Friday, November 4, 2016

What Happened to Power Politics?

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the legacy of the election simulation game, Power Politics.

The countdown has already begun for Election Day in the U.S. In the news, various election models are predicting the Presidential winner. Take your pick. They vary from statistical-based forecasts to the more whimsical claim that a sad ending in the most recent Best Picture Oscar winner would indicate a change of party in the White House.  Did Spotlight have a sad or happy ending?  We'll find out.

ElectoralCollege1992In 1992, the video game Power Politics made headlines around the world for correctly predicting that Bill Clinton would win the election.  My co-author, David Michael, and I interviewed Randy Chase, the developer of Power Politics, for a case study on educational games in our book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. As I alluded to in my research reports for the Cooney Center, many of the same issues plaguing educational games 10 years ago have remained.

Chase found it difficult to sell directly to teachers and school systems.  He even tried discounting the price for teachers and professors but didn't find much success that way.  Therefore, in the spring of 2005, to recoup the cost of independent development, he decided he would have to "find creative ways to build new alliances."  Though he still had a premium version of the game for sale, most schools ended up using the free version sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor and Rock the Vote.  Power Politics was eventually distributed and used by over 400 universities to teach students about politics and campaigning.  The premium version of Power Politics offered a alternate history mode, whereby historically inaccurate candidates could be pitted against each other, much like fantasy football.

Power Politics was a seminal game in what Chase called "activism software."  He wanted a game that would challenge player assumptions about the world.  In Power Politics, the student has the reins to run the campaign, dirty tricks or not, analyze press conferences and poll data, and manage fundraisers.  The candidates were real-life people, with strengths and weaknesses, and the simulation was updated to include real-world demographics.

It almost seems unimaginable that at one time, there were only exit polls. Power Politics demonstrated the power of simulations and how simulations could be used for education.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.


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