After the 2016 elections, Scout.ai and a group of technology activists created Machine Learning President, designed for "scenario planning to game out how tech might impact future elections, as a way to think through the potential challenges and pitfalls that might eat away at democracy."
The game — which sounds really fun! — enjoyed a brief splash of notoriety last June when rumors emerged that Trump backer and Cambridge-Analytica-affiliated heiress Rebekah Mercer and a group of her plutocratic friends had played Machine-Learning President, allegedly as a victory lap (victory larp?) to celebrate the ascendancy of their chosen authoritarian bigot to the presidency.
Now Chicagoans can play a regular match of Machine Learning President in the runup to the 2018 midterms, hosted by Max Temkin of Cards Against Humanity and Peter Sagal of NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. Polygon's Charlie Hall sat in on a session and it sounds amazing.
To begin the evening, a group of 40 players showed up at Temkin's brightly colored coworking space. The participants were a rogues' gallery of local and state political figures and activists, tabletop game designers, actors, and comedians. Everyone was randomly divided into teams of two to four players. Groups were a presidential candidate or a political faction.
The goal for the candidates was to get elected, while the goal for each faction was to get their political talking points onto the winning ticket.
Candidate teams included Nikki Haley and Mike Pence on the right, and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren on the left. Factions, however, ranged from the specific to the more abstract.
There was one team to represent the startup incubators and venture capitalists that orbit around Y-Combinator, and another to represent Alphabet, the company behind Google. Together, they were there to fight for the political goals of Silicon Valley.
There was a team simply called Unions, an abstraction of the combined political clout of organized labor in the U.S.; similarly, the Evangelical team was on hand to represent the views of fundamentalist Christian leaders.
The remaining factions were a bit more concrete. They included the right-leaning Koch brothers and left-leaning billionaire Tom Steyer, the Bush/Romney network of donors, and Robert Mercer himself. Black Lives Matter was also represented. Rounding out the field was Wall Street/Big Business and Russia, which loomed large as the only international faction in the game.
Machine Learning President, or how to role-play the 2020 election [Charlie Hall/Polygon]
(Image: Charlie Hall/Polygon)