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'Obamacare,' the Video Game?

(The Root) — The Saturday before the 2010 November midterm elections, President Obama's campaign strategist David Axelrod was a call-in guest on a radio show I was co-hosting. Team Obama was already bracing for a shellacking, since for months one Republican after the next had lip-synched right-wing talking points, accusing the POTUS of having accomplished zip.

I knew the Republicans were playing fast and loose with the truth. I knew that, like it or not, in his first two years in office, Barack Obama had scratched more off his to-do list than any other U.S. president since Lyndon Baines Johnson.


So I asked Axelrod why so many voters were so clueless as to how President Obama had spent the first two years of his first term. I dare not try to reconstruct the entire answer from the president's then senior adviser, but I will repeat two words that jumped out at me: "Information gridlock."

That's right. Axelrod's defense for a failure to communicate was that Obama's accomplishments came at such a breakneck pace that the White House press office didn't have the time to make sure that everyone following could keep up with the score. Maybe. Maybe not. But it would seem that the one achievement that is the most momentous since LBJ pushed Medicare and Medicaid through Congress in 1965 might have gotten a little special treatment: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.


It hasn't helped that from its conception through passage until now, the right-wing echo chamber has been in superdrive, dogging and demonizing the president's health care law. But I've got an app for that: Obamacare the Game.

Rather than trying to run down all the complicated bennies and perks hidden in the 2,600-page law, a computer game would have players racing through level after level, virtually discovering the rewards or penalties for either being or not being enrolled in the health plan.

It wouldn't matter whether it was a strategy, simulation or role-playing game, as long as it was available for a free download on the Obama-campaign website for every system from iPad to Xbox to desktop — Facebook, too. The gamification of the president's historic accomplishment could quickly and easily be a mind changer, slaying the stream of poison that the right keeps spewing. With the flick of a click, Americans would be able to go from unenlightened and turned off to informed and engaged.

How to beat the right-wing smear-and-fear machine came to me while I was in "The Gamification of News" session at the National Association of Black Journalists' convention last week. Although the panel was focused on a cutting-edge tactic for engaging readers and viewers in complex news stories, my mind quickly leaped from there to politics.


Since then I have interviewed two of the gamification panelists, Manuel "Mani" Saint-Victor and Scott Anderson, to see what they thought. They both agreed that it could be done and suggested how to do it.

"Have people walk through the process of being a different person with a different illness — [the] Sim [City] approach," said Saint-Victor, who is a former psychiatry resident physician at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital and a founder of Marveloper Media. "Let them walk through and let them see it with the Obamacare version and without the Obamacare version, not telling them which is and which isn't."


Scott Anderson, who is my firstborn as well as the co-founder and lead programmer at Enemy Airship and one of Game Developer Magazine's top 50 game developers for 2009, had a similar idea. He thinks the game should be "how to survive without health insurance." In his version of Obamacare the Game, "You have all these setbacks, and you have all these crazy things people will have to do to survive," Scott said. "It might not be fun, but it'll be effective. People will say, 'Oh, wow'; if these things happened to me, I'd be screwed."

Although gamification hasn't come to politics in a big way yet, it is already being played out in advertising through reward cards and loyalty systems, Saint-Victor said. Of course, almost everybody is familiar with the SimCity games, and there's even a game called Cut Throat Capitalism, which explores the economics of Somali pirates and why they do what they do. "You basically pick what ships they go after and how you'll treat the hostages," Anderson said.


The Supreme Court may have upheld the individual mandate on Thursday, but hold up on the high fives. Just how badly the Obama administration and campaign need to get beyond the information gridlock is patently obvious.

A majority of Americans — 54 percent — still believe that Obamacare should be repealed. Republicans have spent three times more money bad-mouthing the president's health law than Democrats have spent explaining it. Right now there are 3 million small-business people who qualify for a health care tax credit.


A mere 170,000 have applied.

Cyber columnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.


Cybercolumnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.

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