iCivics, a nonprofit founded by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has released an updated version of her campaign simulator game Win the White House, one of nineteen games in her iCivics suite, for the 2016 election. The game was first released in 2012 and is designed for grades four through 12. The game tasks players with raising funds, poling voters, conducting media campaigns and making personal appearances to garner electoral support. The update includes tablet and mobile compatibility, more player customization and an expanded participation in the election primaries.
Others iCivics games include Do I Have a Right?, which simulates the management and cases of a constitutional law firm, and Do I Have a Right? Bill of Rights Edition. The three games aim to promote student engagement with the law and political process. According to the New York Times, students have played through Win the White House 250,000 times in March alone, and iCivics claims that students played its games 3.2 million times in 2015.
We gave the game a quick test run to understand how it reflects 2016's electoral process. Playing as Dernald Tromp, a candidate modeled after Donald Trump, we found that the game initially penalized us for choosing inflammatory and divisive statements like "Why are we even working with other countries? America needs no one." instead of the more moderate "We need to hang on to our culture and values, even as we work with other countries" in response to a question about global cooperation and independence.
As players progress to the actual campaign for the election, they accrue votes—270 to triumph—by fundraising, polling constituents and making appearances as their chosen candidates. The voting patterns of states don't necessarily correspond to the voting patterns of real life states, and players are tasked with generating momentum in states to gain funding and electoral votes. We were at first befuddled by how attack ads and speeches work in the game, but we got the hang of it a bit too late. Dernald Tromp lost to candidate Stevens in our second go-round.
The game teaches players about the processes by which candidates conduct a campaign and garner support. It taught us a few things about how states swing back and forth for one or another candidate. Unlike real politics, the campaign deals in binary situations: your statements either help you or they don't. There are few freak outcomes. Our biggest takeaway was learning about the typical sides taken on each issue, i.e. how does the GOP normally talk about energy independence? What do the Democrats usually have to say about global cooperation?
Note: We played the version of Win the White House intended for high school students and above. There are also versions designed for elementary and middle school students.