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About the Story
A dark political nightmare game about Abigail Thoreau, a campaign assistant working to elect her candidate.
"The story is a stream of failures, inadequacies, wrenched assumptions. Nothing you do is going to work out well. So you're never going to express a whole and satisfying Abigail. I suppose that's the point; the game is life in America over the past five years (or going back twenty or more, if you like). A relentless series of blows. It does this very well. Twists of phrase bite; mirrored images echo. It hurts."
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Rock Paper Shotgun
This was supposed to be a brief news post, but once I got started I had to see it through. This is apt. Abigail’s path through this story can take different side streets, but heads in the same general direction. It crosses abuse, heartbreak, death, power, youtube radicalisation, and a lot of introspection. Though it follows the rise of a fictionalised tangerine mega-baby to the seat of American political power, it tells a deeply personal story that’s not really about him at all. And it knows you’re not going into this as blind as Abigail is. [...] There are acres of emotional and social subtext fit into this condensed story, and it hits far too many levels of uncomfortable reality to be taken lightly.
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“American Election” might be one of the most important indie games that you can experience this year. Dive into a thought-provoking game with intense dialogues as well as cleverly chosen iconography and background music. In the end, it shows that politics should neverever be left out of video games, as we might learn and think more about our world as we would do without playing them.
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The Indie Game Website
How do you make an interactive fiction where your sole mechanic is choice, that is also in itself a musing on the illusion of choice? Well, Greg Buchanan and a whole host of other creatives (Adam Coburn, Seb Peters, Matt Nichols, Cherie Davidson, Anthony Gambino, Tanya DePass & Gary Kings, to be exact) have managed to tackle just that in an hours worth of gameplay. American Election, playable free at itch.io, is a haunting, emotional and immersive experience for this reason, and you really don’t want to miss it.
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The most striking moments of the plot are those that seem smaller and insignificant in the face of the enormity of the historical moment we live. What does Abigail say to Truman before one of his speeches? What do you face on your ex-girlfriend's Facebook page? How did he behave when a stranger appeared in the middle of the road in his youth? What do you say to your father before leaving home? The protagonist, her vision of the world and her own life takes some of the best moments of this experience. Also notable are the scenarios of greatest tension, where we will feel in your skin thanks to the power of prose and small tricks such as the tremble in phrases or the change of music, effects that are effectively used to add drama with few resources.
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A game which takes you through modern American politics in a series of creepingly-awful chapters which slowly and meticulously explore and unpack the vile, violent and angry nature of modern political discourse in the US. This is, honestly, masterful - a wonderful use of a lightly-interactive medium to tell all sorts of stories about the world we live in. It describes itself as “A dark political nightmare game about Abigail Thoreau, a campaign assistant working to elect her candidate”, but, honestly, that doesn’t give you any idea of quite how dark and brilliantly written this is. Play it - it’s vastly more interesting than anything else you’re likely to do in the office today.
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At the heart of American Election is a self-perpetuating cycle of trauma. Whether or not the choices it gives you tangibly affect the outcome is beside the point- each choice makes you complicit in its unfolding and the inevitableness of it all creates a sense of helplessness entirely in keeping with the story. If a generation from now someone asks me what it was like watching the rise of Trump’s America, I might just show them this.
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Number of Reviews: 7
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
My first post after playing through this game was, "I just finished American Election by Greg Buchanan. I need a hug, shower, kittens, & bourbon. I'm not sure if this was "too soon" for me to play this game, or just in time. I can say I've never played a game that made me more uncomfortable and I loved it."
In the days since, I've been mulling this game over and over in my mind. I both hated and loved the position and situations that Buchanan puts you into for this game. I only loved them because of how uncomfortable I felt, which made me deeply appreciate the way his masterful writing was bringing me along for the ride. Even though it was more like my car had been hijacked.
At times, the subtly was a bit ... large handed, and might have felt like digs, but they elicited a chuckle from me, lightening the mood when things might have been getting too heavy. Overall, I didn't mind it. It made it clearer and clearer who inspired this piece.
As someone who's about as far as possible from some of the views displayed here, playing this game felt like slowly sliding into a suit made from okra. The slimy kind. Okra is so gross. How do people even eat that? Anyhow, it also provided a really interesting look into the lives of people who think they're on the side of good, and how many things they turn a blind eye to ... until they either drown or can't deal anymore.
The game focuses on the discomfort, fear, and wrongness of current political situations. Putting the player right in the thick of it. Closer, perhaps, than they'd ever want to be.
I think this is a very important game and experience. It won't leave you mentally scarred, but it will make you think. It might wrap you in an okra suit, it might make you feel frustrated, it might make you even more firm in your convictions. I'm very curious how you'll come out on the other side, and what path your choices will take you down.
This was an interesting piece of interactive fiction. The writing on the prose level is excellent, and despite the topic, I was really engrossed playing it (the music and graphics are excellent). But I have mixed feelings about some of the ideas presented here.
So, this is a story about a loosely fictionalized version of the 2016 US presidential election. The protagonist is Abigail Thoreau, a mixed race lesbian who, for whatever reason, decides to work as a campaign staffer for the analogue of the former US president, here named Truman Glass.
American Election is a story about the narratives we create for ourselves, and the narratives others create for us. The key to the game is the reflective choice: what do you believe, why are you doing this. Because your actual choices have already been decided; Abi is already doing what she’s going to do. But why does she support Glass? Is it about 9/11? Is it about her breakup with her girlfriend, or her falling-out with her father? Is it out of actual ideological support or just to become someone who matters? All of this is about constructing a narrative around Abi's personal history, creating a sense of who she is as a person. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; they’re all self-serving justifications. The narrative Abi creates for herself is implicitly compared with the narrative Glass creates for the American people, and the one he has created privately for himself. All of these stories are self-serving; all contain lies to some extent.
One of the most important scenes to me is when (Spoiler - click to show)Abi visits her deceased father’s house with Glass. Glass is spinning a tale about her father, about how he was a patriotic left-behind American who waves the confederate flag, and then Abi has a choice to just walk away. Abi knew her father as an abusive man, who hated what she became; they ended up cutting each other off. I'm not sure if this is an actual choice or a false choice, or what would have happened if she stayed by his side. But leaving felt like the most narratively coherent thing to do, given the reflective choices I made up to that point.
I feel like the game falls prey to the mythologies surrounding the former president. Glass is a much better, much more polished speaker, and is much more actively ideological. The game psychologizes Glass’s support base too much, falling prey to the conventional wisdom surrounding his seeming success (and of course neglects the role of turnout and voter suppression). It gives too much power to Glass's narrative, and not enough to the complicated mix of factors that lead to any real-life political victory by any party (there was this one xkcd that said that sports reporting is about building narratives from a pseudorandom number generator; the same can be said of politics). In this, the game perpetuates what it seemingly criticizes. But this game is not about data or demographics. It's about stories. It's a mythology, not a history.
There is at least one British-ism I noticed: “hired a boat”, when it probably should be “rented a boat”.
This game is one of the most difficult to rate that I've had in a long time. Not to play, but to rate adequately.
What does a good rating mean? Is it an endorsement? Is it a message that says, 'Hey, I'm sure you'll like this game?" Is it an objective measure of technical skill?
This game is very long, 11 chapters of text that took me over an hour to play. In it, you play one of Trump's campaign staff as you aid him (with an in-game alias of Truman Glass) in getting elected, and the aftermath.
There's been a lot of talk on Twitter in the last weeks about authors appropriating others' stories. As a white able-bodied man, I have written protagonists as female, or disabled, or hispanic, without really thinking about it.
This game goes a bit further, in that the author writes the experience of a queer woman in America with a minority second-generation immigrant background. And these facets are essential to the story. I see in the credits that others were consulted, so it's possible that this is what they were consulted on.
The minority you are is an option, and Polish ancestry is oddly listed along with Hispanic, Black and Indian ancestry. Is this saying that Polish people have similar experiences with POC? Or is it saying that it's immaterial which one you pick? Other details are off; the twin towers attack is described as happening at sunset, when I remember it happening during early hours at school in the West.
What is the story? It portrays the protagonist as divided against herself, constantly experiencing ill effects that are contrary to the ideals of the campaign she works for. It's not a straight-up retelling of Trump, but it's close enough. It veers between painting Trump as a hideous cartoon and glamorizing him as a tough-guy mob boss.
Politics have belonged in Interactive Fiction for decades, almost since the beginning. Infocom even had a game that was just a big anti-Reagan message (A Mind Forever Voyaging). It's a medium especially well suited to political messages.
I don't know if I felt comfortable with this game's messages. Like Trump itself, it stated controversial things (like saying being anti-vaxx and pro-choice have to go together) and then played it off as satire.
I don't endorse this game, except for players who are interested in seeing a take on American politics. I do give it a 4 star rating on my scale, knowing that this will be effectively seen as an endorsement, as it will be fed into the overall average.
-Polish. The game is thoroughly polished, with text transitions, styling, illustrations, and music.
-Interactivity. I am definitely anti-slow text but this was better than most, with fast-forwarding enabled by clicking and a fairly fast speed to begin with. Choices were sometimes clearly not important/not offering real choice, but in general I felt like my choices mattered and they were brought up again in the future.
-Emotion. Well, I felt a large range of emotions playing.
-Descriptiveness. The writing made me feel like I was there.
-Would I play again? This is the star I'm not awarding. I don't really agree with this game, and don't feel like playing again.
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This is version 10 of this page, edited by Greg Buchanan on 13 January 2020 at 4:30am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item