It's election day in the United States, and we can all use a little help understanding or distracting ourselves from the process.
Though it's been impossible to ignore the 2016 election in the United States, there's a chance that you, like most people, don't fully grasp how the machinations of politics—both before and after winning an election—work. As the votes start to come in, and as we wait for a victor to be declared, you can find solace (and distraction) in the form of some entertaining and insightful political games.
After trying out a whole bunch of political games yesterday afternoon, and as I pretended to not be constantly refreshing Twitter for new polls, I discovered two things. First, Garfield Kart is listed under "cold war" and "political" on Steam. Second, there are two games very useful at contextualizing what's happened politically through the last 12 months—and what comes next.
The past year or so has been the campaign portion of the election, and though the annually updated Political Machine series has been a cornerstone of campaign simulations for a while, it's not your best bet today, especially if you're hoping to wrap your head around it quickly.
Instead, I'd point you towards Political Animals, which adeptly simplifies the act of campaigning to make it immediately approachable without sacrificing depth and removes this year's emotionally charged political figures from its lineup, letting you focus on actual campaigning.
In other words, you can't play as Clinton or Trump. (You can do that in Political Machine). Then again, I think I got pretty close to replicating Clinton, using the character generator.Political Animals screenshot courtesy of Positech Games.
A political campaign, local or national, is about choices with (often unintended) consequences in the short and long term. Is it more important to have people like you, or to make your opponent look bad? Should you spend time shoring up hardcore supporters, or look to convert those on the other side?
In order to run a campaign, you need to ask for money, but does all that fundraising take time away from talking about important issues? Political Animals forces you to quickly engage these complicated questions, including the sketchier but no less important aspects of campaigning, such as whether or not to exploit (or plant) an opponent's scandals.
Importantly, Political Animals has a pretty good tutorial. You can start a campaign in minutes, and though it might take longer to win one, I found myself learning, even as I sunk in the polls.
Whoever wins today's election, though, will be faced with four years of trying to lead the country. That's where Democracy 3, which came out a few years ago but remains deeply relevant, comes in.
In Democracy 3, you're tasked with earning re-election, managing the economy, juggling advisors, and sweating with despair when you realize how one tiny decision can have huge impacts elsewhere. Democracy 3 isn't slick and conventionally "fun" in the way Political Animals is, nor are you going to really wrap your head around it in less than an hour, but it's excellent at showing the sheer complexity of governing a country like the United States.
Each turn begins with players getting a broad sense of how you (and the country) are doing:Democracy 3 screenshots courtesy of Positech Games.
As it turns out, my decision to make America a fundamentalist Christian nation that removes all laws regarding the age of alcohol consumption did not turn the economy around and lead to my swift re-election. But the ostensible endgame isn't what I found fascinating about Democracy 3: it was pulling the levers driving a country behind-the-scenes and… seeing what happens.
As citizens, we have little influence over the micro decisions that change policy. Instead, we participate on a macro level, electing politicians who, we hope, have our interests in mind. This is often frustrating, so Democracy 3 lets you experiment and simulate your ideas.
You know, like this:
Yes, I banned Sunday shopping. No, I didn't have a good reason why. (You could argue it fit my fundamentalist Christian experiment?) I simply wanted to see how people would respond! And what I learned was that you probably shouldn't make sweeping changes without considering how it might screw things up elsewhere.
The story of Democracy 3 is the story of how interconnected our modern world is, and how policy choices directly and indirectly impact others. Whereas Political Animals simplifies campaigning, Democracy 3 lets you get into the nitty gritty of governance. If you want to drown in statistics, graphics, and choices, have at it.
Mostly, Democracy 3 made me wonder why anyone wants to be President in the first place.
If you can't help but think about politics but don't want to stress over what Florida exit polls say about the state of the race, Political Animals and Democracy 3 are a chance to meaningfully engage with the process and, for once in your life, feel like you're actually in control of it.