Game Designer / Professor / Optimist

Swing State

Swing State is a game prototype that was never published. In fact, it was a complete failure. So why is it here (aside from my clear affection for failures?) Well, it provided for me the most meaningful lesson in serious game design: start with the system. In fact, the process taught me that even art and design students could develop a nuanced grasp at the failures in our political systems…by making a game about it.

In other words, it’s the failed project that changed my entire pedagogical and design worldview.

A group of intrepid Parsons students and I embarked on this project in 2004, at the behest of then New School President, Bob Kerrey. The footage you see is a mock up if the gameplay, which we developed as a paper-based prototype and rough playable (sans graphic design).

Swing State is a fast-paced two-player game based on real issues and public opinion data from electoral polls.

Here’s how it worked: players would choose a historic presidential race, choose a side (Republican or Democrat), and a state to battle in. They would then have a few seconds to quickly select two issues on their platform to fight with. To win, players needed to win the electoral college votes from strategic states. Often, this resulted in losing the popular vote – and reveals the unfortunate truth that some states have more power than others to determine the president.