One month before the American elections, will you be able to become the new tenant of the White House … quite virtually? Your keyboards!
The electoral campaign is in full swing with our neighbors to the South, where Donald Trump faces Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. On a screen near you, it is possible to transform into a political ace in order to rise to the supreme office. Ready?
The first electoral video game dates back to … 1981 (the election that Ronald Reagan won hands down over Jimmy Carter). Entitled President Elect, (title given to the chosen one in November before his arrival at the White House in January), the game was first released on … Apple II (!) before being adapted in 1984 for the … Commodore 64. Admit that all this does not make us younger!
Extremely complete, although visually totally outdated, President Elect (offered via emulator here) simulates the last nine weeks before the election. The player, who can choose any campaign from 1960 to 1984, becomes the campaign manager for any candidate they choose and can even create a fictitious one. The game then takes place in nine rounds during which the decisions taken will have a direct influence on the ballot.
Asked about the subject in 2015 by the New Yorker, Nelson Hernandez, the creator of President Elect – who also refused the job offered to him by the president of the brand new company EA Games because he was in the army at the time – notes that the game “was very primitive, but, at the time, the degree of prediction seemed miraculous ”, because the title always predicted the victory of Ronald Reagan!
Following the success of President Elect and its sequel, released in 1987, government simulations, including electoral games, became a genre in its own right, some even reflecting current events. In Crisis in the Kremlin (offered at Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux), for example, the player embodies the Secretary General of the USSR by choosing Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin or Egor Ligachev, and must manage to manage the country successfully.
At the same time, election games that focus on running for the White House are primarily intended to show the public how the democratic process works, with entertainment not being the main focus. This is how titles like On the Campaign Trail, developed by Kent State University, or Power Politics, created by Randy Chase, developer at E.A., Exient, MobyGames, etc., detail the inner workings of a campaign.
Fast forward to 2020, where the US presidential elections are fast approaching. The Political Machine 2020 (available from Steam for Windows and Mac) allows you to choose one of the current candidates (and even more) or create one from scratch. We must maneuver through the hot topics in each of the US states in order to win a majority of the 270 voters.
With its candidates’ identification sheets, which include their qualities as well as the funds at their disposal, its maps and its polls, all culminating on election night, President Election Game (offered at 270Soft, here, for Windows and Mac) is an impressive strategic simulation that measures all the complexity of the electoral process.
Yang2020 Path to Presidency (offered at Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux) looks like a cartoon with its colorful visual. Without any pretension, but with a lot of humor, this title is intended as a fighting game in Street fighter… but in the Oval Office. The “story” mode is nice, the scuffles are fun and everything remains light.
More serious, Win the White House (offered free here, also available for Android and Apple) is aimed at children from elementary to high school, which is perfect for those unfamiliar with American politics. Ana, the campaign manager, is there to guide the candidate, that is to say the player, who remains free to follow his advice or not, and this, from the debate in the primaries.
In American Election (offered free here), we are in 2016. The player transforms into Abigail Thoreau, employee of the “Undonald Not-trump” campaign. Lesbian, daughter of an immigrant and a racist, she is followed. A text-based, click-through game accompanied by haunting music and a visual that is both realistic and exotic, this title is certainly a work of fiction, but above all a work of art.
The waste of useful time of the week
In the tone of biting irony, Everyday Arcade offers a whole host of electoral-flavored mini-games. The Voter Suppression Trail, a “newsgame” offered in partnership with the New York Times, aims to make voters aware of the measures being taken to restrict the exercise of the right to vote of certain minorities. Thoughts and Prayers: The Game focuses on ending the violence generated by guns using the power of thoughts and prayers. And in Science fighter, the player becomes a chosen one who must kill scientists to raise funds!