Just how hard is it to win an election and successfully lead a government? Seems easy enough, but there’s only one way to find out for sure: simulate it in a computer game.
This was originally published on September 1.
No actual politics game measures up to the ideal politics game for which I yearn. What I want is basically a straight copy of Football Manager. I want to see if I could take TOP from 2% in the polls to Prime Minister Gareth Morgan by 2023 – maybe I could fire Sean Plunket and make a big money offer to sign Chlöe Swarbrick from the Greens, or pick up Metiria Turei on a free agency deal – just like the time I took Cheltenham Town all the way to the Champions League.
Like Jay in The Inbetweeners says, achievements like that don’t go unnoticed. I thought if I could harness the power of evidence-based policy in-game there was every chance I would see a lucrative job offer from firstname.lastname@example.org in my inbox by the end of the week. Unfortunately it appears the world of politics is far more complex and multifaceted than the world of professional soccer, and that such a game doesn’t, and could probably never will exist.
The next best thing I could find is a game called Democracy 3, made by UK developer Positech Games, a politics simulator which lets you take the reins of most major western countries (including New Zealand if you can find and figure out how to install the ‘mod’). I downloaded it and before I knew it I was the new prime minister of Australia.
With a diabolical 9% approval rating, I had my work cut out for me. The gameplay is split into quarters, so I had 12 quarters in which to turn it around and get reelected. With the help of the Australian version of Gary from Veep to guide me through the game’s many info-packed screens, I quickly got a basic understanding of how the game worked and set about making drastic policy changes without a skerrick of evidence to back it up.
To make policy changes in Democracy 3 you need to use Political Capital, and to maximise your Political Capital you have to make your cabinet ministers not hate your guts. I stacked my cabinet with raving lefties – trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists – and gleefully implemented their most populist policy suggestions. Free bus rides, state of the art libraries, clean energy subsidies.
This played well with the voters but was costing me a bloody fortune, so I started mucking around with tax rates. This is where it all went to shit. I thought Capital Gains Tax was supposed to be a good thing, but when I cranked it sky-high people started going crazy. My approval rates plummeted. I made the mistake of stumbling into the ‘focus group’ part of the game and found a bunch of losers like archetypal angry Facebook commenter ‘Blake Wilson’ were ‘fanatically opposed’ to my leadership style.
In hindsight slashing police budgets and canceling the government’s intelligence policy was a bad idea. It meant that when I pushed through legislation to legalise prostitution and ban religion in schools in the same quarter there was no one to save me from the fury of Australia’s religious fanatics. I was assassinated by a conservative extremist group before I could see out my first term as prime minister of Australia.
It is a testament to the political nous of all New Zealand prime ministers that so far none have been assassinated in office. It happened to me everywhere I went. As the prime minister of the UK I was assassinated by a powerful capitalist group while opening a new state-funded school. In Canada religious extremists set off a car bomb at a public speaking event, killing not just me but 12 civilians.
As the chancellor of Germany I decided to take a different approach, and didn’t touch a single policy for my entire time in office. The public adored me. I was the chancellor for decades; at one stage I won an election with 92% of the vote. Let this be a lesson to all aspiring politicians: The less you do, the easier it is. Do as little as possible.
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It gets boring being so popular and successful, though. Unable to find a way to retire from what had become a never ending political hell, I started systematically removing all vital policies one by one to see if the complacent voters were paying attention. Abolishing all tax made me, if anything, even more popular. But dismantling all state services quickly led to widespread unrest. I eventually felt the sweet release of death at the hands of ultra-nationalist extremists, who launched yet another terror attack on the heart of government.
Some people spend hours on this game nudging tax rates up by single percentage points at a time and adjusting policies based on the layers of data I stubbornly ignored. Despite that it was still easy and fun to play as a reckless political novice. And despite having been assassinated in several different countries, I did manage to pick up one political strategy I’m happy to share with whoever ends up leading the next government. Here it is: abolish the state pension.
When I was PM of Australia I scrapped the government’s largest expenditure outright and remained extremely popular with the ‘retired’ demographic. It was a massive money-saver, though to be fair I may not have lived long enough to see the full negative effects. Still, food for thought. Feel free to use, and good luck at the polls.
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