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Cabinet Shuffle: Strategizing Parliament

 By Eileen Holowka | November 24th, 2016

“People who play [Cabinet Shuffle] are inspired to know that the people representing them look like they do,” William Robinson says as he turns over card after card of Canadian MPs: Niki Ashton, Hunter Tootoo, Justin Trudeau.

On October 13th, Concordia researchers, PhD candidate Will Robinson and associate professor David Waddington, launched the card game Cabinet Shuffle in the Technology, Arts, and Games (TAG) lab. The game is topical, coming in off the heels of Trudeau’s move towards a gender-equal cabinet that he argued was long overdue, “because it’s 2015.”

Pause Button Coordinator, Elise Cotter and I went up to TAG to play the game with Robinson. To begin, we each selected “voter cards” to establish the rules of the playthrough. These cards determine the elements the players must focus on for building their cabinets, and reflect the hot-button issues of real-world elections. The voter cards give or take away points based on how much diversity, experience, gender-parity, or regional representation a cabinet has. For the rest of the game, players must compete to create the best cabinet based on everyone’s voter cards.

Cabinet Shuffle’s focus on representation is valuable. It introduces players to the faces and identities of their MPs. Robinson’s inspiration for the game came from his wife’s response to the number of women MPs. She “was excited to see that there is potentially a place for her in politics.”

But the game can also parallel some of the uglier bureaucratic parts of politics, such as how difficult it can be to achieve representation under a set of rules. For example, the player must swap MP cards in and out to try and achieve the closest stats of representation for that particular game. While a player may want to choose several diverse or female candidates, that option is not always available. There is also strategy involved in the gameplay. A coalition can weaken a cabinet, so focusing on one party is potentially beneficial, but can also mean less options for representation.

Our game ended with a somewhat bland score, with Robinson scoring 1 point, and Elise and I at -2. This is not an unusual finale for the game and many large group playthroughs end in ties. While the fact that you can win with a score of zero may be a subtle, or even unintentional, critique of our current political climate, it might also be due to the limited range of voter card criteria. In large groups, players can often guess at what skills they will need to attune their cabinets to as almost all the criteria will be in play.

Of course, Cabinet Shuffle is a simplified version of real life, but it still creates useful parallels. To Robinson, the main goal of the game is not to make Canadian politics ‘gamey,’ but to communicate a message. The game is still intended to be fun (and it is), but the fun doesn’t mask its message. “It’s one thing to cover broccoli with chocolate and another to cook broccoli well,” Robinson says with a smile.

Now that Cabinet Shuffle has been released, Waddington and Robinson will be offering free copies to educators in the hopes that the game will help young people become more aware of their representatives. Although Michéle Robinson’s minimalist card design is lovely, including more detailed information about the candidates in addition to their identities and jobs could help with further educational pursuits.

Meanwhile, since Cabinet Shuffle’s release, Robinson has been getting cards signed by all the represented Members of Parliament, including Prime Minister Trudeau. Although Cabinet Shuffle is not a collector game (at least not yet), it is rewarding to own a game where the ‘best’ cards are often the ones that represent diverse, female, or disabled identities.

For more about Cabinet Shuffle, read the Concordian article online.



Cabinet Shuffle co-creator and PhD Candidate William Robinson