Sunday, October 05, 2008

Trench Warfare

Virtualpolitik pal Ian Bogost has announced the release of Campaign Rush, a game about volunteering for one of the two major presidential campaigns, which is hosted on the CNN website. Players can staff offices for either Obama or McCain, where they are engaged in virtually identical activities (answering phones, making copies, drinking coffee, etc.) .

Having been a less-than-eager volunteer for several campaigns, I think that Bogost captures the oppressiveness of these office spaces well and the impersonality of the cubicle culture that elections have adopted as their own, even at a time that corporate America is exploring other models for the architectures of labor.

In other words, as a serious game, in many ways Campaign Rush is more like the claustrophobia of Disaffected! than it is like the expansiveness and manifest destiny implicit in the Dean for America game, in which the initial working unit is the neighborhood. Although this is not an unwinnable game like some of Bogost's other products, which he has described as games that express a "rhetoric of failure," it does dramatize the fast pace of rapid response campaigning.

As an argument about the nature of political labor, Campaign Rush shows the Sysiphean nature of these endless errands and the failure of campaign offices to serve as control rooms with any sort of long-view perspective on the progress of a campaign. It also displays the degree to which this kind of campaigning still depends on central locations with telephone lines and piles of paper ephemera, even in the distributed digital age. As a volunteer I always found the paper expended by campaigns appalling, and I still feel guilty about tree-killing and landfill-filling after having to throw away stacks and stacks of voter rolls and information sheets that I had been driving around in my trunk months after the last votes had been counted.

For some reason, however, I consistently received higher scores as a worker for McCain. Perhaps my deep-seated gamer personality is actually a member of the Republican party.

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