An excuse to talk about voting – thank you America

US election night the final showdown between Obama and Mitt. The sights of millions queuing to make their voices heard. The tired blurry eyed watching of the states change to the blue and red with stats about seats running down the side of the map. An excuse to see how many states you can name, to break out awful impressions and to sigh a sigh of relief that UK politics is not like that.

After all we don’t have any over the top MPs willing to lose respect (and party) going on reality shows.

What we do have in common with the US, is a very similar style of covering elections. The run up to the count, is its own exciting story as each party scrambles to gain votes more so than often making blunders and an occasionally an epic speech. Then we come to the day for the vote and the media has to make do with literally just watching us vote. Till the bell tolls and the polling booths close. Then the real excitement and political commentary can begin. Results and we get to colour in the map – Yay!

I can imagine reporting on this would be a lot like watching the queues at Sainsburys. You can spot the fluctuations and low points but ultimately you are just watching people do the same thing over and over again. The killer story is if the queues are long. Even better if there is a chance people might lose their vote (aka Manchester Withington 2010).

Naturally then we the get the media questiong why are the queues so long? What is our vote worth,  can easily be heckled alongside how much is being spent on this election and why aren’t more people voting. There is a level of pragmatism to the worth of our vote. From voter information drives to ultimately staffing the polling booths the costs to run an election mount up.

It is then not a big jump to ask (like the BBC) why we are not voting online and cutting down the queues? Voting for a 21st century. Would this not be cheaper and easier – soon everyone will have smart phones? After it all it works for “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here”. Sadly it is not that simple nor are the argument surrounding online voting.

As it happens I am for online voting but also conflicted and a bit wary. Security is an issue that has to be weighed up against how we like our data used. Then of course we need to trust anonymity and the integrity of our vote. A withering look from nearby friends as I click on my vote or fraping* prone friend logged into my computer could make all the difference.

The costs to introduce online voting are likely high (maybe not baby killing high ht @no2av) for what may only marginally increase participation.But then I am wary of taking a cost benefit analysis of the costs of online voting on their own. Ideally we shouldn’t set a limit for investing both culturally and financially in voter participation. The real issue is less about whether you vote in the polling booth, by post or at your computer. It is about why you should want to vote in the first place.

Blue skynet thinking I’d have it all magically secure online voting, 24 hour polling booths on every street, roaming polling booths. I’d have a voter information campaign drive to match McDonalds marketing campaigns. I’d have politicians that valued my vote.

Participation isn’t just down to a good marketing campaign for voting. Too cynical we want more than a small fanfare election campaign once every five years but expect less. And that is where we lose the reason and value in voting.

Why not make polling day a statutory holiday? Also why not lollies for all voters? Positive reinforcement for something we don’t like to do but know on some level it makes a difference.

*I wish I could think of better word for this right now!

Zombies in Parliament

I was Ivana Bullet a lobbyist for an arms firm called Umbrella Corp turned zombie roaming parliament. How was your day?

Not your most usual Sunday unless you too have ventured into the world of storytelling games. Today I was lucky to be a part of a mega game of Fiasco. Two groups playing UK Parliament with the zombies add-on. A nice belated halloween treat. Fiasco is a gamesmaster-less role play game, where there is no need to prep and you finish it in just a few hours.

It has an ever growing selection of scenarios to play from, many based on classic films. You can be a part of the cast of a 70s mafia film or face the nightmares of school with added blood. No game plays out the way you expect. Setup is simple, the roll of hand full of dice determines the option you have to choose from with your playset.

This is how I found myself playing Ivanna Bullet who only goal is to successfully lobby the secretary of defence to buy Mace-Guns, Gun-Swords and Axe-Fire blasters during the zombie apocalypse that the government is trying to cover up. Hedging my bets I was blackmailing fellow freemason Zelda West the wife of defence secretary Andrew West to get contracts with MoD. Whilst lobbying the shadow secretary Maxwell and feeding the ducks (always need to feed ducks if doing shady business). Because of course it’s election season and how we handle the zombie disaster, will determine how the public votes.

It didn’t go well for me which is kind of the fun – to create and be the undoing of a despicable character. You create utter nonsense. Sadly Ivanna Bullet was bitten during the meeting with the secretary of defense. Her zombie form was left roaming the parliamentary lobby calling out for braaiiins and drinking irn bru. It didn’t end well for any of us…

But we all left wanting to play again. Taking out the gamemasters and limiting the number of scenes is a real advantage. Having only really tried two sessions of storytelling games using the Slaine setup. My first impressions of role play games was that they requires hours of commitment, character development where learning how to fight required homework. Intrigued by the comics and the basic backstory I was interested wanting to see how my character could develop but put off the complexity. More so the commitment needed to see those games through. Needless to say this character has fallen to the ether.

But I had a taste for role play – to build up a story with friends but not locked in for potentially years. Appealing to my somewhat scatty attention span, the great thing about Fiasco is its length and flexibility. Out of the eight of us three were new to Fiasco, all of them managed to jump straight in. I found it a real gateway into a world of gaming.that would otherwise find too intimidating and closed off.

The games are growing life of their own from a simple playset book. Fans are writing new scenarios and now with add ons. Both groups had similar feelings that the zombies add on was hard to fit on to the parliament. Each took it down a very different path, we brought zombies in early whilst the other group brought theirs in need the end. However hard and ludicrous you always find to bring the story together.

The game doesn’t go the way you expect or is tricky to bringing the different story threads. But like any good game is has replayability and the scope to build on of what you’ve learnt.

Plus it is totally an excuse to play pretend.