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Mayor Munch: The Video Game in Toronto’s Mayoral Election

September 16, 2010

Originally posted at Spacing Votes.

Note: I haven’t been blogging here for a long time, but I have been posting weekly on Spacing Votes and figured I should share that work here too. Last week I blogged about the post-Labor Day debates. (If interested in the election and media, see my other posts too.)

Forget Pollstra and Ipsos Reid, One Stop Media takes the cake for the best mayoral poll in this year’s marathon race. Or, well, easily the most fun and innovative poll — even if it’s not very accurate. In fact, that’s the idea: to use technology and social media as a way to spark voter engagement.

One Stop Media has hit on a way to both generate interest in the mayoral race and gauge online  support for candidates. They have produced Mayor Munch, a Toronto election-themed version of Pac-Man, which allows users to play as different candidates, eating votes instead of food. The enemies, of course, are the opposing candidates. The game itself is simple and not too challenging, albeit a little clunky. It plays on Flash and One Stop Media plans to roll out a mobile version of the game soon.

The idea is that a candidate’s popularity determines how often he or she gets chosen, and thus the game provides polling results in real time. Say, for example, that you’re a Rocco Rossi supporter. One Stop assumes that you will pick Rossi as your Pac-Man to collect votes before Rob Ford or George Smitherman can kill you. Of course, this “poll” is hardly meant to be definitive — it’s biased towards Internet users and the results can easily be twisted by a dedicated group of campaigners. Indeed, the company expects that to happen, through the increased use of guest players who can play anonymously to hijack the poll. However, the goal is not to predict the winner of the race, although any correlation between online and real results would be interesting, indeed.

One Stop Media’s real purpose is to bring some fun to the election. To stir up some interest in the race for Toronto’s mayor. In what has been a very candidate-centric campaign, the One Stop team is trying to introduce a little flavour to the proceedings by engaging voters in a simple game that will serve to educate them and, hopefully, encourage them to actually vote on October 25. Their target market is 18- to 34-year-olds — the very demographic that is usually missing at the ballot box (and, theoretically, should care most about who their leaders are). As Michael Girgis, President and CEO of One Stop Media says: “… We have the unique insight, capability and social responsibility to … engage our youth in the upcoming election in a new and meaningful fashion that is relevant to their generation.”

To One Stop Media’s credit, they have resisted the urge to make fun of the various candidates, for the characters in their games are not caricatures, they are like super hero cartoons. (Rob Ford, for example, who has been subjected to some juvenile humor regarding his weight on #voteTO, gets some extra hair and a slight paunch.)

An added incentive to get people to play is the chance to win a 50″ HD TV. Every time you play, you get added to the draw and hence the more you play, the better your chances of winning. Mayor Munch will be advertised to over 2 million viewers daily, particularly over the TTC. (Expect to see ads on the subway screens soon.) Interestingly, high school students, most of whom are not eligible to vote because they are under 18, will also be targeted through a pilot program (currently in the Trinity-Spadina ward) with the Toronto District School Board.

At the time of the official launch, Sarah Thomson was leading the quote-unquote poll results with 39% votes, but Rob Ford has since taken the lead (although just by a hair) and now leads with 28% as opposed to 27% for Thomson. Rossi, erstwhile social media champion, is at the bottom with 14%.

It’s interesting that none of the major candidates seem to have taken any interest in the game. While it isn’t an issue to focus on, it is a way to bring in some more voters and is an example of how the Internet can play an increasing role in municipal politics. And, hopefully, bring more to the ballot box on election day.

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