The Liquid Democracy Journal
on electronic participation, collective moderation, and voting systems
Issue 2
2014-10-07

LiquidFeedback: Gamification of Politics?

by Andreas Lange, March 14, 2012, translated by the Editors other format: text version (UTF-8)

“I beat the game of LiquidFeedback without losing a life”: LiquidFeedback contains elements of online role-playing games. Those objective is to build up a character in the game and to equip the character with as much power as possible. In LiquidFeedback, it's all about delegation votes.

Since 2009, LiquidFeedback is being developed by the Public Software Group e. V. In 2010, the Berlin branch of the German Pirate Party was the first to adopt the system. The party members can develop motions in the “Liquid” (how the software is called amongst Pirates) that are presented to the executive board of the party and, in case of approval, yielded to the parliament.

In this connection, LiquidFeedback endeavors to unite elements of direct and representative democracy. Every member can make proposals him- or herself, comment on them, and vote on them – or delegate their vote topic-based to another member which is assumed to be qualified in the respective subject area. The more delegating votes a member gains the greater the weight of his or her vote. A number symbolizes the transferred delegating votes, in fact the power of his or her vote.

Mareike Arno  +12
Mareike Arno +12
Figure 1: Display of voting weight

Gamification

Since this reminds (at least superficially) of role-playing games in which the growth of power of the game characters is a key element, one ends up wondering whether LiquidFeedback applies gaming principles to digitalized political processes. The goal is to establish facilities for participation and co-determination that are more pleasurable and effective than our party democracy provided so far. Tweets and comments of LiquidFeedback users corroborate the analogy between LiquidFeedback and computer games:

»With my minority positions, I never make it to level 2!«
»I beat the game of LiquidFeedback without losing a life.«
»I worked again through all proposals => Waiting for the final boss enemy«
»My favorite MMORPGs [massively multiplayer online role-playing games]: Eve Online and LiquidFeedback«
Tweets and comments about LiquidFeedback [1][2][3][4]

The trend to apply game elements and operation mechanisms to other (non-gaming) contexts is subsumed under the label of “gamification”. At first, this is about working, learning, or consumption environments; if those are digitalized, then elements are often borrowed from computer games. The users shall be motivated to deal more intensively with a topic or product, or motivated to perform certain activities.

As essential characteristics of LiquidFeedback, Björn Swierczek (programmer with the Public Software Group) states transparency and objective measurability of decision-making processes.

»Opposed to the proverbial “backrooms”, all decisions are transparent for everyone.«
Björn Swierczek [5]

Along comes a direct feedback to actions of a user. And also this is a key element of games: a transparent set of rules which ensure (a) that constant feedback motivates the participant to keep on playing and (b) that objective criteria yield a final result.

Game and reality

One of the most important game elements is the objective of the game, to which everything else is subordinated. Beside the pure power gain, Alexander Morlang, Pirate and member of the Berlin House of Representatives, sees the appetite and will to change the world as “game objective” of any politics.[6]

But games are particularly characterized by people acting in an artificial, symbolic space, detached from factual consequences. The players know of the game's limitations in space and time; they are aware that they could quit the game at any time.

The junction with real activities changes the game entirely. If we apply game elements to other areas of life, the fun may fall by the wayside. This constitutes the ambivalence of gamification: the apparent assumption that there are no real consequences is applied to areas which have indeed an influence on our life.

Alexander Morlang thinks that LiquidFeedback doesn't replace politics: the challenge of LiquidFeedback lies within writing good texts which then emerge as completed propositions. Insofar the software serves the Pirates as test space: political ideas are “pulled through the Liquid” in form of propositions. At the end of this process, criticism has been incorporated and opposite views and ideas for improvements have been voted on.[7]

The proposals are considered and checked more extensively – and have a greater chance to be approved by the executive board. Thereby, the backdrop is the democratic character of the proposition creation on the one hand and on the other hand the risk minimization of a “shitstorm”, that is another form of feedback particularly spread amongst Pirates. The critics could have easily participated in the “Liquid”.

The political work that is done with LiquidFeedback is a rather traditional form of work, says Alexander Morlang. Until now, it was the task of political advisers, continues Morlang; with LiquidFeedback, however, potentially every member may participate.[8]

Political participation

Currently, digital communication in the area of politics is mostly used for marketing purposes. More interesting, though, is the reverse channel: the possibility to participate. The success of the Pirate Party may certainly also be attributed to new forms of political communication. LiquidFeedback is taking up a central position here, since it systematically aims to extend the reverse channel to be a democratic medium for co-determination in politics. Herein, Alexander Morlang sees a stimulus to change the previous practice of our party-democracy in regard of transparency and participation possibilities.[9]

Adapting new techniques (including cultural techniques and patterns of behavior) for our democratic principles eventually contributes to their continuity and fits them to the changed perception and living habits. The newest adaption in the political realm consisted probably of the adjustment to the electronic mass media. In the course of this, the politician as a person took a central role due to the telegenic appeal. A possible consequence of the current adaption process to the digital individual media could be that personal attributes of politicians take a back seat in favor of factual and grassroots-based shaping of politics.

Powerful characters may be born in the digital world of LiquidFeedback, just as in online-games. They gain their power through expertise that is attributed to them by other participants and measured by the comments and motions in the system. It is a transparent world whose majority formation process may be objectively followed by every person who knows the rules of the game.

A variation of the above-mentioned tweet might be: “I beat the game of LiquidFeedback, and I gained a better life.” Certainly, this is idealistic, but idealism is part of it – in politics as well as gaming.


This text is based on a discussion event at the Berlin Computer Games Museum (“CSM Insider Talk” on February 23, 2012) with Björn Swierczek and Andreas Nitsche, programmers with the Public Software Group e. V., as well as Alexander Morlang, member of the Pirate Party's parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives.

We would like to thank the author Andreas Lange for his permission to translate and publish his article here in English; the article was originally published in German language on March 14, 2012 at http://www.carta.info/42081/liquidfeedback-gamification-der-politik/

Andreas Lange, author of this article, is Director of the
Computerspielemuseum, the first European museum dedicated to computer
games. Located in Berlin's center it is just 2 tube stations away from
Alexanderplatz. The doors are open for everybody from young to old, for
Berlin citizens as well as tourists. The exhibition is suitable for
English speaking visitors.
The current permanent exhibition “Computer Games. Evolution of a Medium”
consists of more than 300 objects, some of them are rare originals. Unusual
for a museum, some of the games and art works are playable by the visitors,
including the Pong-Machine, the Nimrod game computer from 1951, the
PainStation, and a Giant Joystick. Tours by the staff are available as well
as offers for groups.
In addition to the permanent exhibition, other events and special
exhibitions related to computer games take place to focus on selected
topics from time to time. More information on the current program and the
museum in general is available at their website:
http://www.computerspielemuseum.de/
Computerspielemuseum
Karl-Marx-Allee 93a 
10243 Berlin
Germany
Andreas Lange, author of this article, is Director of the Computerspielemuseum, the first European museum dedicated to computer games. Located in Berlin's center it is just 2 tube stations away from Alexanderplatz. The doors are open for everybody from young to old, for Berlin citizens as well as tourists. The exhibition is suitable for English speaking visitors. The current permanent exhibition “Computer Games. Evolution of a Medium” consists of more than 300 objects, some of them are rare originals. Unusual for a museum, some of the games and art works are playable by the visitors, including the Pong-Machine, the Nimrod game computer from 1951, the PainStation, and a Giant Joystick. Tours by the staff are available as well as offers for groups. In addition to the permanent exhibition, other events and special exhibitions related to computer games take place to focus on selected topics from time to time. More information on the current program and the museum in general is available at their website: http://www.computerspielemuseum.de/ Computerspielemuseum Karl-Marx-Allee 93a 10243 Berlin Germany
Box 1: Andreas Lange, Computerspielemuseum
[1] Original German cite: “Mit meinen Minderheitenmeinungen komme ich nie ins Level 2!”, identi.ca user on http://identi.ca/notice/50309000 (referenced at: a)
[2] Original German cite: “Ich hab LiquidFeedback durchgespielt, ohne ein Leben zu verlieren.” Twitter user ‘webrebell’ on https://twitter.com/#!/webrebell/status/141108158939672576 (referenced at: a)
[3] Original German cite: “Habe mal wieder alle Anträge durchgearbeitet => Warten auf den Endgegner”, Twitter user ‘flachshaar’ on http://twitoaster.com/country-de/flachshaar/habe-mal-wieder-alle-antrage-durchgearbeitet-warten-auf-den-endgegner-lqfb/ (referenced at: a)
[4] Original German cite: “Meine liebsten MMORPG: Eve Online und LiquidFeedback”, Jens Ohlig (Twitter user ‘johl’) on https://twitter.com/#!/johl/status/164730558348410881 (referenced at: a)
[5] Original German cite: “Anders als in den sprichwörtlichen Hinterzimmern sind alle Entscheidungsprozesse für alle nachvollziehbar.” Björn Swierczek, http://www.carta.info/42081/liquidfeedback-gamification-der-politik/ (referenced at: a)
[6] Original German text: “Eines der wichtigsten Spielelemente ist das Spielziel, dem alles andere untergeordnet ist. Jenseits des reinen Machtgewinns sieht Alexander Morlang, Berliner Abgeordneter der Piratenpartei, ‘die Lust und den Willen, die Welt zu verändern’ als ‘Spielziel’ jeder Politik.” http://www.carta.info/42081/liquidfeedback-gamification-der-politik/ (referenced at: a)
[7] Original German text: “LiquidFeedback ersetzt Politik nicht, findet Alexander Morlang. Die Herausforderung von LiquidFeedback bestünde darin, gute Texte zu schreiben, die dann bestenfalls als fertige Anträge herauskommen. Insofern dient die Software den Piraten als Testraum: Politische Ideen werden in Form von Anträgen ‘durch das Liquid geschleift’. Am Ende dieses Prozesses sind Kritikpunkte eingebracht, Gegenmeinungen und Verbesserungsvorschläge abgestimmt.” http://www.carta.info/42081/liquidfeedback-gamification-der-politik/ (referenced at: a)
[8] Original German text: “Die eigentliche politische Arbeit, die über LiquidFeedback erledigt würde, sei eine recht traditionelle Form, sagt Alexander Morlang. Bisher seien es die Aufgaben von Referenten gewesen, mit LiquidFeedback hingegen kann sich potenziell jedes Mitglied einbringen.” http://www.carta.info/42081/liquidfeedback-gamification-der-politik/ (referenced at: a)
[9] Original German text: “Digitale Kommunikation im Politikbereich wird zurzeit vor allem für Marketingzwecke eingesetzt, interessanter ist aber der Rückkanal, die Möglichkeit zur Teilhabe. Der Erfolg der Piratenpartei ist sicher auch auf neue Wege politischer Kommunikation zurückzuführen. LiquidFeedback nimmt dabei einen zentralen Platz ein, da es systematisch versucht, den Rückkanal zu einem demokratischen Mitgestaltungsmedium zu erweitern. Alexander Morlang sieht darin einen Impuls zur Veränderung der bisherigen Praxis unserer Parteiendemokratie im Hinblick auf Transparenz und Teilhabemöglichkeiten.” http://www.carta.info/42081/liquidfeedback-gamification-der-politik/ (referenced at: a)