I Made Dick Cheney President

By Alec Meer on June 20th, 2008 at 12:32 pm.

What have I done?

I’ve done a bad thing. A baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad thing. I’ve made One Of The Most Evil Men In The World president of the USA. Dick Cheney now has the keys to the planet, with staunch support from his Vice-President Lord Krona, who is a brain-washing tyrant from Mars. Or is that Cheney again? I get confused.

It might be an insane, broken system, but American politics is so much more fascinating than British politics at the moment. I may not be able to vote over there, but I can play The Political Machine 2008.

In fairness, my opponent was Jimmy Carter, history’s greatest monster, so I wasn’t up against the Democrats’ strongest candidate. Still, getting elected by endorsing big business, organised religion, firearms and anti-abortion pretty much turned my stomach, so it’s a a triumph against my moral compass if nothing else.

TPM08 is a timely sequel to Stardock’s 2004 original, released to capitalise on coincide with the Bush-Kerry Presidential race. This prettified, expanded follow-up has, unsurprisingly, enormo-pictures of Obama, Mcain and the Hildog on the front on the box, all rendered as perma-smirking bobbleheads. Cutely, clicking on their giant, bulbous faces on the menu screens makes ‘em wobble crazily. I did this to Hillary again and again, as punishment for her being quite, quite mad.

It’s a turn based sorta-strategy game that shines a light on the relative silliness of US votemongering – your candidate tours the states, drumming up support in each by identifying the issues they care about the most (e.g. Texas is big on war, California gets its knickers in a twist about green issues, Ohio’s worried about outsourcing jobs…). He lies, he connives, he exploits, he smears. That’s the way to do it.

As each state carries a different weighting in the final vote, inevitably both you and you opponent pretty much ignore the low-population likes of Nebraska and Utah. Just like real American politics, half the country doesn’t actually matter. So Cheney spent most of his time buzzing around in a constant, frantic loop between the likes California, Florida, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania, leaving lonely Lord Krona to bother farmers in Nebraska.

It is, as Stardock point out, all about political maths. If your opponent’s given a load of successful speeches on social security, or taken out a nationwide TV ad advocating tougher gun control, simply taking the opposite argument is only going to alienate half the voters who’ve already made their minds up on the matter. Instead, you look out for where he’s weak, what he’s not talking about. Carter reckons higher gas prices are a smart idea, but clearly he’s not going to tell all the SUV drivers that. $500,000 buys me a newspaper ad that reveals his high-priced proclivities, and suddenly he’s less appealing to the state it’s running in. If I can stretch to a radio or TV campaign, word of his petroleum price-hikes will dribble into the rest of the country. It’ll make me too poor to afford that nice new HQ I was planning on building, but the long-term gain is probably worth it. Take that, Carter.

Meanwhile I’m accruing political clout and PR influence by constructing headquarters across the country. The former buys me the support of lobby groups such as hard-right christians or gun nuts, the latter I can spend on agents who’ll increase my awareness, slander my opponent, or, um, dress me better. One of them can even achieve the impossible – increase Cheney’s charisma.

Crucially, most of the game’s activities can only happen in a state your candidate is currently in, so you’re constantly flying him around to crucial battlegrounds. This costs cash, earned back through fundraising, which though it refills the coffers spends valuable stamina points that could otherwise have been used to increase support. It’s a small game, and there are very few things you can actually do in any given turn, but there’s a sense of the monumental, unrelenting clusterfuck the campaign trail must be. There you are in Florida shouting about homeland security, but meanwhile you’re losing California because there’s a radio ad decrying your stance on healthcare. Believe it or not, Cheney is just a man – he literally lacks the stamina to get over to the other side of the country and fight his insidious Medicare corner.

In the end, it was the environment that did it, of all things. Dick Cheney: eco-warrior. It betrayed his own values, it incensed a load of Republican voters, but a spot of tree-hugging was enough to tip just a few more independent voters in The Penguin’s favour, breaking the stalemate. The country – nay, the world is his. Oh God.

The Political Machine 2008 is $20 (about £10) from Stardock, or you can buy it over their new Steam-a-like Impulse thinger (which I’ll probably write something about later). You probably won’t play it for more than a week (though I’ve yet to try the multiplayer, which could well be hilarious), but it’s cute, it’s slick, it’s endearingly cynical about politics and for all its knowing timeliness, it never collapses into gimmickery. My next challenge? Getting Nixon back in office.

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28 Comments »

  1. Albides says:

    Eh. American poltics is a bit like war, really. Viewed from the safety of the television set, it can be at turns exciting, mad and terrifying. But one thing’s for sure; I certainly wouldn’t want to have it in my country.

  2. Lucky says:

    Now there’s a campaign I must try when I get around to buy this game. Loved the original and still occasionally play it.

  3. BaconIsGood4You says:

    I’m sad Ron Paul ain’t on the cover and Mitt is.

  4. ascagnel says:

    As a US citizen, I find your interest in our political system intriguing.

    After looking at the US and UK systems, you’re far better off in the UK. My understanding is that each party chooses a platform, and then you vote according to the party. The majority party installs a prime minister, and the rest coalesce around a “minority coalition” to have an effective resistance to unwanted changes.

    The US system is somewhat like that (choosing a party line), but since there are only two parties worth listening to (sorry, Green/Libertarian/etc. parties, but nobody cares), its only a binary choice. As such, the parties have been clawing ever closer to a “middle ground,” even if it’s not a political “moderate” ground.

    I guess that last bit is what makes US politics so interesting. And I’m a US political junkie, but with a vote ;)

    PS: After posting this, the ad that came up was “John McCain: Join our Team!” I thought this site was in the UK!

  5. Rook says:

    We could actually do with one of these just to help people understand the UK election system. With all the devolved governments, members of parliaments, local councilors, mayoralships, european members of parliament etc it’s becoming very confusing.

  6. dhex says:

    bobble-head political simulators filled with lies, pandering and nonsense are a bit too realistic for my blood. :)

  7. Jaxtrasi says:

    ascagnel:

    Sadly these days your description of the US system is largely true in the UK as well.

  8. Maximum Fish says:

    As a US voter, i can vouch for American politics being utter crap. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler was the first person to travel his campaign trail by airplane. He was also really good at telling different groups different and conflicting things because it’s what they wanted to hear. Sort of par for the course these days.

    As an economist though I still don’t see what’s so wrong with “Big Business”… I suppose my college time has totally worn off.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    ascagnel: Our ads customise from territory to territory. The fanciness of science, eh?

    KG

  10. James G says:

    @ascagnel

    You’ve pretty much got it right for Westminster. There are also the regional parliments, for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which deal with devolved issues. The voting system for these parliments may be subtly different, Hollyrood for example has an element of proportional representation.

    Its also not entirely accurate to say that you vote for a party, but rather a party representative. Some MPs will occasionally vote against party lines of certain issues, and this could concievable affect how one may choose to vote.

    There are also the local council elections (Involved in things like bin collections, and some local level budget considerations) and European Parlimentary elections.

    There is regular debate in the UK as to whether we should shift to proportional representation. This would increase the representation of smaller parties in parliment, giving seats to everyone from the Greens of the BNP, a double edged sword whichever side of the spectrum you fall upon. It would also increase the chances of a ‘hung parliment’ but there is a chance we may end up with one of those soon enough anyway, especially if Labour narrow their trailing behind the Tories by a few points before the next election.

  11. Phil says:

    @James G
    Portionally Representation would not necessarily lead to extremists getting a seat and a say in national policy – it all about intelligently setting the margins were votes begin to be counted.

    PR works perfectly well in the majority of Europe, the Scandie countries in particular.

    What it would do is break up our currently cosy cosy system, nicknamed an elective dictatorship for good reason, and introduce some proper choices.

  12. Michael says:

    Cheney is not evil. I’d probably vote for him over McCain. Oh and I really, really, really wish Condoleezza Rice was a candidate. She’d have my vote in a heartbeat.

    The sad truth is, none of these people actually represent me. Fred Thompson came somewhat close, but even he wasn’t what I want. Unfortunately, whoever wins – I lose.

  13. Servitor says:

    I’m so burnt out on American politics that I can’t even bring myself to TRY a game about it. Ugh.

  14. runningwthszzors says:

    I have to admit, I completely dorked out and bought this game off Impulse when I first saw it.

    Choosing your candidates is sort of like creating or using a premade character in an RPG. Its not a deep system, but works well.

    Couple of issues:
    The map is based on current data, which means that every game plays similarly.
    Fundraising is basically an issue of going to California, NY or Texas (What happened to internet donations?)
    Main battleground states are the swing states that have the most votes (Pennsylvania, Florida)
    Clout (which wins you endorsements from the ACLU and NRA type organizations) becomes useless towards the end.
    And the talk shows were all about pandering to your base (which wins over independents?!!?).
    And the use of economy as a talking point without having the specific issues like NAFTA, tax cuts and outsourcing on the table seemed pretty vague (and almost overpowered, since everyone loves a good economy).

    The game is pretty fun though. I waged such a nasty campaign in Texas that Obama (the one I was playing as) won it. Granted this game set on easy so far, so I hope the AI gets better as the new opponents come. On the other hand, one of the devs said that they couldn’t beat Obama as a Republican on Insane difficulty.

    If its not possible, then maybe it simulates what could very well happen in the US on November.

  15. Maximum Fish says:

    @Michael

    I like Fred Thompson too. Unfortunately for him he didn’t want it bad enough, which was precisely why i liked him…

  16. ShawnyD says:

    What I really wish our U.S. system had in place is a “Vote of no confidence”. There’s nothing stopping a crazy person once in office, especially since Impeachment doesn’t actually remove them from office. Parliament seems to have that power sitting in their back pocket at all times.

  17. Lucky says:

    “Granted this game set on easy so far, so I hope the AI gets better as the new opponents come.”

    At least in the original the difference between low and high difficulty levels was huge, so I’d expect it to improve here too.

  18. yutt says:

    Cheney and Fred Thompson endorsements? This thread is terrifying.

  19. Kadayi says:

    The one reason I play games is to escape the joke that is the American political system tbh.

  20. simonkaye says:

    Tell you what, it DOES get hard. I developed a candidate of my own who’s basically Toby out of the West Wing and he’s getting slaughtered by the populist rantings of Teddy Roosevelt.

    Loving the game so far. But it does need some more stat-porn, ala Democracy 2 or GalCiv. Where are my flow diagrams, my bar charts, my demographic breakdowns, my long-term poll standings?

  21. Maximum Fish says:

    “Cheney and Fred Thompson endorsements? This thread is terrifying.”

    This is precisely what american political discourse has become. It used to be that people accepted that there were two predominant political ideologies, and accepted that other people could conceivably have different opinions than they do without being inherently defective.

    Now everyone just aligns themselves with one side or the other and dismisses everyone who disagrees with them as being stupid, backward or “terrifying”. It’s like watching 5th graders pick a kickball team, only more childish. Self-righteousness and closed-mindedness are polarizing and damaging an already bass-ackwards politcal system. It’s awesome.

  22. theleif says:

    How come this game makes me think of Nuclear War on the Amiga?

  23. moromete says:

    I played the game for a bit yesterdayand today and it’s great… I see myself being occupied for about a month winning as everyine vs. everyone else. Do try out to play as Lord Kona, he’s one hell of a candidate…

  24. Mr. Brand says:

    TPM 2008 is the REAL Monsters, Inc.?

  25. Tinsley says:

    I did the exact same thing last night! I made Cheney president! Great minds….

  26. Al Ewing says:

    Christ, I hate these damned ‘download managers’. When I buy something I WANT TO HAVE IT YOU CHRISTING SHITBAGS JUST GIVE IT TO ME AND FORGET MAKING ME INSTALL YOUR CRAPPY DOWNLOAD TWATPROGRAM THAT TAKES EIGHT TIMES AS LONG AS JUST DOWNLOADING IT ARRRRRRGGGHHH

    Also, have you seen the forum on the site? Scary, scary biscuits.

  27. Damian G. says:

    I’m furious that no stores near me have it, and it supposedly released last week. I LOVED the original, but the politics and candidates have since changed, so it was irrelevant by 2006 or so.

  28. Al Ewing says:

    Annoyingly, it’s very crashy on my machine – it completely locks up if I try to start a campaign game, which means I can’t unlock any of the campaign characters, and most games are interrupted by freezes. I’m admittedly playing on a laptop, but it doesn’t strike me as anything that should be crashing so hard, so often. Caveat emptor etc.