September 22, 2004

Take Back Illinois

by Michael Mateas · , 11:47 am

Over at watercoolergames, Ian Bogost has announced Persuasive Games’ latest political game Take Back Illinois, a four part game commisioned by the Illinois House Republican Organization. The game explores four Illinois state political issues, medical malpractice reform, education, participation, and economic development. Currently, only the medical malpractice reform game is active – the other games will be released during the coming weeks.

26 Responses to “Take Back Illinois”

  1. Scott Says:

    Can I announce that I’m boycotting that game? Obama is already taking back Illinois from the goons who commissioned the game.

  2. mark Says:

    Well, well, what’s this, Michael advertising for the Republicans? I hope don’t start seeing Bush/Cheney ’04 banners! =]

  3. Ian Bogost Says:

    Scott — you’re welcome to do whatever you wish of course. I’m rather enamored of Obama myself, and I thought he spoke terrifically at the DNCC. However, I have two comments:

    (1) as I said on WCG, I think we need to make a stronger distinction in general between local and national politics, and between candidates and parties. It’s entirely possible that specific residents of XXX, IL might have a local issue that sways them toward one of these candidates, but a broader issue that sways them toward Obama.

    (2) Is it productive — rhetorically, analytically, or politically — to simply eschew communications that you might not agree with? Personally, I’m interested in understanding as many examples of digital rhetoric as possible, whether it’s from Howard Dean or Fidel Castro.

  4. Jake Parrillo Says:

    Hey Scott…

    No need to boycott the game…Not all GOP’ers are evil…eh?

    Look at the issues that are presented in the game. Our solutions are presented in a common-sense approach that has little to nothing to do with typical R vs. D Social issues like abortion, guns, etc.

    Also…do a bit of research on the guy who commissioned the game..Tom Cross. Click on the links near the game. You’ll find a lot in common with him…I bet. He’s a mainstream moderate who isn’t interested in what’s happening in people’s bedrooms.

    He’s more interested in creating a better way of life for the Residents of Illinois.

    Come on back…in fact if you check out the photo gallery, you’ll find Barack and Cross at a Press Conference supporting the same issue….


  5. Alan Schussman Says:

    Jake, the blog you link to says about the game that it “will allow all users from young to old to learn about what the liberal Chicago Democrats are doing to our state and how they are killing Leader Tom Cross and The House GOP’s common-sense agenda.” But it’s by no means common sense that the only way to manage health care costs is to cap malpractice. That is, in fact, a point of serious policy debate that the game dramatically oversimplifies. Calling it “common sense” doesn’t make it so. This isn’t knowledge-oriented communication; it’s oriented to a very particular agenda, and unlike Ian, I’m not sure that this promotes genuine understanding because it’s born of politics and reflects politics.

  6. Ian Bogost Says:

    Alan — I think I’ve always been quite explicit in calling my work videogame rhetoric, no? Not videogame “genuine understanding.” Not sure where you got that. The point is to use rhetoric to spur understanding of ideology and to spark thinking and discussion — like the very discussion you raise here. Carry on, then.

  7. Scott Says:

    Ian — No offense: I totally support your right to create games for the Illinois Republican Party, or for any other political entity, and I think it’s interesting that you’ve created this game. I sort of look at it like this: lawyers represent whoever needs representation and is willing to pay for it. And that is completely ethical. Seems to me that Persuasive Games can ethically operate the same way. But I was raised in Illinois — and the only Illinois Republican I was ever really fond of is former Governor George Ryan, and they drummed him out of the party. If I were writing a paper on games and political rhetoric, I’d probably play this game, but otherwise, I won’t play it for the same reason I don’t play “America’s Army.” Everybody has a right to create propaganda (I’m a big fan of Michael Moore) and political speech. But we also have an obligation to consume only that propaganda we want to consume. I’ve read the papers, I’m familiar with the parties and the way they operate in Illinois, and I want Illinois to stay a blue state in Washington, and in the State House. (This is not, by the way, to say that Illinois Republicans are bad. I have several close friends who are Illinois Republicans, in spite of my better advice.)

  8. Ian Bogost Says:

    Scott>> If I were writing a paper on games and political rhetoric, I’d probably play this game, but otherwise, I won’t play it for the same reason I don’t play “America’s Army.”

    I can live with that. This is “just a blog” after all. We don’t need to be formally research-engaged with every specimen we discuss here. I’m assuming that you are using America’s Army as an additional example, not an equivalence?

    On a broader note (beyond this specimen), I think it is important to understand the rhetoric of one’s opposition (cf. Michael’s last entry). Might one not also argue that we have an obligation to understand the strategies of that propaganda we want to oppose?

  9. Scott Says:

    Ian — Right, an additional example, not an equivalence. Your game isn’t going to pull kids out from in front of a computer screen into a nasty, brutish and short game of drive-over-the-improvised-explosive-device in Fallujah, which America’s Army is quite capable of doing. One could argue that re: understanding the opposition, but it won’t keep me up at night watching Fox News. I apologize, by the way, for the word “goons” in my original post. Bit of ungentlemanly hyperbole there.

  10. Ian Bogost Says:

    Scott — well, goons does have a specific kind of rhetorical tenor to it, as long as we’re on the topic ;).

  11. Jake Parrillo Says:

    Scott–for whatever it is worth, your guy–Governor Ryan was recently indicted by feds for ethical violations and spending taxpayer money on campaigns. That’s exactly what we’re trying to overcome…

    BTW…the indictment may have been at least part of the reason for the ILGOP throwing out Guv Ryan… ;)

  12. Scott Says:

    Now corruption in Illinois politics, that’s another topic. Yeah, I’m aware of that, and I think the mistakes he made prior to his term are unfortunate. But he was a pretty effective lame duck, and he put a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois after a conscientious examination of mistakes made in death penalty cases in Illinois. I think that was just about the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen a politician do.

  13. Alan Schussman Says:

    Ian, I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth — sorry for that. I was referring to your comment about seeking to understand rhetoric, and in reflection certainly see the difference in meaning. I really like the idea of making sense of games as rhetoric, and think it’s a really fascinating and worthwhile project. It’s clear that the game is thoughtfully designed, but from my perspective (and this is certainly my own ideological blind spot at work) its premise oversimplifies a complicated issue. I wonder if a real dialogue can come of that. (And I’m not saying that, erm, rhetorically. Obviously, as you said, it’s inspired conversation here, albeit on a sort of meta-level; will it do the same for other audiences on a substantive level?)

  14. Dave Parry Says:

    I was disturbed last night to see this game had been created, but was pleased to notice that this morning discussion had already been generated. It seems to me however that there is an issue of ethics not wholly being considered here. The name of the company is “Persuasive Games” and Ian writes in his previous commet that the game is “rhetoric.” Therefore by admission that game is constructed to persuade people that the ideology behind the game is “correct.” So, my question is it ethical to use rhetoric to support a position/ideology in which one does not believe? By deploying rhetoric is that not at the very least a implicit approval of the ideology itself? Which leads me to the final point of analysis: Either the creaters of this game believe that the Republican agenda on health care (and apparently on other forthcoming issues) is worth supporting (if this is the case I would not want to talk about the video game so much as to engage in conversation those who think the Republicans have the correct stance on these issues) or, and this is the more problematic case, the creators of the video game do not believe in the rhetoric/ideology present in this video game, but wrote it any way. If this is the case the issue is a substantial one of ethics, using ability to create persuasive propaganda to support a cause which one knows to be ideologically incorrect.

  15. Jake Parrillo Says:

    Scott-right on. I agree with the Death Penalty Stuff, but he put the ILGOP in a huge hole PR-wise…that’s why we’re trying some new things….

  16. William Huber Says:

    Dave, if you are taking videogame rhetorics seriously, wouldn’t the most erudite response to a simulation game about health care policy be another simulation game about health care policy? From a simulation-design perspective, what would you do? And where would you draw the data – and how would you model it – to support the integrity of such a simulation?

  17. Ian Bogost Says:

    Let’s see if I can make a few comments here.

    First, I remain confused at why a community of practice would take opposition to the very existence of an artifact of inquiry that might express an opinion that its members question. Rather than consider this further, I think I’ll merely take pleasure in seeing that it has sparked such discussion.

    Second, political issues are complicated. This piece gives you a lens on a problem. It articulates and focuses that lens on a portion of the complexity. Dave, you made this conclusion: Therefore by admission that game is constructed to persuade people that the ideology behind the game is “correct.” The benefit of using games as rhetorical tools is that they describe systems, and let players explore those systems and consider their logics. Such artifacts do not necessarily strive to breed one-sided acquiescence.

    That in mind, Third, as I’ve said already I believe that it is time to admit that politics and policy is more complicated than red or blue. I’m not going to discuss my own views in detail, but I will assert that they are reconciled with the representations in this game. Dave, you drew an equivalence between the issues the game represents and a broad-based “Republican agenda on health care.” I have a wide array of complex opinions on health care and medical malpractice. Other folks at PG have different, equally complex opinions. Is it really unimaginable that someone would support changes to medical malpractice policy and support socialized medicine?

    Fourth, the question of who to work for in the field of political services remains an open question among practitioners., a software and services provider for candidates and organizations, does work for many different types of groups. Recently, the WSJ reported on a company that takes a partisan stance seemingly for business, not ideological reasons. I take these issues seriously and think about them. I wonder if, say, Pandemic Studios made the same kinds of considerations before they agreed to make Full Spectrum Warrior, or Unreal before they licensed their engine for America’s Army…

    Ok, that’s all from me for a bit. Gotta work!

  18. Dave Parry Says:

    Ian, again I am distrubed and shocked by the analysis contained in this ongoing discussion, especially from individuals who, although I have never met I have come to respect.

    Let me start with a few concessions: 1. Health Care is a complicated issue, not merely reduible to red an blue concerns. 2. Tort reform is necessary.

    My opposition is not to the existence of an “artificat of inquiry”. Indeed I think the game could do some good work. (Opening discussions about Health Care Policy, raise questions about tort reform, how much money should be invested in research, whether or not “sick” people should be isolated from “well” people.) However to end at this analysis is shortsighted and to ignore the larger context of the game.
    Indeed it is the CONTEXT that gives the game meaning.

    First the game is placed on a websight called not on a websight called healthcare reform. So, take back from who, how in what respect. Second the websight itself positions itself against the Democrats to quote:
    “Help us ‘Take Back Illinois’ from the Liberal Chicago Democrats and their Special Interests. Play the Game Now!”
    Now there is a great deal of analysis to be done here for now let me be brief and say the context of the game deploys it in such a way as to allign it with a “Republican Agenda” the framing context of the websight, the note when gets open completing all admit this.

    So I return to my original question, did the creators of the game take into consideration how the game was going to be used and by whom? To say a game is apolitical is to miss the very point that games are always already (as with everything) political.

    Yes, in response to Will one of the responses to the game would be to create another one which functions differently, to open a dialogue thru the games.

    But finally let me address the last point in Ian’s post. “Fourth, the question of who to work for in the field of political services remains an open question among practitioners.” This is precisely the point of my question, do people find it ethical to work for institutions which they fundamentaly disagree? Who to work for in the field of political services seems a simple closed question to me, work only for those whose ethical agenda one supports.

  19. Ian Bogost Says:

    I’ve already made my points about the intricacies of political opinion. Dave, what you really seem to be saying that those who work in the field of political services should work only for those whose ethical agenda you support. Or, differently put, that there is a specific agenda that creators or researchers of digital artifacts must adopt to be considered legitimate. I’m going to choose not to respond to that.

  20. Scott Says:

    From an admittedly layman’s perspective, I remained unconvinced that most proposed malpractice tort reform is not primarily serving the interests of insurance companies, and almost certainly not the interests of the legitimate victim of medical malpractice, and I doubt that the reform would affect the position of the insured in any long term beneficial way. I haven’t played the game, but I doubt that it would convince me otherwise.

    So I ain’t playing that game, because I don’t want or need to be convinced that the Illinois Republicans should “take back” Illinois from its citizens. My initial reaction was “I am one of those Liberal Chicago Democrats, and I consider not one of those three words to be a dirty one,” and my second reaction was “If I hear another comment about special interests from the party of Enron and Halliburton, I think I’m gonna vomit.”

    But I don’t know, does a political service company need to serve a particular politics? I’ll leave that up to the political service companies. Seems like an open question to me. A game rhetoric company that serves many sides of the political spectrum could be theoretically interesting if it were able to avoid alienating multiple constituencies simultaneously, which would be a difficult feat.

  21. David Parry Says:

    Ian, actually I was in no way saying game developers should work only for those whose ethical agendas I support. I am more than willing to accept that any ethics I have now are provisional, tenative and mine alone. But I do think that anybody/everybody should only work in ways that they find ethical. Thus my initial (and still remaining) questions about the choices made in developing the game. If game developers are to be taken seriously for their art work(s) it seems that the authors/creators should take the work seriously as well. I am not sure I can picture Dave Eggers selling one of his stories for use by a conservative political orginization, or the reverse William Safire selling a column to be used for a liberal agenda.

  22. Douglas Says:

    Maybe I’m coming to this debate late…

    But: I think some of you are talking pure politics, and others are taking a career-oriented standpoint. I can say a few things, and forgive me if I’m not as grandeloiquent as many I’ve read (and you all seem quite intelligent and informed, really…) BUT:

    Our govenor needs to change the fifth year college student MAP grants… I’m a poet who paid his own way through Loyola U. by working full time as an electrician & simply could not make it in 4 years.

    I say let lower class people get an education & have a voice- even if it takes them longer than 4 years! THIS is what state funding is for, not te people who can go to a school and do it in four years!

    Game developers, well, didn’t Bill Hicks (my beloved & angry satirist) play the David Letterman show many (9) times before he was banned?

    As artists we all have to do what we have to for attention; I’m a poet who just moved to NY from Chicago, so even tho I’m not there this conversation is still important to me.

    Does this relate? I think other issues are important, and impact many peoples’ lives in ways you don’t expect. I see education reform (in action) as an indicator of a lack of “big-government” influence…. ie against the arms industry & war & creating jingoistic automatons willing to serve… I respect our troops but we’re being destroyed en masse by mass media.

    So its really nopt up to you game designers. Its all about education. Vote Right.

    I think health care is rather important too, especially in ILL– I think Blvch is right about Canadian drugs.

    George Ryan was a typical Illinois mobster, by the way. Anyone who thinks he did any good should talk to his cabinet & see what they told him. Any govenor would have done the same… its all politics: he didn’t care about anyone on death row, only his career. Opportune timing.

    But still a JUST move– like I said, I’m here in NYC now, and nobody can tell stories about cops like I can…

    Take it with a grain of salt. Please.


  23. Douglas Says:

    By the way, I think you’re all a bunch of all-too-well informed dweebs.

    Stop trying to impress one another with your vocabularies & say something worthwhile,


    You are all middle America, according to demogaphics, whether you like it or not. Realize you’re just numbers– not “Matrix,” not creativity, just a hrd of consumers…

  24. nick Says:

    There’s a nice writeup about Take Back Illinois on Collision Detection. As I was arguing when talking with Scott and Talan this weekend, a simulation has a logic to it (about the workings of policy, the country, and the economy) that makes a more substantial argument than a sound byte does. Whether you agree with that logic or not, it is exposed more clearly, and made more of a suitable topic for discussion, than when something is mentioned vaguely in a speech or a TV spot.

    This has been on my mind since I’ve recently been replaying an early (1985) influential game of this sort, also with a persuasive agenda although focused on a hypothetical policy and a fictional future city.

    Whether this quality of a simulation is an argument for partisan or persuasive gaming per se is another question. You might also think to have to parties who are negotiating about a law sit down and model simulations of each other’s views about the effects of a policy. If you can build a model that they agree represents their views, you understand those views pretty well and are in a position to discuss where and how you disagree, and how to move forward.

  25. Ian Bogost Says:

    Nick: You might also think to have to parties who are negotiating about a law sit down and model simulations of each other’s views about the effects of a policy.

    I have been thinking about this too for some time, although in a slightly different way: at the local level, what if parties had building blocks to model different policy positions for the purposes of debate? This is a project I may start working on sometime soon.

    I have two more political games coming out in the next two days, then two more in the next two weeks. So, I’ll look forward to seeing how these other games are received.

  26. Ian Bogost Says:

    Just a note that the second sub-game, about public education reform, is now available in the game.

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