Vote comes across at first as a sort of political cartoon for the modern age. Its art is distinctly in the realm of what you might see in a newspaper, Obama and Romney portrayed as cartoonish and unassuming stand-ins for a political viewpoint. Their humanity is replaced with their ideas, and passable voice acting imitates both their voices and their ideals.
But Vote goes a step farther than the political cartoon by doing away with any pretense of argument. There is no heavy-handed symbolism; no words scrawled over objects or people. But there’s no subtlety either. In fact, the game takes no viewpoint whatsoever, leaving that to the player. In another time, this formula may have come across as cynical. These days, it seems quaint, obvious, inevitable. Vote provides the opportunity to literally beat down the opposing side to a public that was clearly clamoring for it. How did we get here?
The political strategy of rallying the base has shifted over the years from an essential part of presidential campaigns to what is now seemingly the only part of a well-run campaign. As a result, arguments are characterized less by empathy and pragmatism and more by ruthlessness and emotionalism. Attack ads become the standard, and interaction between campaigns start to be less about substance and more about the arguments themselves. Instead of trading jabs over foreign and domestic policy, candidates accuse one another of fighting dirty.
Meanwhile, those who care about their country and the policies that affect the lives of themselves and others follow suit, often without realizing it. They draw lines in the sand, make typical wedge issues the litmus test which their friends must pass, and when a perspective they care deeply about is called into question, they shut down the conversation rather than engage it. They talk about one another rather than to one another, and either side is convinced that the answers are clear and irreproachable.
This is, of course, no surprise. This is how human beings work. A history of racism, war, and religious persecution has clarified the ongoing struggle we have with the practice of hating the “other”. In this particular case, we’ve merely invented our own parameters for “other”, and embraced them. We are living in the midst of a national passive-aggression.
When flash games first started popping up on the internet, one of the most popular game-types allowed you to punch your boss in the face, after uploading his picture and pasting it onto an existing in-game model. People enjoyed transforming their passive-aggressiveness into a “real” aggression. Now, we’ve matured to a place where we punch one another over national issues. So, Chair and Epic made a game about it.
The people who brought us the incredibly popular Infinity Blade series now bring us the free iPad game, Vote, which may well be the definitive political game of this election cycle. It certainly captures the current zeitgeist, offering little qualitative content, and focused instead on providing the base with a kind of catharsis and general sense of anxious anticipation about the vote to come.
Players are greeted with a view of a pristine White House lawn, and the opportunity to choose which of the two cartoonish candidates to play. At this point, we are shown the percentage of “Votes” each candidate has, giving the player motivation to either help their candidate dig themselves out of a hole, or to keep the other in the hole.
The player can cast up to three votes at once. Here’s how: he causes his candidate of choice to beat the ever-loving crap out of the rival candidate. He performs moves like “Personal attack” and “Debate” and “Spin” and “ Rebuttal”, which are just clever names for types of attacks and dodges. Vote is incredibly honest about the nature of debate: it’s a series of body-blows and face-punches, each candidate taking turns dodging and parrying one another. The more you’re able to beat the other candidate, the more money you earn, and the more votes you’re awarded. Naturally, more money equals more votes.
There’s a wide selection of absurd weapons each candidate can use against the other. The standard default is the obligatory microphone, the instrument most commonly used on the campaign trail to offer up jabs against one another. Each battle serves as a means to acquire more and more cash to up the ante. The player can give their candidate new outfits, accessories and weapons to use against one another. Eventually, Romney and Obama are bludgeoning one another with hot dogs, rubber chickens, campaign signs, and yes, the constitution.
Rock The Vote sponsors the game itself, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s inspiring anyone to participate in the miracle of the democratic process. The game’s offers up no ultimate win-state. There is no Obama-esque hope offered up, nor is there some Romney-esque new day in America. The aim of the player is merely to acquire more money that can be poured into better weapons, which the player then uses to acquire even more money. After a while the player chooses the other candidate out of pure boredom. Loyalty evaporates into a fog of apathy.
Real issues may instigate this fight, but they are inevitably lost in a cycle of brutal attacks, a national pastime that has evolved to please the citizenry. The men we nominate to fight our battles are undeniably fortunate, privileged individuals. We watch these titans battle for our entertainment and for our betterment. But now, unable to make a compelling case, we’re fighting battles for them, bludgeoning one another with meaningless platitudes and buzzwords. Let’s be honest: this isn’t just destructive. It’s boring.
About the Author:
Richard Clark is the managing editor of Gamechurch, the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, and a regular columnist at Unwinnable.
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