PoliticsSeptember 29, 2023

Meet the Gen Z politics nerd who’s made a game out of the election


Can learning about politicians and policies be fun? A 23-year-old Ōtautahi illustrator thinks so, if you turn it all into a card game.

A pencil drawn Chris Hipkins, with freckles and a big wide smile, looks like a little school boy. Underneath the portrait, he is briefly and somewhat ruthlessly summed up: “His inoffensive milquetoast demeanour puts him in the very centre of centrist politics.”

Chris Luxon doesn’t get off easy either. His head is explicitly egg-shaped, with a tiny face and an uncomfortable smile. He is characterised as a “Koru Lounge buff” and said to have “come into parliament with a promise to clamp down on crime, while budget slashing the economy back into health.”

Further down the stack of cards there’s James Shaw, who looks rather tired, but instantly wins the game if paired with four environmental policies (His co-leader Marama Davidson also has this ability). Then there’s David Seymour, with a little curl hanging over this forehead, an upturned button nose, a very strained neck and extremely large pupils. He has the ability to euthanise opponents, though it will cost you an Act candidate. Hana Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke is here in a red beret, and with the ability to swap out a card from your hand for a new one.

Meet the Candidates is a card game based on the most popular card game in the world, Magic the Gathering (or simply, Magic). Meet the Candidates offers a physical game for $30, and an online version which is free to play. Fantasy warriors have been replaced with caricatured political candidates from Labour, National, the Greens, Act and Te Pāti Māori, with their political views and backgrounds succinctly summarised in just a few sentences.

As well as the candidate cards, there are policy cards including Three Waters, arts funding, co-governance, and misinformation. There are also power cards with allusions to infamous political moments, like the “rich upbringing” shield, which adds five points to the candidates’ defence points, and the flag referendum card, which protects you from any attacks in your next turn.

Maya Templer, and some power cards. Photo: Supplied.

“A lot of young people who I know don’t vote, and I think that’s stink,” says Maya Templer, the 23-year-old artist behind the card game. She thought of the idea for the game last election, the first she was able to vote in. At the time she couldn’t find anyone in her Yoobee classes who cared much about politics – but they were all into games and innovation. “I wanted people to be as into it as I am,” she says, “I think play is a really good way to learn.”

For those who know nothing about Magic apart from that it has an avid following that makes it seem very nerdy and complicated, fear not. Templer “doesn’t really” play Magic either, but thought its mechanics were well suited to what she wanted to include in an informative board game. Apparently, it isn’t hard to learn. Templer has made a short rule book, and is promising a “how-to” video soon. She has play-tested the game with friends and flatmates and found that it works – in that there are laughs and learning too. “Even if you’re not reading every single card, you learn a little bit each time you play.”

Templer considers politics a “special interest” of hers. She’s an avid political podcast listener and says she sometimes spots politicians quoting political philosophers like “John Locke and stuff”, though not necessarily in the same way that she agrees with. “I have a lot of opinions about politics,” she says. “I’m quite a left-leaning voter.”

Despite her own political opinions, she wasn’t interested in making leftist propaganda with the game. She started by researching each and every candidate’s political history, starting with their maiden speeches which gave her a good “flavour” of the person and what they stand for – wth one exception. “David Seymour’s speech was just like, a bunch of big words. So I wasn’t getting anything from it.” After the maiden speeches she read every article published about the candidates in the past two years – a feat she is very casual about.”It wasn’t crazy.”

There was one card in particular she knew would be a challenge. “As a young person, I feel like you know [Judith Collins] through the memes,” she says. But she knew she had to get past only knowing the ethnicity of Collins’ husband and her crusher tendencies. Collins has, after all, been in parliament since Templer was two years old. Templer asked herself, “Who is this person beyond the ‘Talofa’?”

Through the research process she gained empathy for people she won’t be voting for. Though her convictions have remained the same, she can at least see why some candidates think differently, and what led them there. In the case of Collins, Templer found out she was a lawyer for 20 years, and then worked hard to change laws to put victims over people who are convicted for crimes. “I don’t necessarily agree with that view,” says Templer, “My own opinion is that if that means prisoners might be worse off and then that makes more criminals in the future, and then more victims.” She says she still respects Collins’ hard work.

Even after all that research and her newfound empathy, Templer didn’t trust herself to be unbiased. She recruited people of different political leanings from her social media channels to edit her cards. They told her which cards were too harsh or too skewed. The Collins card received some surprising feedback – “this one you actually got right,” Templer says, and laughs.

After that Templer was still concerned about her biases, so she had an experienced journalist look through them too. And even after all that the cards carry a disclaimer, saying there is a “slight left lean”. Every card can be seen in full on the website as well as on the free online version – so if people do find them too biased, they can simply avoid buying, gifting or playing the game, says Templer. “I’ve tried really hard to make it as unbiased as possible within my own abilities.”

Take Megan Woods’ card. “Over the last eight years, Megan Woods has overseen the largest increase in social housing for decades,” it reads. “However, that is still been far behind the targets Labour initially set. While Woods has been criticised by environmentalists for allowing mining on conservation land, she has also been criticised by the energy industry for banning offshore oil and gas exploration.” On the card, Woods is smiling with a rose on her lapel, Templar’s drawing of her less of a caricature than those of the party leaders.

Templer says the aim of the game is to inform and engage, not influence. “I really believe the more people that are well educated, and make an educated decision when they vote, the better the outcome for everybody. Even if they don’t vote the same way as me.”

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