A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that is a cool concept with a frustrating implementation. It's very difficult for kids to understand how the choices they make during the political campaign affect the outcome of the election.
What's it about?
FRONTRUNNER, a political simulation game, gives kids a chance to win a virtual presidential campaign. It boils down campaigning to these elements: selecting which of the 50 states your candidate will spend time in; deciding whether your candidate raises funds, speaks, or rests while in a state; and determining whether to spend money on advertising or grass-roots campaigning.
You start by selecting candidates for election. You can mirror the 2004 George Bush-John Kerry contest, select from historic candidates, or create your own. Then you place the presidential contenders into ideological slots: far right, right-leaning, left-leaning, or far left. Each ideology has an assortment of issues assigned to it ranging from pro-choice abortion rights (far left) to rolling back affirmative action (far right). Candidates choose three issues from their ideology to create their platform.
Is it any good?
Frontrunner's creators have simplified the political process so much that they've lost sight of what makes a good simulation game. Simulations allow kids to learn by seeing the consequences of their choices, but it's very difficult for kids to understand how their choices affect the outcome of the election. Exit polls track many factors, but the game fails to explain how much weight is given to each of these factors. The game also is difficult to control -- you can see what issues are important to a state, but you may have an opportunity to "own" a relevant issue and therefore sway voters.
Perhaps worst of all, much of the simulation is not very true to real life. For example, debates and talk shows are not contests of ideology or even political skill, but instead are confusing Mini games. However, teachers can easily manipulate Frontrunner to foster interesting discussions about use of political funds and how the electoral system works.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about presidential campaigns. Does this game help you understand how political campaigns work? How do you follow campaigns in real life -- online, in newspapers, on the Internet? Do you think the media does a good job of explaining the issues and the candidates' positions? What about the candidates themselves?
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