Poll Dancing: We Got Young People Apathetic to Politics to Test a Board Game Based on the Indian Elections
Photo: Shamani Joshi
Election season is almost upon us. And that means more rallies that serve up lies as refreshments, heated discussions about whether the hand is greater than the lotus, and opinions that change faster than you can wave a flag. But amidst all the noise, the crucial voice of the young folks seems to be amiss. With the ratio of enrolment of the 18-19 age group being less than 30 per cent in at least 21 states, it seems the first-time voters that parties are banking on to bring in change would rather side-step the electoral process than be part of it.
Attempts to change this are already underway: whether it’s by holding registration drives on college campuses or political parties bowing down to the gully rap hype to create the most questionable asli hip hop videos. The Poll—a board game based on the Indian elections—created by Abeer Kapoor, aided by researchers Anandya Bajaj and Vidita Priyadarshini and backed by Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation or SMART (a UP-based NGO that runs a community radio station) with funding aid from the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom—may just be another contender that emerges from this dust.
A game created keeping in mind the complex and pothole-filled process of an actual Indian election, The Poll is designed to be the closest possible depiction of the on-ground reality. It’s like Monopoly, but on acid, where vote-representing cubes are the property markers, while The Election Commission cards may as well be your ‘Just Say No’ ones, and all the black money can make you Mr Moneybags.
The game consists of expansive elements: a central board which constitutes all the action; four-player mats to track resources; 50 constituency cards that chalk out problems in areas including Dhanbad, Mizoram and New Delhi; policy cards that make up your manifesto; money to spend during the campaigning phase; vote cubes that mark your influence in the area; media cards that boost your campaign strategy; Election Commission cards as vigilantes against malpractice; campaign cards that let you multiply your vote share; cards that can change the election; and even a set of corporate funding cards to help you secure your party’s funds (and now we catch a breath).
It is played over five rounds between four players. It begins with each player drafting a manifesto based on policy cards they pick out to solve certain issues listed in a headline format on the constituency cards. These include everything from poor water supply to tribal protests to economic instability that your policies try to resolve with solutions like construction, funding, and convincing arguments that let you win over influence in the area.
The next round is the campaigning phase, which lets you increase your influence through tactics like door-to-door campaigning, handing out beer and biryani, inviting celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda to support your party, and even a WhatsApp Uncle with the fastest fingers for fake news.
Essentially, it simulates the election process over five rounds and even includes black money, illegal tactics and media-driven propaganda to keep it real. Ultimately, the player, who stands in for the party with the highest number of constituency cards, wins.
The brainchild of journalist Kapoor—who has reported on elections in several areas mentioned in the game and compiled the game’s policies by combing through various real manifestos for max authenticity—The Poll is an interesting and immersive experience that puts the country’s political happenings in your hands. “The idea is not to influence opinion, but to equip people with the right vocabulary of political systems and problems in various constituencies that keep coming up during Lok Sabha sessions,” states Kapoor, speaking about the motive behind his creation. The idea of making it a board game comes from the advantage of bringing people from divergent thought groups together to talk, argue and convince each other about their moves, something Kapoor felt would not play out properly in an online setting.
But, while the game is a laudable attempt at trying to capture the complexities present in our electoral process—corruption and questionable motives included—it becomes quite the mind-boggler because of it. For the average player, the first attempt can be overwhelming, confusing and tedious to decipher due to its multi-element approach and open-endedness. It is logical and needs the sharp responsiveness to go with it, but issues arise here at the lowest possible level as well. Rules as basic as how many policy cards to pick up to draft your manifesto, or how to decide whether someone deserves to win votes in the area, or even just how many cubes you can place to win a majority before the round finishes are enough to make you want to punch the game instead of play it.
But besides its intricacies, this board game is intelligent and, when played properly, contributes greatly to actually understanding what the damn election process is all about. But can a game that paints the most vivid picture of our electoral process and strategies be a powerful enough option to overtake YouTube gamers, Red Dead Redemption and online ludo? Board games are an excellent outlet for competitiveness, team spirit and strategy, but can we get through such a protracted version without getting a little (or a lot) bored? We played the game with some young folks self-admittedly apathetic to politics to see how it affected their opinion on politics and the way the country is run. Here’s what they had to say:
“I think the game is pretty interesting. The explanation should be simpler, but it doesn’t make me care about politics or the upcoming election. I’m just looking at it as an interesting and different game.”—Mihir, 21
“In India, politics is not like this. They don’t fight in such a logical and argument-based manner. Even an Arnab Goswami makes everything about gossip, but here you have to actually find a solution to your problem, which is interesting when played as a game. But I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of how politics in this country work. Figuring out how to play the game was very tiring and we didn’t get places where we actually live in, to make policies for. If we got places like Andheri, we may have been able to relate to it more and make more informed decisions. But this is not really going to help me be more politically informed. I will know about problems in certain constituencies, but I don’t think it will carry forward to my real life and influence my opinion.”—Kanishka, 19
“It might make people feel like voting and realise that my vote would actually matter. You realise the importance of the manifesto and can take a decision based on which is better, and not just because your dad supports a certain party.”—Hemansh, 21
“I think I would have preferred it if it were digital or a card game. It’s too big, bulky and extensive to be played often and also requires a lot of time and concentration. As a board game, it’s quite informative but seems a bit redundant and wasteful because of how much effort it needs you to put in. I would be more into it if the game were simpler, even though the Indian election itself is not.”—Arya, 22
The Poll was launched in New Delhi on January 23. It is currently still in a testing phase with the option to preorder it, while the creators continue to iron out the kinks. It is currently priced at Rs 2,499, with prices expected to drop to the current student discounted price of Rs 1,999.
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