Abstract I propose the game Media Mogul Simulator, a single player simulation of managing a media company with holdings in several types of media, including television, newspapers, cable, and cable. The game traces the influence of media tycoons and corporations such as Rupert Murdoch, Mike Bloomberg, Viacom, General Electric, etc. that mediate the democratic process for the public in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government.
The game starts with the beginning of legislative elections and focuses on advertising, news coverage, and corporate partisanship. The second level is composed of judicial proceedings determined by the outcome of the legislative branch. The presidential election level that follows is different in that Media Mogul/ player become more directly involved in the political process. Choices made up to this level determine if the player will be a presidential candidate of one party or the other, an exiled dissident covering the election in hiding, a vice president, or a puppet of the military industrial complex. The game ends with a regime change and an opportunity to try again.
The game is designed to promote media literacy among casual gamers of any gender who are about to reach voting age. A dialogue of the centralized control of media by corporations is important for young voters who receive the majority of their political information from corporate controlled sources. The game should be taught and played as part of larger program that emphasizes DIY media production and literacy.
Scoring In order to guide the narrative and outcomes, MMS uses four scores. Scores represent current stock price, the amount of favor you have gained from both political parties, and a list of your corporate holdings(newspapers, television channels, internet firms, etc.) The stock price represents your negotiating power and value to politicians. It also represents the health of your corporation. The amount of favor you have gained from each party will determine your relationship with ruling party, opposition party, and the people who vote for them. Your holdings also determine what kind of relationships the politicians pursue with the company.
Turn Based Political Simulation
MMS is a turn-based political simulation. Another turn-based simulation is Peace Maker(http://www.peacemakergame.com/): a simulation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can either play the role of the Palestinian president or Israeli prime minister. Decisions you make influence the environment and options for your next decision. Rather than play either side of a conflict, MMS player amongst advertisers, politicians, and the public.
Similar to Peace Maker, the Media Mogul Sim draws heavily from recent news and events. News and events incorporated into the MMS include the U.S. media in recent Presidential elections, and Hugo Chavez’s experience with the media in Venezuela, where the media has supported coups against him, been nationalized and shut down.
The historical data is expanded on by the histories and actions of large media conglomerates and media tycoons. The political involvement of people like Ted Turner, billionaire philanthropist and owner of Turner Broadcasting; former Congressman Randolph Hearst, one of the first media tycoons, Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News Corp., and an aggressive Republican partisan will inspire the MMS. The political pressures and interests of corporations General Electric, a defense contractor and owner of a major television station; AOL-Time Warner and Viacom are massive publicly held corporations with holdings across all media. The way different media companies and their leadership manage with their roles in a capitalist democracy is the subject matter of the game.
Democracy and Propaganda In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Noam Chomsky created a propaganda model that illustrates how privately held media is able to marginalize dissent and allow dominant interests to control information. The collusion of government and media generated by corporate control as illustrated by Chomsky informs the narrative of the game. He identified five “filters” that prevented news from being good for democracy. These filters are the building blocks of obstacles and decisions in the MMS.
The first of these filters is the size, ownership, and profit orientation of the mass media. The MMS does not put the player as the owner of a small town newspaper. It is an international business with holdings across media. A company like Viacom holds 120 different cables stations and major websites. These major players have enormous influence over politicians and vice versa. The United States is the best representative of this.
Advertising is the primary source of income for mass media. The media also relies on information from sources such as the government, advertisers, and other dominant interests. The second and third of Chomsky’s filters will be explored in detail in the first Legislative level of the game.
The fourth filter is “flak” or negative feedback about media actions. The judicial round of hearings is the “flak” part of the game play. Depending on the party in power and your decisions up until that point, you receive positive or negative feedback in the form of a judicial round. Mergers and acquisitions you have made or been involved in are the subject of hearings that determine your future before the presidential election.
Noam Chomsky’s final filter is anticommunism, supplanted recently by the War on Terror. What this means is the creation of a common enemy created to stir national sentiment and accuse the opposition of being lenient with. This is explored in the presidential election level of the game.
Level 1: Creating Your Company
The game starts with a limited budget to form your media conglomerate. Your choice of specific newspapers, television channels, websites, video game companies, movie companies, and magazines will determine your initial scores. All the media holdings the player can choose influences the first level starting score. For example, owning a video game company that specializes in war games makes you more valuable to a right wing candidate, while a liberal news website would increase your favor with the left wing party.
Level 2: Legislative Branch The legislative level deals with solicitation of campaign money and favorable coverage. You are given the choice of supporting one, both, neither of the parties and the degree you will support them. The scores are updated after the election. A merger and acquisitions round determines if you can buy or sell media divisions, depending on the your stock price and current holdings. This level deals with the corporate ownership of media, the profit motive, power they hold in an election. Your scores are updated after mergers and acquisitions.
Level 3: Judicial Branch
This level will examine the legal ramifications of the mergers and acquisitions round of level 1. If your stock price and favorability are high with the ruling party, you can try to get laws changed in your favor: tax breaks, expanded markets, or sue a competitor. If stock prices and favorability are low, anti-trust hearing, corruption charges, and exile are potential outcomes.
Level 4: Executive Branch A high stock price and favorability with a party would allow you to run as a candidate with that party. Other outcomes of the judicial hearings could have you covering the election from another country, using fake news to get one candidate elected, exposing scandals, or demonizing a candidate.
As part of a comprehensive media literacy program, the Media Mogul Simulator informs young voters on the danger to the democratic process posed by corporate media control. It should be part of a program that emphasizes media creation and empowerment.
Media literacy is being able critically understand the creation, context, and future of old and new media, rather than be passive consumers of it. Brazilian educator Paulo Friere defined literacy as "perceiving critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves… to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.” He developed pedagogy for establishing literacy programs that began with objective research and data collection about a community. The data is collected and presented to the community. The data and feedback are "codified" to create more feedback for the process. The process establishes a "nuclei of contradiction" for a community. The property value of a community compared to the income of the people who live in it is a common "nuclei of contradiction" in New York City. The process establishes the kind of classes, educational methods, and content the community needs gain that kind of literacy. The Media Mogul Simulator is part of a larger research project that seeks to adapt Freire’s methods to media literacy.
Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 3rd ed. New York, New York: Continuum, 1997.
Chomsky, Noam, and Edward Sherman. Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media. 1st ed. New York, New York: Random House, 1998.