You start by selecting candidates for election. You can mirror the current George Bush-John Kerry fight, select from historic candidates, or even create your own. Then you place the presidential contenders into ideological slots—far right, right leaning, left leaning, or far left. Each ideology has an assortment of issues assigned to it ranging from Pro Choice abortion-rights (far left) to rolling back affirmative action (far right). Candidates choose three issues from their ideology to create their platform.
Frontrunner boils down campaigning to these elements: selecting which of the 50 states your candidate will spend time in; deciding whether your candidate raises funds, speaks, or rests while in a state; and determining whether to spend money on advertising or grass-roots campaigning.
Simulation games allow kids to learn by seeing the consequences of their choices. But in this game, it’s very difficult for kids to understand how their choices impact the outcome of the election. The “Exit Polls” track many factors, but the game fails to explain how much weight is given to each of these factors. The game also is difficult to control—you can see what issues are important to a state, but you may not have been given an opportunity to “own” a relevant issue and therefore sway voters. Perhaps worst of all, much of the simulation is not very true to real life. For example, debates and talk shows are not contests of ideology or even political skill, but instead are confusing mini-games.
Overall, Frontrunner is a cool concept with a frustrating implementation. The Political Machine by Ubisoft, which also simulates presidential campaigns, is a better choice because it’s truer to the political process.
However, teachers looking for a political simulation to use in the classroom, Frontrunner can be easily manipulated to create interesting discussions about use of political funds and how the electoral system works.
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