'Corbyn Run' Highlights the Stakes of This Week's British Election

The free mobile game’s simplistic, sure, but it’s sending a potentially powerful message to voters.

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Jun 6 2017, 3:48pm

Screenshots courtesy of Josh Balfour/‘Corbyn Run’ team.

The British Labour Party is polling strongly with young voters ahead of this Thursday's general election, attracting support from high-profile individuals in the British music scene, actors, comedians, filmmakers, and video game developers. And a crew of nine from the latter sector, working under the umbrella of Games for the Many, has turned parliamentary preferences into a free (i.e. not "free-to-play") mobile game, Corbyn Run, available for iOS and Android.

As its name implies, you're cast as Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and your task is to, well, run. After Conservative politician Boris Johnson and the current Prime Minister Theresa May, watching out for a "lies"-branded battle bus (referencing that NHS promise, of course) and the ghost of Margaret Thatcher. Points are scored for knocking down Tory aides and unlocking supporters, such as NHS staff, fast food-delivery workers freed from zero-hour contracts, and debt-free students. It's elementary goodies and baddies stuff, conceptually, with the Tories exclusively cast in the antagonist roles.

It's a fairly linear form of entertainment as (admittedly amusing) propaganda—nothing is said here, in game form, about the challenges Corbyn has faced (and still faces) from within his own party, and you're not about to get a complete idea of Labour's election manifesto just from tapping away at your phone for five minutes.

And perhaps more could have been done to turn its message, particularly when it comes to supporting the NHS, into charitable impact—cooperation with something like GamesThatGive could have turned player numbers into monetary donations.

That said, Corbyn Run is another form of essential engagement, at a time when young, perhaps first-time voters are being courted by politicians and party supporters more vocally than ever before. And despite its simple gameplay—or, perhaps, because of it—it's been an effective one, too. And not just in the sense of preaching to the converted.

"We tried to keep the tone of the game light-hearted, and play-tested the concept with swing and Tory voters before launch," says Rosa Carbo-Mascarell, one of the game's developers. "It was important to us to seem accessible, while still maintaining a level of political satire. Since launching, we've received a number of messages from people saying they've changed their vote, thanks to the game."

It's not as heavy as something like Lucas Pope's Papers, Please (which I feel failed to translate gameplay into political change, unlike this simpler game), but in its own way, Corbyn Run is a compelling piece of political commentary, dressed in video game form. And it's attracted attention from those who can enact change, too—Corbyn himself has apparently seen it, and approves, while shadow chancellor John McDonnell has pledged that Labour will invest significantly in the UK video games industry, if they assume power on June 9th.

It cuts through the noise at a time when so many arguments are raging, about so many policies. Is it simplistic? Of course, and very much so by design. But does it help its players get a better idea of what Labour is standing for at this election? By its makers' accounts, yes. And that's invaluable, with so many 18-24-year-olds previously staying away from polling stations—in 2015's general election, just 43% of those in that age range showed up to have their say.

It's quite a sophisticated means of campaigning, really, at a time when so much electioneering is only conducted in front of carefully selected television audiences, at non-debates or through a procession of rapidly weakening sound bites. There hasn't been much in the way of fun and games in Britain, in the run up to this election, to say the least; but Corbyn Run at least offers a smile, turning manifesto pledges into power-ups and, in the process, paints a concise picture of prominent promises for on-the-fence players. And with 15,000 downloads in its first three hours of release, and many thousands more since, it could just make a small impression on results come June 8th.

Follow Marijam on Twitter.