At GameTheory we spend a lot of time creating games and apps to help our clients address their issues and tackle global and societal challenges. We love what we do, but sometimes and issue just strikes us that we feel we have to address, client or no, and often times making something simple is the best way to do that.
We all knew the Gerrymandering was a problem, but when discussing the upcoming supreme-court case that would determine once and for all of Gerrymandering was unconstitutional, we realized that some of our coworkers didn’t really understand Gerrymandering or why it was a problem. It’s not a big surprise. Gerrymandering is a strange word and a somewhat cryptic concept. When you tell someone that you can take a city that is 60% one political party and actually make that party lose the election just by “drawing the right lines”, well, that’s a little hard to grasp.
What really struck us and pushed us to action was how easily the concept of Gerrymandering fit into a game. After all, that’s what so many of the worst offenders are really doing, playing their own unique puzzle game to try and ostracized and disenfranchised specific groups through a clever mechanic.
We decided we wanted to do something, so we designed a puzzle game with the goal of making the complicated and confusing subject of Gerrymandering understandable within ten seconds of playing our game.
The game couldn’t be too big because we didn’t have a lot of time to spare, but that actually turned into something we decided we wanted to make a benefit rather than a restriction. Our goal became not to build a hyper-immersive Gerrymandering experience, but rather to build a simple game that anyone could enjoy for just a few minutes and come up understanding something critical to democracy a little better.
We made the game in HTML5 and kept it simple. The vision that inspired us was a journalist who wanted to write about this issue could copy and paste two lines of code and slap our game into their story, giving people a quick and easy way to engage with and understand the issue.
Our first step was to prototype the mechanic. We began with a simple grid made of blue and red tiles and began to create puzzles. These quickly blossomed, expanding from simple 3x3 grids all the way up to immense 7x7 brain teasers, which honestly I still have a hard time solving.
We created a character, our little Gerry, as a way on making the game feel a little more fun and engaging, but really we just liked the lizard and wanted to give them their moment in the spotlight. Animating Gerry gave the game more life and Gerry was also able to present some factual information about how Gerrymandering works in the real-world between play sessions.
When creating a scoring system, we decided to go with a straightforward “star system”, which was more flexible than simply a win or lose. Especially in the later levels, there will be plenty of times when a one-star solution is clear, but that three star victory is far more elusive. This we hoped would make the game a little more replayable and fun to fiddle with it you wanted to engage for more than a few minutes.
The final step was to create something actionable. We were excited to create a game that raised awareness, but it doesn’t hurt to put in a call to action and try to make some tangible positive change. To meet this goal we developed the game to check your address to find your state representative. With this information, you can then directly call them through the game to share your thoughts on the issue.
We spent a few months part-time working on Gerrymander, creating enough puzzles to give even hard-core gerrymanderers a challenge, and optimized the HTML5 game for web and mobile play. As with any game we spent our last week or so, testing, tweaking the tutorial, and adding a few more animations before it was ready to go!
We packaged up Gerrymander and you can play it now right here. If you want to share it with others (and we hope you do), you can embed the game into your own sites or articles with this simple code:
Want to learn more about the issue?
Gill v. Whitford - Campaign Legal Center
Trump’s new Census Bureau hire could give the GOP a big boost - The Washington Post
Leading Trump Census pick causes alarm - Politico
Everything you need to know about the Supreme Court’s big gerrymandering case - The Washington Post