Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated by a major party for the vice presidency of the US, once remarked, "Politics can be an ugly game, and in a national election the stakes get higher while the tactics get lower".
She's far from alone in comparing politics to a game. Both are about beating your opponent to the agreed-upon goal (votes / points), both are conducted according to sometimes arcane rules, those who bend the rules (or get away with breaking them) are often at an advantage, and in both, victory often eclipses the reasons we take part.
Given the similarities, it seems natural to represent the political system in the form of a game - just as we play at war (Risk), economics (Monopoly) and even life itself (The Game of Life).
So as the US election gets into full swing, with the players lining up to TKO each other in fiery debates, slick interviews, attack ads, and back-room deals, so too have game designers, myself included, taken inspiration from this 'ugly game' and sought to turn it into a fun evening you can spend with family and friends as you profess to seek a better understanding of the democratic process, while in reality seeking to destroy their nascent campaigns and backstab your way to political office.
Naturally, mine's not the only game this election cycle exploring the ways politics can be gamified. Here are four games currently seeking your vote (and cash)....
Elections of US America Elections - Our own humble offering has so much democracy in it, "elections" is in the title twice! You might guess this is going to be satire and, indeed, it very much is. We've teamed up with the snarky, rather rude, and completely brilliant political commentators of Wonkette to create a slice of Machiavellian fun.
We design the art, the game workings, and all of the fun, and the Wonketteers write terrible things on the cards that they claim are "jokes".
Each player is the power behind the throne, taking on the role of the campaign manager as they attempt to wrangle, scandal, cheat, poll, and roll their chosen candidate (Sanders, Clinton, Bush, Trump, Cthulhu etc.) into the White House. It's a card game where the action roves each state in the Union as players seek to tactically grab votes while avoiding dropping scandals and the dirty tricks of the other players. Our game draws heavily from real world campaigns and is even offering backers the chance to co-design the game.
The core of the game is about playing cards face down and stating what they are, daring the other players to call you out on your 'BS'. If they call you out incorrectly, they get penalized, if their suspicions are correct, the bluffer gets penalized.
In this version the cards and process are all politically themed and the candidates are often suitably fecally directed (President Asshat, Sh*t Burger for President). As well as just plain lying, players get to use rhetoric and have debates.
This campaign calls bullsh*t on the political process, and seems like a heap of fun.
Super PACS! The Game of Politics About the Game of Politics - Yet another card game, this time about Super PACS.
Super PACS! satirizes the relationship between power, votes, and money in the democratic process. The action takes place in the fictional country of 'Humerica' and each player controls a power-hungry leader who is trying to assemble a coalition of supporters using money, persuasion, treachery or by wielding their 'superpower'.
Factions that join your side can be exploited ruthlessly and in the interactions of their factions emerges the game's fun and friction.
American Dynasty: A Political Board Game - This offering is a fully fledged board game, and it takes real historical figures and the long view of history.
It offers up the Clintons, Bushes, Roosevelts, and Kennedys as they all go head-to-head for their family's domination of the White House.
The game's creator remarked that he set out to make a game that was both social commentary and also scathing, uproarious satire. "To honor the dignity of our great nation" he said, "I wanted to inspire the average American - for just a few hours - to abandon their personal ethics in the intoxicating pursuit of absolute self-interest".
What you may have noticed is that none of these offerings has a particularly rosy view of the political process, a view the game designers above share with the majority of voters. But still, by understanding the process of political power we stand a better chance of changing it for the better!
The only question now is which of these fine games will you vote for with your dollars? Let the ugly (but fun) games begin!