Britain’s Parliament just published a video game that’s meant to give a taste of what it’s like being a back-bench MP.
It’s pretty good.
WIN, in fact.
MP for a Week isn’t an action-filled extravaganza or a feast of beautiful 3D graphics. Instead, it’s an innovative interactive experience that uses good, relevant gameplay and good production design to attain WIN. The end result is a game experience that should give players a good introduction to what it is MPs actually do all day.
The beating heart of MP for a Week is relevant gameplay. To win, you have to apply good judgement in communication and time management. You don’t find this sort of mechanic too often in mainstream commercial games, except for the conversation trees in RPGs. It’s refreshing to see it as the basis of an entire game.
Time management is a big part of being an MP – there’s only so many hours in a week, and deciding what to do and what to skip also means deciding who’s more important to you. Do you go to a meeting with your constituents, or prepare to meet the Prime Minister? It’s not such a simple decision.
MP for a Week deals with this mechanic elegantly, through the constantly ringing smartphone in the corner of your screen. This is where you deal with messages from constituents, meetings and reports, as well as menacing messages from the party whip, reminding you to vote with the party on legislation.
Most of the game is about communication – speeches in the Commons, letters to constituents, responding to media queries. You do all these things with a simple drag-and-choose interface. It’s simple but it gives you a fair amount of flexibility, and it seems just right for the purpose of the game.
Juggling all this is harder than it sounds, because in every decision you have to make sure you’re satisfying everyone: your party, your constituents, and the media. Of course, you can’t please everyone all the time, so the game quickly turns into a balancing act of trade-offs. This is where you get to make all sorts of interesting decisions – and that’s what good gameplay is all about.
A game about politics? Can you hear the groans of boredom already? Yes, but wait – aside from good casual gameplay, this experience is lifted up by good design. MP for a Week is well produced. It’s visually rich, but remains simple to play. Sound design helps immensely with the game’s immersion, bringing environments to life and punctuating the passage of time. The ticking clock adds a sense of urgency. The overall impression is slick and busy.
MP for a Week isn’t perfect. It’s quite buggy in Firefox – I could never get past Wednesday. Internet Explorer seems to work better. Also, it’s frustrating that I can’t create a profile and save my game to come back to it later. As it is, you have to sit through the half-hour to hour-long game in one go. It’s not that long, but having to start over again (if the game crashes, for instance) is a bit annoying.
Still, as I said, these are minor things. Overall MP for a Week is WIN because it uses a really innovative format to deliver good gameplay, with good design. Being an MP is complex and subtle, and after playing I feel like I understand what it’s like a little bit better.
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