AMERICA 2050 is a satirical gaming platform that invites users to learn more about politics and how "the system" works by playing games.
UI/UX Design, Game Design
Political Gaming & Education Platform
If you’re alive and reading this, you know that American politics are chaotic, convoluted, and often just plain crazy. The situation isn't helped much by Americans' lack of civic knowledge. Crooked Media is a liberal political media company with a host of podcasts that aims to promote open conversation and support political participation. They wanted to provide an opportunity for users to educate themselves about how our government really works. By strengthening their listeners' foundation of political knowledge, they hoped to increase the value of their media offerings.
The biggest challenge was interesting people in a topic that, on the face of it, appears esoteric, complex, and just plain boring. AMERICA 2050 circumvents the usual barriers to entry around understanding the US government by gamifying the learning process.
Crooked Media is well poised, as a platform for political engagement, to offer educational content in an appealing way to their young & liberal demographic. This content will both support Crooked Media's goal of a well-informed and politically proactive public, but also drive up listener numbers and online engagement in a positive feedback loop.
AMERICA 2050 is a web-based gaming platform. Upon signing in, the user is greeted with a welcome message explaining the premise: it is 2050, and anyone with enough money now has the ability to purchase laws. The user plays a variety of arcade-style games to collect coins and buy laws, which are used to unlock new levels, games, and achievements, and attain a spot on the leaderboard. The tone is clearly satirical, matching the humorous dialogue in Crooked Media's podcasts. As you can see in the below example of one of the games, the user gains coins by whacking scientists who believe in climate change. At the end of each game, the user is given background information about the issue and opportunities to get involved.
Our research was primarily conducted online and supported by candid conversations with the target audience we identified. Our key findings didn't reveal any groundbreaking insight, but served to remind us of the breadth of the problem we were trying to solve. We organized the many facets of the issue at hand into four categories:
- 1. Voter apathy
- 2. General & specific lack of political knowledge
- 3. Politics, as a subject, is "lame"
- 4. US government is incredibly complex
Phew, that is a lot to tackle. Our initial explorations largely focused on #2, giving rise to ideas such as: a "Guess Who?" game for politicians; a localized issue-tracking app (already exists); politician trading cards; and a Build-Your-Own Political Platform competition among schools. Unfortunately, these initial ideas all suffered from the lame-ness that seems inextricably linked to all things political. Our biggest takeaway was nothing new: gamification makes boring stuff fun!
Crafting a user persona for this project was fairly easy, given the Crooked Media listenership demographics. Jill Abramson, former NY Times editor and current Guardian contributor, summed it up thusly:
“They have the young liberal demographic sewn up in the same way Jon Stewart did on cable in 2000." (source)
Basically, we were targeting young left-leaning millennials, perhaps entering the political fray for the first time, likely feeling disenchanted with Trump-era politics, and exhibiting a desire to fight for change or at least willing to educate themselves and stay up to date on what's happening. Here's Troy:
We were designing an educational tool for young liberals who, while ostensibly concerned with the state of politics in America, are likely shockingly ignorant of the political system itself. There are many reasons for this ignorance, and our solution must sidestep these obstacles by correctly applying the principles of gamification to drive engagement and subvert the “politics = boring” mindset.
With all of this in mind, AMERICA 2050 was born — a gaming platform set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, where users play as villainous lobbyists trying to get their crooked agendas through Congress. The American government has shed its mask of democracy and the real lawmaking mechanism has been laid bare: cash money. The various games tackle different issues that our nation is currently dealing with, from an exaggerated and satirical standpoint. The user plays games to collect coins and buy laws, which unlock new games and increase their standing on the leaderboard.
While education was the ultimate goal, it was not what would bring users to the table. The key consideration here was to create something fun and engaging with the educational aspect almost a side-effect of the overall experience. We also needed to break the complex topic into manageable chunks. And, of course, we had to consider the user’s knowledge base and the best way to use gamification to bridge the gap.
We looked at a diverse array of sources for inspiration, including the United States' official color palette, old video games, and of course Crooked Media itself.
Ultimately, we decided to move ahead with a slightly modified Crooked Media color palette and an 8-bit pixel art style. Both of these decisions were rooted in familiarity — we anticipated the vast majority of users to discover the platform via Crooked Media, and using the same color palette would help link the two in their minds. The 8-bit style was chosen to provide a level of abstraction from political reality as well as a callback to the target audience’s younger days and the video games of the 80s and 90s.
Working off a low fidelity sketch of the interface, we mapped out a user flow to ensure we included everything the user needed and excluded anything extraneous.
The finished product! Below you will see mockups for both a desktop & mobile version, a product launch booth at SXSW, and advertising materials and merchandise. There is also a prototype of the flagship game, Whack-a-Scientist, animated entirely in Keynote.
I was responsible for quite a bit of this project, including:
- Visual Identity
- 8-Bit Art
- Web & Mobile UI Design
- User Flow
- Lauren Acampora, Art Director
- Colin O'Shea, Art Director
- Joe Jones, Art Director
- Meghan Gaffney, Experience Designer
- Belem Medina, Experience Designer
- Affinity Designer: 8-bit art, UI design
- Sketch: Wireframe, user flow
- Keynote: Prototyping
- Google Drive: Concepting, collaboration
That's a wrap!