With just 42 days left until the United States chooses its 44th President, it is vital that the electorate is well versed in the key issues affecting the country.
Although many cultural commentators bemoan the lack of political engagement in the general population, and both the Democrat and Republican campaigns have condemned video games as a negative influence on the young, the fact is that gamers have a significant advantage in understanding the complexities of the Presidency. By playing games across a wide spectrum of genres, a gamer can experience first hand the tough decisions and burning questions that will test the leader of the free world.
Can the same be said for the candidates themselves? Far from condemning video gaming, McCain and Obama would do well to embrace gaming culture in the hope that some of our collective wisdom will rub off.
This will not be easy. Obama will have to flipflop on numerous anti-games speeches, while McCain must contend with long hours of advisors patiently re-explaining that a 'computy-game' is a sort of electric coconut shy or bagatelle.
With access to the right games, however, both candidates can learn a great deal. Lets take a look at some of the key issues dividing the McCain and Obama camps, and some of the games that can help shine some much needed light upon them.
Experience to lead:
Key games: World of Warcraft, Hunting Unlimited 2008
Does 5 years as a POW (and half a lifetime of not wanting to go on about it) qualify a man for the Presidency? How about years working as a lawyer? Many pundits say that the issue of experience is a red herring - that there is no appropriate experience that can be brought to bear on the most powerful job in the world. No previous job can even come close to the skill set required to be the POTUS.
These pundits have clearly never played World of Warcraft.
A president must be prepared to make hard choices when it comes to assembling his or her cabinet. Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretaries of Education,Transportation, Agriculture - those appointed to cabinet-level posts set the political tone for an administration and it is vital that a president considers the talents, aptitudes and connections of all the potential appointees.
In other words, if the Prez can assemble and run a WoW guild, they are good to go. Just make sure not to acquire a mount while in office - this can result in a serious Mark of Honour deficit, as Bill Clinton found out to his cost.
As Moose Hunting is apparently a key issue in Election '08, Hunting Unlimited 2008 could provide the perfect way for a candidate or voter to ground themselves in the basics. Animal lovers may still have to make up stories about blizzards and poor breeding populations to cover up their lack of fireplace-mounted trophies, but at least after playing HU'08 they will be able to bluff convincingly about 'stopping power' and 'Dewlaps'.
Key Games: Missile Command, Civilization, Command & Conquer
Worried that you may not have traveled extensively enough, or had enough experience on the world stage? Unsure how to balance a tanking economy with the need to push onwards into Asia before a rival starts building Pyramids all over the place?
Chillax, just grab a PC and binge on Civilization. Pro tip — get the DOS version. You can run it at double speed in a DOS emulator and it will be like having knowledge injected into your brain, just like in The Matrix.
A few Civ campaigns should be enough for a basic grounding in the subtle nuances of international relations. The tech progress tree might also give a greater understanding of science although beware — if the candidates heed the game's advice too closely, Wall Street may reel from the unexpected national investment in Pottery and Burial Rituals.
A Civ player quickly learns the importance of a stable economy to a war effort. It's no good throwing phalanx after phalanx at a conquered land if your advisors are telling you to build more granaries, after all. Better to focus on diplomacy, and maybe build a colossus or two to keep the plebes happy back home.
If diplomacy fails - or is nudged into failure in the name of conquest - the President needs to be prepared for the worst. The Command and Conquer series will teach even the most tin-eared would be strategist the basics of resource management and how it is not a good idea to go to war on more than one front.
And if conventional warfare is not enough? Missile Command is still the greatest depiction in any media of the terrible endgame of nuclear war. The inevitability of destruction, the loss of entire cities beneath the terrifying onslaught of ICBMs and — above all else — the need to order extra trackball lube for the NORAD Command Centre as a day one priority.
Key games: Theme Hospital, Trauma Center: Under The Knife
Trauma Centre is a quick way to get down n' dirty with the sharp end of surgery while Theme Hospital should be used as a basic training tool for anyone concerned with the administrative side medicine - how else can one learn to manage a Bloaty Head pandemic or cope with the budgetary demands of a Hairyitis outbreak?
After playing these games candidates may see the need not only for socialized public health care, but an incentivized 'mission based' performance system for surgical staff. They may also make a case for least tripling the Federal research into a cure for Gangliated Utrophin Immuno Latency Toxin.
Key games: Bioshock, Resident Evil
Stem cell research and the manipulation of the human genome may be presented in the Mainstream Media as a controversial, nuanced subject but, as any half-serious gamer knows, there are only two possibilities when you start tweaking DNA - superhuman abilities or rampaging mutant hordes.
Forget gene therapy or regrowing limbs or any of that positive health benefits stuff. Equally, put aside any thought of ethical complications, the sanctity of life, eugenics, yadda yadda yadda. This is the coin, and here are the two available sides: Superpowers, or Zombie Holocaust.
Happily, once again, gaming cuts through the issues and shows a clear plan of action. No matter how stringent the ethical guidelines or how strictly monitored the research, video games show us that there will always be some shadowy multinational corporation creating their own private army of deathless gene-freaks.
The plan, therefore, is simple - develop superpowers to fight the zombies. What could go wrong?
Key games: Black & White, Too Human
For the purposes of becoming president of the USA, God definitely exists. It is essentially impossible for an Atheist or Agnostic to sit in the Oval Office and a good grounding in basic theology is essential for anyone taking part in the election.
Luckily, video games are all about the God. Most video game characters do not have the luxury of doubt on matters spiritual - the evidence for the e xistence of a supreme being or beings is just too great.
There is of course a whole genre of God Games - thanks to Black and White we know that not only does God exists, but that He is A Huge Gorilla Thing That Chucks Boulders Around. Not only does the Lord intervene in mortal affairs, He is liable to do so via the medium of lightning and singed buttocks.
If Too Human has taught us anything (apart from the obvious lessons about counting unhatched chickens, marketing-wise) it is that God is not just great - he is great at kicking arse. Providing he can work out the controls and level up quickly enough.
Evolution versus Intelligent Design:
Once again, games show their ability to end a controversy by pouring oil on the troubled waters of debate. Spore can show the most devout creationist that the mechanisms of evolution can work. Conversely, a dyed-in-the-wool evolutionist would still have to concede that things work out a lot better when there is a mouse-wielding Intelligent Designer in the background.
Spore means that schools no longer have to merely teach the controversy - they can play it. Just don't mention the, er, more creative Spore creatures - poly-cocked bollock goblins do not play well in the flyover states and could seriously harm a candidate's chances with the moral majority.
Energy and Climate Change:
Key games: Carmageddon, SSX Tricky
As we all know, Peak Oil is coming and will soon plunge the world into a Mad Max-style apocalypse where central casting punks joust from within custom deathmobiles. This is accepted scientific fact - what is needed is some way of making this scenario seem more real.
Carmageddon is perhaps best viewed not as a trashy Death Race 2000 ripoff, but as an interactive documentary about the effects of the energy crisis. Even better, the game's title would look great on a Fox News ticker.
On the other hand - maybe its not all bad? A successful president may have to accept the inevitability of climate disaster and accentuate the positive. What better way to welcome a new Ice Age than on the back of a snowboard? The world may be turning into a snow cone, but that's no reason not to catch some mad air.