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Fantasy Politics08:03
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This combination of Associated Press file photos shows from left, President Obama speaking in Newton, Iowa, and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaking in Fremont, Calif. (AP/Charlie Neibergall, Mary Altaffer)
This combination of Associated Press file photos shows from left, President Obama speaking in Newton, Iowa, and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaking in Fremont, Calif. (AP/Charlie Neibergall, Mary Altaffer)

If you could chose a political dream team — who would be on it?

For those who can't get to the conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, there's a new way to participate in the political horse race from your office or living room. Fantasy Politics, a Cambridge-based start up, aims to bring the fantasy sports model to politics — and increase  engagement in the political process.

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Anthony Brooks: How does Fantasy Politics actually work?

Aaron Michel: Fantasy Politics applies fantasy football dynamics to politics — it's really like cat nip for political junkies as well as a great educational game. We just launched our national championship, which has really generated a lot of excitement over the past couple of days.

What are the players playing for? Are prizes involved or just bragging rights?

There are prizes — you can win an iPad, iPod, cash, etc. But really, when you get right down to it, you're playing this because you want to be able to say you're America's top pundit. You're playing for bragging rights.

How do you actually win? Is it all about who wins a particular election? Or how do your fantasy political team members accrue points?

It's day to day politics focused as opposed to being election focused. We track a wide range of political metrics which we actually dis-aggregate from the game and offer separately. So you can win regardless of whether or not your given political figures win in an election. In fact, you could play the game without ever going through an election.

How do you put a team together?

The political figures fall into three buckets:

  • incumbents — national elected officials, members of Congress
  • sideline politicians — people who are running for or recently held office, e.g. Chuck Norris who was involved with Huckabee in 2008
  • pundits — folks you see on Sunday cable news show, bloggers, etc.

Fantasy sports is a hugely popular and lucrative business. But sports is fun. Politics is wonky and serious. Do you think you'll get that same kind of  following?

Absolutely. Sports is of course huge, but so is politics. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News all do extremely well because there are so many people who watch politics the same way that so many people watch sports. And from our point of view, this is great, this is a way to give people a new way to engage with politics and hopefully learn more about how our political system works and how our political figures are actually performing.

Making us better citizens, perhaps? Making us more engaged in the political process?

That's exactly right. In addition to being an insanely addictive game, we're seeing a lot of teachers start using our game with our students, telling us that their students are more engaged. When you get right down to it, we see three things that are a problem at the root of our political system:

  • gerrymandering
  • education, or the lack thereof
  • money in politics

This [game] can make a dent in two of those — in the education side, helping people get a better civic education, and hopefully helping people understand what that flow of money in politics looks like and let them decide for themselves, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

What do you know about your current players? What kind of people have signed up so far for Fantasy Politics?

Our players are based primarily in California, Boston, New York. Although we also have a number of people in places like Texas and South Dakota, interestingly. We know a lot about them based on their behavior in the game.

What are players currently thinking about the Massachusetts candidates — Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren, for example?

We have something called a "power score" which is a 0-100 real time measure of political momentum. In our game, Scott Brown has a power score of 65 and Elizabeth Warren has a power score of 49. So you would think that more people would be selecting Scott Brown than Elizabeth Warren — that's not actually the case. We're actually seeing 58% of our users drafting Elizabeth Warren and 56% percent drafting Scott Brown, which really suggests that there's a little bit of  a liberal tint to our players, although the game and the company itself is non-partisan.

What about Barack Obama?

Barack Obama right now has a power score of 100, and Mitt Romney has a power score of 89. And that's actually flipped over the course of the past couple weeks. Barack Obama had been at 92; Mitt Romney had been at 100, which means that Mitt Romney's sort of grassroots political momentum has sort of dropped a little bit over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Are you concerned that, in turning politics into a game, you're trivializing the process in any way? Or does it help the political process to see it as a game?

Politics at its root is something that's a noble thing. It's the battle over how we govern ourselves, and far too often we get away from that fact. This game is a way to help educate people about what our leaders and what our political process is really about — what's really happening. And if we have the ability to do that through an engaging game that people love, how could we not do it?

This segment aired on August 27, 2012.

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