Do Norwegian Politicians Understand The Internet?

At the very moment I'm writing this, the election results from the local elections in Norway are about to be finalized. The election results do not interest me too much right now. What I am disappointed about is the fact that although most of the parties have tripled the daily hit-rate on their official websites throughout the election, it seems none of the parties care too much about reaching out to the growing part of the electorate that is taking to the Internet to retrieve information about the election.

The Norwegian webzine NA24 wrote this week that the number of voters taking to the web to seek out information about the local election is at a record high.

"Compared the Norwegian national election two years ago we have ten times as many people visiting our website," Steinar Haugsvær, communication director for The Liberal party, said to NA24 earlier this week.

"There is no doubt the Internet is one of the most important communication channels in this election to reach voters," he added.*

We here at BlogCampaigning could not agree more - the Internet is becoming an important communication channel in Norwegian elections. Our question, however, is: How are The Liberal Party and the rest of the political parties in Norway using the Internet different from the national election two years ago?

To us it looks like nothing has changed! When are Norwegian political parties going to open up their websites to two-way communication?


*Translated by Espen from Norwegian

Iran Releases Anti US/ Anti Israel Game

The Iranian government recently introduced the propaganda PC game Rescue the Nuke Scientist (the kind of name only a totalitarian regime can come up with…). Reports Gamepolitics:

The PC game was created by the Union of Islamic Student Societies, a radical student group. It is said to be a riposte to Kuma Games’ Assault on Iran mission for its reality-based Kuma Wars military series.Mohammad Taqi Fakhrian, a leader of the student group, was in what passes for full game hype mode in Tehran these days:This is our defense against the enemy’s cultural onslaught. We tried to promote the idea of defense, sacrifice and martyrdom in this game.Game play, as described by the AP, is as follows:In Rescue the Nuke Scientist, U.S. troops capture a husband-and-wife team of nuclear engineers on a pilgrimage to Karbala, a Shiite holy site in Iraq. Players take on the role of Iranian security forces carrying out a mission code-named “The Special Operation” to free the scientists, who are moved from Iraq to Israel. Players have to kill U.S. and Israeli troops and seize laptops containing secret information.Players who lose the game receive an onscreen message which says, “With resistance, you can battle the enemy.”The Union of Islamic Student Societies, which created the game, also sponsored the 2005  World Without Zionism conference at which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”  

This made me think: Do these kind of games really do have an effect on players? And if that's the case, what can we learn from them?  When it comes to the representational level the degree of realism certainly seems to be quite high, even though it's still way behind Western state-of-the-art FPPs. But is that enough to be engaging?

In his paper "Social Realism in Gaming" Alexander Galloway explains that realism 'requires "a more-or-less direct criticism of current society and morals" which America's Army does not do, nor does it aspire to do. In fact the game can be viewed in exactly the opposite framework: as a bold and brutal reinforcement of current American society and its positive moral perspective on military intervention, be it the war on terrorism or "shock and awe" in Iraq'. Simply replace America's Army with Rescue the Nuke Scientist, American society with Iranian society and the war on terrorism with the war on zionism and there's not much left of any form of realism – realism in Galloway's definition that is. Basically it amounts to a challenge of hegemony which I think is too simplistic, one of the consequences being that if a game corresponds with the political positions of the author it's deemed to be realistic (such is the case with State of Emergency: 'While the game is more or less realistically rendered, its connection to realism is seen primarily in the representation of marginalized communities... but also in the narrative itself, a fantasy of unbridled, orgiastic anti-corporate rebellion). Also it seems that Galloway's position amounts to a simple binary opposition of escapism and "realism" with nothing inbetween respectively no potential for subversive readings.

He nevertheless has a point when he brings up his so called "congruence requirement": 'I suggest there must be some kind of congruence, some type of fidelity of context that transliterates itself from the social reality of the gamer, through one's thumbs, into the game environment and back again. This is what I call the "congruence requirement (…) So, it is because games are an active medium that realism in gaming requires a special congruence between the social reality depicted in the game and the social reality known and lived by the gamer'Now saving kidnapped nuclear scientists is hardly the social reality of the average Iranian (who probably has other things to worry about) but I would suggest that the fidelity of context here is nevertheless bigger than in America's Army, simply because of the dogmatic indoctrination of a suppressive regime that tries to eliminate any deviant opinions and instead perpetuates a propaganda induced struggle against the forces portrayed in the games. (The uncompromising Left might point out that this is not too different to the USA, but the last time I checked they were still a democracy that didn't stone women accused of adultery to death nor did they want to wipe any countries of the map.)  

So the effect of a game very much depends on its social and instructional/ informational contexts (amongst other things); if you want to design a game to effectively convey your message you have to pick up the people where they coming from and establish a strong link to the minutia of their everyday lives (something that might explain Ian Bogost's interest in the mundane and boring) – and give extensive background information to strengthen the instructional context of the game and the information it tries to bring across. As Squire points out 'the instructional context that envelopes gaming is a more important predictor of learning that the game itself. Specifically, how the game is contextualized, the kinds of cooperative and collaborative learning activities embedded in gameplay, and the quality and nature of debriefing are all critically important elements of the gaming experience'. Likewise his colleague Christian Arnseth suggests that 'the contextualisation of gaming is in regard to learning is probably more important than specific features of the same game in its own right. That is to say, the instructional context is probably a more important predictor of learning'.  

Now if you want to publish a game designed to convey your ideas/ agenda you of course can't put them back into the classroom or expose them to a totalitarian regime; but what you can do is enhance the quality of the debriefing. A good example for this is The District Game which to ensure that the perceived information really gets across the game sets the mechanics in a real-world context by providing extensive background information and quotes for every form of redistricting as well as links to websites and several reports dealing with the issue (not limiting itself to a political direction) – being linked these kinds of resources is definitely a crucial point. A little improvement, taking the congruence requirement into account, might be the possibility to influence the borders of the districts you're living in or replay a recent gerrymandering that led to the passing of a law whose impact you're starting to feel so that the social reality of the gamer plays a more important role.

 In short: Pick them up where they're coming from, show the connection to their lives and embed the game in a well thought about instructional context to bring the message across and explain yourself extensively and thoroughly.

Subject: Greetings from New Zealand

From: Jens SchroederSubject: Greetings from New Zealand To: Espen, Parker

Hi guys,greetings from New Zealand. I'm having an awesome time here – despite freezing my a** off. Coming from Germany I should actually be able to withstand minus five degrees but I guess living in tropical conditions for the last two years kind of affected my ability to adapt to cold weather. Also: when I moved to Australia I never thought that I was going to be confronted with anything resembling ice or snow, accordingly I only possess light clothing and three token sweaters. My answer to that problem lay in the “onion principle” aka layering – when I went jet-boating in Queenstown I was wearing two t-shirts, two sweaters and two jackets. I found a bit hard to breathe, but I'd choose health over dignity any time.

Today I arrived in Christchurch again after a wonderful trip through the breathtaking scenery of the South Island: Snow covered mountains, rainforests, fjords, glaciers, all of almost incomprehensible beauty. Check the photos on Facebook: Pt1 & Pt2!

Since I didn't want to carry it around all the time and was moving a lot I didn't want to take my laptop with me. So after a long day of sightseeing instead of seeking entertainment and news from the internets I, rather extensively, watched TV. Something which I haven't done for ages. The result: I feel about 20% more stupid than before. I feel like a victim of CNN's agenda setting, since I have to passively absorb their programs without being able to countercheck their reports or consult a variety of opinions with the help of the extensive resources the internet has to offer. In short: I just don't feel empowered.I retain some empowerment respectively the ability to avoid Nicole Ritchie related news through my iPod. I loaded some documentaries on there before I left, one of them being “God's Next Army”, which deals with the Patrick Henry College, the supposed Harvard for the Christian Right. Watching this made me think that one of the reasons American conservatives have issues utilizing blogs for the purposes is the influence of these people – the main problem being that the bible is taken literally by Evangelical powers as if enlightenment never happened: basically not much of a difference to Islamic dogmatism with strong undertones of theocratic fascism. Now, the underlying principle of blogs is (ideally!) the concept of exchange and negotiation in a public sphere, a spirit of debate that leads to better outcomes, Espen's thesis being a case in point. However, if you're on a divine mission and take a dogmatic stand that doesn't allow for any negotiation and use debates to impress your view on your opponents instead of reaching for a greater good, this principle gets disrupted (yeah, yeah, I know... sounds pretty idealistic and unworldly, but I think you get the point. And since not all Republicans are adherents of this kind of Christianity but good old conservatives there are probably other issues, such as demographics, that complicate the adaptation to new technology).

Well, it seems that American conservatives aren't the only ones having trouble utilizing new ways of reaching the electorate. Even though John Howard released a speech on global warming on Youtube, the Liberal's Myspace presence still seems to have some issues – the main reason being John Howard refusing to create his own profile page because he doesn't want to lend his identity to a commercial organisation (which is, quite frankly, pretty ironic since the privatization of public services his party supported he lend much of Australia's identity to commercial organisations). Writes The Age:

Mr Howard's office today added a video on climate change to YouTube, but at the time of writing it had not been added to the party's MySpace page."They [the Liberal party] are not using their profile as effectively as they should be," said MySpace spokesman Darain Faraz."If you go on their profile it still says they've got 8 friends, and we know that they've had a lot more requests than that. It would be great if they started using it in the same way that other political parties have."The office of the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, has been busily adding friends to Mr Rudd's profile since Thursday. It listed 6058 friends as of this morning.The leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, has also embraced Impact, and his profile lists 182 friends.Labor politicians outnumber Liberals by more than two-to-one on Impact.The Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, are the only Liberal profiles being regularly updated with approved friends and comments.   

Espen, maybe you should come back to Australia and become a consultant for the Liberal's internet matters. Anyways, I gotta go, I already spend ages in this internet café. At least all this typing kept my fingers warm.

Talk to you soon! Jens

Low-tech Campaigning in Japan – Use Second Life Break the Law

If someone asked you to freely associate things with Japan you'd probably think of futuristic high-tech, bullet trains, cyberpunk, anime and all the fancy gadgets we always seem to get years later. But of all countries it's Japan that campaign wise is still stuck in the middle-ages:

It's a first for Japanese politicians — and perhaps illegal. In his bid for re-election, upper house member Kan Suzuki has opened a virtual office in Second Life. He plans to use SL to discuss policy and field questions. Hence, the problem. Japan's fifty year-old Public Office Election limits election campaigns to using only postcards and pamphlets. See, they didn't have Second Life fifty years ago. But! Even recently officials have ruled that web pages cannot be created or updated during campaigns. Suzuki's campaign is venturing into uncharted territory for Japanese politics, which is still based on white gloves and campaign vans.

Makes me wonder how they handle blogs of politically interested citizens who follow the campaigns and publicly exchange their views with others – would updating their blogs during campaigning be illegal as well? Could campaigns pay people to pretend to be independent while they support their agenda? Has Japan heard of astroturfing?-Jens 

News Feed: The Caucus on Politics and Cyberspace

The New York Times’ political blog, The Caucus, reports:

We caught up the other day with a conference about campaign politics and the Internet, where Joe Trippi took time out from baking, er, burning pies with the Edwards campaign to trace the arc of the influence of politics on cyberspace, and vice versa. A few of the e-advisers to the campaigns, namely those with the Clinton, Obama and McCain operations, also attended. They didn’t give away many trade secrets, but offered some insights into what works and what doesn’t at this stage of the election cycle.

Read the article here