A Political Video Game: Suzerain
Suzerain is a text-based role-playing game where you play as President Anton Rayne leading the fictional country of Sordland in a political drama driven by conversations with your cabinet members and other significant people. The decisions you make will determine the future of Sordland and of its people, how will you lead?
Suzerain is a narrative-driven game. Playing the game involves reading a lot of dialog, news articles, biographies of people and more. All of this text serves to immerse you in the political world of Sordland. Using its writing, Suzerain does everything it can to convince you that the people of Sordland are as real as you are.
It worked for me. I love games that make me feel something, those games are the ones I end up writing about. There were moments in Suzerain where I felt the same stress that President Rayne would have felt if he was a living breathing person. There’s a difference between reality and fantasy, but the fantasy Suzerain delivers is powerful enough to convince you otherwise.
The decisions you make have weight to them because the game does a good job of immersing you in its world and because there’s no undo button. The game saves your progress whenever you make a choice and forces you to live with the consequences. You sign off on a draft for a revised constitution without knowing all the ramifications, reporters ask you questions you don’t have good answers to and, sometimes, you make mistakes and you have to live with it.
Suzerain, like most video games, is inherently political. But unlike most other games, it allows you to participate directly in the political world of the game giving you room to think about and come up with answers for all sorts of interesting political questions. That’s what makes Suzerain special and a game worth playing.
It’s hard to discuss a narrative-driven game without talking about the narrative in some detail. This is what I’ll be doing next. If anything I’ve said about Suzerain sounds interesting to you then please stop reading and play the game yourself.
In my playthrough, I was, or at least tried to be, a man of the people. I reduced military funding and improved universal healthcare and education. I helped give women a voice, I championed workers’ rights, and I reduced the power of my own party to give minorities seats in parliament.
When you become the president, Sordland is about to fall into a depression. During my time in office, I wasn’t able to bring meaningful economic change to the country. My focus on healthcare and education was a long-term investment in people that wasn’t likely to pay off during my presidency.
By operating the military with reduced funding, Sordland was at risk of possible invasion from Rumburg, our imperialist neighbors. To protect Sordland, I became allies with United Contana (a stand-in for the USSR) through a military alliance. United Contana was trying to stop the spread of capitalism at all costs and along the way committed a few too many atrocities for my taste. But, we needed protection and they could provide that.
Throughout my term, I needed to have the people support me because I expected the Oligarchs (business moguls who controlled more than they should) and the Old Guard (loyalists to the dictator for life who stepped down a few years earlier) to do everything in their power to tear me down and stop me from enacting change. When Marcel Koronti, the soon to be CEO of the company controlling most of the media of Sordland, came to me with a deal, I accepted. I would need to do something for his benefit later down the line but, in the meantime, he would ensure that the media was championing my cause and that any controversies within government would be covered “fairly”.
I did a lot of good for the people as the president but I had to make difficult choices along the way. Despite the Oligarchs revealing my shady dealings with Mr. Koronti to the public, the people felt that the good I did for all of us outweighed the questionable decisions I made and they elected me for a second term. Although, who knows how much of an influence my control over the media had on the election itself. Who’s to say?
That’s how my playthrough ended. I gave you a brief look into a few of the decisions I made during my reign. Each one felt impactful and gave me a sense of what it might feel like to be a president. A lot of video games are power fantasies, there aren’t many games out there that make you feel the crushing expectations of your people weighing you down with every step you take.
Suzerain achieves a lot with a little. I’m always looking for games that push the boundaries of what video games can do and Suzerain surprised me with an experience that surpassed my expectations. I’m still trying to understand how a text-driven video game could provoke such a strong emotional and physical response from me. I hope I’ve convinced you to take a look at Suzerain, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish writing my manifesto.
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