Make It Matter Where You Put Your Cross

By Tim Hardy

Imagine a game for two players. Each in turn picks a number between 1 and 9 and you cannot pick a number that has already been chosen. The winner is the first to pick three numbers that add up exactly to 15.

Does that sound complicated? Well it’s not. Young children pick it up instantly.

Still confused? You just need to look at it differently.

If you could see a visual representation of the game, how it works would become obvious.

Noughts and crosses / tic-tac-toe

Formally, this is the same game as noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe) even though the experience of playing it may be different. It’s an interesting thought experiment by games designer Marc LeBlanc.

How long does it take to learn how to play noughts and crosses? Not long. Definitely far less time than it takes to understand the rules described in the first paragraph above.

The lesson for us here is that complicated systems can be explained easily if we find a different way of representing them. So why is this important right now?

On May 5th 2011, we finally get to choose how we elect our MPs in the UK.

The challenge is that few understand what the choice is about yet explaining how the Alternative Vote (AV) works and why it is a better system than First Past the Post (FPTP) usually sends people to sleep.

Those who profit from the current unfair system hope to scare people with ugly and dishonest campaigns like the following.

Truly revolting No to AV poster

(Image via YesInMay.)

They hope that dangerously misleading advertising like this might fool enough people into voting to protect the corrupt present system, a system that gives jobs for life to politicians in safe seats which makes them complacent and indifferent to those that they are supposed to represent and a system that continues to marginalise and exclude principled voices like those of Green Party candidates from parliament.

Let’s use our wits to fight this.

The right are always going on about “competition”, let’s steal their thunder and announce one!

This is a challenge to all artists, performers, indy game designers, musicians, comedians, bloggers and writers. Your goal is to find a fun and interesting way of representing the advantages of the Alternative Vote system so that even a child could understand. Your entry can be a video, an essay, an image, a web-based game, a play, a poem, a piece of performance art. The only limit is your imagination.

Upload a record of your work to the web somewhere and add a link to it in the comments box below. The deadline is midnight Friday 18 March Sunday 17 April and the person who submits the most interesting entry will win the choice of either a copy of Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses or a copy of Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World; the runner-up gets the remaining book.

The prize will be announced before after the TUC March for the Alternative on the 26th. I will try to find further special prizes to reward people whose work also promotes this demonstration in an original manner. Any other prizes that people are willing to donate will be gratefully distributed.

This is an age of cognitive surplus. We can take advantage of the free tools the internet provides and put to shame those who cannot think beyond dishonest scare tactics. Our creativity and generosity can drive reform. One small step at a time, together we can build a better world.

[Updated with new date: 15 March 2011]

18 thoughts on “Make It Matter Where You Put Your Cross

  1. We have a winner. Congratulations Joe! I’ll email you so that you can make a choice then SF, if you can send me your details, second prize is yours.

    Thanks to everyone who took part and for to who thought about, discussed and shared the ideas which is the most important thing.

    The Tory-backed no2av campaign has dropped their original claim that AV is too complicated to understand so I count that as a minor victory for good sense 🙂

  2. You’re not missing much Tim! But there’s no escaping the fact that they’re very popular.

    Anyway, looks like CogResearch have already done something similar, although they hide the “celebrity” vote towards the end of the survey.

  3. That sounds like a promising idea Chris but not having seen either game show I’m not entirely sure how it works so I’ll have to take your word for it 🙂

    There’s only a few days left if you want to put an entry in. I guess you can’t make a game in that time but perhaps you could illustrate your idea.

  4. Maybe this is really obvious… but I’ve just realised how similar AV is to the “elimination”-style voting that’s made so many gameshows popular, from Big Brother to The Weakest Link.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the skills to do this (certainly not on my own), but I’m imagining some kind of flash game where you vote on previous Big Brother/X Factor/Whatever contestants, and when you do an AV-style vote you get to see each round in turn, showing who you effectively voted for in each round and who got through.

    Hopefully(!) AV voting will turn out to make people more happy with the result, one way or another.

  5. Update. The closing date has been pushed back since a lot of people have said they are too busy with preparations for the 26 March and haven’t been able to prepare anything.

    New date is 17 April.

  6. The very talented Joshua Minor from pixelverse has kindly offered to donate an iTunes gift certificate or something similar as an extra prize.

    Does anyone know if the restrictions on funding political organisations in the UK might apply to this donation before I accept it? I am not affiliated to any political party so I don’t believe they would but I am not a lawyer either!

  7. Here is my entry, a more intuitive ballot:

    Does it make sense? I’d love to make a poster campaign out of it, but I’ll leave that to real graphic designers. Everyone should feel free to use it, if they like.

    After thinking it over, I suddenly feel very strongly about voting systems. It becomes clear that FPTP is a *subset* of AV that steals your votes away beyond the first preference. It’s a crippled, corrupted version of AV.

    AV is expressive and elegant. AV gives you a choice, not an ultimatum.

    A poor voting system is reflected in the government. I see now that FPTP is a voting system on the level of a carnival game.

  8. Let me see if I understand AV correctly… The votes are counted in several rounds, and the least favored candidate drops out each round until someone gets over half the votes and wins the election. In round 1, only the #1 preferences of the voters are counted. If no one has won yet, the candidate with the fewest votes drops out. In the following rounds, the most preferred votes that haven’t dropped out yet are counted, so that in round 2 there are some #1 and some #2 votes (with the #2 votes coming from voters whose first choice lost). If no one wins, another candidate drops out, recount, repeat.

    All ballots continue to the final round, so the fewer candidates are left, the more votes there are per candidate. That means everyone’s preferences are considered, no matter who wins.

    Then, the voting process is so:
    1. Who should win? Mark them #1.
    2. If #1 dropped out of the voting, which of the remaining candidates should win? Mark #2.
    3. Again, considering *only* the candidates you haven’t marked yet, who should win? Mark #3, #4, and so on, until you don’t have any preference among the remainder (with the understanding that you are potentially giving up votes by choosing not to fill the ballot out completely).

    It is impossible to hurt a #1 candidate by marking a #2 and subsequent; it is always best to fill out all votes. A mark is not a vote “for” a candidate, like it is in FPTP, but a vote “relative to”. Although AV should be a fairly intuitive concept of “order of preference”, I have FPTP so ingrained in my mind that I can understand AV better if I think about the elimination process as I vote. Perhaps it can be thought of as… choosing the lesser evil (recursively).

    Did this help anyone?

  9. Finally something to make both naughts and crosses and AV interesting!

    I think this is a brilliant example of how ‘clicktivism’ can go above and beyond.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to contribute something!

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