Positech's 2013 political strategy game Democracy 3 allowed players to try their hand at running a country through thick and thin, giving them dilemmas as well as good fortunes in a game packed full of subtle, dry humour poking fun at the political system.
This year though, when Positech released their expansion for Democracy 3, entitled Electioneering, politics is not a laughing matter for many people. Things like Brexit, Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and a globally fractured political landscape have turned the attitudes of many towards politics from sarcastic mockery to serious concern. Electioneering, though, does to the election process what the base game does to politics in general - simplifies and satirises it.
To focus on the base game for a moment (because, we have to admit, we never reviewed it back in the day), the gameplay revolves around giving the player a choice of what to change in order to affect situations and factors which cannot be influenced directly. The player is first met with a series of circles on the screen, white being policies to change, like income tax, and blue being those things that cannot be changed directly, like homelessness or GDP. Then there are red and green circles, red indicating negative situations such as an organised crime problem, and green indicating positive situations, a technological advantage for instance.
Alongside all of this are the opinions of various voter groups in the electorate in the middle of the screen. You have to be aware not only how much of the electorate each group make up but also how happy they are and if you leave your mouse on them it also shows what policies and situations are affecting their satisfaction with a series of red and green arrows. To get re-elected this is the most important part of the game to concern yourself with.
Ultimately, though, what the player does with all of this is totally up to them. There is no obligation to solve the red situations or please the electorate. If the player wanted to, they could create a police state or raise taxes to the maximum, but this wouldn't help get them re-elected. To get voters you have to carefully consider what is affecting who and how to solve these while keeping the electorate on side - a balancing act that is by no means easy. You also have to budget both finance and political capital, the currency generated by cabinet members with which you use to make decisions and create and alter policies.
The simplification of mindsets, however, does help to make the game much easier than real politics. Liberals, for instance, are effectively all angered and pleased by the same thing; individual intricacies of opinion are relatively absent. In this sense the game is easy to learn.
This doesn't make trying to please everyone an easy task, however. Like real politics, doing something for one group of voters will more than likely do something negative elsewhere, like upset another demographic, reduce income, or exacerbate a situation. Democracy 3 is then a balancing act ensuring players make tactical decisions for the best results, especially if getting re-elected is the goal, as it will be for many players. After all, there is no incentive to do anything for this virtual country if you cannot be a part of it once losing an election.
Electioneering helps with the whole election process. It does make sense, after all, for a game about the politics of leadership to have gameplay options regarding an election. This DLC does exactly that, adding the ability to view party membership, make manifesto promises and speeches, examine fundraising as well as check perceptions and use media stunts to try and change them.
It has been said before that voters are easily swayed, but the electioneering options are very minor and they don't do huge amounts to change the opinions of many. For how much political capital it costs to make a speech, for instance, the fact that it sways a certain political group by 15 per cent at most makes you question whether it's really worth it. The same applies to manifesto promises which can be extreme in what they pledge (and give severe consequences later on if you don't deliver) without an extreme impact on popularity, as well as media stunts which can make you seem trustworthy or strong without direct benefits on the election.
These activities are funny, though, and a hyperbolic satire on what politicians will do before an election to try and guarantee a vote (one media stunt is landing a jet on an aircraft carrier, for instance). Electioneering pokes fun at real world politics by showing how ridiculous it is, especially since a lot of promises are outrageously infeasible are effectively just temporary popularity boosts for certain voters.
In the end, though, Democracy 3 as a whole is about this dry satire. Assassinations happen relatively frequently if they are enabled in the settings and pop stars have the ability to boost your government's popularity in a game that is fully aware of how ridiculous the world of politics can be. But it combines comedy with detailed policy models, interrelated voter groups and a multitude of factors to create a very interesting political strategy game that sits alongside this humour. There is substance to the satire, then, and Electioneering is in on the same joke rather than being just another punchline.
In 2016 politics is certainly no laughing matter, but Democracy 3 allows an escape without any consequences. It is not a political simulation of what running a country would really be like, but it is a detailed strategy game that comes the closest while also making subtle comments on the world we live in right now. This isn't going to revolutionise the world but it certainly provides some food for thought despite its limitations and its simplifications, and we think that's commendable.
Loading next content