November 3, 2004

101 Clicks

by Andrew Stern · , 4:52 pm

I’m suddenly inspired to make one of those new political video games. In it, you click on young apathetic voters lazing on their couches to get off their butts and vote. You click to dial phone numbers to call friends who normally wouldn’t vote in an election, and manage to get them to vote too. At a cafe and dinner table you are seated in front of family and friends who normally vote for their pocketbook, and you click as fast as you can to express your passion to vote for the larger issues.

You click and click, and you make progress — your energy actually motivates many of those apathetic voters to vote! Your passion actually convinces reasonable people to change their votes for the first time in decades! You think you’re going to win!

But then you find out, for every 100 apathetic voters that vote your way, 101 other apathetic voters somehow spring up, who vote the other way. For every 100 votes your candidate gets, the other candidate gets 101 votes. For every 100 clicks you make, you discover some other player somewhere has made 101 clicks. (Or maybe your mouse button is broken by now.)

Finally, your clicking isn’t channeled into affecting voters, but instead turns into frantic clicks on your television remote control, pathetically seeking a TV channel that will tell you your candidate has enough votes to win the election. You click and click and click, but you come up short.

The point of this political game is not that you shouldn’t play. Rather, you realize you need a new interface that gives you more agency.

8 Responses to “101 Clicks”

  1. nick Says:

    Or, you click and click in your apartment building, your university, your neighborhood, working for days, walking door to door with volunteers who came down from the Bronx, one of whom lost a son in the World Trade Center, you talk to a registered Republican in your building who tells you that she thinks anyone who votes for Bush has to be crazy, you talk calmly about politics and the importance of the election with an undecided voter who opposes Bush but has withdrawn from political discussions because of how angry they are, your fellow Nader voters from four years ago all seem to be actively working with you, you stand at the polls, reassuring a woman who arrives almost in tears after she went to the wrong polling place and cast a provisional ballot and saw it torn up, watching a man who looks to be in his 80s struggle down the street on a walker to the polling place – he just got out of the hospital, says his daughter, who is with him, and he hoarsely shouts “I’m voting for Kerry!” and sits to take a rest and stands and goes in to vote – seeing students and workers and professionals and even an interactive fiction author go to vote – and 80% of your city votes to change the country’s course and to try to correct our mistakes, and your state votes for change, and you watch with dismay as across the rest of the land the overwhelming hope of your friends, fellow students, and neighbors meets a wave of uncertainty, and fear, and even hatred, that cannot be overcome – this time.

  2. michael Says:

    Or you click and click your way through arguments, arguments about the non-existence of WMD, arguments about a faltering economy, arguments about unsustainable deficit spending, arguments about a war that has nothing to do with fighting terrorism or increasing security, clicking clicking clicking, hoping that people will vote their self interest… only to discover that the desire to legislate morality, coupled with a religiously motivated hatred of people different than themselves, is more powerful than self-interest.

    The point of this game is to experience profound alienation. At the end you select whether you wait in vindictive hope, or in fear, that people will get the government they deserve.

  3. noah Says:

    I think the worry that many have, now that the “results” are in, is that significant numbers of people who thought they were voting were actually playing a computer game instead. This has the potential to happen when you use non-recountable and easily tampered with electronic voting machines. As today’s entry on has it, “The major newspapers actually recounted all the votes in Florida last time. Maybe this year’s project should be looking at the exit polls. If there are discrepancies between the exit polls and the final results in touch-screen counties but not in paper-ballot counties, that would be a signal.” The author of, by the way, recently revealed himself. Rather than the long-time political operative some expected, he’s Andrew Tanenbaum, of MINIX fame.

  4. Marie-Laure Says:

    How about a game that poses a serious moral dilemma: You work hard for a candidate because you sincerely believe that he is the better choice for humanity; but for every 100 voters you recruit, the other side recruits 101. Your choices are: to lose the game, or to slash the tires of the cars your opponent’s recruits so they won’t make it to the polls in time. This is basically the dilemma posed in “Crime and Punishment” by Doestoevsky.

  5. scott Says:

    In retrospect, the razors might have been the way to go. Evangelical buses across the country stuck in church parking lots with flat tires. I suppose the ethics would have been dicey, and there’s the risk of arrest. But when you’re playing with Karl Rove, you gotta play dirty. Actually, there’s a good assignment for game developers, a “Beat Karl Rove” simulation. You’ve got plenty of time to develop it, and to develop the next generation of political strategists.

  6. Erik C Says:

    or, you have pictures sent to you of the next generation of presidential hopefuls. Their facial features are mapped to a personality strengths and weaknesses image database (created by surveying audience responses to pictures of politicians). You musto find and groom the dumbest politician cunning enough to win once you mate them with Bush or Clinton genes and the more incompetent or corrupt decisions you make the more votes you get. Every so often you can hit the ‘God just told me’ or the ‘We need to invade someone for their own good’ button but you can only do so at the right time.
    Interestingly, some are suggesting Jeb Bush (despite his current wishes) may run against Hillary in 2008. If so, imagine the polarisation you have now and double it.

    Snappy titles appreciated.

  7. zombiegluesniffer Says:

    or don’t vote. to start out with, i don’t think crime and punishment belongs in a discussion about electing a presidential candidate. raskolnikov is closer to a nihilist. he rejects politics and morality. the prostitute sonya is the moral character in the story, a suffering woman. she’s the one who tells raskolnikov to stand at the cross-roads, bow down, and kiss the earth which he has defiled. that’s a much bigger picture than utilitarianism.
    i live in the states where republicans in just 30 years spent over 3 billion on thinktanks to impose an effective ideology. it’s a disaster for democracy and free-thinking. our sonya is condoleeza rice. chevron named an oil tanker after her. suck the gaspump.
    what to do apathetic voters- american idol style voting. you can’t add more agency than that. hollywood has agents. sit at home/ vote on the phone.
    no time to read about radical subjectivity (practice of everyday life by vaneigem).
    media blitz. same old confidence man.
    still throwing votes into the mississippi river.

  8. andrew Says:

    Yeah, a colleague at work has been pushing to start a movement to replace the primaries and electoral college with the American Idol voting mechanism — that would occur live during the debates. You’d start out with a broad array of candidates, and each debate episode one candidate would be eliminated by popular telephone button vote… That certainly would give my clicks more agency. (But it would probably be a reality show Fox would not want to air.)

    If you’re looking for ideas, solutions, I’d like to throw a plug in for a recent book by one of my favorite authors, Nicholson Baker, called Checkpoint (NYTimes review here). Came out a couple months before the election, great fun. (Baker’s first book, The Mezzanine, is one of my all-time favorite non-linear narratives.)

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