You know a piece of news or pop culture that has nothing to do with video games has truly pervaded the public consciousness when it shows up on your main Xbox Live dashboard. Some things make a bit of sense for me to see, even if they’re not directly related to gaming – The Dark Knight Rises showed up constantly over the summer when I fired up my Xbox, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that gamers are interested in the Batman.
Mitt Romney is another matter. He’s about as rich as Batman, but he doesn’t fight nearly as much crime and his voice is less “husky growl” and more “awkward warble.” But lo and behold, none other than Governor Romney was staring back at me when I powered up my 360 last week.
Why did I have to look at Mr. Romney’s salt-and-pepper hair, square jaw and forced smile while trying to play the original Borderlands this last week? Well, though the election is still a month off, a political event occurred this week that, in its sheer theatricality alone, is notable to all American citizens. It’s an event during which two gentlemen vying to become arguably the most powerful person in the world lightly insult each other in short segments and attempt to rebut the other’s proposals with witty one-liners. That’s right, I’m talking about that beautiful, odd, noble, stupid event: the presidential debate.
I never get tired of watching debates. There were approximately four hundred Republican primary debates this year, and I loved every second of them. The self-consciousness on display is mesmerizing. The maneuvering and counter-maneuvering, the smarmy jokes, the mortifying flubs. Rick Perry’s “Oops” was more entertaining than the entire run of most TV comedies. It’s like watching the Bachelorette, except that instead of contestants getting roses on dates, they get policy questions and insults from their peers.
In their encounter Wednesday night, Romney was generally seen to have prevailed, but honestly they both need work. Obama seemed like he had been woken from a nap to participate, and Romney, though better than expected, seemed jumpy and huckstery.
There are three more debates to take place this month – two additional encounters between Obama and Romney, and one between professional gaffe engineer Joe Biden and widow’s peak enthusiast Paul Ryan. And since the debates are intruding upon the gaming world in the form of those Xbox dashboard appearances and promises that watching politics through the Xbox will get my avatar Halo 4 armor (the weirdest incentive to be a part of our nation’s democracy I have ever encountered), I feel like the world of gaming needs to push back.
So here’s some unsolicited advice for the candidates – some debate tips from some of the most storied video game characters. Usually politicians don’t look to video games for instruction on how to run their campaign (a notable exception is Herman Cain), but I would say to the people running for office across the country that there is much to be learned by listening to the words of a few video game characters. We’ll call them digital debate coaches.
DEBATE COACH 1: KAEPORA GAEBORA
One challenge for any debater is making sure that the audience understands the point at hand. With the complexities of governing a nation and the electorate’s thirst for straightforward, easily digestible facts, stating your case in a way that sticks is always an issue to be considered. Which is why Kaepora Gaebora could teach our politicians a thing or two.
Kaepora Gaebora, known in my youth as “that stupid owl,” is a character in The Legend of Zelda games, an ancient sage who takes the form of an owl in order to help Link in his quest. His most memorable appearance is in Ocarina of Time, where he appears repeatedly in bird form to guide Link on his destined path to stop Ganondorf.
Here’s where the owl gets you – Kaepora Gaebora delivers lengthy pieces of exposition, and then he asks you, “Did you get all that?” He then allows you to respond “Yes,” in which case he continues on, or “No,” in which case he repeats verbatim exactly what he just said. Many a brave gamer has accidentally pressed “No” and had to deal with that stupid owl repeating his long pontifications over and over.
But, annoying as it was, it did make us pay attention, at least for a moment, to make sure we responded that YES, WE HEARD YOU, GO AWAY, OWL. And that could be useful in a political debate where the details of policy are very important. Could you imagine a debate where President Obama defended his Affordable Care Act’s effects in minute detail? Most of the American people, God bless them, would tune out about a minute into his explanation. This is kind of what happened this Wednesday, actually.
But what if Obama, after explaining exactly how the ACA helps get health care to Americans and reduces the deficit long-term, just stared directly into the camera and went, “Did you get all that?” and wouldn’t allow the debate to continue until the live audience responded, and if they said no, he just screamed “Hooo HOOOOOOT” and then repeated everything he said? He might weird a few people out, but god damn it we would remember what he said.
DEBATE COACH 2: CAPTAIN FALCON
In this day and age of 140-character posting limits and news networks eager for the juiciest stories, the most effective way to make an impression can be to coin a catchphrase.
Both candidates in this election can struggle to word things in a concise, pithy manner – Obama tends to want to explain things more fully, and Romney’s attempts at comebacks are often stilted at best. What the candidates need to understand is that catchphrases don’t have to make sense. They just have to be said with enough conviction.
That’s where Captain Falcon can be instructive.
Captain Falcon is an F-Zero character, but he really achieved fame when he appeared in the N64 hit Super Smash Bros., and issued that famous vocal declaration, “FALCON PUNCH!” I wish there was a form of punctuation more intense than an exclamation mark; if there was, I would have employed it.
Captain Falcon became famous for douchily screaming his own name and the type of attack he was using. He also says stuff like, “Show me your moves,” and “YES!” He doesn’t come across as a paragon of intellect, but that doesn’t really matter – you remember him. And in politics, being remembered is half the battle.
DEBATE COACH 3: FALCO
Sometimes a debate coach can instruct a candidate on how not to speak. One such coach is Falco Lombardi.
Falco Lombardi is the Star Fox squad member with the most attitude. He is, in other words, a tool. He becomes audibly irritated if he is one-upped by one of his comrades, and he is fond of cursing like a G-rated sailor, with lines like, “Crud, we were so close to Venom,” “Dang, I’m hit,” and “What the heck?”
In addition to the lame non-swearing, Falco’s casual sarcasm and constant needling comes across as kind of petty. Can you imagine if, during the debate, Romney almost accidentally fell off the stage but Obama caught him at the last moment, and instead of thanking Obama graciously Romney just sneered, “Oh, I’ve been saved by Barack. How swell.” Likability poison.
These are just a few possible examples for the nominees to learn from. There are many more throughout the history of video games, from the steely, philosophical Solid Snake (what if Mitt Romney turned up to a debate in a sneaking suit and would only speak in a growl? I might consider changing parties!) to the guards of Skyrim (Barack Obama used to believe in hope and change like you; then he took a Congress to the balls). So, in advance of the next debate, we hope all the candidates do a different kind of debate prep – one with a controller in hand. After all – what better way to learn how to deliver a game-changing performance than playing a few games?
About the Author:
Aaron Matteson is a stage actor in Brooklyn, a Seattle native, and an alum of Village Voice Media's Joystick Division.
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