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MP for a week – the first review
The expenses scandal might have confirmed the suspicion that the only thing our politicians are professional about is lining their own pockets, but it’s nice to see that of the £500 million we spend on Parliament (over a £150 million of which goes on MP’s salaries/pensions) every year a small proportion goes on education, or rather letting us know what politicians profess to be doing.
MP for a week, the latest webgame from the Parliamentary Education Service, is certainly ‘a valuable interactive educational tool’, as ELSPA called it, replete with all sorts of useful information about the operations of parliament ranging from a glossary for the archaic lingo employed in ‘that place’ to the responsibilities, rights and duties of MPs. However, it also manages to convey a message, intended or not, that MPs have lives that are hectic, humdrum and gaudy, and that they’re well worth the cash.
That implication comes partially from the artfully blurred photos that give the impression of a backbench MP’s life – such as the courtyard of Portcullis House (that posh office block above Westminister tube that cost over £1 million per MP that uses it), large plates of sushi being wolfed down, or dull constituency street scenes – and from the combination of tedious local and high-powered national tasks players are tasked to perform.
Playing the game
You start by picking your affiliation (opposition or goverment), gender, interests and constituency. These last two genuinely impact on the decisions you make as a backbencher, especially if you choose to live in Northern Island or Scotland, because of the great travelling distance involved. Then it’s a simple time-management game where you seek to maximise three variables (party rating, constituent confidence, and your media profile) by judicious answering of emails, questions in the house and phone calls, and by attending random tedious constituency events like fancy dress balls or face-painting competitions. There’s also a range of minigames that are both passably intelligent and tolerably easy, from assembling a panel for an inquiry to getting the speaker’s attention, that contribute to your score.
As a game, the information draws you on, but it’s not really compelling: after only two days into the virtual week, I was getting bored (perhaps because the target market is school-children). It’s pretty easy to max out the three variables, and the hardest difficulty just makes the outcomes of actions more random (and lifelike), and fills your inbox with more things than you can hope to do – which just irritates you because the game is designed against the average gamer’s completist tendency (or maybe that’s just me).
The underlying message
The axe that the commons authorities want to grind is razor sharp – this game makes the average stolid backbencher look amazingly active and busy, hurrying between constituency and parliament, justifying that great wodge of cash we give each MP every year (around £175,000 including expenses, each), and the huge number of MPs. The simulation makes out that MPs single-handedly run inquiries (which isn’t strictly true), that they are endlessly over-stretched in terms of their daily commitments, and that an MP’s work is never done.
It doesn’t mention the tremendous support MPs get from their own researchers, constituency organisations and the commons bureaucracy. It also emphasises that MPs are mostly mouthpieces and figureheads – so little of an MP’s time, in-game and in-life, is spent on actually legislating, their core function (but one you can argue has been effectively arrogated by the cabinet, mediated by the civil service) and their constituency role is wholly remonstratory without any legal power.
The win element also implies that bad MPs always in the long run are losers, which is not strictly true. An MP who does nothing in parliament but bangs on in the local media, or a safe-seat MP who does nothing in his constituency, or even a media-friendly cheeky chappy like Charles Kennedy, Alan Clarke or Boris Johnson, will get re-selected and re-elected most of the time.
Overall, this is a fine educational tool that highlights that MPs are mainly figureheads, would be passably challenging and entertaining for a school-age audience, but isn’t really compelling as a game.
As A Game: 6/10
Interesting, but not really compelling
As Education: 8/10
Covers all the functions of parliament and illustrates the role-model nature of most MP’s lives.
As A Tax Payer: 5/10
Spending yet more of our money on non-essential flash games? Perhaps we should put in a FOI request to find out how much this cost to make.
As A Former Backbencher’s Assistant: 7/10
What did you think? Good insight into MPs’ busy lives or a waste of taxpayers’ money. Let us know in the comments.