By Tim Gruver
Northwest Asian Weekly
This November, voters across the country will be casting their ballot for the next U.S. president, though few will ever experience life on the campaign trail. Thanks to one team of indie game developers, gamers can run for office themselves in the world of “Political Animals,” a game that dares to ask whether great leaders can always be good political leaders.
Developed by Philippines-based PC game studio, Squeaky Wheel, and published by Positech Games, “Political Animals” is an election simulation game that explores the challenges of the electoral process. In it, players control a variety of cartoon animals, from elephants to eagles, running for public office as a part of the barnyard that Squeaky Wheel art director Ryan Sumo imagines politics to often be.
“Politics is kinda crazy, and we wanted players to experience that in a game,” said Sumo. “We want players to find out how incorruptible they really are.”
Politics has been one of Sumo’s passions for much of his adult life. As a fan of such politically charged shows like “VEEP” and “Parks & Recreation,” Sumo wanted to make a game that reflected the serious and silly sides of the political process.
The artist behind such critically-acclaimed games like “Prison Architect” and “Spacechem,” Sumo has spent the past 10 years making smartphone titles for Nokia and Android. While multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBAS) like “DOTA” or “League of Legends” dominate the Philippine game industry, Sumo and his team wanted to make a game that resonated with voters during the presidential election year.
Candidates are fully customizable with good and bad traits to choose from. While one candidate may be great at campaigning, he or she might also be a poor fundraiser.
“Political Animals” is designed for players to complete within one to two hours, and come back again for a different experience.
“The older we get, the less time we have to play games,” Sumo said. “We wanted to make something you could just pick up and put down and scratch that itch to play something.”
The game will feature eight maps at launch with each of them loosely based on real countries, including Japan, Germany, Canada, the United States, and the UK. From map to map, players will follow the same goals of campaigning, raising money, and engaging with the press to boost their polls.
While “Political Animals” is not based on the politics of his native country, Sumo wanted the game to be a welcoming way to introduce gamers to the problems of politics at large.
“Philippine politics is more like a carnival atmosphere, a little wild,” Sumo said. “Candidates are expected to sing and dance, entertain voters, but we wanted to make it more personal.”
As a game that Sumo described as “The Sims” meets George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” players are frequently made to face the kinds of serious choices that politicians often make.
For example, players may be approached by a constituent with a loved one in the hospital who desperately needs help to pay their medical bills. Players then have to decide whether to help them and receive positive publicity and spend money their campaign may not have.
In another instance, a reporter could be publishing false stories about the player’s candidate. You could simply ignore them, or you could make them “disappear” forever and risk having to cover up a scandal.
Running for office can be very different from holding it, however, and Sumo hopes “Political Animals” teaches people about the way politics can ultimately change society.
“It’s super different to be in power than trying to gain power,” Sumo said. “I want people to question themselves, and at the end of the day to realize, I’m not such a good person after all.”
Squeaky Wheel is planning on launching “Political Animals” this October on Steam for PC.
Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.