It’s been a very strange week: a game I co-designed with Scout AI made national news in the most bizarre way.

On Monday, a friend sent me a link to a New Yorker article about how Rebekah Mercer (the pro-Trump mega-donor) has a parlor game that simulates elections. As I started reading the article, I noticed that the game shared a name with a game I co-designed last winter: Machine Learning President. At first I thought it might be an odd coincidence but as I read on it became increasingly clear that it was OUR game, but with many of the details wrong.

I immediately reached out to the rest of the team – Berit and Brett from Scout, and Eliot Peper and Mike Masnick who also helped design the game. We were completely beguiled – how did Rebekah get our game and then how did it leak to the New Yorker?

We quickly reached out to one of Mike’s friends at Gizmodo and she wrote up a great article giving some context to our game and why we designed it. Mike and also wrote a detailed post covering the background of the event. You can read all about it in their posts but some quick bullets:

  • Berit and Brit wanted to run an event that helped pro-democracy forces think abou the intersection of technology and politics
  • They pulled me in to lead the game design and development late last fall
  • We created a game that simulates the 2020 US Presidential Election
  • The game covered the primary and general election with two candidates per party and 12 other factions vying for power
  • We ran the game in February for ~40 tech policy workers and investors and it was a huge hit

We’re still not sure how the game files made their way to Rebekah. My guess is that one the attendees took a few handouts and passed them on. However, Buzzfeed interviewed her and she has a few very strange quotes. It’s worth reading the whole article.

The articles ended up getting a lot of shares on social media and our team received serious interest in running the game around the country. Hopefully we’ll take it to a few cities later this year!

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