Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Death and Life of Great American Election Videogames

In Ian Bogost's remarkable essay, "The Birth and Death of the Election Game," points out that although the 2004 election "marked a turning point" in which "candidates and campaign organizations got into games, using the medium for publicity, fundraising, platform communication, and more," 2008 had been a failure in producing meaningful or engaging games about the campaigns, so that "video games played a minor role" in representing the political contest that was consuming tens of millions of Americans with other kinds of .

Of course, as I've noted here on Virtualpolitik, voters have pursued many kinds of rule-driven forms of interactivity involving computational media this election season including online issue quizzes, interactive electoral maps, and tax calculators.

But it is true that the absence of good election games represents a notable omission in the nation's logical patterns of digital media production. Just the fact that there are winners and losers who accrue points in a relatively complex system of rules makes the U.S. presidential election seem to be much more logical subject matter for a serious game than Shakespeare's plays, lunar exploration, environmental protection, or other similar experiences that are less likely candidates to be modeled successfully by a computer.

As Clive Thompson suggests in "Democracy, the Game," after playing The Political Machine 2008, perhaps "American democracy really is a game — and maybe that’s the best thing about it."

What, after all, is a game? A game is a set of rules that gives players a set of goals but also constrains their behavior in striving for those goals; it architects their behavior in an interesting and hopefully enjoyable way. A really well-designed game is “balanced” and self-correcting. In a game of pool, for example, if you take an early lead by sinking a ton of balls, you quickly discover that — whoops — the game gets harder because your opponents’ balls block all your shots. In MMOs like World of Warcraft, different classes of players do different things; as a result, no one class can run roughshod over all others.

As the election clock ticks down, Bogost has also been trying to cover late additions at Water Cooler Games, including Debate Smash 2008.

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