Learning to excel in political role play
With Shasn, real world politics finds its table-top playground. It reflects the democratic process in all its strategising, scheming, power-grabbing, money-managing and mask-wearing faces
HYDERABAD: How do politicians strategise to influence voters? Do they shift their values and beliefs when it comes to making coalitions and gaining power? Can idealists survive in politics? Does politics transform the principled into ruthless pragmatists? All the answers can be found in Shasn, a multi-player board game that delves into the real-world issues affecting us. Shasn game creator and co-founder of Memesys Culture Lab Zain Memon speaks about the game, how it came into being, the challenges they had overcome, and their aim in bringing it out. Edited excerpts:
How was the game conceived? What was the idea behind it?
One of the most urgent problems that we wanted to solve as creators was our complete inability to have meaningful political conversations with our friends. We gleaned many insights into the motivations and processes of our political players and systems. Our intention now was to translate these complex learnings into an easily accessible, enjoyable format which allowed people to experience them first-hand.
On what basis did you choose the four types – The Idealist, The Capitalist, The Showman, and The Supremo? What are their behavioural traits?
We observed different political personalities and deconstructed their tools of choice in the battleground of elections. We distilled four major sets of resources – funds, clout, media, and trust. The Capitalist controls the flow of funds, has an overarching vision of human progress, and looks for profitability in every situation. The Supremo uses clout to win over community sentiment, and expertly engages in identity and vote bank politics. The Showman has a grip over the media, and sensationalises and embellishes to grab public attention. The Idealist gains people’s trust, with promises of truth, loyalty, and justice, with a heavier focus on ideals over implementation.
What is the differentiating factor between Shasn and other games?
Shasn is an attempt to engage people in politics with a deep scope for strategic play. This translates not only into the exploitation of game elements like Conspiracy cards and Headline cards, but also to over-the-table strategy – building alliances with players, negotiating moves, bargaining for resources, and exchanging powers. Shasn’s ambition is to personally and emotionally involve people with its policy questions and realpolitik, and break the barrier between the game and reality.
Did you have any experience in knowing the inner workings of a political party?
During the making of our last project, An Insignificant Man, we closely shadowed the entire birth and rise of a political party. Our team followed a social movement from which arose one of India’s newest and biggest political players. Our team was privy to an endless number of fascinating incidents and anecdotes over the years. Several of them have found their way to the game in the form of narratives on exciting Conspiracy and Headline cards.
Were there any challenges in designing the game? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge in our creative process was to introduce political learning through an experiential journey. We wanted to make politics conversational and fun, and discourage the notion that politics is boring, hard, or something that doesn’t affect us all that much. Another challenge was not let our personal biases and political leanings seep into the game. It took us months and hundreds of trials to iron out all the teething problems and edge-case scenarios.
Through Shasn, what message are you intending to send to people?
Our game and our Kickstarter campaign are attempting to communicate a crucial, straightforward truth – the more people that show up, voice their dissent, and actively take ownership of their politics, the better our Shasn gets – both the actual game and our real world democracy. Shasn is only the beginning of a series of ideas that hold up a mirror to our societal systems and break the barriers between the medium (a board game, in this case) and reality.
By mimicking the dilemmas that our politicians experience, and the climate they exist in, we are synthesising a low-stakes election campaign for players to live through. We want people to crawl out of their echo-chambers and exchange words and ideas with all ends of the spectrum. Shasn’s ultimate goal is to foster a political ecosystem where healthy discourse aimed at solving problems can thrive.
How to earn resources?
Each answer from an ideologue card will earn a combination of four resources – campaign funds, media attention, street clout, and public trust. There are no right and wrong answers. Its all about how you perceive. Headline cards are an array of opportunities and punishments that begin negotiations, boosting or hindering a player’s gameplay. Conspiracy cards offer a variety of offensive and strategic manoeuvres that players can purchase.
By influencing more than half the voters in a zone, a player forms a majority there. At the end of the game, the player with the most majority voters wins.
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