The millennials generation is notoriously disillusioned about government, and who could blame them? They came of age with the terror attacks of 9/11, watched the U.S. go to war, and just as they ventured into the job market, along came the Great Recession.
But another hallmark of the millennials generation—the gamification of almost everything—could be the key to drawing them into political decisions that will shape their future. They’re learning that life isn’t all fun and games. Yet they might be drawn in to political action if it’s infused with features they are already attuned to, like interactability, strategy, competition and rewards.
Millennials who have not ventured much beyond “hashtag activism” and rainbow memes might be surprised at the opportunities for political engagement that echo the games and techno tools with which they’ve grown up. And we’re not talking about online polls, which are useless. What about proposing an idea that could be introduced as legislation? Or using crowdfunding to hire a lobbyist? It could be just as much fun as using Foursquare to become “mayor” of one’s favorite restaurant—and a lot more likely to change the world.
Is anyone listening?
“Problems can’t be solved by the same people who created them,” Albert Einstein said. So move over, baby boomers. When it comes to politics, the millennials generation tends to be cynical and disengaged due to:
- Distrust in government, reflected in low voter turnout
- A complex political process marred by corruption and dominated by special interests, making it hard for citizens to get involved
- Partisan arguments instead of productive dialogue
- A feeling that politics is old school—for one’s parents and grandparents.
“Politics is just a spectator sport for a lot of us,” said CJ Lake, 24, a social media specialist for a South Carolina corporation. “The feeling is that no one’s listening to us, anyway.”
Lake noted that even when an issue captures millennials’ interest—the gay marriage debate, for instance—their involvement often is limited to chiming in with a trending hashtag or taking a Twitter poll. “We feel we’re supporting a cause, and in a way, we are,” she said. “But we tend to think we can stop there.”
The Millennials Generation: Politics and Policies
There are many reasons millennials need to pay attention to politics and policy. Government spending and taxes certainly matter to people who often carry thousands of dollars in college debt. Then there’s the environment, immigration, Social Security, health care, national defense, privacy issues and cybersecurity. All of these will impact the quality of life for future generations.
Gamification can help get people involved. A political platform might not be as addictive as World of Warcraft, or follow players around like Swarm. It probably won’t involve as many amusing GIFS as Twitter, Imgur, Tumblr or Reddit. But it should have certain game-like features: competition, creativity, challenges, rewards. Also, it needs to be accessible and fun in ways that build community and teamwork.
What does gamification look like in politics? One good example is Joe Simitian’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest in California. As a state assemblyman and then senator, Simitian promised his constituents that if they’d suggest a piece of legislation, he would consider every idea, and annually try to pass at least one into law.
“Some colleagues sort of rolled their eyes,” Simitian recalled. But more than 100 ideas came in the first year, and he introduced three in the State Assembly in 2002.
“If you won, you’d get lunch with your assemblyman, a flag that had flown over the Capitol. But the real prize would be that your idea could become law for 38 million people,” he said.
Over 11 years, 21 constituent ideas were passed into law. He feels sure that some, such as a law dealing with breast cancer screening, saved people’s lives.
Simitian, now a Santa Clara County supervisor, notes that the contest also had an element of something the millennials generation practically invented: crowdsourcing. “None of us is as smart as all of us,” he said.
Political Resources for Millennials
Other politicians are catching on, and they want to reach out to millennials. Some efforts fall flat, like Hillary Clinton’s tweet asking that angst about college debt be expressed in “3 emojis or less.” But check out sites such as:
- Brigade — discover political allies among friends and neighbors
- PopVox — keep up with Congress
- Rally — create an online fundraiser
- Amplifyd — try crowdsourced lobbying
- Represent — fight corruption
Activism shouldn’t stop with just a hashtag. Find an issue that matters, sample all sides of the debate and share ideas. Politics and policy are about more than slogans and personalities… they’re about what the rest of your life is going to be like.