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Feature: 'Persuasive Games: The Birth and Death of the Election Game'

Feature: 'Persuasive Games: The Birth and Death of the Election Game'

October 30, 2008 | By Staff

October 30, 2008 | By Staff
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Author and game designer Ian Bogost examines the use of video games in 2004 and 2008's U.S. Presidential elections, seeing a sharp decline in games used for political means this year, and simply asking -- why?

Though the 2004 elections saw a surge in candidates and campaigns utilizing video games for publicity, fundraising, platform communication, 2008 saw very few officially created or endorsed political games, with the exception of Republican presidential candidate John McCain's Pork Invaders -- a Space Invaders clone in which a McCain "ship" fires vetoes at pig "aliens" as a demonstration of how McCain "would exercise the veto pen to restore fiscal responsibility to our federal government."

Bogost believes that the video games are less prominent this election year because of the rise of online video and social networks:

"There are reasons games have grown slowly compared to other technologies for political outreach. The most important one is also the most obvious: since 2004, online video and social networks have become the big thing, as blogs were four years ago.

Online video became the political totem of 2008, from James Kotecki's dorm room interviews to CNN's YouTube debates. At the same time, the massive growth in social network subscriptions made social connectivity a secondary focus for campaign innovation, especially since Facebook opened its pages beyond the campus in 2006.

In many cases, politicking on social networks was a process driven entirely by voters rather than campaigns, efforts that reached far larger numbers than might have been possible previously, even with blogs."


He also argues that the 2008 presidential candidates's efforts to promote their campaigns through reskinned classic arcade games and virtual billboards don't take advantage of the potential games have to offer to political speech:

"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."


You can read the full feature, which covers previously released political games and unofficial titles lampooning Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's moose-shooting escapades (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).


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