The news that Nikki Finke and the team at Deadline Hollywood Daily have partnered with Facebook to create a how-to-succeed-in-Hollywood game where players have to adjust their decisions based on breaking industry news, put me on the hunt for the last video game I played with any degree of sustained dedication, a presidential campaign simulator called President Forever. Looking it up, it seems that the game’s only available for PCs, which is unfortunate: I’d like to be able to play it all the way through again.
What I remember as being fun and tense about it was precisely the breaking news angle that Deadline’s incorporating here. The game wasn’t responsive to actual breaking news, but President Forever was pretty good at dropping something plausible and anxiety-producing, like a foreign policy crisis or a natural disaster, that you had to have your candidate respond to. And that was on top of all the other factors you had to juggle, balancing fundraising days, timing policy speeches and setting them in certain states, setting up a humane travel schedule, and making sure your candidate got to rest so they didn’t collapse on the trail. It was a good illustration of how hard it is to keep it together on a modern campaign trail, and why our focus on gaffes is stupid. Running for president is an insane, exhausting process. People are going to mess up.
Which, of course, is even more true for the presidency itself. Games like American Public Media’s cute little Budget Hero hint at the fact that if you’re commander-in-chief, you have to make a lot of choices, but I think this doesn’t even get close to to the four- or eight-year vortex that is executive decision-making:
If there’s a game out there that approximates the kind of pressure-cooker (and that I could play on the Mac, maybe preferably on Steam), I’d love the gamers in the audience to recommend one so I can check it out. My sense is that the political simulator games do fine but aren’t an insanely profitable part of the business, perhaps because the real work of being president is kind of exhausting and depressing and doesn’t produce the visceral thrills of first-person shooters, but I could be wrong.