Sunday, 18 November 2007

Game For A Laugh

As an entertainment medium, computer games don't do a lot for me. I've always been far more interested in the technology behind the game, and the techniques that go into implementing it, than in playing the actual games.

Until now, however, I've never I've never really needed to wonder about the motivations of the folks who make or commission the games - the technical challenges, the opportunity to make something that millions of people will enjoy and, when you get right down to it, pots of cash have always seemed like good, honest reasons to me.

And then I read this bizarre story in the Daily Mail. Apparently, the bods at PlayGen have dreamed up a game called SeriousPolicy, based around British Politics and featuring such awe inspiring characters as Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Des Brown, Alastair Darling and David Cammeron.

Gosh, and to think I'd never seen them as all-action heros - more like no-action zeros, in fact. Sadly, there's no sign of the pneumatic Jacqui Smith running around in hotpants and spay-on T-shirt, but then it's not that kind of game. No, the gist of this little romp is for the player to win Treasury for a new policy - a new multi-million pound fighter plane for the RAF.

Already I can hardly contain my excitement, but it gets better. According to PlayGen's website, players "can get advice from Tony Blair, get on Alistair Darling's nerves, or get congratulated by the PM. Along the way you wander through a virtual Members’ Lobby, pop into a simulated Treasury and are summoned to a stunningly realistic digital Number 10. A Paris Hilton look-alike provides some light relief and the MC has more than a passing resemblance to Keira Knightly."

Apparently, the game aims to "demonstrate how political processes and decision making can be brought to life in a fun and interesting way through a virtual world, and highlight to players, whether they be citizens or policy makers, the importance of public engagement in the decision-making process."

Fun?? Interesting?? If they think that's fun and interesting, I can't wait to see their next blockbuster - "watch paint dry on a stunningly realistic digital wall, complete with authentic brush marks," perhaps.

No doubt the ideas behind this software - having read the above I hesitate to call it a game - are sound. A lethargic, cynical detachment from the political process really is rife, particularly amongst younger people, and if something isn't done about it we're going to be in real trouble. But this tosh is not the answer, not least because it's not realistic.

You see, the reason that folks are lethargic and cynical about the political process is because they see it on TV all the time, and those few who have learned to read despite the best efforts of the education system read about it in the papers, too. And what they see is a bunch of scheming, devious, dishonest egomaniacs whose interest in the political process comes a very poor second to their interest in furthering their personal or party political ends.

They have seen the highest office in the land descend into an orgy of spin and misinformation under Tony Blair's leadership, only for Gordon Brown-Trousers to plunge it even further into ignominy and contempt within weeks of taking over the top job. We can all see through the lies and deceptions, and they leave us with no reason to take an interest in the political process for, under Labour rule, we know there is very little in it for us except ever-increasing taxation and regulation. Our function is to do as we're told, while out leaders do as they like.

Nor do I expect things would improve greatly if Crazy Cammeron were to magically become PM in the near future. Certainly, under his leadership, the Conservatives are doing better than they have for years, but that's not really his doing. Just a few weeks ago, his position as Tory leader looked increasingly precarious, and, although his performance has improved slightly of late, it hasn't improved enough to explain his party's higher profile.

No, the credit for that miraculous resurrection must lie firmly with Gordon Brown-Trousers. Having first bottled out of an early general election and then lied about the EU Reform Treaty in the space of a few days, he has clearly demonstrated that, no matter how crap the opposition may be, it's better than him.

Transforming the Tories from a dead horse to the clear favourite was an incredible accomplishment, and I'm sure Crazy Cammeron appreciates the Prime Minister's efforts, but it's not the stuff of computer games, not even the long-drawn-out strategy games that take weeks to play for folks who really do follow championship paint-drying.

Now, if you really want to engage younger people in a political game (and there's a school of thought that says all politics is just a game) it needs to resonate with the players' views on politicians. Something simple yet viciously satisfying should do the trick - like whacking a party leader with a custard pie every time they tell a lie, or flushing Gordon Brown-Trousers down the lav every time he lays his hands on your pension.

The potential is endless, and I bet any game along those lines would do far better than a political simulation. Any coders feel up to the challenge?

Billy Seggars.

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