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Show HN: Fantasy Congress – a fantasy sports website for politics (fantasycongress.com)
95 points by asebold 44 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

Gosh. I'm having trouble expressing how I feel about this. I mean, good work I guess, but this seems to fundamentally misunderstand what the political process is supposed to accomplish. It's not about (or shouldn't be about) scoring points and winning. It should be about serving constituents and doing things to make the city/county/state/country better.

I realize there's a lot of "should"s up there. In my opinion the attitudes that exist in the current political machines are much to blame for the divisions in our societies. McConnell is at the top of your leaderboard because he's driven by a naked lust for power, not because he's ever done anything right by his constituents.

My reaction was basically "this is emblematic of a whole lot of the problems seemingly endemic to our current politics, but at the same time, this also accurately represents what our politics has become, and there's real value in holding up the mirror."

I don't think this is meant to improve the political process, or demonstrate who is a "better" politician.

Based on the website, it seems like a humorous way to play in a fantasy league while major sports are cancelled.

I get that. I personally feel that playing fantasy politics is in poor taste when the political process is a) so extremely important to the proper functioning of our society and b) relatively easy to get involved with IRL.

> relatively easy to get involved with IRL.

How is the political process easy to get involved in? If I want to make a difference in politics, what can I do?

Other than voting, seems to me that it is extraordinarily difficult to make any impact beyond the local level.

The phrase that has stuck with me is "pull policy ropes sideways[1]." Basically the idea is to find an area of policy that is impactful but not highly politicized (ideally boring, technical, and important), and push for changes there.

If you can't think of any things that government could be doing better that aren't already well-publicized and politicized, consider that you may not actually be more politically informed than the average voter, and the way we collect preferences from voters with average levels of insight into government systems is called "voting". Note that there's nothing wrong with this approach, and in fact it is the approach I use the vast majority of the time.

In terms of how to push for changes in terms of concrete actions, write an actual physical letter to your congress person.

[1] http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/05/policy_tugowar.html

If you think nobody is championing a cause because it's never mentioned, try looking it up wherever there's a list of all the bills bouncing around your government. If there's still nothing, and it's not a current partisan litmus test, consider reaching out with your reasoning.

I remember looking through the history of bills sponsored by my (disliked) representative, and being surprised by a bunch focusing on a very specific topic he rarely mentions in the press. And it was a topic I really doubt he or his family personally encountered.

6510 43 days ago [flagged]

Okay, could you show us what you've accomplished?

This doesn't seem like an unreasonable request? I've been told before that there is much one can do to influence the system. Most of us are not doing anything however. Some success stories could go a long way.

You haven't really answered the question of how to make a difference. What does "push for changes" mean? That's not actionable advice.

> If you can't think of any things that government could be doing better that aren't already well-publicized and politicized, consider that you may not actually be more politically informed than the average voter, and the way we collect preferences from voters with average levels of insight into government systems is called "voting"

What does that even mean? Most of the most important issues are well-publicized and politicized, yet we don't see any changes. You're basically just saying to vote - which most people rightfully don't feel makes any major difference. Any layman can think of a million things the government could be doing better - for example making online tax returns prepopulated with information the government already has on your income isn't exactly rocket science and most other countries already do it. The problem isn't lack of knowledge, it's that nothing really gets done. Also, the tone of your paragraph just reeks of arrogance (translation: "you're probably not 'politically informed' enough (whatever that means) to have anything useful to contribute, so just vote").

> In terms of how to push for changes in terms of concrete actions, write an actual physical letter to your congress person.

I've actually written to my Congressmen before, never once got a response. And if in 2020 we need to resort to snail mail to get our representative's ear, well that's just sad.

The fundamental problem is our representative democracy and two-party system, both of which severely limit the impact that any individual can make and gives exorbitant power to the establishment. If voting for Democrat/Republican every couple years is the only influence any individual can make, then it's no surprise why most Americans don't feel like their government is representing them and we have Trump (who lost the popular vote btw) and his children in the White House.

If we were to move to a system more resembling direct democracy, then individuals could actively participate in governing themselves instead of being beholden to elected officials in their gerrymandered districts. Representative democracy made sense in 1776 when men were riding around on horseback and direct democracy was not really physically possible at a federal level, but with today's technology we could easily implement something like liquid democracy [1]

Or if we want to stick to electing representatives, at the very least we need to adopt ranked voting so that we can have more than just two political parties in our government (right now third party votes are "wasted" and only help the opposition).

But yea I guess I can just vote and accept the charade that is our government.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_democracy

Politics is local.

Step one IS to learn about your local government and political parties. Get involved in local politics; to start, just go to council meetings, join your local party committee and go to their meetings. Learn about the processes that governments and parties run by. (Roberts Rules of Order are a great starting point).

Personally, often my involvement is to help bridge divides between people, and when things get heated to make sure I know the rules and attempt to make sure they are followed.

Step two, after being involved locally enough, people who are not local can start looking to you to help them. Maybe they want to speak at a meeting and need your support with something, maybe they are already speaking at the meeting and you can approach them about an issue you feel is important. Make it personal, so much of politics is in personal relationships.

EDIT: Or just pay politicians for access via big ticket fundraising dinners.

Seems like a tough effort to be honest. Nah, I'd rather use a few hundred thousand dollars that I just have laying around to pay some established politicians.

I understand your sentiment. This is a game made in jest. It's not perfect and it has limitations. The purpose is to have fun, not replace careful analysis of our political leadership. But, I do think it can aid that endeavor.

McConnell is at the top of the leader board because he is Senate Majority Leader and that requires him to be very active on the Senate floor. His job is not only to represent the interest of his constituents, but to do right by his party, and also set the daily agenda for the Senate and run the floor proceedings (more info: https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing...).

Regarding your sentiment against the use of gamification: I agree with you that we should measure our political leaders by their ability to serve the interests of their constituents, and the things they are doing to make the city/state/country better. But if you're not paying attention, that's hard to do. Things change so fast, people employ strategies to hide the true nature of their actions, discourse around politics often feels toxic and there's a million different news sources saying contradictory things, not to mention literal fake news that spreads like wild fire. Gamification is a way to intrinsically motivate people to pay attention. Because with out a little push, most people won't. Additionally, I'm only using primary sources (data.gov and the GPO's api) as a means to cut through the noise.

It's definitely a work in progress. And you might still disagree with me about any benefits, which is fine. I've had a few teachers use in the classroom though and they said it made a big impact on their students.

If you're interpreting the scores as "goodness" you're missing the point, yes. Your concern seems to be that efforts to dispel that perspective are sparse.

I think this would help people learn about the various politicians in the same way that fantasy football players learn the stats, strengths, and weaknesses of individual players. It turns Congress from a two-headed behemoth that regularly doles out pain and suffering except to a privileged few, to a cacophony of opposing voices that each are relatively consistent (with some exceptions) about the things they tend to advocate. It sets up context for people so that when they see "Congressperson X says Y" they have a sense for how that aligns with the currents within Congress, within parties, and within people.

> "If you're interpreting the scores as "goodness" you're missing the point, yes."

no, words have connotations, and "points" has a positive-esteem connotation. change the word to something like "kills" and see how the connotation changes.

Bingo. Also my hope is that Fantasy Congress will help teach people how Congress works, similar to how fantasy football taught me the rules of football. How many people turn on C-SPAN and actually know what's going on? I'll admit, the first few times I tried to follow along I was very confused and discouraged.

Is it possible to author a program that can determine whether a bill is "better" or "worse" for constituents, and whether it makes the city / county / state / country "better"?

How would you categorize pro life?

How would you categorize shipping all homeless population to another state?

My take on the purpose of this game, besides obviously for fun, is to get people more engaged with what's happening in politics, and who is responsible for what.

I don't think a program should tell people what is good and bad.

I think it's wonderful to give them the motivation to learn and draw their own conclusions.

I don't think the goal is to establish a "ranking" of political figures. I see it as a way to make learning about the political process a little bit more fun and encouraging more people to pay attention to legislative processes by adding some gamification.

Yeah, I can see that. And I don't mean to disparage the work. OP clearly put a lot of care and attention into it. As I said in a different thread, I feel that gamification is in poor taste.

It would be interesting to attempt to automate various metrics for how well a politician has done for the voters.

Unfortunately there's so many layers of abstraction it seems difficult to quantify.

> McConnell is at the top of your leaderboard because he's driven by a naked lust for power, not because he's ever done anything right by his constituents.

I feel like that's the joke...

> seems to fundamentally misunderstand what the political process is supposed to accomplish. It's not about (or shouldn't be about) scoring points and winning.

Huh? The political process is definitely about scoring points and winning, and I'm not being cynical about the Trump era, there are centuries of human history that bare this out. Sometimes, "serving constituents" provides a practical path to scoring points and winning but this is not usually the case.

> McConnell is at the top of your leaderboard because he's driven by a naked lust for power, not because he's ever done anything right by his constituents.

I am not a "both sides are the same" person, but the only difference between McConnell and most politicians is the "naked" part, there is a reason why congress' approval ratings are consistently abysmal.

Hey HN, I've been hacking away at this for the past couple of years. Launched in February. Hope you get a kick out of it as much as I do.

Fantasy Congress is an online game where data about members of congress is converted into points. Players select members of congress for their team and acquire points based on legislative activity of the U.S. House and Senate. Like fantasy sports, teams compete in small groups called leagues. At the end of a predetermined number of weeks (called a “season”), the team with the most points in their league wins.

Just a pair of UX comments:

Being able to search via State as well would probably help a fair bit. The US has a reputation for being quite bad when it comes to awareness of representation - so forcing a name based search probably isn't great for supporting users - if the search was made into a live responsive search (where the table view was refreshed on each keypress) that'd probably be even better.

Your arrangement of Next/Prev page really messes with my brain - it'd be good if these buttons stayed in the same horizontal position when you move from the first page to any other - it's particularly confusing in this case since there isn't any standard pagination widget bar thingy - instead there are just two naked buttons which swap places when you move from the first page to the second.

Oh thank you. These are very valid points. Appreciate the feedback!

Why not make this more direct-to-consumer with a more friendly UI? Versus just a demo.

From a product perspective, a lot of awesome viral feature possibilities with twitter integration + timestamps + clout on predicting their next moves/outcomes

? Not sure what you mean. This isn't a demo, you can actually sign up and play.

But yeah, it's a work in progress and the UI could be improved.

I thought this was a really neat idea, so I went to sign up and found it's $19/month.

I'm entirely cool with paying for neat games, but $19/month for a simple drafting game is a whole lot of cash. $5 - $10 a year? Sure, maybe after some kind of quick trial like a single league.

Hey thanks for the feedback. I'm still working on pricing. I've been thinking of adding the ability to pay for one league at a time, as opposed to monthly. For $19/mo, the thought is that you'll invite other people to play in your league (anyone you invite gets to play for free), and that it's easier to get one person to pull out a credit card as opposed to coordinating 8 or 12 people to do so. So if you split the cost with your league members and you're playing with 9 other people, it comes to $2/mo for each person (if you play for 8 or 12 weeks, that's $4 or $6 per person total). Also I figure some people would want to pay for some of their players, for instance educators playing with students.

Also I would consider this more than just a "simple drafting game". The application gathers and reconciles all the data to calculate daily points and manages various league, draft, and team states. It was labor intensive to make and there's a lot of features people still want implemented.

Maybe you should make a way to split subscription more prominently? Or at least say something like "Subscribe, and invite up to X friends to play for free with you".

P.S. I am not a marketing person, so have the idea massaged by one before actually adding that.

Similar to what @zrail said, I felt a lot of things when I read this and feel even more as I explore it.

A few weeks ago, I pejoratively told my friend that politics is following the fantasy sports trend, emphasizing the individual's performance over the team performance, and how I wish we cared more about the team. That being said, I initially felt really annoyed about this.

The more I dig into it, the more I relax, not knowing in which direction it would go. More people may learn about the process as you've mentioned. We may also put even more focus on the individual performance and care less about the team. But maybe, just like fantasy football, people start having less loyalty to their team (in this case, basically Team Republican and Team Democrat), breaking the strong party affiliations that seem to exist today. I really don't know how it'll go.

I guess the thing I'm most curious about right now:

How did you decide to distribute the points in the way you did?

Where is the fun in it when it lacks the theme of 'Genesis - Land of Confusion' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq7FKO5DlV0 , or more general https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spitting_Image ?

Have you considered a different model, where people play for free, but when they want to bet real money you take a small cut instead? I think it would be hugely more popular and profitable.

Not sure if that would be classified as gambling though, with all related regulations.

I love this. But when I went to sign up, I discovered that it would cost $19 a month.

If I'd known up front that it would cost, it would have been less of a shock. As it stands, that killed my buy in, at least for now.

Hey thanks for the feedback. I'll make that more clear on the website.

This is a very cool idea, I'm curious what kind of data sources/APIs your using to calculate points?

Hey thanks! All data comes from the US Government Publishing Office https://www.govinfo.gov/features/api and https://api.data.gov/

Interesting concept.

If I had some advice - I clicked into a congress member's profile, and had no idea what to do next. I think you'll get more engagement if you have something more actionable there, like a button saying "Draft this representative!"

Oh, that's a great idea. Thank you for the clear feedback!

How is "fantasy congress" different than what we have now? All I see are a bunch of elderly white people fighting about who is lying more. It's like watching octogenarian married couples.

Reminds me of a small detail from John Brunner's sci-fi book "Shockwave Rider". If I remember it correctly, citizens who voted were then allowed to bet on who would win the election.

Great idea!


A deeply saddening statement on the current state of US politics.

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