin of the realm is armor-piercing weaponry or the Second Life currency called Linden, successful games give users the ability to buy, sell or swap something to enhance their status in that particular community. (See also “Collectibility" above.)

:: Customization. Whether it is building a stylized, individual gladiator or coloring your fluffy avatar at Club Penguin, popular games build engagement and stickiness by enabling users to customize their experiences. This dimension is a major factor in the success of the anything-goes-environment at MySpace.

Picking up on several of these cues, the Washington Post has created a liberal/conservative quiz for Facebook called Compass, which enables you to determine your appropriate spot on the political spectrum. When your friends play the game, too, your relative political beliefs are displayed in a graphic that enables you to determine who is more liberal (or conservative) than thou.

If this sort of thing is good enough for the Washington Post, a paragon of journalistic sensibility, then maybe It’s My Candidate is on to something in asserting that Rudy is really my guy.

Before changing my registration, though, I thought I would test the reliability of the algorithm by answering “none of the above” to every question on the quiz. This promptly produced a recommendation for Mike Gravel, whoever he is. And Mike Gravel, whoever he is, certainly ranks as none of the above.

2 Comments:

Anonymous JX said...

Alan,

It's interesting to read about your experience with such a quiz, and that you consider it a novelty. Being Norwegian, this isn't new to me. Use of online quizes in connections with elections, have been very popular on online newspapers in Norway for the last 8 to 10 years.

They started out being what you might describe as goofy quizes, but in the last election in particular they've become very advanced. You not only answer the questions, but you also say whether the question is very important to you or less important.

It doesn't stop there: The questions are now being carefully selected by editors, so that only questions that really distinguist parties are being asked (there's no need to ask a question such as "should we fight terror", because everyone agrees about that; on the other hand "should gay marriage be allowed", may be a better question).

In the latest election (it was held earlier this week), some of the quizes -- which in Norway are called "election guides" -- also took into consideration whether the party that agrees with your view in a particular question would actually follow it up in real life politics. As we all know, some issues are expendable or subject of compromising when politics are to be implemented, and some of the election guides take this into consideration too.

I don't think anyone can claim that these are a perfect way of picking a candidate, but I do think that some of them have become very useful tools now.

3:49 AM  
Blogger Adrian Monck said...

Alas, the growing sophistication and complexity of the quizzes doesn't increase appear to increase the sophistication and complexity of the candidates...

12:57 AM  

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