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What to Do With an Idea That’s Too Big

I’m saying good night to an idea I had almost exactly four years ago, because it was too big. I’m only saying it’s too big, because part of me is scared to admit a more likely scenario: it’s not a good idea.

I also hope there’s some sort of middle ground, which is that it’s an interesting premise, currently infeasible, and could continue on in a different form.

If anyone’s squirming with anticipation, here’s the idea. It’s called Your Town. Your Town is an alternate reality game, wherein players act as policymakers in a fictional version of their hometown, and by passing the laws that they believe are best, the game makes them feel the effects of their policies.

Some examples

  • You pass a “Tough on Crime” bill that creates a violent black market. While driving down the street, you feel your phone buzz. You take it out, and you see an SMS that says, “Because of the effects of Measure M, you were shot in a drive-by while driving down College Ave.”
  • You relax conservation laws, and while taking a walk through Howarth Park, you can take out your phone, pan it around and instead of seeing trees/ a lake / paths, you see a subdivision all around you.
  • You remove a farm subsidy, so after going to the grocery store, instead of your credit card bill being $70, it was now $110.

Of course all the data supporting the effects of these policies would be researched with care. I have - and would have - no particular political agenda. My premise is, people are emotional in their political beliefs, and… that’s bad. Politics, in my rampantly idealistic opinion, should be based in reasonable conclusions about how to organize society. If you were, then, to present people with the “actual” real-world implications of their political beliefs (enacted because they are playing policymakers) that delta between belief and reality could close. Not by rational argument, but by emotional experience.

You might have already come to this conclusion: this idea is absurdly infeasible; the scholarly database alone about policies and their effects is the work of several lifetimes. The creative implementation of each effect through smart phones or various media is an engineering feat of a multi-million dollar startup. And all of that comes on top of a backdrop of the first question, can you map policies and their effects on the real world so cleanly? In so many situations, randomness, non-linear dynamics are far more meaningful to Why Things Happen than a given policy.

So I can’t think of any other option than to file this one away. I still feel there’s an interesting project to be undertaken in the realm of political belief, emotion, and gaming, but it’s not this one.