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Perfectionism & Presidents

I was talking to a friend about perfectionism. Specifically I asked whether she thought I was a perfectionist; she did. In my mind perfectionism was never giving up on a thing until it was perfect and therefore potentially working on a thing forever and never finishing it. Her view is that perfectionism is giving up if you can't make the thing perfect. And the latter is definitely me.

The reason I had asked was because I was having a moment of sudden big-picture revelation regarding one of my on/off creative projects and saw the perfectionist problem I was having clearly. The project is a US Presidential election board game, a concept I've been chipping away at intermittently for over 10 years.

I have this reasonable model for the current state of highly-polarised, swing state focused campaigns where only a handful (usually 8-10) states decide the election and the campaigns focus almost all their efforts on those states. But my goal in those 10 years of trying to do this has been to make a "universal" election simulator; a system that would work for any historical US Presidential contest by plugging in modifying factors particular to any given point in time. My swing state model doesn't do that.

It would work well for any election from 2000 until now, and select ones before. But if you look at something like Reagan/Carter from 1980 or one of the two blowout elections where the Republican candidate won 49 states (1972 and 1984) it just wouldn't work. It's a completely different scale because, although in theory the rules were the same, the real life "game" was completely different.

And I've abandoned one prototype after another for a decade because I can't come up with a universal model. That's madness.

Why madness? Because I'm setting myself a goal of distilling in a tabletop game playable in under 3 hours a model for presidential elections that no pollster or campaign worker in the history of those elections has been able to nail down. Nobody can define a system that says with any degree of certainty "If this campaign does X and that campaign responds with Y, the result will be Z". You can't "solve" the behaviour of over 100 million voters. And yet part of my brain is still insisting that I can and I must. Like I said, madness.

So right now I am trying to convince myself that I don't have to do that. If I have a model that works for the polarised post-Clinton modern elections, make that game. Maybe I'll learn something along the way. Maybe instead of one universal system I need a family of related systems where guiding principles from the swing state model help players to understand the rules in a wide open or blowout election model.

In any case, I need to start making something instead of allowing the perfectionist part of my brain to tell me I shouldn't.

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blog | by Dr. Radut