Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Pac-Man Persuasion - Videogame Theorist Ian Bogost on the Politics of Videogames

Georgia Institute of Technology professor Ian Bogost saw potential in the power of games with political content. But when he saw the dearth of quality in political games available, he decided to make them himself.

In his New York Times article, "The Ivy-Covered Console" about the growing academic field of game studies, Michael Erard mused that someday a professor "might hold the Grand Theft Auto endowed chair at a prestigious university." For now, noted Erard, but there isn't a "game-studies Aristotle" capable of both studying the field and changing it.

Aristotle, meet Ian Bogost. Bogost, Aristotle.

If you haven't heard of Bogost yet, you probably will. An Assistant Professor in the Information Design and Technology program at George Institute of Technology, Bogost teaches courses in information design and is designing a class in videogame rhetoric. Along with game designer and videogame critic Gonzalo Frasca, Bogost co-edits Water Cooler Games, a blog focusing on the use of videogames as a form of advocacy in politics, an advertising medium and business promotion. And, as if he wasn't busy enough, he's the co-founder and lead game-designer of Persuasive Games, a videogame developer that specializes in games for advocacy groups such as the Illinois House Republican Organization.

Ian Bogost considers which gaming field to conquer next. Photo Ian Bogost. © Ian Bogost, 2004

Bogost studied the humanities, taking degrees in philosophy and comparative literature. His main interest, as a student, was in "the convergence between the humanities and information technology." Exploring this passion, Bogost wrote his dissertation for his comparative literature PhD - he's now reworking it into a book - on videogames.

"It was an approach to videogame criticism specifically, and criticism of technology artifacts in general," Bogost said.

Bogost also jumped into the field of videogames during the dot-com boom. Working in advertising and software for companies such as Sony Pictures, Lexus, and Nestle, he became an expert in "advergames," a type of game companies to sell products. Due to legal constraints, Bogost was unable to supply immediate samples of his work on advergames.

But for some examples of advergames, visit Adverblog: Advergames Archives. This blog expertly collects and archives dozens of advergames on-line such as NikeFootball.

His work on advergames piqued his interest in games with a purpose, moving him to co-found Water Cooler Games with Frasca, who has written extensively for academic gaming sites such as and GameStudies.

"About a year ago, [Frasca] and I decided to put together a blog," he said. "The time was right to start building an academic resource on political, advertising, [and] business games."

It was this same pretext that Bogost and Frasca launched their London art exhibit, Games With an Agenda from October 16 to November 7 at the Curzon Soho, which featured pieces from developers in South America (Frasca's own game September 12), Europe la Molleindustria's TurboFlex), and North America (Bogost's Horde of Directors.)

Controls with controllers? © Big Picture Media Corporation, 2004

"The goal of the exhibit was to expose the general public to some examples of videogames that carry a social and political message," Bogost said.

According to Bogost, one of the most interesting developments in the past few years is the use of videogames as a political tool. Politicians “endorsing and using [games] as part of their communications strategy [is] undeniably new," he said.

However, such games are in their infancy. Bogost criticized games such as those on the GOP website for their lack of quality and poorly targeted messages.

"I was pretty [unhappy] with the GOP games because they are crude," Bogost said. "The GOP seems [not] to have expressed their own policies. I mean, Tax Invaders features a disembodied George W. Bush head firing bullets at Kerry's tax policy. Does the GOP really need more images of Bush shooting things?"

The birth pains of political gaming inspired Bogost to found Persuasive Games. If groups needed games to advance their causes, he thought, they should hire someone with industry experience to make them.

The company's initial effort was last year's Howard Dean for Iowa Game, paid for by the Dean campaign. In it, players budgeted and allocated money to get enough voters to rally around Dean in Iowa. The goal of the game was two-fold. It was supposed to help raise awareness for Dean himself and give players an insight into the process of promoting a political candidate. It received major coverage in publications such as Game Developer, a major victory for an upstart game company.

You can see how happy your constituents are in the Take Back Illinois Game. © Persuasive Games, 2004.

Persuasive Games' two most recent launches have attracted international attention, from to the website for the French publicationLiberation. The games, Activism: The Public Policy Game, and The Take Back Illinois Game, were funded by members of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. A non-partisan player, Persuasive Games had no compunctions about making games for opposing parties during the volatile 2004 election.

Bogost didn't do it just for the money.

"[I'm] anti-partisan," he said. "I'm not just independent; I'm in favor of wholesale change in the way Americans think about their policy and leadership. The games take on specific issues that can and I hope do go beyond a 'team color' or 'mascot.' Games are a way to expose the complexity of issues by affording them more representation than a two-second sound bite. And they're much more consumable than the prose of a complex written argument. It should come as no surprise that many people might find their opinions 'crossing party lines [as a result of playing a political game.]"

Bogost’s political plans may be a step in the right direction for gamers. Videogames as a medium have been often subjected to attacks, many times with more hyperbole and less evidence. In an industry that earns more than movie box-office receipts by $1 billion, attacks have resembled those on the Tobacco industry, with claims that videogame developers are marketing dangerous products to children. Recent political games by Bogost and essays by game commentators such as Frasca that deconstruct more mature games for mature audiences are turning the tables on these nay-sayers. It would appear that games designed around topical issues and academic discourse are paving the way for games to be accepted as a viable medium for expression.

But games with political elements aren't new. According to Bogost, election simulation games go all the way back to President Elect in 1988. Much like 2004's Political Machine, President Elect allowed players to use resources such as campaign contributions and political advisors to swing states during an election.

Ever the humanities scholar, Bogost believes that games, a product of their times, mirror contemporary politics.

"Videogames are cultural artifacts," he said. "They are steeped in ideology. In this very broad sense, all games are political."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Smart People and Political Videogames

Another quick look, this time at blogs and smart folk who talk about videogames in relation to the campaign.

We’ll start off today’s post with something a little light.

Despite the humor of the piece, the editorial goes a small way to showing that there is a growing field of research into how videogames work as commentary on life, especially in a political environment.

As previously mentioned, Water Cooler Games is dedicated to such a research.

Popular videogame website Gamespot recently had a fantastic feature on the growing academic field of videogames. is another blog that looks at games in the same context. The advantage of is the ability to cross-reference papers and websites on gaming. Many of their papers, such as Videogames of the Oppressed, deal with issues directly relating to using videogames to promote beliefs.

Recently, they reported on Videogames With an Agenda, an on and off-line art exhibit looking at games used as a form of political and social activism.

The International Game Developers Association is another great source for research into games. The essay Ideological Videogames by Gonzalo Frasca brings up the concept that on-line media, especially games, are good for promoting political views as they are both appealing to the eye and easy to spread.

Frasca also wrote a longer piece called Playing for the White House about the changing political climate and how it caters to a new generation. Frasca proposes that as videogames mature as a medium, they will grow to gain a prominence in campaigns similar to television ads and documentaries.

Frasca’s not the only expert in the field. Justin Hall is a media critic that occasionally writes about games on his co-edited website Game Girl Advance. They even have a specific politics section(warning: shameless plug to Lightspin on the site).

Game Journalism is another useful resource. They often write articles such as this on the government producing videogames. This is a great place to check for new updates on the more independent scene of gaming, a producer of games such as Activism.

Finally, Social Impact Games is a blog that comments on games and gaming events that specifically work towards social activism.

Hopefully these sites give a bit of background to all the craziness we’ve presented so far.

Get Your Campaign Game On

A quick overview of Internet content relating to the campaign

Seeing as the election is quickly approaching, we thought it’d be prudent to list a few of the more popular sites that deal with Internet content related to the 2004 campaign.

There has been buzz about Persuasive Games recently. The company initially gained fame for their Dean for America game sponsored by – what else – Dean for America.

Hoowever, much greater recent interest has been from their two new releases: Take Back Illinois and Activism. Both of these games focus on using resources in order to get constituents active in their political climate. Both games are worth checking out, especially considering their funding.

While both developed by Persuasive Games, Activism was funded by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Take Back Illinois by the Illinois House Republican Committee.

Persuasive Games is run by Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca, the same people who run Water Cooler Games, a blog that looks at games in the context of politics, advertising, and advocacy. Worth a look, especially in relation to Lightspin.

Newsgaming is also worth looking at for your political gaming needs. While less active than Persuasive, Newsgaming does feature September 12th which, after its release September 2003, helped kick start the trend of more political games.

The Political Machine is a popular election game that lets you run a political campaign against either computers or other opponents on-line. In fact, it’s one of few main-stream election games offered in a retail market.

Previously mentioned on Lightspin before – is Lunagames’ Election 2004. Although similar to The Political Machine, Election 2004 is simpler and lacks human against human play. However, being a game for cell-phones, it is worth noting that it lets you take the election on the go.

If running a campaign is too much of a hassle, there’s also Bush vs. Kerry Boxing from Sorrent. This cell-phone game allows players to box against various political figures from both sides of the campaign.

Naturally, not all the games are developed outside the parties.

As previously mentioned on Lightspin there are also the Kerry Corner and George W. Bush sites which feature games funded and created by the Republican party.

And, also mentioned, is Dem TV which takes the Democrat side to the games.

Although this isn’t all the content, these selections show the spectrum of what’s available out there and should give you a sampling.

After you get your taste of what’s out there, come back later for part two on what the critical side of the electronic entertainment campaign movement.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Apparently Democrats Don't Like Bush. Who Knew?

Part two of the series on games featured on party websites.

Lightspin looks at theDemocratic National Committee website and internet games and cartoons featured on it.

As a brief commentary on the website itself, compared to the GOP website, the DNC have their work cut out for them. The site is simplistic, difficult to nagivate, and lacks the pure media charm that the GOP website has.

The moral of this story is that donkeys and cowboys don't mix.Screenshot from Kick Bush Out. Copyright 2004 DNC.

The mirror of the GOP’s Kerry Corner is the DNC’s Dem TV. This section features videos, clips and most notably for Lightspin, interactive animations that trash Bush.

Kick Bush Outis a cartoon allows you to use a donkey to kick a cowboy George W. Bush out of the White House. Depending on what button you choose, Bush says a different quote and the donkey kicks in a different manner. There’s even the ubiquitous Matrix-style kick.

Unfortunately, this cartoon suffers from exactly the same problems many of the Republican games/animations featured in the last post: there is a strong lack of political backing. Bush's quotes may be silly or sound stupid to a Democrat, but Lightspin cannot foresee anyone being convinced to change sides or even get off the political fence using an animation that punishes Bush for quotes. The quotes are not even given context. There’s no mention of policy whatsoever.

Social Security and its sequel
are two flash-cartoons that are a little better; they do deal with a political issue. At the same time, the cartoon format causes the creators to go a bit off the handle. George W. Bush’s Social Security plans are made on the idea that the privatization of social security will bring in a better return than leaving it with the government. But in the cartoon he's kicking old ladies down hills.

On a commentary level, Lightspin doesn't understand the analogy. Did Bush know that stocks would drop? Probably not. And while the numbers on stock-market failings are helpful in delivering the message intended, making Bush into a villain once again turns the message into simply verifying the beliefs of people who already hate him. In our opinion, that quality makes this particular cartoon less effective than if it was played straight.

Oddly enough, there isn’t the sheer quantity of cartoons and games on the DNC's website that the Republican websites have. The selections weren’t based on personal favorites, the best or even the worst. In the end, these were some of the only pieces of Internet-exclusive media on the Democrat website.

However, both sites have used the same general style in their games and cartoons. The cartoons make the other guy into a fool or a villain, intent on ruining the United States for everyone and their poor, old grandmothers. While good for solidifying their positions, Lightspin thinks these cartoons wouldn’t work to convince people with other opinions. It’s a contest of mud-slinging, using the newest technology to say the basest things about each side’s opposition.

And with a lack of quantity on their side, Democrats may be disappointed to learn that they are losing this mud-slinging game.

How Many Ways To Mock Thee, Kerry?

Today’s post kicks off a two-part series on Internet Flash cartoons and games on party websites.

If you were an alien from another world – and no one’s saying you’re not – you might be confused by the immediate visual cues of the Republican National Committee website. For starters, almost every picture on the front page is of John Kerry. To be clear, John Kerry is not a member of the Republican party, at least not last time Lightspin checked.

Only someone with a heart of stone would raise your taxes.
Screenshot from Taxinvaders. Copyright 2004 GOP.

This fact becomes apparent when you go to the site’s so-called Kerry Corner, a page dedicated to exuberantly trashing the Democrat candidate. Among the articles and videos on Senator Kerry's alleged "flip-flops," or reversals of his positions on controversial issues, there are games about John Kerry that do the same.

Lightspin chose three of these games that attack Kerry from three different angles using three different game styles.

In Kerryopoly the game begins with $40,000, which the game's creators claim is the "national household average" income. Click on the illustrations of dice, and you land on spaces - lands in the traditional Monopoly, detailing Kerry’s expenses. Haircuts, motorcycles, and even the dreaded gas tax are among the expenses. The more luxuries and taxes Kerry shamelessly indulges in, the more the poor, average American loses out. Well, that is what the game's creators are trying to say. The point of the game is to show Kerry as a rich spendthrift, out of touch with the average American.

But, to turn to commentary, so what? Bush owned a friggin’ baseball team. I’m sure the Bush family does not have to decide between groceries or paying the gas bill. To use an old – but good – cliché; the pot is calling the kettle black.

This blogger will go out on a limb and say that someone's personal purchases within their own means does not mean that they are either unfit to run a country or are out of touch with people. Hell, if this blogger had either candidate’s money, he’d own multiple houses, too. That isn’t a crime. There is no evidence that Kerry’s spending means he has no regard for lower-income families.

In Taxinvaders, you, too, can stop John Kerry from raising taxes - by shooting lasers from the top of George W. Bush’s head. "Save the U.S.A from John Kerry’s tax ideas," the game's directions exhort.

This is dire business. John Kerry’s tax hikes are so criminally despicable that they're synonymous with an alien invasion of earth. What better way to represent this assault than a remake of the classic arcade game, Space Invaders. It’s the end of the world. It’s game over, man - game over!

In all honesty, the use of Space Invaders to invoke a sense of impending doom feels a bit stilted. Furthermore, the game itself just isn’t that fun. It’s too easy to get shot and killed by the taxes’ death-rays, and the game looks just plain awful. The cut-out picture of Bush's head is low-resolution and the taxes are simply represented by rectangular boxes that say "tax" on them. Nor does it make its point. A player could analyze the game and say that the game represents the inevitability of tax increases.

Kerryoke, by contrast, is a sing-along game. (Duh. As in: Kerryoke. As in: Karaoke. Get it?) Its theme song, “The Flips We Flopped,” is set to the tune of “The Way We Were.” With lyrics such as “Scattered issues/At John Kerry photo-ops/Sort of all blend all together/With the flips he flopped,” we’re relatively sure that song-parodist ”Weird Al” Yankovic isn't losing any sleep. The there is an animated John Kerry himself singing along. But with the song as it is, players might be reminded of a third-person voice reminiscent of 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole, well-known for his odd tendency to refer to himself as "Bob Dole."

The most amazing thing about Kerryoke isn't the monotony of the song, nor the doggerel lyric; it’s the song's use of the term “flip-flop” six times without a single specific reference to what flip Kerry flopped.

If you want another GOP game that does a better job explaining what Republicans believe are the hypocritical turnarounds –check out theFlip-Flop Olympics on George Bush’s website. The game is a trivia quiz in which players gain points by correctly picking out Kerry's "flip-flops." Rather than use a song saying Kerry changes his mind for politics, this game actually does it.

Back to commentary, Lightspin wanted to include some pro-Bush games from the GOP, touting the Bush administration’s successes in rebuilding Iraq, its economy-stimulating tax policies, or its reinvigoration of public education. And while we’re not saying the administration can't make such claims, we simply could not find one game or even a singl> animation that portrayed Bush in a more positive light than the green glow of a laser-beam shooting head. What that means, Lightspeed leaves up to you.

Hilariously underachieving games by the Dems next time. Expect a shorter, even angrier rant.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Mud Slinging on the Go

New cell phone game allows players to run their own campaign.

Netherlands-based Lunagames released Election 2004 for cell phones in the first half of September. Election 2004 takes a humorous look at the 2004 American election through a game in which players employ smooth talk and back-stabbing tactics in order to garner more votes than the other candidate.

The title screen of Election 2004 urges players to “run for president.” The American flag and presidential eagle ensure players know for which country’s presidency they are running.
Screenshot courtesy Lunagames. Copyright 2004 Lunagames.

The game takes place on a RISK-like map of the United States. Each state is color-coded as being greed for the player, red against the player or grey in a dead-heat. Clicking on the state brings up details on the percentages of voters and the number of people you have campaigning for you in that state.

Candidates choose a set of issues to campaign on from nine areas: agriculture, health, economy, justice, environment, education, internal affairs and foreign politics. Each of these areas has more specific topics on which the candidates spend money and debate.

Most of the South is against the candidate. But at least she’s got Texas.
Screenshot courtesy Lunagames. Copyright 2004 Lunagames.

The game's debates are in multiple-choice format. Each question has answers that are along the lines of agree, disagree or a vague dodge. Depending on what the voters want to hear, the answers the player chooses will change her standing.

But the player doesn't have to spend all her money on honest campaigning.

"The game is open ended, in the sense that you control all aspects of how you want to manage your campaign," Lunagames CEO Hazenberg said in an e-mail interview with the blog. "The game gives you broad options and it's the players' choice to run a fair or dirty campaign."

Much of the game's humor comes from playing rough. Candidates may hire investigators to dig dirt on the opposition. Or they can pay for what the game calls "Active Actions," fabricated scandals that range from seducing the opposition with a hooker - complete with photos - to paying for misleading newspaper stories. These scandals are revealed in CNN-style news-flashes. The embarrassed candidate is then given a series of choices that represent stances they might take in such a situation. Of course, a wrong answer can lose the player valuable voters.

After 30 turns - each round representing a week - the winner with the most votes takes the White House.

Yet it may seem like an odd prospect to have a European game-developer create a game based on the American election. But Hazenberg said that the game came from an interest in the election that crosses borders.

"I've always been fascinated by U.S. politics and have been thinking about a game in this direction for quite some time," Hazenberg said. "[In] early 2004 one of our game designers analyzed the election process and we came to the conclusion that it had real great potential for a strategy game."

According to Hazenberg, Lunagames relied on CNN's election coverage, the U.S. census and University of Michigan's election 2000 archives for the majority of its research on election 2004.

With the race neck and neck, the taller candidate once again proves superior.
Screenshot courtesy Lunagames. Copyright 2004 Lunagames.

Election 2004 is notable for its length and depth, taking hours to finish just one election. Many games - such as the popular Bejeweled - in the Western market are of the puzzle variety. The game requires some serious effort on the part of the player. The developers seemed to want the player to experience the pure work that goes into all the handshaking that makes up real elections.

"We recognize that the game is more difficult than an average mobile game," Hazenberg said. "We strongly believe in a market for more in-depth style games for mobile [gaming platform]."

Despite this complexity, it's hard to call Election 2004 an accurate representation of American politics. Rather, it feels like an extended political cartoon that comments on the values of Americans during an election season. The importance game designers placed on mud-slinging and creating simple answers for complex questions seems to say that Americans care as much about the issues as they do the images of candidates. Does this make the game an outright attack on American politics?

Tough questions warrant tough answers. Or at least a good dodge.
Screenshot courtesy Lunagames. Copyright 2004 Lunagames.

Well, not exactly. The complexity of the game indicates the developers' understanding that the election isn't just he-said, she-said. Rather, the developers are saying the election is far more complex than the simplistic news-briefs and catch-phrases make it out to be. The simple facade of yes-and-no questions and sound-bite news versus the behind-the-scenes frenzy of planning and budgeting works as a commentary on the way Americans receive their election coverage versus what really goes into gaining those votes.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the lack of a third-party. Even as an outside annoyance, the presence of a third-party in Election 2004 is not inconceivable. According to Lunagames CEO Richard Hazenberg, the developers had originally intended to include multiple parties, but felt it over-extended the game.

"Early game designs had multiple parties," Hazenberg said. "But this really made the game too complex and made it almost impossible to fit all the information into the small [screen] of the handset."

Still, the exclusion of multiple or even a third party indicates the game developers feel the third parties are more window dressing than actually important aspect of the election. Then again, some Americans don't think third parties are useful either.

Americans care about the issues. Especially issues that catch the candidate in an act of stupidity.
Screenshot courtesy Lunagames. Copyright 2004 Lunagames.

As an outside look at American politics, Election 2004 seems to boil down to a commentary on the American people more than the whole campaign process. Someone playing Election 2004 might get the impression that Americans are more concerned with skeletons in the closet than we are real issues, and even on the real issues we just want a simple blurb, not a complex plan. But the game also seems to say that Americans simply ignore the overriding complexity of a campaign.

And while Hazenberg insists that the game's goal is fun; it takes a hard look at how the candidates often run their campaigns.

"The game is mainly aimed at being challenging and fun," he said. "What you can make out of the game-play is that spending money on advertisement and running a dirty campaign helps you win elections."

But this combination of intense play and sharp humor has led some to praise of Election 2004.

"Mostly the gamers and reviewers have noted that they like the combination of in-depth strategy game-play with the extra twist of humor the game brings."

Yet the some reviews of the game have pointed out one critical flaw: the depth and complexity of the game can be tiresome. As the game progresses, the humor of sex-scandals and cheap answers begins to wear thin.

However boredom and frustration might be one of the most ironically truthful elements of the game. Much like the current political election, Election 2004 may leave some feeling worn out and bored by the end after a stream of focused media spots and scandals that have little to do with the issues. And after the votes are tallied, receiving a single picture of your candidate in the White House may feel anticlimactic.

And maybe that's just Lunagames' way of betting on life imitating art.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Is John Kerry the Next Mario?

Internet computer game company Kuma Reality Games recently announced it would release a mission for its KumaWar gaming service based on Presidential Candidate John Kerry’s swift boat Vietnam experiences. According to the Kuma Reality Games website, the mission is “an amazing re-creation of the actions in 1969 that earned Kerry the Navy’s second highest honor.” The mission will also feature “broadband video news show, real-world intel, satellite images and the background you need to understand a key issue in this year's presidential election.”

The Kuma\War service provides a set of downloadable missions that take place within realistic military parameters.

In the September 17-19th issue of the Hollywood Reporter, Kuma Reality Games CEO Keith Halper explained the company’s reasoning behind releasing the ‘Kerry Silver Star Mission.’

“John Kerry’s swift boat mission became a center point in the election,” Halper said. “But the level of rancor has been such that few of us know what is supposed to have occurred – in anyone’s version of the story. Kuma Games is in a unique position to bring clarity to ordinary people’s understanding to swift boats, of the men who served them and the events in question.”

Halper later went on to say that the mission “will explain the issues in the current debate and, more importantly, from [Kuma Games’] perspective, the mission and operations of swift boats during Vietnam.”

Personally, the second reasoning behind the mission – that it will help explain swift boats to the common man – is a bit dubious. To try to teach a piece of solid history in the frame of a highly debated part of the presidential campaign doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There is already plenty of information available on the subject, and I can’t imagine many history buffs feeling grateful to Kuma. Furthermore, with the use of a subject so controversial – Kerry’s service – it seems difficult to consider this an objective historical reenactment as other war-based games - such as Activision's Call of Duty and EA's Medal of Honor - often proport to be.

Then again, it’s not hard to imagine Kuma doing it for the publicity and the money. As a mainly on-line based institution, Kuma relies a lot on getting people to their website and downloading their service. Something as news worthy as a mission based on Kerry is sure to get coverage by a variety of sites – the journalist said. The more hits they get, the more business they bring in.

I find the prospect of a videogame related to Kerry’s service a slightly disquieting idea. In videogames based on wars, the characters are often rather random fictional renditions. If you fail a mission, your dead squad is not real people. Although not implicitly obvious, this does distance the player from the war itself to some extent.

In this game, the main character is a real man and the other characters are in the public record. Thus, it’s not a difficult step to imagine angry Republicans playing the game with a rather fatalistic perspective. I’m sure that Kuma will leave out the ability to shoot oneself as some Republicans have suggested Kerry has done. At the same time, imagining groups of people playing the game to simply lose the mission – Kerry’s medal unearned – or worse, getting him killed on purpose – plain hostility towards the man – is a very unsettling proposition.

At the same time, many Democrats or people on the fence might take a more personal view of Kerry from playing as him. While not a bad thing outright, this is a deceptive way to campaign. Rather than learning the complete hard truth of Kerry’s service, he can be put in a super soldier situation. Players, especially less informed players, might fall for Kuma’s suggestion of the game as historical fact. In that case, voters could be swayed by the placement of themselves as John Kerry.

But that doesn’t mean I expect the Kerry Silver Star Mission to either be bad or intentionally or historically incorrect. Yet I believe that no gamer or potential voter should play the mission as if it were a realistic recreation of the events that have been so debated in the election. Ultimately, it might be best to simply consider it an interpretation of how Kerry earned those medals he seems to love.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.

If you’re lucky enough to live in America – or its unofficial crown jewel, Canada – and you’re reading this blogzine online, you’ve probably already been hit by an internet campaign ad or cartoon for the 2004 election.

Yes, if you’re like millions of Americans, you’ve experienced massive campaigning on-line for both George “The War’s Going Really Well, Honest” Bush and John “Look At My Really Cool Medals” Kerry. And, uh, Ralph Nader. These ads run the gamut from little games about Kerry’s policies to extended, free videos staring movie stars poking fun at the president.

The symptoms of these ads include
· Spin that misrepresent the other candidate.
· Appeals to emotions rather than actual logic.
· Poorly drawn and animated characters.
· Strange analogies for policies.
· Use of the word “flip-flop” way too much.
If you’ve seen any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately and see if unplugging your computer is right for you.

But what’s so bad about this? What’s the big deal? Many of those problems are present in the normal television ads. So what’s the difference between an ad on TV and an ad, game or political cartoon on the internet?

The problem is that many of these campaign bits rely far more on being flashy or cool than they do actually backing up their claims. Furthermore, unlike a TV ad, it’s possible for something on the internet to spread to every user in the world. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s scary as hell. If a link gets popular, suddenly everyone has it. There are no extra funding rules. There are no magical Internet Laws saying that there must be equal space allotted on the web for both sides to campaign with. Hell, candidates don’t even have to put their stamp of approval on an internet ad attacking the other guy since being anonymous is easy.

What’s the deal? Is anyone going to even say something?

Well, to get to the point rather late, that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to take a cynical – both sides are idiots, bastards, unpatriotic, take your pick – look at the use of the internet in the 2004 Presidential Campaign. We’re living in a world where spin arrives at light speed. I’ll help you wade through all of it on this beautiful curse known as the Internet.

I’m Mike Drucker and I approve this message.