American elections take exactly one hundred years, and by the final day everyone’s so sick of it that they just vote for the most recognisable name to get it over with. American Election, on the other hand, is a work of interactive fiction that estimates its own run time at one hour, but if you’re anything like me you’ll take at least two, and then probably another one after the ending to just sit there and let your thoughts and feelings settle down.
You’re Abigail Thoreau, a staffer hired to work on the 2016 presidential campaign for Undonald Not-trump. You’re the gay daughter of an immigrant and a racist arsehole, and you don’t know what you’re getting into [LIE]. You don’t know who he really is [LIE]. You believe you can make a difference if you play this right.
It is an ordeal.
This was supposed to be a brief news post, but once I got started I had to see it through. This is apt. Abigail’s path through this story can take different side streets, but heads in the same general direction. It crosses abuse, heartbreak, death, power, youtube radicalisation, and a lot of introspection. Though it follows the rise of a fictionalised tangerine mega-baby to the seat of American political power, it tells a deeply personal story that’s not really about him at all. And it knows you’re not going into this as blind as Abigail is.
There are acres of emotional and social subtext fit into this condensed story, and it hits far too many levels of uncomfortable reality to be taken lightly. The sense of dread never lets up, never more so than during Non-ald’s all too familiar sudden acts of kindness: some calculated, some just the arbitrary whims of the overindulged egomaniac.
I keep pausing between paragraphs to acknowledge to myself that it will probably be a few days before the mess it stirred up will settle in my thorax. That’s how political games should be, frankly.
American Election is available now, for free, and playable in a browser via Itch.io
[Disclosure: Xalavier Nelson Jr, occasional contributor to RPS, is listed under American Election’s credits as “Special Thanks”. I’ve no idea why but I assume it’s because of the legal requirement that he be somehow involved with every game in the world.]