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This DC insider wants to turn politics into a videogame — ‘Imagine an arch-conservative in San Francisco, or Nancy Pelosi in Mississippi’

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By Jeremy Binckes

If the relentless news cycles of recent years have soured you to the inner workings of the political landscape and made you feel as though nothing else crazy could happen, maybe it is just time to experience it yourself.

A videogame that is seeking funding on Kickstarter is hoping to create real-world scenarios for keyboard politicos. The game is called “Political Arena,” and tries to give a SimCity approach to running a political campaign, complete with 21st-century pitfalls.

The game is the brainchild of Eliot Nelson, a Washington-based journalist who wrote “The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing, and Sometimes Hilarious Government” in 2016. While his book sough to teach readers about the inner working of government, he promises the videogame is not an educational endeavor.

“There’s not a single lesson in it,” Nelson told MarketWatch.

Players can choose their own political characters and develop a career, moving up the ladder and avoiding pitfalls of all shapes and sizes. The game will also feature backroom deals and talking to the press — attempts to work their characters’ way out of trouble or to forge a path ahead.

“Politics is thrilling and [most people] haven’t had a chance to be in it, or in the media cycles” Nelson said, while calling the game something that he has long wanted to play. “It’s an idea I had for quite a while, but after speaking to people in video games and politics, I realized it wasn’t the craziest thing in the world.” 

Nelson said he thinks of the game as a cross between the classic Electronic Arts Inc. /zigman2/quotes/206954087/composite EA +0.0079% simulation game “SimCity,” and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/204008930/composite TTWO +1.76% “NBA 2K” series.

“Politics is almost unique in all corners about how obscure it is from public view,” he said. “That makes news a sort of [sports] highlight reel.” 

Perhaps rolling one’s eyes at a politics-is-sports analogy is fair, but the game also has political input from Jess McIntosh, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and former vice president of communications for EMILY’s List. On the tech side, designers include alumni from “Star Wars” and “The Walking Dead” videogame series.  

“Folks on the inside of politics tend to not know how to code,” Nelson said. “Folks who are talented software developers and engineers don’t have politics.” 

Having politicos help craft the process does have its advantages, though. There’s a knowledge of the playbook that is sometimes used to get out of scandals. And there are plenty of those. 

The game’s artificial intelligence forces the player to deal with unexpected road blocks. For example, a political ally has said something stupid; how do you react? “How you respond is tied to the background, and how you respond will yield different results.” The game offers a realm of possibilities for someone wanting to forge a traditional path, re-run old campaigns or go completely outside-the-box. 

“Who doesn’t want to to fulfill the totally random political what-ifs that exist in their head,” Nelson said. “Imagine an arch-conservative in San Francisco, or Nancy Pelosi in Mississippi.” 

Far-fetched ideas may be interesting, but to a politics junkie, it offers an intriguing what if: “What’s better than playing with a Donald Trump-type character, but with more discipline?”

“The game is a vivid recreation of an engrossing thing,” Nelson said. “And the more times you’ll play, the more you’ll want to be in it.” 

The Kickstarter campaign is looking for $100,000 by to fund the project, which will be released first on Steam, or other platforms. 

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