As a politics student, there have never been enough games about politics for my liking. Of course, there are always games that deal with political issues, but there seems to be a dearth of games that are explicitly centred around politics. The obvious exception to this trend is the Democracy series, which could be best described as a government simulator. The player takes control of a government in a country of their choice, and sets about introducing policies with the aim of practicing economic competency whilst also keeping the next election firmly in mind.
If we learn anything from Democracy, it’s that there’s little room for long-term thinking in democratic politics. You’ll spend half your time just trying to keep the country afloat, and half your time trying to keep the electorate happy with whichever policy seems to be popular at the time. If the people want free eye tests, better state healthcare, or even their own space programme, just do it, and worry about the costs later.
But what if you want something a little more exciting than just policymaking? The Political Machine 2016 takes next year’s US presidential election and turns it into an exciting strategy game of sorts. What with the whole Donald Trump scandal of last week, the game is becoming increasingly on-topic. Trump’s brutish and brash approach has shaken up the contest for the Republican nomination, and Bernie Sanders is doing a similar thing for the Democrats, by bringing the lingo of socialism back into US politics for the first time in decades. Next year’s election could be one of the most interesting we’ve ever seen.
Indeed, PM 2016 features most of the candidates on both sides, including Bernie Sanders and the now infamous Donald Trump, plus a few extra. Alternatively, you can create your own candidate – there’s a decent bit of variety in terms of customising your character with hats, hair and accessories. Having chosen your candidate as well as your opponent, it’s time to set out on the campaign trail.
The game begins with a handful of states leaning towards either the Republicans or Democrats, although most states are still undecided, and thus up for grabs. The player travels across a map of the US, using political speeches and advertising to convince the population to vote for them. Speeches are cheap, but use up a candidate’s stamina quickly; advertising expends less stamina, but costs more money in the long term. Building campaign offices in each state can ensure a steady flow income, or can provide points each turn that can be spent on endorsements, which earn a nationwide boost for your campaign, or operatives.
Operatives come in all shapes and sizes, and perform all manner of tasks. For example, a spin doctor will improve your ratings within a state, while a consultant will boost awareness of your campaign. Alternatively, you can use operatives to actively derail your opponent’s campaign. For example, an intimidator reduces awareness of their campaign within a state, while a fixer will remove an operative working for the other side.
It sounds complicated, but after a few minutes it all feels quite natural. Travelling from state to state, it becomes apparent that you are required to ditch your principles as soon as possible. If you don’t do that, the next best option is to adopt the broadest possible platform. Who could possibly argue against reducing unemployment? Or fighting terrorism?
The electoral college system plays a central role in the game. In the US, voters do not directly elect their president – instead they vote for electors, who pledge to vote for a certain presidential candidate. The system works in a similar way to our own first past the post system, in that the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the votes within a state gains all of the electors. The number of electors in each state varies based on the number of Congress members a state has, meaning that bigger states such as California and Texas are more valuable.
Each campaign lasts for a set number of turns, and at the very end the votes are counted, and whichever candidate has gained the most electors wins, becoming president-elect. The most exciting part of the game comes when the results are announced, and you get to watch each state turn either blue or red.
So what message should we take away from The Political Machine 2016? That a politician must kow-tow to public opinion if they are serious about winning an election? Sure, principles must be cast off, but isn’t it a good thing that politicians have to listen to citizens, no matter how barmy their opinions may be?