Normally, a girl does not go around a college party on a Saturday night asking boys if they have ever played World of Warcraft. But that was exactly what I was doing two weeks ago.
Twenty-four hours prior to the party, I had been given a challenge. And this was a challenge that I was not going to take lightly. In three-days time, I was to present a pitch that proposed a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where participants would be interacting as a part of the North Carolina state politics environment.
I had worked at Reese News Lab for less than two weeks when I was assigned this idea to pitch, and quite frankly, I was terrified. From one crazy brainstorming session to the next, I was still confused as to what the semester would be like. But the minute that someone threw out the idea to combine World of Warcraft and The West Wing, I knew I wanted to pitch it.
The full idea blossomed during the brainstorming session into an interactive game where users would enroll as an avatar representing a member of the North Carolina state politics environment. Users could start as a mayor of a small town or even a member of Congress and interact with other players and citizens. The politician would have to consider the local environment of the region of North Carolina and what citizens in that region cared about. I was unsure how to structure an effective pitch and I knew absolutely nothing about video games or North Carolina state politics, but I knew that a weekend of research would set it on the right path.
My first step was to figure out the structure of these MMORPG and what would need to be included in this game. I searched through my contacts for potential computer science majors at UNC and old classmates from my math and science high school, and eventually landed on some self-proclaimed experts in the field. Although people were hesitant to admitting to being World of Warcraft “wowaholics” at first, some eventually revealed incredible numbers of hours logged playing in this online world.
With endless expansion packs, challenges and almost 10 million users, World of Warcraft appeared as a leader in the field and a good example to examine and mimic. Starting with this game, I began to do pages and pages of Google searching to determine if anyone else had already tried to develop this mixing of ideas. Through many online free trials, I played and investigated many games that claimed to be government simulators. On the Sunday night before the pitch day, I was sure that our proposed product would fill a void that was evident in the gaming and political education worlds.
On the morning of the pitch on page 14 of my Google search I found a press release from McGraw-Hill. It was for a government simulation game where students can play as a member of the federal legislature to craft and pass bills. I thought for sure that my pitch was completely flopped and that I must encourage the team to not pursue the product for the semester. But I decided to pitch the idea anyway and focus on the unique local aspect of our game. I realized that the McGraw-Hill product could not provide the local context that drives most political decisions anyway.
Apparently, the Reese News Lab team saw value in this difference. On Tuesday I received an email that we were pursuing the idea for the semester. With a whole queue of free downloads of previous models and a new World of Warcraft avatar, the warcraft team has leapt into the imaginary online role-playing world in order to harness the creativity within these games and channel it for political science education and increased involvement in the local government.