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My Slate article on the “Howard Dean online game”

To help try and recruit volunteers to go to Iowa, Howard Dean’s campaign recently released what is surely a campaign-year first: Their own online video game. Go to The Dean For America Game, and you can play a simulation of the subtle joys of tramping across frozen-ass Iowa trying to get out the vote.

Slate asked me to write a piece about the game, to sort of follow up my 2002 essay on how Flash games have become the latest tools for political commentary. The full Dean piece is online here, but here’s an excerpt:

In Slate last month, Steven Johnson wondered why U.S. politics had never been the subject of a simulation game. He suggested it’s because politicking is too complex to be captured in a game’s artificial intelligence. That’s certainly true of the stuff that happens on K Street; it’d be pretty hard to sim a carbon-emissions-quota lobbying effort.

But Iowa-style campaigning? That’s just a numbers game—flooding the state with as many volunteers as you can. It’s hard, but it ain’t rocket science. Indeed, getting out the vote is the closest that politics comes to pure algorithmic physics: If your opponent has X volunteers and you have X+10, then you win. A political game hits with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but that’s the point; like a political cartoon, its simplicity tries to clarify the issues.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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