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SubtleThe hard-right Swiss People's Party -- the SVP -- is not known for its subtlety. I took the picture to the right, a campaign billboard for the SVP, when in Zurich last month; to be fair, while I ran across several of the billboards during my stay, this was the only one that wasn't hit with anti-racist graffiti. Nonetheless, cartoon ovine discrimination isn't the only way that this political movement gets its message out: it now uses video games.

Ian Bogost, over at Water Cooler Games, notes the SVP's "Zottel-Game" website. Zottel the goat is the SVP's symbol, and at this website, the player can use Zottel to carry out a variety of political goals, from blocking immigration to shooting EU tax collectors (symbolized by EU hats) to attacking Green party activists. All of this happens in a cartoonish style, of course, and the immigrants are once again symbolized by black sheep. There are four separate games, all done in Flash.

Bogost provides this context:

To understand the games, though, you have to first know something about the party itself. It was once a centrist agricultural party, but took on right-wing populist interests in the last twenty years. Since 2003, the party has been very strong in the Swiss National Council. Their right-wing policies have included attempts to ban the construction of minarets, drawing accusations that it wanted to rid the country of Muslims, and the deportation of criminal foreigners, which some compared to Nazi deportation policies.

(For more context on the SVP, see this long (English-language) piece at the German newsmagazine Spiegel)

The SVP is not a marginal, fringe party; it's actually the largest single party in the Swiss parliament, holding about a quarter of the overall seats. Its use of online videogames as a way of spreading its message underscores how games have become an increasingly mainstream medium for political communication, linking blunt symbolism and simplistic rhetoric. While I wouldn't expect an identical set of games to do as well in the U.S. (mostly because the racial aspects would be hard to dismiss), I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some kind of online games offered up by candidate or party websites in the 2008 elections.

Sadly, it's likely that such political games would be as mindless as the SVP games (regardless of partisan angles). Despite the significance of the very real challenges facing the U.S. and the planet, modern political discourse doesn't seem to lend itself to deep discussions and multivariate analysis, and Flash-based applications are rarely well-suited for complex gameplay. I would love to see candidates and parties offering up versions of SimCity or Civilization embedded with their perspectives on how the world works, giving players a chance to "live" in those worlds as they consider their votes -- or, perhaps, to offer up games of how the world would be if their opponents won.

Imagine such a world. Rather than candidates and parties describing the worlds that they'll make in broad, unprovable language, they'll have to show how such a world would work. They'll need to hire teams of programmers, of course; I'd imagine that coders able to design both good simulation systems and enjoyable interfaces would come at quite the premium. Transparency would be critical, since it would be too easy to cheat and bias the model to only produce beneficial outcomes. With that transparency, however, comes another channel of argument. Debates would take place in the form of alternative source code, with savvy partisans pointing out errors and omissions in opposing models. "Many eyes make all partisan distortions of the simulation shallow" would be the rallying cry.

Instead, we get goats kicking out black sheep and hippies.

Is too much to ask for a little nuance and intelligence in our politics?



Every play the old text adventure "A Mind Forever Voyaging?"

The viewpoint character is an artificial intelligence who is sent into a simulated future extrapolated from current-day events.

In the context of the game, the most important "current day event" is the scary campaign platform of a presidental candidate.

By the end of the simulation, your character is liable to be eaten by dogs or shot by bandits.

While the "game within the game" might have been an unbiased simulation, "A Mind Forever Voyaging" wasn't. It was a political commentary about the strong-arm tactics of the Reagan administration.

Cripes, imagine if it had been written today!

Your proposal reminds me of Brin's Disputation Arenas. A good idea, but what "sane" politician would agree to participate?

The people who would pay attention to the results -- of a simulation or what goes on in a disputation arena -- are a relatively tiny group. If your goal is to sway the electorate, you're better off having some manipulative bastard like Karl Rove in your corner. Stroke some egos, indulge some hatreds, exploit some ignorance . . . that counts far more than reason.

Things work out in the long run due to Lincoln's Third Law: "You can't fool all of the people all of the time." But getting un-fooled requires real-world pain and regret. You can't use a simulation.

We're starting to see real-world pain from the effects of global warming. It's starting to make folks wonder. The models and scenarios might have convinced me and you, but it's going to take crop failures, flooded cities and razed houses to un-fool the country as a whole.

How well would 'Second Life' lend itself to playing out such scenarios? (Apologies if this seems naive: I've never indulged)

"We'll build a world of our own, that no one else can share..."

Second Life is very "user directed." Most of what happens happens at the direction of the inhabitants. I gather that there is little in the way of automation.

You might use something like Second Life as a compelling interface for the simulation.

You'd have to have sophisticated behavioral models worked up that directed the actions of NPCs based on the political situation.

It seems to me that you'd have to work up those behavioural models anyway.

Or import them from something like 'A Force More Powerful' (although I think that game's model would be a bit too abstract for L2)

All this works only because you give credit to those people, in other terms that you're to some extend afraid of what they do.
If not, they just simply disappear and are founded (jus t as a building)in quite a different way.
The games you propose goes along with the above mentionned belief. It's just "anti" but in fact relies on the same springs.
Eh, wake up, the matrix has you !

Let's not forget that the Swiss *used* to be considered a neutral country. (Granted, they're tromping that around last I went there, but I don't think Ticino is a good demographic there. The Italians are behaving like Mexicans there.)

The fact that I'm just hearing this anti-tolerance policies bandied around makes me worried--what's the viewpoint in general of the EU member states regarding Swizterland?

A Mind Forever Voyaging was by far my favorite Infocom game.

"Many eyes make all biases shallow."
"Many eyes make all biases bugs."

Or maybe:

"Many biases make all eyes bug"


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