Tom vs Bruce: Political Machine

Tom and Bruce played Political Machine the right way back in 2004. This time, they’re playing the wrong way. Bruce will play Obama and Tom will play Romney. Whoever loses the election wins the game.

Tom: Sometimes when I’m playing pinball with my friends and we don’t want to actually play a full game against each other, we play Low Score Pinball. That’s where you see who can get the lowest score. Naturally, you don’t use the flippers and you hope the ball doesn’t bounce around too much before draining. It’s like anti-pachinko. Being the shrewd gamer that I am, I figured out that you can just bang against the machine to tilt it before launching the ball. Voila! Zero points. I’m really good at Low Score Pinball. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can tilt the political machine in America. Losing a Presidential election is hard work.

Bruce: I was all set to play Political Machine against Tom again. I have a lot of fond memories of the real 2004 election, and since Computer Gaming World folded six months before the 2008 voting brought us our present situation, I was spared the virtual hope and change that weve had so much of in real life. So hey, bring it on. But I wasnt sure what to say when Tom suggested that we play Political Machine backwards. Is he afraid hell lose and jinx Obama? Is he going for a Bill Simmons reverse jinx? Tom is one of the squirreliest people youll meet when it comes to getting an advantage in a game any way he can, and when you combine that with his idolization of Sun Yat-sen, I had a feeling that there was more to this than met the rigged ballot. Still, my middle name and patronymic are Freedom, so if Tom wants to play a game about democratically electing a president, it will probably be the first democratic election he ever supported. So Im all for it.

Tom: The Political Machine breaks down each state by Republicans, Democrats, and “independents”, which is a polite word for someone who doesn’t follow politics. To lose at Political Machine, you must do everything you can to alienate the independents, confuse your supporters about your intentions, and encourage your opponent’s supporters that he’s the best choice. The thing about the political machine, both in this game and in real life, is that it’s a colossal ponderous construct with decades of momentum behind it and an intended path laid out before it on nearly inviolable rails. A Republican might as well stand in front of a train as try to shake off Texas’ 34 electoral votes. As with an election you’re trying to win, it’s all about the battleground states.

Bruce: My first move is to fly to California, as part of my master plan of telling that state the cornerstones of my two-point economic plan:

1. Barack Obama opposes reducing unemployment.

2. Barack Obama opposes reducing the deficit.

So what? you say. I knew that already from the real campaign. Yea-huh, but this is a computer game about electing the president. And I am playing Barack Obama! Get it now? Art imitates life. Except I am supposed to be playing the game backwards but I dont have to.

Tom: Political Machine weights issues by importance to the people of that state, and how they perceive each candidate. For instance, Florida is big on social security and support of Israel. It’s unique among states. But Ohio is big on reducing unemployment and Obamacare. It’s a pretty typical state. Furthermore, different issues appeal differently to different party members. Democrats and independents love Obamacare, and Republicans hate it. So if you support Obamacare, you’ll win over Democrats and independents, and you’ll alienate Republicans. The extent of this shift will depend on how important Obamacare is to that state. The trick to losing an election is identifying the best way to shake off the most electoral votes. This is basically reducing unemployment and reducing the deficit.

Bruce: Unless your political party is named Viet Minh or Khmer Rouge, someone has to pay the bills. In The Political Machine, you make money by a combination of building up an extensive network of headquarters and upgrading them constantly, and fundraising in various states. The bigger the state, the more money you make. As the biggest state, California commands all our attention. These solicitations are based on diminishing returns, though, so by the end of the game both candidates will likely be scrounging for quarters in laundromats in Compton.

Tom: Barack Obama’s higher charisma makes him way better than Mitt Romney at speeches. So I’ll leave the speechifying to Bruce. I plan to lose this election the old fashioned way. With money. Namely, money spent on advertising. A speech is a one-shot thing. But as long as you pay the maintenance cost of an ad, it keeps on giving. Furthermore, if you splurge on a television ad, it affects standing on an issue nationally. So while Bruce alienates one state at a time with his speeches, I proceed to alienate the entire nation. I’m also supporting Obamacare to keep loyal Republicans at bay. And for good measure, I place television ads claiming that Barack Obama favors reducing unemployment and Barack Obama favors reducing the deficit. When you’re trying to throw an election, don’t be afraid to go positive.

Bruce: It’s also about awareness. If you’re trying to lose votes, it’s actually better to have people not know who you are, rather than know who you are and think that you’re Hitler. Because people cant vote for you if they dont know you exist. But they might actually decide to vote for Hitler.

Just visiting a state raises your awareness in that state. So the best way to lose is to stay away from all states. The problem is that because Brad Wardell is a known leftist, there seem to be more default Obama states than Romney states in his political simulation game. So if I just stay out of everywhere and Tom does too, I will win, meaning that I will lose. Got that? Im actually pretty confused, so this almost sounded like the right plan until I thought it through again, and then I realized losing was the new winning, and I found myself with two serious problems called New York and Illinois.

I lived in Illinois a long time. Long enough to go to college and medical school, so Im pretty familiar with how blue that state is. But Im not so familiar with New York, and my sunny naivete convinced me that I could lose that state if I tried hard enough. Even though the initial Obama/Romney split the game showed me was 62/28. Or something. I figured if I just ranted against employment, budgetary sense, and Social Security, I could lose that state faster than a Robert Torricelli corruption probe. Thats a little shout-out to all of my New York readers as a way of saying I dont know ya, but I really know ya, know whaddimean? Exactly.

So I spend turn after turn flying from California to New York, giving speeches, running TV ads, and telling the country that although my name is Obama, I am against Obamacare. Thats actually strange, because I feel like that should be a winning strategy. I didnt remember this from the previous times I simulated trying to fight back digital Communism in These United States, but when you place TV ads, no matter what state its in, it raises your awareness in the whole country. That doesnt make a lot of sense to me, because in real life I cant say Ive ever seen a single TV ad for either candidate, never mind one thats running on TV in Oregon. But video games pay researchers a lot of money to figure how many firepower points it cost the 39th Panzer Corps to get across the Luga River in 1941, so I assume they know what theyre doing here with their election simulation. If they say that 76% of Democrats are concerned about Firing Big Bird, that must be based on the evidence. Despite the fact that Mark Fidrych is dead.

Tom: As in real life, the actual merit of an issue has no place in Political Machine. It’s all about perception. If you say a thing long enough, people will believe it. That’s why the Republicans start supporting Obamacare somewhere around week 20. So as in real life, Romney changes his mind. I cancel all my pro Obamacare ads and replace them with anti Obamacare ads. This is great, because it will now alienates Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike. I am bringing the nation together.

Bruce: The second-most-important issue in Kentucky right now: Arming Syrian Rebels. Im trying to figure out how this works. Is this some secret undercurrent of Kentuckian thought discovered by Stardock research? Tom suggested over voice chat that this may be connected to gun rights and whatnot. Tom is really concerned about gun rights. He is afraid that if anyone has a gun, he or she might start being less afraid of things, and thus will start thinking for him or herself instead of just blindly accepting everything he or she is spoon fed on Up w/ Chris Hayes. That worries Tom a lot, so I try to reassure him by telling him I dont have a gun and am willing to do whatever I am told by the authorities, even Chris Matthews. I can tell by the sound of Tom’s voice that he is reassured and less anxious. Keeping Tom from hyperventilating is a continuing concern when were writing these pieces, so Im glad I dont have to call North Hollywood 911 and send an ambulance or something. Sometimes a calm, soothing voice is the best medicine.

Tom: As far as I’m concerned, anything that can get Kentucky’s mind off the last season of Justified and out into the Middle East is a good thing.

Bruce: Ohio is the State of Apathy: right now the top issue is Reducing Unemployment and is Very Important to most voters, yet all of the voters — whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent — are listed as Indifferent to this issue. Oh what a way to go, Ohio!

Tom: Now we have to pick our Vice Presidential candidates. Looks like Sarah Palin’s the choice. Very smart move by Romney. Your VP candidate raises awareness in a state and all adjacent states. I send Palin to Hawaii, which has no adjacent states and much nicer weather than Alaska.

Bruce: Normally, I would pick a solid second-in-command, like Jonathan Frakes, to be my surrogate, but losing times call for losing measures, and its pretty clear that the one and only choice for me is Michelle Obama. If you are a liberal, tell me right now with a straight face that this isnt your dream ticket. AMIRITE?

Tom: I’ve got a secret weapon that’s sure to lose this game for me. Money! We’ve tapped out fundraising in California and New York, but I’ve got an idea. One of the game’s resources is political capital you earn from special headquarters. You use this capital to buy operatives who will help you win the game. Since we don’t want any part of those, we haven’t gotten any political capital. But there is one operative who can help me lose the game. The webmaster reduces the cost of ad maintenance in a state by 75%. Since all my TV ads are running from California, I quickly build a political capital building and then use the points for a webmaster. I send him to California and my income skyrockets. I am now making money faster than I can spend it, and I’m launching new ads every week to convince the American people that Barack Obama is the best pick for President. The polls are shifting decisively against me. At this point, projected electoral votes for Mitt Romney are barely cresting 200. To Bruce’s chagrin, it’s going to be a landslide for Barack Obama.

Bruce: Ive been crisscrossing the country giving a lot of speeches. Across all the long leagues of Eriador, they all say something along the lines that I, Barack Obama, am against reducing unemployment. Others say that I am against reducing the deficit. These were the two issues on which it seemed there was the most bipartisan agreement, so going against that seemed like a slam dunk. I was shocked, then, to travel to Florida and find that Democrats in Florida were very strongly against reducing unemployment! Thats right.

This is where Brad Wardell, Democratic party activist, shows his true colors. It seems that if you are a Democrat, you will eventually agree with whatever your candidate is saying, even if it is that he doesnt want you to have a job. Im going to put that it italics because I dont think you got that right there: he doesnt want you to have a job. No worries, mate — every Democrat in Florida thinks that is a good idea. According to this, the worlds most sophisticated political vote simulation this side of Rasmussen.

Tom: At least Florida has stopped fussing about Social Security and the support of Israel. And speaking of Florida, Bruce just fell into the Florida trap by visiting the state and introducing a little awareness. I was having trouble shaking Florida because Obama’s awareness was so low. But as soon as he showed up to spechify against reducing unemployment, he accidentally won over a whole slew of Floridians. Florida is now officially in play, and it’s breaking blue.

Bruce: I broke my promise to never go to Florida, and went to Florida. I arrive to find that everyone in the state loves Obamacare and reducing unemployment. For some reason, Floridians think that I’m the one to get these things done, because Tom Chick told them I was. Haven’t they been watching my TV ads in California?

Tom: After playing week 27 for the fifth or sixth time, one of us finally points out that week 27 seems to be longer than other weeks. We play it a few more times just to make sure. Yep, it seems as if time has come to a halt.

Bruce: So I guess the game is stuck on 27 weeks. Because Tom is an actor, he makes a joke about something like Im glad it didnt get stuck on 9 1/2 weeks, ha ha. I gently correct him that the actual movie was called 8 1/2. I sometimes wonder if Tom really knows all that much about movies.

Tom: Bruce and I are the same age. In the place where Kim Basinger fit into my adolescent boyhood, Bruce had Fellini. That explains a lot. At any rate, Political Machine is refusing to let us get any closer to the actual election. Furthermore, you can’t save a multiplayer game. I guess the good news for America is that we’ve both lost. Maybe you can tilt the political machine in America.

Winner: Political Machine’s multiplayer instability