Monica Hesse July 27, 2012
Call of duty ... pick your candidate.
Test your political platform and become president of the United States.
Even considering that there have been wildly popular computer games based on schlepping across the country in a covered wagon and trying not to die from dysentery (''Oregon Trail''), or lying around the apartment and trying not to die from boredom (''Sims''), this seems like a stretch.
In "The Race for the White House", the goal is to become president of the United States.
There's no judo-chopping of terrorists here, no midnight plots involving nuclear codes. There are also no pregnant interns or sizzling West Wing dialogue, the version of the US presidency that TV audiences have grown to most love, the one produced by Aaron Sorkin.
What do you do in this game? You fundraise. You decide which states to build headquarters in and analyse how much you can afford in monthly rent. You prioritise speaking engagements, choosing from messages that, as a handy icon informs you, might thrill the religious base but upset the military, or be great for national morale but cruddy for the national debt.
During the afternoon I spent racing for the White House - the entire election cycle can be crammed into a few hours of play - a drawling millionaire named Charlie Cox kept calling up my virtual mobile phone to tell me that I was doing great and that he was going to send me more money. Then my avatar candidate decided to support same-sex marriage, and Charlie called me again, screaming that I'd never see another dime.
It's a laugh riot.
The game, which can be downloaded at theraceforthewhitehouse.com for $US20, is developed by Eversim, a French company that specialises in geopolitical simulations. The company did "Commander in Chief" in 2009 and "Rulers of Nations" in 2010.
"The US 2012 election is certainly the most important political event this year - and not just in the US," Eversim chief executive Louis-Marie Rocques wrote in an e-mail. He anticipates that the game will appeal to a broad audience.
It is not an unfair assumption, considering that the one of Americans' most honoured political traditions is scoffing that they personally could do a better job than anybody running.
So, let's play!
I could have chosen to be Democrat Jack Ohama or Republican Mick Ronney, who look and sound like creepy animatronic versions of the men they're based on. Instead, I invented a third-party candidate and created my own campaign slogan: "Git 'Er Done". I opted for the "easy" setting and the "equal start" game mode, which allowed Ohama, Ronney and me to all start with the same amount of money and anticipated electoral votes. I built headquarters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan (swing state strategising) and accepted every high-priority speaking engagement I was offered.
And I lost. By a lot. Ronney cleaned my clock in our single debate. And every time I thought I'd landed on a decent campaign promise, it turned out that another candidate had already made it, which resulted in me losing votes because I looked like a copycat instead of a maverick. In the end, Ronney got 216 electoral votes, Ohama 168 and I 154.
After a few more spins around the US map - the default interface for the game - I was beginning to get the hang of it. More fundraisers equalled more money. More money equalled more headquarters. More headquarters equalled more presence, which equalled more votes.
I think I could have eventually won. But by the end, I couldn't figure out why I'd want to.