Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Why I WISH presidential campaigns WERE like a video game.

I’m the guy who made Democracy 3, a political strategy game. Not surprisingly I’m a politics geek. Politically, I’m probably pretty centrist. More right wing economically, more left wing socially. very Green. Now I’ve got that out of the way, and the extremists have stopped reading…here we go.

I have never in my life watched a US presidential debate live. Last night, I stayed up till 4AM to watch Clinton vs Trump round two. I read a LOT about politics, including US politics. I understand the issues and the references. i know the history, I know the characters involved. I was NOT prepared.

I’m from the UK, a relatively small country. The US has a population of 324,000,000 people. Out of that staggering number, the only choices are a billionaire(he claims) reality TV show star and the wife of one of the previous presidents. How is this possible? how is the bar set so low, how bad is US politics that these are the choices?

The thing that really depressed me about the debate was actually not just the lies (there were lots) or the avoiding the question, or the accusations of rape (yes really) or the semi-fascist claims that if candidate A won they would imprison candidate B (not put them on trial, not let justice take its course, not allow a jury to decide…nope.. ‘they would be in jail’). The thing nobody seems to be talking about is policy. It was a policy free debate. Totally. it was like people campaigning to be the star of a TV show, all personality, all character, no damn clue how to run the country, or what should be done.

Describing a policy as ‘beautiful’ is a waste of words. Describing a tax plan as ‘amazing’ is a waste of words. Don’t panic…I have done the homework for you (very) briefly. Here are the noticeable 9to me) bits of the tax plans:

Clinton: (src: candidates website)

An extra 4% tax charged on people earning more than $5milllion per year.

Ensure that people earning over $1million a year pay at least 30% effective tax rate.

Trump: (src: candidates website)

People earning under $75k pay 12%.

$75k to $225 25%

225+ 33%.

Business tax cut from 35% to 15%.

Inheritance tax abolished.


You probably have more sympathy with one of those than the other. Thats fine. Thats how it is supposed to work. And issues like that (I just picked tax as an example) is how elections should be decided. Issues, Policies, these are what matter. Nobody is voting for their best friend. You aren’t going to hang out in a bar with the president, they get to make policy decisions. Given a choice, I’d rather hang out in a bar with GW Bush than Al Gore, Bush would be hilarious. Given a choice between which of the two picked environmental policies… then its a different matter.

As someone who literally makes a living from designing a complex simulation of how politics and economics work, I KNOW that its not a simple matter of tax plans. Tax plans affect government income which affects education, healthcare provision, defense and so on and so on. The trouble is…this NEVER comes up.

I would love to see a big spreadsheet or pie chart showing how Donald Trump thinks taxes should be raised and revenue spent. I would love to see the same for Clinton. This is not technically hard. You present both candidates with a simplified breakdown of the current US income and expenditure and ask them to list the top 50 changes they would make. Then those are presented (after being fact checked by economists) to people for them to make a dispassionate choice on. I want to see the TV debate version of this amazing chart:


No tax plan/policy is ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’. One persons ‘fair share’ is another persons company-wrecking punitive tax. One persons bloated government waste is another persons vital lifeline. The issues cannot be boiled down to petty mud slinging and TV charisma. The candidates have disagreements over what POLICY decisions should be taken. Forget the personal bullshit, lets have a 90 minute prime time TV program where the only thing that gets discussed is (fact-checked) firm policy proposals.

In my dreams.

Good luck America. You need it.

8 thoughts on Why I WISH presidential campaigns WERE like a video game.

  1. It always seems to me that the presidents powers are mostly limited to foreign policy, yet we expect them to run everything when it’s really congress that has all the power. The office of president is really just scapegoat in chief. Or worse they get to be a warmonger.

    Like your chart shows, I sometimes wonder if the entire federal government is just the PR department of our military.

    Politics is theater. This year they are just being more honest about it.

  2. As a US citizen, this election is the most depressing one in term of candidate choice and tone in memory (first voted in 1992.) I can barely imagine what this fiasco looks like to the rest of the world.

    I do have one small quip about your wording of the two candidates : “the only choices are a billionaire(he claims) reality TV show star and the wife of one of the previous presidents.” Though Mrs. Clinton has many faults, she does have a decent political resume as Senator and Secretary of State under President Obama, beyond just being the wife of a former president (though it probably helped her name recognition as Senator.)

    If the Republicans had nominated Kasich, Rubio or even Ted Cruz, they’d probably be winning. But the base wanted someone like Trump, and well, now we all have to live with the consequences regardless of who wins.

    1. yup, Hilary is highly qualified and I did agonize about that sentence. My point isn’t her qualifications, but the fact that power is so concentrated. She has the recognition and money to run because she was a washington insider through being first lady. That should *not* give anyone a leg up, but it does, as we saw with the kennedys and then the bush family.

      1. Ah. Yeah the dynasties emerging here over the last couple decades are definitely not a good thing. I think that trend is a side effect of how unappealing it is for relatively “noble” and competant people to be in U.S. politics these days. Not that politicians should be saints, but competency and an ability to connect with voters of different class and racial background is a rare thing today.

  3. Love the death and taxes chart. This is a really depressing election. The United States still has a lot of work to do to improve its democracy. We’re extremely lacking where freedom of thought and association is concerned. If this country did at least that, as a start, then we’d all be much better off. It’s like we’re afraid to take the next step. Canada is just north of us and they’ve freedom of thought in their constitution. Why can’t America take that step? What’s there for us to be afraid of?

  4. Well, have you considered this is something to be modeled in the game? I remember in 2008 when Palin was announced as the VP pick, I felt like it was a sea change moment, built upon a long growing notion of institutional distrust combined with socially conservative movement. Fox News, conservative talk radio, the fact that local news stations in the States have to pay for themselves and even they admit, bad news sells?

    There has definitely been an ideological shaping afoot.

    Also, re: Hillary, she did leverage a First Lady position into a Senate seat, but others have done the same with less meaningful backgrounds, and by all accords she was an effective Senator and engaged Secretary of State. So like, yeah she did leverage something dynastic, but given the inherent sexist aspects of the system, how long would we have to wait for someone that didn’t have that?

  5. The problem is – if a candidate would actually do it they would just insta-lose to any other candidate.

    Why? Because americans are just too stupid. As unfortunately the rest of the world as well, along with them.

    Do you really think some ghetto dude would be like “yeah, this chart makes sense, I’m going to vote for this candidate, because they propose great economic model for financial recovery of our institutions”… right… good luck.

    Instead it would be closer to “huh? that monster raped another girl? holy shit! I’m going to vote for Hillary, and she’s a woman, so it’s good for the country to have a first woman president! yeah!”… and even then I’m probably giving to much credit to these people.

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