DURHAM – “As you win, democracy loses.”
That’s essentially the end result of a new virtual reality (VR) game out of Durham-based app development studio CrossComm.
Titled Gerrymander Madness, it gamifies the redistricting process of gerrymandering – the manipulation of legislative districts for political advantage.
But more to the point, it’s designed to help players understand the repercussions of the controversial practice.
“While presented as a game, the VR experience shows the ease with which electoral outcomes can be manipulated for political gain through the practice of gerrymandering,” said CrossComm, in a statement. “For this reason, we are calling it an “Anti-Democracy VR game.”
The game is currently a key feature of a new exhibit launched at the Greensboro History Museum called Project Democracy 2020, which uses innovative exhibits to explore topics in American democracy.
Using Oculus Rift headsets to provide the VR experience, the exhibit places museum-goers into the virtual office of a fictional North Carolina legislator, where their objective is to redraw voting districts on a North Carolina map to gain political advantage for a chosen party.
“As players score points, they can see how their actions disenfranchise voters of opposing parties,” says the museum’s director Carol Hart.
NC takes center stage in gerrymandering debate
As the 2020 elections approach, gerrymandering is already proving to be a topic of intense scrutiny and debate, with states like North Carolina taking center stage.
Earlier this month, congressional maps drawn by Republican state legislatures were approved for use in the 2020 elections.
This ruling after the same North Carolina court barred an earlier version of the map due to unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
Hart says the museum hopes the game will help visitors conceptualize the conversations around gerrymandering, and understand how major political parties throughout history have used gerrymandering to influence elections.
A growing trend
The virtual reality exhibit is an example of a growing trend by museums to use immersive technology to create interactive experiences for visitors.
Mike Harris, senior immersive tech developer at CrossComm, attributes this to the advantages that virtual and augmented reality have as experiential learning tools.
“A great benefit of this technology is its ability to explain intricate concepts in a visually stimulating and immersive way,” says Harris. “In this case, we’re able to demonstrate a delicate cause and effect relationship through responsive, virtual maps that deliver visual data in real-time.”
CrossComm will give a live demo of Gerrymander Madness at the upcoming RTP Virtual Reality meetup at American Underground, 201 W. Main Street, on Monday, De. 16 from 6pm.