There’s no judo-chopping of terrorists here, no midnight plots involving nuclear codes. There are also no pregnant interns or sizzling “West Wing” dialogue, the version of the U.S. presidency that Americans have grown to most love, the one produced by Aaron Sorkin.
What do you do in this game? You fundraise. You decide which states to build headquarters in and analyze how much you can afford in monthly rent. You prioritize speaking engagements, choosing from messages that, as a handy icon informs you, might thrill the religious base but upset the military, or be great for national morale but cruddy for the national debt.
During the afternoon I spent racing for the White House — the entire election cycle can be crammed into a few hours of play — a drawling millionaire named Charlie Cox kept calling up my virtual cellphone to tell me that I was doing great and that he was going to send me more money. Then my avatar candidate decided to support same-sex marriage, and Charlie called me again, screaming that I’d never see another dime.
It’s a laugh riot.
The game, which can be downloaded at theraceforthewhitehouse.com for $20, is developed by Eversim, a French company that specializes in geopolitical simulations. The company did Commander in Chief in 2009 and Rulers of Nations in 2010.
“The U.S. 2012 election is certainly the most important political event this year — and not just in the U.S.,” Eversim chief executive Louis-Marie Rocques wrote in an e-mail. He anticipates that the game will appeal to a broad audience.
It is not an unfair assumption, considering that the one of Americans’ most honored political traditions is scoffing that they personally could do a better job than anybody running.
So, let’s play!
I could have chosen to be Democrat Jack Ohama or Republican Mick Ronney, who look and sound like creepy animatronic versions of the men they’re based on. Instead, I invented a third party candidate and created my own campaign slogan: “Git ’Er Done.” I opted for the “easy” setting and the “equal start” game mode, which allowed Ohama, Ronney and me to all start with the same amount of money and anticipated electoral votes. I built headquarters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan (swing state strategizing) and accepted every high-priority speaking engagement I was offered.
And I lost. A lot. Ronney cleaned my clock in our single debate. And every time I thought I’d landed on a decent campaign promise, it turned out that another candidate had already made it, which resulted in me losing votes because I looked like a copycat instead of a maverick. In the end, Ronney got 216 electoral votes, Ohama 168 and I 154.
After a few more spins around the U.S. map — the default interface for the game — I was beginning to get the hang of it. More fundraisers equaled more money. More money equaled more headquarters. More headquarters equaled more presence, which equaled more votes.
I think I could have eventually won. But by the end, I couldn’t figure out why I’d want to try.
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