Push Your Agenda in Fantasy Congress

Andrew Lee, creator of the 'Fantasy Congress' online game, talks about how players win points by getting legislation passed.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

As anyone following the news last week knows, fantasy football is out. Congress is where the fun really is. Andrew Lee, a senior at Claremont McKenna College, came up with a new twist on the wildly successful fantasy sports games. In Fantasy Congress, players choose U.S. Senators and House members and accumulate points based on how effectively, or not, their chosen officials push legislation through Congress. So if you're tastes run more to Tom DeLay than Tom Brady, we've got the game for you.

Andrew Lee is with us from studios on the Claremont McKenna campus. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. ANDREW LEE (Creator, Fantasy Congress): Thanks for having me, Lynn.

NEARY: And if you have questions about this game or how your favorite politician might stack up against the competition, give us a call. Our number here in Washington, again, 800-989-8255. Send us an e-mail at talk@npr.org.

So Andrew, first of all, how did you come up with this idea?

Mr. LEE: Well, my freshman year in college, I was kind of, sort of watching my roommate exalt over his fantasy football team, and I was checking political blogs, watching the news, and I felt sort of lonely, like the lonely political blogger that doesn't have much to do.

And I thought to myself, I have to get in on this action. We have to create a game for political junkies where instead of drafting members of - you know, football players - you'll draft members of Congress. And instead of yelling, you know, touchdown, we can yell bill signed all together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: I'm not sure that has quite the same effect, I have to tell you.

Mr. LEE: Right, right.

NEARY: Bill signed versus touchdown, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Well, the hope was - it was actually quite odd. Once we started playing and creating the game, we found that first of all, all this information is publicly available. We're just making it sort of engaging and fun. If, you know, if people cared about football - or, you know, government as much as they care about football, then we might have a better government, is our thought.

NEARY: All right. Well, tell us how it works. How would you set up a team?

Mr. LEE: So what you do is you have to first draft four senators and 12 representatives. Out of all those four senators and 12 representatives, it's divided amongst their seniority. So you have to - instead of choosing - you can't choose everybody on your team as a John McCain. You have to think of the sleeper picks, people like Bob Jindal - congressman from Louisiana. Or, take for example, some of the new Democrats who just came in for the 110th Congress.

From there, after you draft your team, you play in a league. Every single week you can re-draft your team on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and it's based off -you win points off of how far legislation goes.

So you get five points for introducing a bill, 25 if it passes the House or passes the Senate, and then finally you get a whopping 50 points if it gets signed into law.

NEARY: You know, I went on your Web site, and I have to say even for those who don't want to play the game, it really is a pretty good educational tool about how a bill, you know, is turned into law.

Mr. LEE: Well that's right. We actually have a number of educators who are e-mailing us and telling us that they love the idea. They want to go ahead and get all their students playing, because it's a good way - I mean, everybody's seen Schoolhouse Rock. For us, this is the Schoolhouse Rock for the 21st century where instead of just seeing a bill become a law, you actually get to play and almost, you know, get that interactivity that you can only get with the Internet.

NEARY: Now, does media coverage affect things in one way or another?

Mr. LEE: Well, our hope is to increase - we're going to be introducing a measure for media coverage soon. In addition to that, we're also going to be introducing other measures, just like fantasy football, where you can have media measures, votes, as well as other things within the Library of Congress.

Our hope is that later on, you can choose legislators based off of how much news they make. The only problem with that is Tom DeLay might have been making quite a lot of news, but that may not have been positive news. So we'll have to figure out how to deal with that, too.

NEARY: Well also, though, that - I noticed that I thought it has some limitations in the fact that you used a sports model so that it's - some of the members on your Web site who won big points, they won them for pretty insignificant legislation, if not completely unnecessary legislation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: It got passed, but you know, it was sort of naming a post office in their local town.

Mr. LEE: Right.

NEARY: And they got 35 points for that. That seemed a little...

Mr. LEE: Right. Well, the - we understand that - it's hard for us to go ahead and determine what is valued and what is not valued. Obviously, the difference between a post office and Social Security legislation is pretty high.

NEARY: Pretty big.

Mr. LEE: Right, yeah, it is very big.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: But for us, our hope later on is to be able to capture all that and let the user choose what they think is more important. If they think that postal legislation is so much more important... I mean, here at Claremont McKenna, I can almost guarantee you that a lot of our students are going to think the education policy is very important. In that respect, then, that would mean that we'd want someone - the user - to be able to determine if education policy is the most important.

So later on, we'll have customization features so that everybody, when they play Fantasy Congress, they'll be able to pay attention. But the great thing about the game is also that we do get a lot of people from both sides of the aisle.

We have people from the NRA as well as, you know, pro-choice NARAL. Everybody seems to really enjoy the game, in that this is a good way to monitor Congress that's fun and interactive.

NEARY: We are talking with Andrew Lee, the creator of the Fantasy Congress game. If you have any questions for him, or if you've tried the game and want to give him some feedback, the number is 800-989-8255, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Okay, we're going to take a call from Trevor(ph), and Trevor's in California. Hi, Trevor.

TREVOR (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

TREVOR: Yeah, I was just wondering if you were planning on expanding the game, maybe kind of have a playoffs-type setting for the 2008 congressional election so that you would pick your favorites, pick your choices to win different seats, and score points based on that.

Mr. LEE: Right. We're actually really interested in that. This past election cycle - since we just launched in October - we really missed out on using elections. But our hope is to have a playoff season where you'll be able to get bonus points for - to see - take for example - Hillary Clinton might become the president or Barack Obama might make his run.

NEARY: All right. Does that answer your question, Trevor? Thanks for the call.

I was wondering, have you already noticed - are there certain members of Congress who are more popular than others on this game already, or are you noticing trends like that?

Mr. LEE: Yeah, it's actually really interesting. The typical people that you might think about, you know, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain. But in addition to that, we also have people who are, take for example - like John Warner from Virginia - is one of our top leading scorers. It's quite interesting how for some of the people who probably do the best in the game, you probably haven't heard about them. But that's the beauty of things like fantasy sports that not everybody knows about a Payton Manning or a Tom Brady. The most important thing is about knowing who's the next linebacker who's going to play in the next week.

The response has been amazing, though. I mean, we initially started out with approximately 700, 800 people, and now we're up to past 30,000 registered users. So, there's quite a lot of people out there who are validating our dorkiness, we feel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Do you have to be as dorky as you are in order to play this game? I don't mean to be insulting, Andrew, but you used the word first.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: No, no. Right, I understand. With the game, we really feel that if everybody really did pay attention to Congress just like they pay attention to the sports, this would be water-cooler talk. I mean, everybody talks about sports, people talk about politics - but everybody's afraid to talk about politics in a way that is sort of non-partisan. If you talk about politics at the water cooler, you don't want to go and tread on the other guy's toes because he may be Republican and you're a Democrat or vice versa. This is a way for us to really be able to bridge the gap and reclaim the water cooler for all political junkies.

NEARY: What's your major?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I'm a philosophy, politics, and economics major.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: It's based on the Oxford University system, it's called PPE. I have to tell you, my college professors right now, hearing that I'm on TALK OF THE NATION, think I'm quite a rock star.

NEARY: Okay, well Andrew, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LEE: Thank you.

NEARY: Andrew Lee is co-creator of Fantasy Congress and a student at Claremont McKenna College. He joined us from studios on his campus. When we come back, your letters.

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