Video games aren’t just fantasy recreations of our greatest struggles. They can also serve as totally precise predictions of future events. Just look at Madden, which has accurately predicted multiple Super Bowl wins. Knowing that, I set out to get a bead on America’s future by playing the world’s greatest democracy simulator: The Political Machine 2016.
Developed by Stardock Entertainment, The Political Machine 2016 is probably the most entertaining political video game outside of Wolf Blitzer’s holodeck. Despite the cartoonish graphics, it’s also quite comprehensive in its treatment of the modern electoral system. Every major (and laughably minor) candidate is available to play as, with each of their respective strengths and weaknesses accounted for in the form of various stat bars, including “wealth” and “character” (you can imagine where Trump sits). Just like any real election, candidates are forced to play a careful game of money management, PR and demographic strategy to secure the necessary minimum of 270 electoral votes to to win the presidency.
Oh, and you can also turn Donald Trump into an unholy Spiderbot. Scientifically 100 percent accurate. Break out your maps, kids. It’s time to relearn why Ohio isn’t just a place Drew Carey used to sing about.
A note: In the interest of fairness, and because The Political Machine doesn’t have a primary election mode, I ran two separate 21-week campaigns. One for the ostensibly “dream” candidates—Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump; and another for the most likely “establishment” candidates—Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz. All that said, may the gods have mercy on our souls.
TRUMP V. SANDERS, WEEKS 1 THROUGH 5
The race is already off to a rough start, various levels of coiffed hair aside. Like an overeager cartoon duck millionaire, Trump’s bottomless money pit serves enables him to fly off to all the right locations throughout the South and quickly return for repeated hammerings in his home state of New York.
If Bernie wants that sweet electoral vote, he’ll definitely need the Democratic hotbed. Perhaps a saving grace for the Sanders camp, Trump is forced to make his alliances throughout the Midwest, only taking states with lower electoral votes while Bernie takes a sidelong trip to California to build a campaign headquarters and rake in the donations.
Not one, but two early appearances on 60 Seconds allows Sanders to rail against the oil pipelines in favor of alternative energy before funds dip beneath $100,000, putting a swift end to the turn. This is where your mom makes a joke about socialism.
Electoral Estimate: 289 (Sanders) to 249 (Trump)
TRUMP V. SANDERS, WEEKS 6 THROUGH 10
Oh boy. Things are really starting to heat up now. Trump manages to actually take a momentary lead on the issues, only losing it in the final hours of week 10. He instigates a conservative activist to lower Sanders’ credibility in the state of Wyoming by 4 percent per week, but it’s not much to fear since Wyoming’s population of 500,000 (that includes wild buffalo) wouldn’t help anyway.
What does hurt Sanders is the ground lost in Florida, one questionably staffed senior citizens’ home at a time. No matter; at 10 weeks out, it’s time for our candidates to announce their selections for Vice President, which give them an awareness boost in the state they currently stand in. It’s a long shot, but a pick for Elizabeth Warren helps Sanders in the personality department and broad appeal.
Trump, the enigmatic strongman that he aspires to be, is a different story. Who on the Republican or Independent circuit could possibly match his—I’m sorry, what? Wait, really? ABRAHAM LINCOLN?! Trump has bent the fabric of reality and time to acquire the 16th President of these United States as his VP! OK, then. We’ll, uh, we’ll roll with it.
Electoral Estimate: 271 (Sanders) to 267 (Trump)
TRUMP V. SANDERS, WEEKS 11 THROUGH 16
The vast Midwest is a lost cause for Sanders, save for traditionally Democratic strongholds like Minnesota and Illinois. The people need to know if our future leader is pro/anti-Chicago-style pizza, especially when the ghost of Lincoln seems content to hang around the city, marveling at his face on everyone’s license plates.
Bernie’s biggest problem isn’t appealing to the issues, it’s making voters aware of him at all. The fight for battleground states like Wisconsin drags away from Sanders’ time while Trump makes repeated trips through a now purple Florida. Sanders is killing it on social security in the Sunshine State, but struggling with the issue of resettling refugees in almost all other primarily Democratic states.
Trump makes an odd, if not expected grab for New Jersey, but he’ll have a heavy Democratic base to fight against there. It’s do or die, and the candidates will have one last shot at securing the necessary votes in the final round.
Electoral Estimate: 270 (Sanders) to 268 (Trump)
TRUMP V. SANDERS, WEEK 17 TO ELECTION NIGHT
Well, folks, we’re witnessing history here tonight. No, not the election of a Jewish, socialist President, nor a reality television star. No, for the first time since 1824, we have a tie in the electoral college. 269 votes versus 269 equally infuriating votes, thanks to a close victory for Sanders in Florida and Trump’s dogged reliance in Indiana. John Quincy Adams must be rolling in his grave.
So, uh, yeah, let’s Google this social studies lesson real quick. “In the event of an electoral college tie, the duty of electing a President resides with the House, and the Vice Presidential pick with the Senate.” 50 votes in the House, 50 in the Senate, and we’re not even touching what happens when those guys tie. Oh, well, I—I guess with a Republican-controlled Congress this means Trump is our new overlord, right? Does this mean I have to start pronouncing it “yuuuuge” now?
Wait, what? There’s a Congressional election in November, too?! And those guys are the ones doing the voting? You mean we have literally no clue how this could turn out?! Oh, for goodness’ sake. I—I need to lie down.
CLINTON V. CRUZ, WEEKS 1 THROUGH 5
It’s the battle of establishment forces, and I’m praying it ends up more conclusively than Trump vs. Sanders did.
Cruz may have some name recognition, but it’s certainly not decades of political history like Clinton. Cruz will need to pull the same red states into the equation while exploiting Clinton’s lack of strength on certain moderate issues, including a willingness to fight ISIS. Cruz makes the obvious grabs in Florida and his home state of Texas, which even this early on is a lost cause for Clinton. Her higher level of wealth allows her to fully upgrade HQ operations in New York and California, but Cruz isn’t lying down with an appearance on the O’Malley Scenario promising to deep fry public sector unions. No, really. Bless this game.
This could be even tighter than Sanders vs. Trump, even with the obvious red and blue states accounted for. It’ll come down to Indiana, mark my words. Corn—why did it have to be corn?
Electoral Estimate: 237 (Clinton) to 301 (Cruz)
CLINTON V. CRUZ, WEEKS 6 THROUGH 10
Time again for Vice Presidential picks. If there’s one fault against The Political Machine 2016, even for an early access title, it’s the relative lack of choices for running mates. If we’re going by history and stated positions, there’s no chance Sanders, Martin O’Malley, or hurk Lincoln Chafee would ever be picked, so good ol’ Uncle Joe Biden it is.
Weirdly enough, Cruz might have the harder choice with a lack of stro—Donald Trump? Really? Ugh. Screw this game.
Electoral Estimate: 252 (Clinton) to 286 (Cruz)
CLINTON V. CRUZ, WEEKS 11 THROUGH 16
Throughout these first 12 weeks or so, Clinton has had an uphill battle. Coming in with a low credibility score thanks to recent scandals has allowed Cruz to take an early lead of almost 30 electoral votes. An additional lawsuit out of Arizona depletes more than half a million dollars from her reserves, a potential death blow for lesser funded candidates.
But this is politics, and Clinton has played longer than almost anyone. A new string of ads promising to civilly address the resettlement of refugees is a critical basis of much progress, while Cruz fails to find traction in Missouri’s fertile ground. Pennsylvania and Ohio absolutely refuse to drop from an unstable purple, though, so it’s still anyone’s game.
Electoral Estimate: 303 (Clinton) to 235 (Cruz)
CLINTON V. CRUZ, WEEK 17 TO ELECTION NIGHT
If Clinton ever hoped to maintain the Annie Oakley image, it’s gone now. A late endorsement from the NRA and and National Foreign Policy Association for Cruz certainly keep things interesting in the fight for an adamantly purple Ohio and Pennsylvania, with both candidates polling at 100 percent awareness but struggling to turn the tide either way. In a surprise upset, however, Clinton nabs not only Arizona, but also New Mexico.
Like a meme out of Hell shrieking “Yaaaaasss,” Clinton has secured the Presidency with 331 votes to Cruz’s 207. Both Clinton’s political capital and extensive spending (roughly $2 million in-game before fundraising—the real amount would just make you feel bad) certainly played into the final vote, despite Cruz’s immensely strong showing early on.
Despite the occasionally awkward bending of reality, The Political Machine 2016 certainly gets one thing correct: money may not buy you much Independent love in politics, but it can apparently buy you votes. Happy campaign trails, everybody.
Joseph Knoop is a freelance games journalist and part-time comic book geek. His favorite games include cute animals, so Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater probably counts. Talk progressive metal and jazzhop with him on Twitter @JosephKnoop.
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