presidential campaign games
Last week Steven Johnson wondered why there are no videogames that simulate the 2004 US presidential campaigns. The idea must have been floating around the zeitgeist, because Howard Dean’s campaign has actually commissioned a game, just released today I think, where you canvas houses, hand out leaflets (it’s fun trying to catch passers by!) and wave a sign in order to win more supporters. It was made by Gonzalo Frasca and Ian Bogost, also writers of a blog about games with an agenda at watercoolergames.org. They say it’s the first time a videogame has been used as an official part of a presidential campaign – that certainly says something about the way we’re starting to view games as an important form of expression.
There are other games dealing with elections, too. Over at Grandtextauto Andrew mentioned a conversational simulation of Bush (not sponsored by Bush) called AI Bush. AI Bush comes with the possibility not only to converse and play games with the presidential simulation but also to play the election game Reelect Bush. In the comments to Steven Johnson’s post several older games are mentioned, with President Elect from 1988 getting most praise. There are at least two simulations planned for the 2004 elections, but they’re not out yet. Lantern Games promise that their Frontrunner will be available for PC in the next couple of months, while Randy Chase is releasing a new version of Power Politics that will allow online collaborative play. There’s also an online a game about the French 2002 presidential elections.
I found the Howard Dean game pretty good fun for a short play, and it’s not meant to take forever to play. Catching people to give them brochures was fun – it reminded me of my enthusiastic teens when, for a while, I found real life leaflet distribution wonderful fun, mostly because my friends were doing it too. And I believed in our causes. The gameplay’s simple and the message is very clear: small actions can make big changes. It fits perfectly into the Dean strategy of involving regular people and their friends and their friends’ friends and helping them make more friends on the campaign – and using the internet to do it.