Tech Lab Pilot Game ‘ControVersus’ Encourages Political Discourse

August 27, 2018

In the 2016-17 school year, Claire O'Hanlon (cohort '13) participated in Pardee RAND's Tech Lab Pilot, in which she and several fellow students designed and created projects that used technology to improve civil discourse. Now a new alum, O'Hanlon has released a free, public download of her project: a tabletop card game that encourages political discussions in a civil manner.

O'Hanlon says she designed the basic premise of the game as part of her application to participate in the Tech Lab Pilot. During the pilot, she recruited fellow students Steve Davenport (cohort '15) and Julia Pollak (cohort '12) to help develop the original game and prototypes. And this summer — with some follow-on funding from the School — O’Hanlon revamped and expanded the game, now available for free download on the website

Claire (standing on the left) explains the game play to Pardee RAND students and staff at the Tech Lab Pilot Open House in 2017

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

"ControVersus: a card game for a divisive era" is an Apples-to-Apples™-style game that promotes understanding of and stimulates discussion on U.S. political issues among students, colleagues, families, and friends without forcing players to reveal their own political positions.

The game is designed for between five and eight people and encourages players to consider how different sides might think about words and phrases commonly heard in U.S. political discourse. Players choose one of the "concept” cards in their hand from their hand to respond to a “value” card, and they may have to defend their choice to the group — whether or not they truly believe it.

“Concept” card examples“Value” card examples
“free speech”
“religious schools”
“the minimum wage”
“trigger warnings”
“unfunded mandates”
“National Public Radio”
“the establishment”
“This is fine as long as no government money is used to pay for it”
“Brainwashing at its finest”
“Everyone’s favorite scapegoat”
“A feel-good non-solution”
“A monument to mediocrity”
“The foundation of a moral society”
“Our national nightmare”

“We understand the nuances of our own political views, but it’s often hard to resist a reductive explanation of our opponents’ views," O'Hanlon said. “ControVersus aims to help people understand other’s views to promote more constructive disagreement.”

On her website, O'Hanlon says ControVersus "aims to improve discourse by helping people talk about politics in a context that is not a reaction to current events or a debate about one’s own opinions. ControVersus aims to promote understanding of U.S. political concepts and opinions across the spectrum."

Game cards can be downloaded for free in various formats, and O’Hanlon is looking for a supplier for a ready-to-play version.