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Can MTV's Fantasy Election '12 Rock The Biggest Youth Vote In History?

Fantasy Election '12 is MTV’s latest effort to engage young people in the political process. Here’s how they see a game elevating the level of political discourse.

As gamification becomes the way to wheedle people into doing everything from leveling up productivity at work to amassing more virtual gelt to feed their virtual flock of chickens, MTV is playing to win. At mobilizing young voters, that is.

Tonight, during its annual Video Music Awards show, MTV is rolling out a heavy promotion of Fantasy Election ’12, which it launched last week during the Republican National Convention. As you may have guessed, the game works like fantasy sports leagues. Just swap those athletes for a dream slate of politicians and goals scored with points for good governance. League play officially starts on September 10th and runs through Election Day.

The idea was to address Millennial voters’ “pain points,” says MTV’s vice president of Public Affairs Jason Rzepka, and combat “election avoidance” in the largest potential pool of voters in history. A Gallup poll found that only 58 percent of registered voters between 18-29 would “definitely" vote this year, 20 percent below the national average. This in contrast to 79 percent of teens and 71 percent of adults playing digital games at least one hour per month, according to a Park Associates study.

Fantasy Election ’12 builds on MTV’s long standing political efforts which began with “Choose or Lose” 20 years ago. The campaign was renamed “Power of 12” this year, Rzepka says, to empower the 45 million 18-29 year olds who will be eligible to vote in this election. But it goes beyond getting more young people registered to vote. In fact, he says though players of Fantasy Election ’12 are competing for prizes, state laws dictate that they can’t be rewarded for registering to vote.

“The number one challenge we face,” he says, “is that Millennials are pragmatic, especially in activism. They want to see a connection between their energy and the outcome. That is tough because it doesn’t always work that way.” A study by Generation We found that Millennials are less likely than their parents or grandparents to believe that government has a positive role to play by a margin of almost two to one (49 to 25 percent). And though Boomers bragged about not trusting anyone over 30, Generation Y isn’t quick to trust government and political leaders, either--by a margin of nearly four to one (63 to 17 percent).

Rzepka says Millennials are asking tough questions about American democracy, like, “If it was a stock would you buy it?” Yet “simply showing up and pulling the lever isn’t going to solve the problem. It will take them holding politicians accountable,” Rzepka explains. Rather than simply showcasing a pop star wrapped in an American flag (hello Madonna!) and calling it cool, Fantasy Election ’12 is attempting to channel the intellectual core of political activism’s heyday during the 60s and 70s. By building a heaping helping of analytics, says Rzepka, the game reflects Millennial’s demand for transparency and accountability.

The dashboard for Fantasy Election ’12 is filled with data culled by non-partisan organizations including PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and RealClearPolitics. It tracks constituent engagement, honesty, transparency, civility and public opinion on every candidate and calculates their score accordingly every week. The game does incentivize learning more about the issues, Rzepka says, as users accumulate points when they read an article or watch a speech. MTV even rescheduled the time of the VMAs tonight to allow them to end in time for viewers to switch over to see President Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention if they want.

So far, Rzepka says, Fantasy Election ’12 has “several thousand” people registered for League play and has seen one in four browsers convert to players in the past two weeks. Though he admits its an experiment, he believes MTV’s found a way to make politics a not so “eat your vegetables” prospect. It’s more than you get 200 points because a fact is true,” he says. There’s a natural tendency to got to the next click and find out more. “That keeps tabs on volume of overwhelming information. It becomes a new way to consume that,” he says.

Is all that clicking the sound of the U.S. changing? Or is it just a layer of noise? We’ll find out on November 6th.

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