Democracy Play: VOTE!!!

Curator's Note

In this trailer for “VOTE!!! The Game” we witness then candidates President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney slug-it-out on the White House lawn, in the oval office, and on a debate stage, using weapons like the “balloon of justice” or a hot dog skewer to whack their opponent for points and ultimately a debate victory in one of the most popular election games to emerge during the 2012 campaign. VOTE!!! was developed by Epic Games, Inc. and ChAIR Entertainment, the partners who also created the award-winning iOS battle game “Infinity Blade.” In Blade players swipe and tap the screen to make swords pierce monsters inside a castle; In VOTE!!! players use the same swipe-combat techniques to enact damage on the opposition and generate votes for their chosen candidate.

You could argue that VOTE!!! is an accurate representation of voters’ limited agency in contemporary electoral politics. Where the boosters to strengthen your candidate’s fighting skills include fundraising, good press, and invoking the Super Pac, the voter’s informed decision-making is noticeably absent in the storyline of VOTE!!! This is one example of how election games reflect and shape our understanding of participatory democracy. As scholar game-maker Brenda Romero explains, by involving people through play, games can change our perceptions of the world and ourselves. Thus we might prefer the kind of online election games that promote historical knowledge, build understanding of political strategy or even let the player be a candidate.

Yet focusing on gameplay may make us overlook both the interactive and social features of a game. VOTE!!! was created in collaboration with Rock the Vote!, Project Vote Smart, and the Video Gamers Voting Network. Notice at :53 in the trailer, in-app functionality invites players to register to vote, and other options within the game connect players to information about electoral issues and candidates in their state. Players who promoted VOTE!!! on Facebook and Twitter were rewarded with bonus game points which could be used to help the gamewide vote count for their candidate. Epic also made the app free to download and promised a portion of proceeds from in-app purchases to Rock the Vote! For the non-profit, whose mission is to “engage and build political power for young people,” the partnership made perfect sense as a way to “encourage voter registration among gamers, in a completely new and innovative way.



Danielle, thank you for this fantastic post and introducing me to VOTE!!! The Game. There is so much content in this short post it is difficult to focus a response in any one area. I'm curious as to the actual mechanics of the gameplay. You mention that the boosters like fundraising and Super Pacs act as the version of the "super attacks," and from what I can see from the trailer, gameplay occurs through the candidates' physical object-based attacks on one another, all of which takes place in settings such as the debate room and (perhaps?) the White House lawn. However, seeing as the game is to "encourage voter registration among gamers," I imagine a less conventional but more germane style of play would replace the sword-swiping game mechanics for a dialogue-based attack that reflects both candidate's platforms. Bear with me for a moment: what if the actions of the player were to quickly choose different issues, arguments, and rebuttals that ostensibly "attacked" the other player? In other words, how would a voter's sense of agency change if the player instead experienced the game as a dialectical melee, instead of a physical one? I apologize if my comment doesn't quite address the contents of your post, but the idea of the game seems to me rife with possibilities.

Alan~your suggestions are entirely on-point, and speak to precisely the kind of possibilities that gaming could create for democratic play. Your comment highlights one of the reasons I chose to explore "VOTE!!!" - it seems contradictory in some ways to want greater participation during an election and then to create a game that eliminates the deliberative aspects of a campaign. Other games come a bit closer to your suggestion by offering players more opportunity to choose issues, platform, and strategy for their candidate. To my knowledge, no election role play game gives players the freedom to construct candidate (or interest group, party, etc.) messages. Imagine a game where players also served as voters who respond to candidate messages and strategies? The possibilities really are endless.

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