The National Republican Senatorial Committee just released a weird, anti-Democratic video game featuring ravenous tax-ghouls and a heroic frat-boy elephant. All in all, it’s less amusing than Flappy Bird but way better than that game where you bomb kids in Gaza.
In Giopi: 2014 Mission Majority (play it here), gamers play as a “patriotic elephant” named Giopi (pronounced “G-O-P”) who travels through four dangerous, Mario-esque levels in his (her? its?) quest to win a Republican Senate majority this year. In doing so, Giopi fights ghost-like “Taxers” and ogreish “Mudslingers” while running around in a red headband and a bro-tastic sleeveless shirt. Successful kills produce modern-classic Democratic soundbites such as President Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That.”
To play, gamers must input their Google or Facebook information, or email address, so that Republicans can later ask them for money or encourage them to volunteer for the midterms. “This year’s Republican Senate candidates are the strongest in decades (if not ever), and we want to raise awareness in every possible way,” the NRSC site says. “With that in mind, we are having a bit of fun with our approach.”
While it remains unclear how much the NRSC spent to produce this online game, spokesman Brad Dayspring says he is expecting a return on the investment. “It wasn’t terribly expensive,” he told The Weekly Standard. “This game will ultimately be revenue positive. It’s going to generate revenue (especially when the merchandizing is factored in).”
This is hardly the first time campaigns or committees have used video games to generate support and cash. Both the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns advertised in existing games including Need for Speed: Carbon and the mobile game Tetris. In 2008, John McCain’s presidential campaign launched a Facebook game called Pork Invaders, which spoofed the arcade staple Space Invaders with a pork barrel-spending theme. In 2004, the Republican National Committee launched John Kerry: Tax Invaders and Kerry vs. Kerry, the latter a nod to the Democratic candidate’s reputation for flip-flopping on key political issues.
But the video game tradition dates back at least to the 2004 Democratic primaries. In the Howard Dean for Iowa Game, which made its debut on Christmas Eve 2003, players stepped into the role of a Dean campaigner gathering supporters from various Iowa counties. (Check out screenshots here.) It was the first official video game ever commissioned for a U.S. presidential election, and it clocked in at 100,000 plays in the month before the Iowa caucuses. Ian Bogost, a professor at Georgia Tech, critic, and one of the developers behind the Dean video game, gives the NRSC’s Giopi a tepid review.
“It’s a little disappointing to me as a game designer...to not see more sophistication in these kinds of games,” Bogost told The Daily Beast over the phone as he played the first Mission Majority level. “A game like this is obviously not trying to make a policy statement other than the depiction of taxation as the enemy…It’s a game that is clearly not trying to win over anyone. It’s rather a way to reinvigorate and reaffirm your commitment to the GOP.”