To understand why, we need to comprehend the difference between politics and politicking. Politicking refers to campaigning, it's the process we see and hear about throughout the election cycle: the yard signs, the television ads, the soapboxing, even the debates. Politicking is meant to get smiling faces and simple ideas in front of voters to appeal to what ails them.
Politics, if we take the word seriously, refers to the actual executive and legislative effort that our elected officials partake in to alter and update the rules of our society. In an ideal representative democracy, the one leads to the other, but in contemporary society the two are orthogonal.
Ironically, this is exactly where video games would find their most natural connection to political speech.
When we make video games, we construct simulated worlds in which different rules apply.
To play games involves taking on roles in those worlds, making decisions within the constraints they impose, and then forming judgments about living in them.
Video games can synthesize the raw materials of civic life and help us pose the fundamental political question, What should be the rules by which we live?
Such questions are rarely posed nor answered seriously in elections. Indeed, the electoral process has become divorced from the process of establishing and enforcing public policy.
The solution to our medium's failure to engage elections in 2008 is not to wait and try again in 2010 or 2012; indeed, the best solution may be to abandon the "election game" entirely, in favor of the public policy game.
What if you could live a mirror life in the evolving world of your US senator or city councilor's policy promotions: How would a community benefit from a bond measure in relation to its actual cost to taxpayers?
What would it feel like to live under the constraints of a particular fiscal policy? How might an unorthodox energy policy balance environmental and security concerns? Why will federal investment in private banking positively impact business and ordinary citizens?
In other words, the benefit video games can offer public life is to deemphasize politicking in favor of politics. As the 2008 election fades into memory, it is here that we should steer our medium's engagement with politics, whether through official publication by the elected or independent creation by the electorate.
The role of video games in politics lies here, in their potential to unseat elections as the unit of popular political currency, rather than to participate in them directly.