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More on Political Message Video Games

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the gaming-with-a-message dept.

Politics 31

elhaf writes "There is an article running in the Chronicle on Higher Education about the new trend of creating political-message video games for the next round of campaigns. TechNews has commentary on the situation as well. The article mentions that there are actually a few available already, but they mainly just allow opposition-bashing. This is not, I think, to be confused with Serious games, even though both groups seem interested in health care policy."

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WTF?! (1)

Nikkos (544004) | more than 9 years ago | (#10680583)

Sure would be nice if we could READ THE DAMN ARTICLE!

Re:WTF?! (1)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 9 years ago | (#10680605)

LOL, I know. What is up with the username password requirments. Anyone got an account to spare?

Re:WTF?! (2, Informative)

eyeye (653962) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681993)

You could try []

Re:WTF?! (1)

jasonwea (598696) | more than 9 years ago | (#10683554)

No accounts found for

For sites that do not require $$$, this site is great, but unfortunately this one is a pay for content site.

From the FAQ [] :

Our policy forbids accounts to paid services from being posted. However, just like a discussion forum, if you happen to find one then email and it will be removed. Privacy is not considered a commodity.

Re:WTF?! (1)

croddy (659025) | more than 9 years ago | (#10680875)

then we wouldn't have to wait so long... wouldn't it bee nice?

Oh teh noes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10680614)

Login required. :(

Re:Oh teh noes (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10680718)

Get off my Magic Thread, you.

Splinter Cell: The Bush Dynasty (1)

sgeye (757198) | more than 9 years ago | (#10680653)

Think of it. A deep NSA investigation into the Bush family workings. It would be a low blow but you could turn some of those conspiracy theories into some pretty interesting levels. I would play it.

I got in! (5, Informative)

jasonwea (598696) | more than 9 years ago | (#10680696)

Looks like there's a backdoor around the login system. Try the following URL: e= .htm []

Here's the article text incase they close the hole:

Video Games With a Political Message
Georgia Tech professor devises interactive ways to look at campaigns and policy debates



Playing video games can persuade voters to change their minds on important political issues.

Startling but true, says Ian Bogost, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His passion for analyzing and designing video games has made him a hot commodity for political campaigns bent on creating interactive games that drive home a political message.

Video-game designers have been creating a plethora of interactive games this campaign season for or about political candidates. Many simply let players vent their frustrations. There's a game called John Kerry: Tax Invaders, which has President Bush's head firing at targets meant to represent taxes that would be imposed by Senator Kerry if he were president, and another game that allows a player to control a donkey that kicks an image of Mr. Bush.

But Mr. Bogost is one of the leading designers working to make such games more sophisticated and informative.

A video game on the issue of health care that Mr. Bogost designed for the Illinois House Republican Organization, for example, shows a colorful map of a small town, dotted with icons representing hospitals and other buildings. A bustle of animated characters roam the map, with indicators of how healthy they are displayed above their heads. Players must decide which characters to move to which hospitals. They also have to adjust the amount of money spent on medical research and adjust the cap on damages paid to victims of medical malpractice. The virtual medical system collapses if the cap is too high -- driving home the value and importance of limiting malpractice claims, an argument made by Republican candidates in the state.

Mr. Bogost argues that games like this, that espouse a policy or political agenda, have the potential to influence voters far more than television advertisements or political debates. In five years, video games will be a staple of political campaigns, he says. Interactive games distributed on the Internet will let politicians "get their message out in a much more effective and engaging and cost-effective way."

He says the involvement of players is what makes the games so powerful.

"You've got a player who is learning to understand principles by performing them himself rather than hearing someone talk about them idly in casual conversation," says Mr. Bogost.

'Cultural Artifacts'

At Georgia Tech, Mr. Bogost is teaching classes in computing and digital media, and designing courses and doing research in the field he calls "video game rhetoric and criticism," as a member of the university's School of Literature, Communication, and Culture. Political games, he says, can be seen as "cultural artifacts, akin to film, art, and literature," and can be analyzed to see how they influence people's opinions.

To foster more discussion on the impact of games with a political or social agenda, he maintains a blog, called, with a friend and fellow designer, Gonzalo Frasca, who recently joined the Center for Computer Games Research at IT University of Copenhagen. Several times a week the two critique games on such far-flung topics as saving whales, pedophilia, and fitness.

In a September posting to his blog, Mr. Bogost suggests a change to the game Tax Invaders. He says the game's message might be stronger if players controlled Senator Kerry, who would shoot tax increases at Americans. "The citizens, strained under the tax burdens, would shrivel up and disappear," Mr. Bogost writes.

"Putting players in the shoes of the intended enemy can sometimes be more effective than putting them in the shoes of the hero," he adds.

Mr. Bogost moved into his office at Georgia Tech this fall, and four weeks into the semester the bookshelves are still empty, there are no photographs, and the main feature is a Macintosh computer with a 23-inch monitor. His other office is at Persuasive Games LLC, a video-game company in Atlanta that he established a year ago, where he attempts to put his theories on video-game rhetoric into practice.

Since he and Mr. Frasca created a game for Howard Dean's primary campaign earlier this year, Mr. Bogost has been sought after by politicians and parties. He and Mr. Frasca say that game was the first ever commissioned by a presidential candidate.

Called Howard Dean for Iowa, the game tried to educate volunteers for Mr. Dean on what to expect when canvassing for the candidate. It required players to go door to door while dodging barking dogs, wave Dean placards on sidewalks, and chase down pedestrians to distribute Dean literature.The game kept track of all players' results on a map of the state, with Iowa counties that had a lot of supporters shaded a darker blue.

"It blew me away that someone was having a substantive discussion, a substantive narrative on politics online with a game," says T. Jacobe Parrillo, special assistant to Tom Cross, the Illinois House Republican leader. After Mr. Parrillo saw the game, he asked Mr. Bogost's company to create one for the Web site of the Illinois House Republican Organization ( The group is working to get eight Republicans elected to the House, an effort that, if successful, would guarantee a Republican majority in that body.

That led to the creation of Take Back Illinois, a series of four small interactive games, which focus on medical malpractice, education, economic development, and civic participation. The game is highlighted on the group's Web site above the caption, "Help us 'Take Back Illinois' from the Liberal Chicago Democrats and their Special Interests. Play the Game Now!"

Reviews of the health-care-policy game, the first of the four to be released, have been mixed.

"The policy got lost on me," remarked someone on Watercoolergames, who identified himself or herself as Zombiegluesniffer.

One task for players is to keep sick characters apart from well ones, but the figures are so closely bunched that it is difficult to separate them with a computer mouse. And hospitals can suddenly go gray and shut down -- ostensibly because malpractice damages are too high and doctors no longer want to practice -- but it is not always clear how this is tied to actions the players have taken.

Mr. Parrillo, of Representative Cross's office, says the game is hard, but he also faults players who he says often don't read all the directions before playing the game.

Some video-game aficionados have been harshly critical, accusing Mr. Bogost of oversimplifying a complex issue and aligning himself with Republicans while simultaneously denying an allegiance to the party.

The game has at least one fan. Clive Thompson, a widely published technology writer who often writes about video games, called the game "incredibly cool, and possibly one of the best political games I've ever seen," in his blog, Collision Detection (

Mr. Bogost says he is pleased the game provoked a heated discussion. He says he agrees with the game's message that health care would improve if malpractice damages were capped. But he notes that this is not the game's sole message since its outcome also depends on the level of support players give to medical research.

Some veterans of political campaigns, such as Michael P. McDonald, an assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University, are skeptical that video games, like those created by Mr. Bogost, can influence voters' minds on issues. "I haven't seen any scholarly research on this topic," Mr. McDonald says.

Mr. Bogost is mostly quiet about his own political leanings and labels himself an independent.

"I do generally lament the continued black-and white line we draw, in terms of party politics in this country," says Mr. Bogost. "I think things are much more complex than red or blue."

Place in Academe

Janet H. Murray, the director of graduate studies and a professor in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Tech and the author of Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (Free Press, 1997), says Mr. Bogost's work "gets people to think concretely about the relationship between policy choices and individual experiences."

His malpractice game, she says, shows the tension between providing health care to everyone who needs it and a community's limited health-care resources.

Like other video-game experts, Ms. Murray often talks about Mr. Bogost's work together with Mr. Frasca's since both are scholars of video-game rhetoric. Like Mr. Bogost, Mr. Frasca has a video-game company and is a university researcher. Mr. Frasca's company, Powerful Robot Games, is based in Uruguay, and he is an adviser at Persuasive Games.

Henry Lowood, curator for history of science and technology collections at Stanford University, says the scholars' games are unusual because they have layers of meaning, unlike games in which players bash a candidate by shooting at targets.

"What you see Gonzalo and Ian do is something you would see more on the editorial page," he says. Mr. Lowood is working at Stanford's Humanities Laboratory on a project that explores the history and cultural impact of interactive simulations and video games. It is called "How They Got Game: The History and Culture of Interactive Simulations and Videogames."

Take, for example, a game Mr. Bogost, with advice from Mr. Frasca, recently designed for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Called Activism: The Public Policy Game, it lets players decide how to allocate 10,000 virtual campaigners among six interactive scenes that represent different policy areas: education, economy, corporate policy, security, the military, and international affairs. Players who neglect any one policy area end up losing the game. The game coincides with the committee's real-world efforts to recruit 10,000 canvassers for Democratic candidates.

Players, who must give their demographic information, can set their own policy priorities, or play the game from the point of view of someone of another gender, age, or geographic area. The game keeps track of players' demographics and their political views. "I wouldn't claim that the game does scientific political polling, but I'm eager to see what happens," says Mr. Bogost on his blog.
Section: Information Technology
Volume 51, Issue 10, Page A32

Re:I got in! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10680864)

u r teh man


Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10682394)


pedophilia? Read the frelling text before you rate fools.


KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#10684238)

RTFA, the bit about pedophilia is in there as well.

Why bother (2, Interesting)

ShatteredDream (636520) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681078)

Unless you get a really good team together you will probably end up with one of two things. Either you'll end up with a game that no one wants to play, or that no one plays for any political value. The majority of the people I've met who are into politics that hardcore, are not the most entertaining people I've met. I can't say that I'd be too eager to play a game that they come up with.

If no image is coming to mind, just think of any political science class you might have had in college. Now imagine the kids who took politics VERY seriously, ate it up and had very little to no life outside it. Those are the kind of people that will be pushing for these games most likely.

I played it to see what it was like. (3, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681442)

#1. Click as fast as you can to get the malpractice cap down to $50,000 (the lowest it will go).

#2. Up research to "medium".

#3. Click as fast as you can to get the "sick" people to move near a hospital and click on "go to doctor".

Do that and you'll "win" every time.

If no image is coming to mind, just think of any political science class you might have had in college. Now imagine the kids who took politics VERY seriously, ate it up and had very little to no life outside it. Those are the kind of people that will be pushing for these games most likely.
Bingo. Their "games" are beyond boring and so easy to "win" once you understand the agenda the developer had.

Nothing bad happens if you choose the LOWEST cap. There aren't any choices. There isn't any thought involved. This games SUCKS!

What happens if I drop the cap to $1? Will I start to see "sick" people coming out of the hospital with surgical instruments left inside them? Will I see mutants because mothers were given the wrong drugs? What negative effects happen at the lower levels?

Why not just Hijack a game instead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10684166)

I am so sick of it...

I play city of heroes. On pinnicle server there is political adverts from players all over the place.

The most prominent is "Dubya Bush 2004" (sits in Atlas), with blatant anti-kerry rubbish. But I have seen "Kerry for Prez" as well running around telling everyone "Your a great American, Vote for me" (except I am not American).

There are also a few cheneys/edwards as well.

Kind of sad really.

Of course the Achille's Heel here (4, Informative)

CodeWanker (534624) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681100)

is that the game designers control the parameters through which you experience the world. For instance, you could have a game with a re-education camp you sent people to that made them better citizens. If you lead people up to the idea subtly enough, you could have some people think "Hey, maybe there IS something to it." Or quarantine camps to control an epidemic. Or, more subtly, some kind of research system that said, "If you throw $300 billion dollars at AIDS, you will cure it in 90 days" or something. It's easy to forget that there are systemic limits on the number of people with the aptitudes and inclinations to become biochemists, and that it takes 6-10 years of post-secondary education to get them to the point where they can make some kind of contribution to the effort. It leaves out that mutation is random and might frustrate our efforts for decades or even centuries.

Of course, in a race like this one the system might be written so that a "magic path" exists to halt terrorist attacks on us: abandon Israel, provide $40 billion in scholarships to Arab countries to study here and the game plays its victory sequence. It's a great new tool for propogandists. That's all.

Not necessarily the Achille's Heel. (2, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681340)

More like the whole idea behind the project.

As you noted the designer determines what actions "win" the game and what actions "lose" the game. It is pure propoganda.

Reading the article, I realized that I had never heard of any of the games or companies mentioned.

From the article:
Take, for example, a game Mr. Bogost, with advice from Mr. Frasca, recently designed for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Called Activism: The Public Policy Game, it lets players decide how to allocate 10,000 virtual campaigners among six interactive scenes that represent different policy areas: education, economy, corporate policy, security, the military, and international affairs. Players who neglect any one policy area end up losing the game. The game coincides with the committee's real-world efforts to recruit 10,000 canvassers for Democratic candidates.

Now that sounds like a fun, fascinating game to play (sarcasm).

It seems this type of propoganda has a very real problem. IT'S BORING! It's hard enough to make a decent game WITHOUT having the political agenda. It seems almost impossible for these people.

Try it and see if you aren't as bored as I was.

I think history videos are good enough. (3, Interesting)

ubiquitin (28396) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681341)

Seriously, if you listen to what the Vietnam Veterans have had to say about Kerry's actions in 1971, it's pretty powerful stuff. No need for a video game, just go ask the old guy in your neighborhood who came back from the war and had his uniform spit on. There's a film [] that gives some interesting details and background information.

Re:I think history videos are good enough. (2, Interesting)

y86 (111726) | more than 9 years ago | (#10682037)

yah history videos are great, but ask a 10 year old whats more fun: watching a movie about car theft, or letting him play GTA3.

Obviously video games are more interactive than movies. People like interaction.

The Net Factor
Video games are better byte for byte than video to spread your views. You can relay that bush is a retard by making a war game thats a 400k shockwave animation and distribute that a whole lot easier than a 650 meg svcd or 5 gig DVD.

The best way to spread your views is to draw attention to them. Emailed shockwave games def do that.

Re:I think history videos are good enough. (1)

Dwedit (232252) | more than 9 years ago | (#10682297)

Shockwave games are almost never that small, you're thinking Flash. Flash!=Shockwave

Re:I think history videos are good enough. (1)

y86 (111726) | more than 9 years ago | (#10685413)


obviously i'm talking flash, but your right - i should have stated it more clearly.

Re:I think history videos are good enough. (3, Interesting)

js7a (579872) | more than 9 years ago | (#10682236)

So which is worse, some spit on a uniform, or the things described in this video game [] ? If it weren't for that game, I wouldn't know that The portion of the Bush 2001-3 tax cuts benefiting the top 1% of U.S. income earners will rise from 29.8% in 2004 to 51.8% in 2010. []

Is there anything similarly quantitative that you want me to know about Kerry's opposition to the war after having served in it, before I vote?

Re:I think history videos are good enough. (2, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 9 years ago | (#10682595)

people with agendas.. ..make lousy history(both ways).

what's with all the black-painting, both ways? or are the candidates not able to focus on why they should be chosen instead of focusing on why the other side is just 'plain evil'? (especially when in the end both of the parties are run by corporate intrests... ) the mia "we refuse to let go" and the vet "we're honorable!!" don't really give good reasons even for why kerry is 'bad' beyond "plain evil and unamerican!", all displaying a very narrow field of view.

and uh, wtf did the video have to do with discussing POLITICAL agendas in games? that would be like for example if in civilization you could choose which party was in power and lets say, if the 'other' party was in power, then the budget deficit would kick up. though maybe the discussion is really about POLITICAL AGENDAS in slashdot postings... like, posting a link to an anti-someone site because it's about politics!

never mind the coke...

Choice (1)

cuteseal (794590) | more than 9 years ago | (#10681479)

Well you have a choice whether to vote for a particular party or not, so I guess you too have a choice whether to buy the game or not! :)

Serious game with John Kerry (2, Interesting)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 9 years ago | (#10682022)

Kuma\War [] has a game featuring John Kerry. It's called "John Kerry's Silver Star," [] which is about one of his missions in Vietnam.

Re:Serious game with John Kerry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10682041)

Huh? I didn't know John Kerry was a Vietnam Vet! Why didn't he mention this on the campaign trail?

I think the ratings need to apply - P13 - Politics (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 9 years ago | (#10684178)

Anything a little too 'heavy'politically should have a label, with a message of intent, else rather then needlessly brainwash our children with senseless violence, we might start brainwashing them with senseless politics!

Mothers will sue EA, Lucasarts and Infogramms for polluting thier childs mind.

"My child became a libertarian because of your computer games!"

"My child became gay because of a bug in Singles!" (although I think it supports this mode of 'co-habitation' not that I looked or even looked at the game... [seinfeld]Not that there is anything wrong with that[/seinfeld]

Next on Jerry Springer...

Serious Games & Campaign Message Games (1)

DaFlusha (224762) | more than 9 years ago | (#10684922)

Having just attended the Serious Games Summit in D.C. a few weeks ago, I'd have to say that the political campaign game people are closely tied with the Serious Games movement. According to Ian Bogost's presentation, serious games can include

1) games as commentary -- political cartoon-like games, such as Sept. 12, that make brief commentary on an issue
2) games as rhetoric -- games that attempt to influence opinion, be it a campaign game like "Dean for Iowa" or advergaming
3) expository games - games as reporting, like Kuma War (even though the game blows, it's not a horrible idea)
4) representational games -- games that show a specific model of the world, like first responder games

Anyway, campaign games seem to have a place in the Serious Games umbrella.

Re:Serious Games & Campaign Message Games (1)

elhaf (755704) | more than 9 years ago | (#10729976)

Oh, so that is they same guy then. Ian Bogost is featured prominantly in the original article. Thanks for the info.

Why oh Why????? (0, Troll)

Jeffery (810339) | more than 9 years ago | (#10686479)

why is there such a democrat bias on /.? you must all be hollywood rich people if you support kerry. go ahead, flame away!

they work for the target audience... (1)

bbassage (827308) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694331)

I put a silly little flash game on my site: []

And lots of my visitors have played it, multiple times even. But i think this kinda works because they already (at least kinda) agree with the message of the site. The game isn't changing anyone's mind, but it is keeping them at the site a little longer, and offering something to link to.

Of course this is different from serious games... But i think there would be a market. Remember how popular the SimCity games were? Those are kinda like politics.

as a challenge: can a /.'er beat the high scores on my game?
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