iPad Game Run For President Teaches Kids About the Election Process

Geek Culture

Election: Run For President (outcome)Election: Run For President (outcome)

Election: Run For President lets players re-play past U.S. Presidential elections

The second half of the U.S. Presidential campaign season gets underway this week with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. The weather-challenged GOP will attempt to rally followers with a few days of politically charged speeches, culminating in the official presentation of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as running mates for the nation’s highest office. After the Democrats get their turn in the limelight next week, celebrating the past four years of Barack Obama and Joe Biden with their own speeches, the race for the White House will make its final turn toward November.

Just in time for this stretch run comes a new iPad game that teaches kids about the election process. Mixing politics with Oregon Trail and a dash of Risk, Digomind Productions’ Election: Run For President is an simulation game to replay past and current U.S. Presidential elections. Players compete alone or head-to-head as election strategists to try and improve or overcome past results.

Election: Run For President sets the stage one year before America votes to elect its next president. The players take on the role of campaign manager, guiding the candidate through a 12-month strategy that includes fundraising, baby-kissing events, and the selection of a Vice-Presidential running mate. The game offers a realistic simulation mode — which features real candidates competing for states as they leaned in that point in history — or a fantasy mode, where you can run as any candidate you like in different eras.

Each turn, players spend a single fundraiser card, multiple campaign cards, or exchange cards for a new stack of three. Fundraising is more successful in big states you already control and haven’t yet asked for money. Campaign activities are more effective if they are well-funded to match their reach. There are also random events that may impact either fundraising or state leanings.

Kevin and Mark Williams, co-creators of Election: Run For President, credit such famous titles as Ticket to Ride, Small World and Settlers of Catan for inspiring their game. “We wanted the game to play well for elementary school kids,” says Kevin Williams of the game mechanics. “We were mindful of making a game that didn’t have a heaping pile of rules, banking on the human element to make the game unpredictable.”

Although voter turnout for the last Presidential ballot in 2008 reached 57%, higher than any election since the 1960s, much of that boost at the polls was credited to an energized youth vote. That group of young voters is not expected to participate in high numbers this fall, and there are growing concerns that the divisiveness of contemporary politics will breed a new generation of voter apathy. Teaching kids about the election process early will remove at least one barrier to early political engagement and can only help revive interest in voting.

“We may be aiming high,” says Williams, “but we feel our game provides a great jumping off point for classroom discussions, parents and their kids regarding how our President gets elected.”

While the game play doesn’t yet go deep into the nuances of the federal elections, Election: Run For President does lay the groundwork to understand elections from the candidate’s perspective. It is certainly enough to give the voters of tomorrow an appreciation for the news they will be hearing over the next few months.

Before play-testing the game, I asked some tweens how a President gets elected. This group of 8-to-12-year-olds came to the game knowing that votes were involved, but most could not explain how the states tallied those votes to determine the winner. They also couldn’t articulate any strategy for how a candidate went about persuading and engaging voters. After playing the game a few rounds, these kids not only were able to grasp how the electoral college works but they enjoyed trying to win the race.

Williams concurs with my experiment: “I have witnessed many times how our game gives people who play it a very clear understanding of how the electoral college system works. It shines a light on why the candidates pour so much time, energy, and resources into a few key states while ignoring less valuable states like Montana and North Dakota.”

There are winning strategies in Election: Run For President that will overcome both history and bad luck. Being able to swing states to your side early can cut into the fundraising effectiveness of your opponent, and recognizing which campaign actions are going to have limited impact can prompt timely redraws to get new cards. There are also some cues that are not as obvious, such as the details in the state descriptions that suggest whether a card will be effective. At some point in the future, the Williams brothers will introduce polling options, to allow players to get more precise feedback on how their candidate is doing.

“We didn’t want these variables to be transparent because we feel real elections are a bit hazy,” explains Williams. “Obama campaigns in Iowa, and the impact is not always plainly obvious.”

Election: Run For PresidentElection: Run For President

This iPad simulation game lets players gladhand, kiss babies, and balance the ticket en route to victory in November.

The initial release of Election: Run For President offers the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, with expansion modules to add 2004, 2000 and 1960. An update this week will add GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan (“We didn’t see that one coming when we released the app last spring,” says Williams) as the developers intend to stay current with the 2012 election as it progresses.

The long-term goal is to provide simulations for all 57 Presidential elections, preserving the context of their campaign environments. It is a vision that poses some programming challenges for the Williams brothers. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was the first Republican election in a campaign that earned less than 40 percent of the popular vote and sparked a secession movement. Lincoln needed only 152 electoral votes to win (he got 180), a far cry from the 270 needed today.

“I would expect Reagan-Mondale to come first, specifically because it was such a monster landslide,” explains Williams. “The fun historical challenge becomes can you dominate like Reagan did, or can you win as Mondale in one of the worst historical loses ever?”

“My dream for Election: Run for President is to develop it to a point where kids remember it as fondly as I remember Oregon Trail. It’s fun, but it is educational at the same time.

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