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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Mock the Vote

Will it be Bush or Kerry? Simulate a presidential campaign in The Political Machine.



As the presidential election draws near, every pundit, talk-show host and Internet geek with a poll on his Website has been taking a turn predicting who will lead our country for the next four years.

But when you get down to it, it’s all conjecture and speculation. There’s no science behind it. So when I wanted to know who was going to win, I took the only logical step I could think of: I consulted a video game.

Not just any video game. I mean, I don’t sit alone in my basement and talk to my copy of Madden NFL 2005 or Tiger Woods PGA 2005. I got my hands on a copy of The Political Machine, a game for the PC published by UBISoft. Machine is an election simulator that allows you to become campaign manager for any one of a host of potential candidates, and work to get your man elected.

As far as the game itself, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable title that has unlimited replay ability. You can match up Kerry-Bush or any combination from the list of candidates. You can use Arnold Schwarzenegger, Condoleeza Rice, either of the Clintons, Al Gore, John Edwards or even “classic” presidents like Taft and Lincoln.

You move your candidate around the country debating real-world topics from the War in Iraq to universal health care to deficit reduction. Each state has its own issue priorities; you can give speeches, run ads and seek endorsements based on your political strategy.

Can the game predict the election? We’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out. However, after pitting Kerry/Edwards against Bush/Cheney five times, the Democrats came out on top four out of five times.

Needing 270 electoral votes to capture the White House, Kerry’s narrowest margin of victory was 278-260 and his largest was 333-205. Kerry’s only loss was a 272-266 vote defeat. And in that loss, Bush won Florida, but lost the popular vote—wow, now that’s eerie realism.

Each time I played, I tried to run the campaign as close to the Kerry platform as possible. When dealing with the War in Iraq, for example, you were either for or against it; however, there wasn’t a way to express displeasure with the way the war had been handled from its inception.

I sought out endorsements from the National Organization of Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, unions and environmentalists. I also sought the help of celebrity endorsements and a “political kook” born in the image of Michael Moore.

The key in the game, much like the key in the actual election, was to win key “battleground” states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, etc. Each time, Kerry consistently lost Missouri, Arizona and New Mexico and consistently won Pennsylvania, Ohio, and—gulp—Florida.

If you’re wondering whether the Democrats are running the best ticket against Bush/Cheney, take a look at these results: The only time Kerry beat Bush was when he ran with John Edwards. Using Al Gore and both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Kerry lost. As for presidential candidates, running Gore against Bush resulted in one defeat and one win. Both were by a very slim margin, and the victory would not have come without California.

Whether or not The Political Machine has the same magical powers of prediction as a Ouija board or a Magic 8 Ball remains to be seen. Regardless, the game can provide hours of fun to those who would do things differently if they were in charge of the campaigns.

In Brief

NASCAR 2005: Race for The Cup

I hate auto racing, and I have traditionally hated auto-racing games even more. But there’s something strangely addicting and exciting about playing this title. You create a driver and compete with the best drivers in the world. This game is truly a title with indefinite replay possibilities and realism. It’s not only one of the best racing games ever devised, it’s one of the best new titles of the year. EA Sports; Rated E; $49.95.