The Political Machine 2016

Game review by
JK Sooja, Common Sense Media
The Political Machine 2016 Game Poster Image
Easy-to-play, fun-to-learn presidential campaign sim.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids can learn all about presidential campaigns and the political process. By running as and against real (or made-up) candidates, kids will set up outreach centers, give interviews, react to polls, and give speeches on various issues, such as gun control, marijuana legalization, or fiscal responsibility. As a simulation game made for the 2016 presidential election, many of the issues are of that time period, such as the Iranian nuclear deal, Hillary's emails, and NSA surveillance. Kids can manage campaigns of different lengths and play around with various campaign strategies, such as focusing on advertising and speeches or on fundraising and awareness. The Political Machine 2016 gets kids interested in politics in a clever, entertaining way that could make them more politically active later in life.

Positive Messages

Positive, negative campaigns can be run. Both strategies are educational.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Candidates can be positive, negative. While candidates' overall appearances matter in general sense of likability, race, gender don't matter.    

Ease of Play

Very easy to pick up, play. Hovering over everything will tell you what it is, its stats, how much it's costing you (whether it is), and so on. A decent tutorial, official wiki also help. 

Violence

While there's no violence, it's referenced when discussing issues such as #BlackLivesMatter, ISIS, and violence in video games.

Sex

No sex in game but occasional reference to real-world events; suggestion of a "scandal" of sorts can also threaten your campaign.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mentions of drug legalization can come up in campaigns.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Political Machine 2016 is a downloadable presidential-campaign-strategy simulation game that teaches players about the political system, campaign management, the electoral college, and how one goes about winning votes. Players choose real 2016 presidential candidates to play as and run against (only Democratic or Republican, no Independent), but players can also customize their own characters. After choosing candidates, players then must align themselves for or against any number of current and entrenched issues, such as gun control, immigration, global warming, human trafficking, and gay marriage. Will you choose to run a fair and respectful campaign? Or will you choose to run smear ads and attack your opponent's weaknesses? There's no violence or sex or language, but some of the current 2016 issues do reference violence, as in when discussing ISIS or #BlackLivesMatter. There are also mentions of issues such as marijuana legalization, but that's as far as it goes related to drugs. Though the game is recommended for ages 10 and up, many of the issues such as support for Israel or big government may be a little confusing for younger players. Parents should be wary of online multiplayer, as it includes lobby chat and no restrictions on language.      

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What's it about?

In THE POLITICAL MACHINE 2016, players begin by choosing their candidates and opponents, real or fake, and choose a 21-, 26-, 41-, or 52-week-long campaign, where each week is one turn. After choosing their candidate's positions on various issues such as gay marriage or drone warfare, players take turns deciding how best to spend their action points (stamina). The main screen is a map of the United States, with some states already colored blue, others red. In a turn, you can build campaign headquarters, an outreach center, or consulting offices. You can give a speech, put out an advertisement, or try to win endorsements. You can even do television interviews, such as on 60 Minutes, recruit activists, or hold a fundraiser. Candidates will need to do these various actions to increase states' awareness of them, sway undecideds, and raise funds to maintain and expand existing campaign infrastructures. 

Is it any good?

This political simulation is very easy to pick up, especially as a family title. It's colorful, cartoonish, and playful, despite some of the sensitive issues covered. Campaigns don't take very long, and it's fun to experiment with running vastly different campaigns against vastly different opponents. Surprisingly customizable character creation and game creation also up the replay value. The game's interface is intuitive and clean, and anywhere you click, useful information pops up. As a wonderful primer for this year's presidential election and the polemics dominating the debates, the game encourages learning about all the issues, from big government to the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. For some, the lighthearted tone may seem to trivialize sensitive topics, but each issue is fairly and equally presented from both sides of the aisle. Players can also play against their peers or against their parents. It's easy to set up a private match or join public matches, although the latter does open up players to offensive language, and it's not uncommon to encounter public matches with inappropriate titles. Hopefully, the next iteration of the game in 2020 will add debates and the option to run as an Independent, but for kids interested in the mechanics of government, The Political Machine 2016 provides a fun entry into the world of politics.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficulties of managing a presidential campaign. What are the hardest aspects? Did you run a dirty campaign? How did that feel? If not, when did you feel tempted to smear your opponent?

  • What issues do you care about? Was it difficult prioritizing some issues over others? 

  • What did you learn about the political process? The electoral college? Are you let down by any of it? Excited by any of it?

Game details

  • Platforms: Windows
  • Subjects: Social Studies: citizenship, government, power structures, the economy
  • Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: applying information, collecting data, decision-making, strategy
    Responsibility & Ethics: fiscal responsibility, integrity, learning from consequences
  • Price: $7.49
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Available online? Available online
  • Developer: Stardock
  • Release date: February 4, 2016
  • Genre: Strategy
  • ESRB rating: E10+ for Drug Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violent References.

For kids who love simulations

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