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Canadian political parties looking to video games to campaign

·Telecom & Tech Reporter
·4 min read
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Taking a page from modern-day U.S. Democrats, political parties in Canada are not ruling out playing online video games to connect with voters, but experts say they will need to be authentic in their approach.

While using social media and playing online video games has been a part of the U.S. election cycle for several years, in the last year we saw more politicians effectively use online video gaming to campaign with voters. U.S. President Joe Biden, with the help of Toronto’s Enthusiast Gaming, took to Fortnite to campaign, while New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez partnered with Twitch streamers and live-streamed “Among Us,” a popular online game, to raise political awareness.

Lisa Kirbie, CEO of Blackbird Strategies, said in-gaming techniques were used during the Obama campaign in 2008 and again in 2012, and if Canadian politicians were to do the same, the key is to be genuine.

“Even though these politicians [in the U.S.] aren’t necessarily young politicians, they already had a bit of a persona and authenticity that didn’t seem odd for them to be going that route,” she said.

“Younger people have really finely tuned bullshit radars and that is a big part of it. So if your candidate isn't authentic or isn't the type of person who would normally be seen doing this it's probably not the best way. If I were working on a campaign, I'd be sitting down right now trying to figure out how do we campaign during a global pandemic."

Because we are in a minority government, Kirbie said it is very likely we will see an election this year and that it is critical for Canadian politicians to find non-traditional ways to connect with voters especially during a global pandemic. She added that there’s a larger voting bloc comprised of millennials and Gen-Z that politicians can take advantage of.

In November, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh battled Ocasio-Cortez in a game of Among Us. In December, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole hosted a virtual pub night with students from Ryerson University, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted the party’s first virtual town hall.

A Liberal Party spokesperson said in an email it found success connecting virtually, adding “online games are an important example of meeting people where they are.”

An NDP spokesperson said in an email the party is looking at new ways to connect with voters digitally.

“Online video games are one place among many others where we can connect with young people. It's a priority for Jagmeet to continue to connect with people where they are, especially in this pandemic, and yes, this includes online video games,” the spokesperson said.

Asked if online video games will be a way to connect with voters, a Conservative Party spokesperson said in an email that the party will “be looking at all kinds of ways to connect with Canadians.”

However, Kirbie said the Among Us stream didn’t work well for Singh as much as it did for Ocasio-Cortez, adding that he seemed “a little bit more forced and didn’t have the same kind of buzz or hype about it.”

She added that while O’Toole was trying something new, he faced backlash when he made comments on residential schools during the virtual pub night.

“Here we have a politician who’s trying something new in the form of a virtual pub night and I’m fairly certain he never expected that they would be posting that online,” she said. “If you haven’t done a lot of virtual events, you should probably practice, you should probably make sure your social media is already being used in a way that is interactive.”

Ramona Pringle, a tech expert and associate professor at Ryerson University, said that if politicians are going to go online and play games, it’s important for them to do their homework before taking on a strategy they may not be familiar with.

“People see through inauthenticity, so if you’re going into a space, just because you think by being there it’s enough, that’s the primary mistake people make,” she said in an interview. “If you’re there, you need to be there with your intent and you need to have put the prep work in to really understand that community, how they engage and what they do.”

Pringle noted that it’s also critical for politicians to pick the right game or platform to connect with.

“Among Us is a great example, but Among Us is a game that you know you’re not going to have 10,000 people playing at once, so it’s not ideal for a town hall. But if you look at something like Fortnite, last year [American rapper] Travis Scott played in Fortnite to 12 million people,” she said.

“Some of these virtual spaces have a greater capacity to bring together a larger crowd than anywhere in the real world can possibly do.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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