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POLITIKO is a card game about Malaysian politics — meaning that it’s a game of scheming and cynical realpolitik. Players assume the role of political parties, and capture support of the voting public by behaving badly: hiring phantom voters, unleashing the Federal Reserve Unit, and engaging in casual antisemitism.

It was launched during the 2013 General Election, the most hotly contested election in our history. So the game got a lot of attention – from media organisations like CNN and Al Jazeera, looking for a bit of fluff to colour their dry political coverage; from politicians like Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO Youth chief, trying to be hip —


it was even adopted by the Government Transformation Project (an initiative under the Prime Minister’s Office), as a prize for one of their social-media campaigns. (Which then resulted in ultra-nationalist bloggers smelling a conspiracy to undermine the PM, because POLITIKO “sends out less than subtle messages against the ruling BN party – chiefly UMNO” — apparently.)

Why make POLITIKO?

“Politics is a game” has been a truism since forever. Taking it literally has been done before, what with games like Democracy and Junta!POLITIKO was Mun Kao’s response to the contemporary Malaysian context — a context so pressingly absurd that not making stuff about it is difficult. The shape of the game, its thrust and meaning, came up in the making.

We resisted making an educational game (even though it was initially billed as one) because it didn’t seem right to put players at the helm of political parties, and then expect them to pay attention to principles and due process. We decided that players would play as parties — a seductive power fantasy, since almost all of us feel disenfranchised by the real-life political players who claim to represent us, yet we are also fascinated by their actions and impressed by their strategic finesse. The game is incredibly cynical — it’s impossible to win without fraud — because we are cynical people.

But the cynicism is only half of it. POLITIKO was made in partnership with Loyar Burok, a legal and social advocacy group. They’ve used it successfully as an outreach tool: hook people with fun and games; start a discussion of all these bullshit political behaviour; lead them on to workshops about human rights, activism, and non-violent action.

Yes yes yes — but that’s Malaysia. What does it have to do with India?

We are adapting POLITIKO for the Indian context. We’ll have a playable prototype ready in time for the Open Studio exhibition on 19 Sept.