Time to Unleash Your Inner Machiavelli! Three projects playing with politics.
Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated by a major party for the vice presidency, once remarked, “Politics can be an ugly game, and in a national election the stakes get higher while the tactics get lower.” She’s far from alone in comparing politics to a game. Both are about beating your opponent to the agreed-upon goal (votes/points); both are conducted according to sometimes arcane rules; in both, those who bend the rules (or get away with breaking them) are often at an advantage; and in both, victory often eclipses the reasons we take part. Given the similarities, it seems natural to represent the political system in the form of a game — just as we play at war (Risk and a million others), economics (Monopoly and an exchequer of other titles) and life itself (Snakes & Ladders, or, you know, “Life”). So as the US election gets into full swing, with the players lining up to TKO each other in fiery debates, slick interviews, attack ads and back-room deals, so too have game designers, myself included, taken inspiration from this ‘ugly game’ and sought to turn it into a fun evening you can spend with family and friends as you profess to seek a better understanding of the democratic process, while in reality seeking to destroy their nascent campaigns and back-stab your way to political office. Naturally, mine’s not the only game this election cycle exploring the ways politics can be gamified. Here are four games currently seeking your vote (and cash).
Elections of US America Elections — Our own humble offering has so much democracy in it, “elections” is in the title twice! You might guess this is going to be satire — and we would congratulate you on your very keen nose. We’ve teamed up with the frankly rather rude political commentators of Wonkette to create a slice of Machiavellian fun; we design the art, the game workings, and all of the fun, and the Wonketteers write terrible things on the cards that they claim are “jokes.” Each player is the power behind the throne, taking on the role of the campaign manager as they attempt to wrangle, scandal, cheat, poll and roll their chosen candidate (Sanders, Clinton, Bush, Trump, Cthulhu etc.) into the White House. It’s a card game where the action roves each state in the Union as players seek to tactically grab votes while avoiding dropping scandals and the dirty tricks of the other players. Our game draws heavily from the real world campaigns and is offering backers the chance to co-design the game.
Super PACS! The Game of Politics About the Game of Politics — Another card game, this time about Super PACS. Super PACS! satirizes the relationship between power, votes, and money in the democratic process. The action takes place in the fictional country of ‘Humerica’ and each player controls a power-hungry leader and must try to assemble a coalition of supporters using money, persuasion, treachery, or by wielding their ‘superpower’. Factions that join your side can be exploited ruthlessly and in the interactions of their factions emerges the game’s fun and friction.
Greater Evil: The Political Bullsh*t Game — Also a card game, this clever idea is based on the existing game of ‘bullsh*t’ (also known as ‘cheat’ or ‘bluff’). The core of the game is about putting down face down cards and stating what they are, daring the other players to call you out on your ‘BS’. If they get is wrong, they get penalized; if not the bluffer does. In this version the cards and process are all politically themed and the candidates are often suitably fecally directed (President Asshat, Sh*t Burger for President). As well as just plain lying, players get to use rhetoric and have debates. This campaign calls bullsh*t on the political process with a dollop of fun.
What you may have noticed is that none of these offerings has a particularly rosy view of the political process, a view the game designers above share with the majority of voters. Still, by understanding the process, we stand a better chance of chancing it for the better!
The only question now is — which of these fine games will you vote for with your dollars, as the Founders or at least the judges who decided Citizens United intended? Let the ugly (but fun) games begin!