Clive Thompson: The Game of Politics Is Ready for Its Upgrade
Clive’s latest wired column starts from the fun of political simulation games, and moves to ponder politics as a game.
the thing is, the game is clearly in need of a redesign. When you play Political Machine, you quickly realize – much as real-world candidates do – that you’re mostly worried about the small handful of vote-rich “swing” states, like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. I won even though I almost completely ignored population-rich New York, California and Texas.
But the point is, thinking about American democracy as a game is not necessarily a bad thing. Quite the contrary: It might be the best way to fix it.
Yeah, I was thinking. I tend to treat my whole life as a game. One where I’m at the same time the designer, one of the main characters in the narrative, and a player.
When you design a game, you need to first decide on the objectives of play, and make sure the players are rewarded for maximising performance with respect of those. In a first-person shooter you’re king if you kill the most baddies, but you don’t get points for socialising or, say, negotiating a truth with the zombie hoards.
Now let’s look at the game US politics. We can’t interview the designers, so let’s apply the rule of “the purpose of a system is what it does“. Given the actions that the game rewards, what would you say are its objectives?