August 14, 2004

Shock, but no Awe, against Bush

by Nick Montfort · , 8:00 pm

After mention of the game on ifMUD, I finally got around to playing “The Anti-Bush Video Game,” a.k.a. “Bushgame,” by Starvingeyes. Michael Erard aptly characterized it in The New York Times as mixing “gruesome humor and a grab bag of pop-culture references with a detailed (if pedantic) presentation on tax issues and budget policy.” (This article also discussed Gonzalo Frasca and Ian Bogost’s work; it isn’t still online, but discussion of it can be found at and Water Cooler Games.) The game has a nice look to it and works pretty smoothly. I can’t say it was an enjoyable play experience for me, though, with repetitive, one-track platform action and cut scenes that make the experience about as exciting as the bastard child of Math Blaster and infomercials. But there’s certainly some originality in the dogged storyline of this Flash-based piece. I didn’t guess from the article just how utterly outrageous the game is — as if it were crafted not just to attract attention but to attract lawsuits — so I’ve included a spoiler-filled list of some of the details in the next segment of the post.

Spoilers below for Bushgame — if you want to play the game and be shocked along the way, don’t read these!

The initial crew of Hulk Hogan, He-Man, and Mr. T is joined by several other characters as the game progresses. The first, at the White House, is Howard Dean, whose special attack is a scream.

Your character fights George H. W. Bush as he repeatedly knocks up Barbara (after popping a Viagra) in an attempt to have adequate children to maintain world domination.

Michael Moore and Robocop arrive at one point with a paddywagon. As you defeat three Enron execs, the executives fall into the vehicle, where they are sodomized by orange-jumpsuited prisoners while Robocop urges the rapists on.

The player’s avatar enters the Wonka Chocolate Factory, finding oppressed Oompa Loompas who work in a sweat-shop environment and are being outsourced and replaced by Chinese and Indian workers.

Jesus joins the player’s forces after Mel Gibson stops flagellating him and leaves for a holocaust denial rally. When Jesus goes to tell off Bush and deny the message of hatred Bush is giving to people in a church, Bush says “Jesus … you’re a fag, now shut up.”

You encounter Scooby, Shaggy and company, as well as the Teletubbies. One of the boss monsters is a CEO who transforms into an ejaculating Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man.

So, what’s there to say besides “oh, my?” I think Bushgame doesn’t excel as a game, and perhaps isn’t even very interesting from the standpoint of new media. (Part of my disappointment may be due to the high production values and the lengthy, involved nature of this game, which led me to expect more than a rough-around-the-edges download would.) Whatever its merits as computer game or new media, it certainly is an interesting attempt to mix South Park-style offensive shock humor with a serious, detailed discussion of political issues, one that quotes figures and shows graphs à la Ross Perot. While some games are brought down by an attempt to slap on a story of some sort, the story (and dialog, and choice of pro- and anti-Bush characters) seems the most interesting aspect of this production, with the game and informational aspects not working that well when everything came together. I wonder why this effort hasn’t spurred much discussion among the serious gaming crew? Or perhaps I missed the discussion…

2 Responses to “Shock, but no Awe, against Bush”

  1. Ian Bogost Says:

    Nick, thanks for writing on this in more detail.

    with the game and informational aspects not working that well when everything came together.

    Most of the players I’ve talked to felt that the policy commentary interludes paced the game well and actually got them to engage the material. I was surprised by this, as I think you were, mostly because I’ve been focusing on building the rhetoric into the gameplay, rather than into the cutscenes. Still, there are some good cutscenes in bushgame, and some of them work quite well (e.g. the federal reserve scene). What I would say in response to your comment is that many players may not have reached the story-based rhetoric without the gameplay, no matter how rote each segment of gameplay really is.

    I wonder why this effort hasnít spurred much discussion among the serious gaming crew?

    Well, we’re all very busy of course making our own games :)

  2. nick Says:

    Busy making games? Now I feel guilty.

    But before I get back to work on mine, thanks for the comments about the information-dispensing qualities of Bushgame, which are indeed surprising. I certainly did click rapidly through all but the first two infodumps, but it’s interesting to hear that others had kinder, gentler experiences with them. While I’m not at all receptive to this style of pedagogy/persuasion in games, I can see that Bushgame may execute it pretty well.

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