French Election: Video Games As Campaign Tools

The 2017 French presidential election campaign is firing on all cylinders ahead of this coming Sunday’s runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen. The BBC has published a pair of articles calling into question just how far right Le Pen of the Front National is, but that’s not the topic of this post.

Surrounding electoral contests, there are always a plethora of surveys showing how candidates could or should perform all together or among specific segments of the electorate. 2016’s US election showed us how dead wrong pollsters can be when forecasting results.

Far from giving projections, but rather reporting on results of the first round, I recently wrote a piece about the varying fortunes of the 2 candidates in rural and urban settings. In it, I illustrated that Le Pen is out front in the countryside, but trailing badly in most larger urban centres.

Geographic location is one criterion according to which voters may be categorised. Another is age. In my previous post, mentioned above, I showed how candidates more or less right of centre claimed ownership of the theme or rurality in a bid to endear themselves to country dwelling voters.

Another trend I have observed can be chalked up to candidates trying to increase their stock among young voters. In this case it can be observed both on the left and on the right.

When the campaign just starting to gain some momentum late last year, the man who was then considered the odds on favourite to be the centre-right (Les Républicains) nominee, Alain Juppé, was one of the first big names to make a clear play for the youth vote. Despite his age making the Gaullist stalwart the elder statesman of this election campaign, the 71-year-old current mayor of Bordeaux and former foreign affairs as well as prime minister touted himself as the “young people’s candidate”. He held roundtable discussions with young people to field their comments on his campaign platform and made a clear effort to show that he was in tune with what they needed as the future drivers of the French economy and society. A sort of Alain Juppé supporters’ youth league called “les Jeunes avec Juppé(“young people with Juppé”) was also launched.

A November 2016 survey placed Juppé first among university students as the candidate most likely to live up to their expectations. As seen below, 40% of respondents chose Juppé as their number 1 choice. Interestingly, the man who turned out leading all comers in the first round ie Emmanuel Macron finished didn’t appear to make nearly as big an impression on young voters, as he only had the favour of 29% of them in this survey. He even placed behind the likes of candidates with views as outdated as François Fillon, who himself went on to edge out Jean-Luc Mélenchon for 3rd place in the first round.

JUPPE STUDENT SURVEY

In the end, Juppé was wiped out by rival François Fillon in the Republican primary.

On the left of the political divide, former Socialist Party member Jean-Luc Mélenchon had the novel idea of creating a video game to go along with his campaign. The game, called Fiscal Kombat pits Mélenchon against the rich oligarchs, bankers and the like who run the world to satisfy their greedy profit motive. He catches and shakes them in the game, making money fall out of their pockets and into the state coffers. The money represents the taxes they so often like to dodge.

FISCAL KOMBAT

Not to be outdone, on the far right, Marine Le Pen’s handlers developed a game simply called “Marine 2017 – Le Jeu” (Marine 2017 – the Game”). The premise of the game is that the system is trying to make sure she doesn’t win and that all 9 failed first round candidates are ganging up on her by endorsing Macron whether directly or indirectly. Players are described as “patriots from all walks of life” who will guide Marine in the game into the Palace of the Republic where she will have a showdown against each candidate, show up the faults of their programme and drive them out of the palace, eventually becoming the ruler of the Republic.

Chin up! let’s take out country back! (Marine 2017 – the Game intro)

I tested both games. They each have classic 1980s-style graphics and music. Mélenchon’s is easier to play and the music is a little catchier. I won’t venture to say much more than that.

What about Macron, you may ask? Well, after he was endorsed by a wide cross section of the French political class – most of whom don’t actually support him but want to make sure the Front National never gets in power – Macron’s campaign was joined by a good number of Juppé’s youth league members. So just as he has managed to get within reach of the summit of French political power with little to no political experience, he has received de facto youth support to an extent without even needing to go out in search of it.

As far as other failed first round candidates go, 3rd placed Fillon has called on his supporters to get behind Macron, as has 5th placed Benoît Hamon, who declared that while Macron was a “political adversary”, Le Pen was “an enemy of the Republic”.

However, we will never know if 4th placed Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s young supporters will join team Macron, since Mélenchon has refused to give any voting instructions or advice to his 7.1 million first round voters, oh so eloquently telling them “I’m not your guru”.

As we see here, Mélenchon was wildly favoured by young people in a poll run days before he first round ballot asking 18 to 25’s which candidate they thought would most reduce inequality in society. As such, not getting Mélenchon’s begrudging endorsement could make a serious difference for Macron if that demographic of Mélenchon supporters snubs the poll or turns in blank ballots.

MEL INEQUALITY

At any rate, though, it can’t totally be said that Emmanuel Macron has not been able to get in on the video game action during this campaign, it’s just that he did so unwittingly, and to the delight of social media in France; a few months back, while winding down a campaign speech he attempted to do so with a bang by rising to a thunderous crescendo meant to stir the crowd to life and show his great passion and energy. When his voice cracked, however, all he did was stir internet jokesters into creating a Dragon Ball remix of his speech, with all the requisite special effects.

MACRON DRAGON BALL

When the campaign was just getting underway last year I thought to myself that if the grumpy old security and immigration obsessed Sarkozy managed to become the Les Républicains nominee to have another crack at the Elysée Palace, which he occupied from 2007-12 and that on the left, grumpy old security and immigration obsessed former Prime Minister Manuel Valls became the Socialist nominee (because we all assumed it would come down to those two parties as it usually does) it would be like Ken vs Ryu in Street Fighter II. I just laughed it off in my mind, but I see now that I was ahead of the curve mixing video games and politics.

VALLSVSSARKO

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