Educational games have one searing weakness, which is that they often operate on assumptions. You might seek one of these games out hoping to learn about, say, American politics, only to discover that the game expects you already know quite a lot about that. This was my experience with President Elect, for which I am apparently too stupid.
SSI would re-release their political simulator several times to include updated graphics and data on new elections, eventually extending the range of their 1981 Apple II game from 1960 til 1988. Players can choose to play as any candidate in any election year or create their own politician altogether. After that, it’s a race to beat the other candidate.
However, those who come to the game with only basic knowledge of American politics may find themselves deterred at the front door. Literally, as I started the game, I was asked to pick an election year and then select a candidate. Not from a list, but by actually typing in the year and name, and the game will keep looping you back until you get it right or decide to create your own characters altogether.
Character creation has you fill out a survey about political issues of the times, manually set their charismatic skills, and choose a home state for the character and his vice president. It’s a good system, but it lacks information about certain issues, meaning that players may have to consult outside sources to figure out what they are voicing their opinions on.
Each week, the game simulates a process of campaigning wherein you spent PAPs (Political Action Points) on a variety of actions. For example, you can go on foreign visits, but most weeks you just dedicate points to a country-wide campaign, select a few areas to focus on, and then spent the remainder on rallies in each state. The simulation is quite impressive, but again struggles with a lack of information.
Players are presented this cool map that shows the leanings of each state, but this doesn’t include state names and isn’t visible again after it has been shown once. I don’t know every state by heart, so I needed to screenshot the map, take out an actual map of the USA, and then cross-reference where I wanted to go. It’s also difficult to read the results of your actions, giving the feeling that the game is simulating some amazing data, but not actually showing you any. Am I losing Maine because of my political agenda or because I am not throwing enough rallies?
The game also struggles under some seriously long load times. If it looks like the game crashed or isn’t even starting, just give it a minute or three and it’ll usually pop back in.
President Elect is a rough game and these problems aren’t too shocking for such an ambitious project running on hardware this old. It’s a shame that the series ended after 1988, though. SSI was really unto something here and it would have been interesting to see what they could do with a future election years and technology. This is still an interesting game for those with a fondness for American political history, but as an educational piece of software, it has a limited demographic and has since faded from relevancy.