May 9 2016 03:44 PM

The Road to 1600 game let’s you match wits with presidential contenders

“Road to 1600” makes players build a team of advisors.

If the 2016 presidential election increasingly looks like a bizarre theatrical game to you, well, at least one local entrepreneur wants to provide a chance to play along to see if you can do better.

Sean Connacher, a San Diego native who works for a local digital marketing company, has created "The Road to 1600," a game for smart devices (both Android and iPhone), that challenges you to give the race a shot yourself if you think you can do better.

"Just like every other American watching the debates, I was like—we've got 320 million Americans, are these really the best people?" Connacher says. "And the answer is, 'Of course it's not.'"

Connacher asserts the problem is that the public sector no longer attracts "the best and the brightest" to the political process. They now gravitate to the public sector, especially banking and technology, because those fields are perceived as hip, sexy and offer the opportunity to make more money.

"I wanted to create something that would engage young people, make them think about the electoral process in a way that's informative and engaging, but also entertaining and a little funny," he says. "We want 'The Road to 1600' to give people a taste of what it's like to run for the highest office in the land."

The game, currently in development, will be in beta-testing mode in June and hit the market Labor Day weekend, two full months before general election day. Connacher is trying to raise funds on Kickstarter, but is prepared to self-fund if it doesn't reach the $14,000 goal by Friday.

In the game, players can pick among a multitude of personas, assemble a team of advisors, develop a position platform, raise money and make strategic calls all along the process. Decisions have consequences with financial backers, the general population, the media and so on.

Unlike many open-ended role-playing games, "The Road to 1600" has a definite cycle, a beginning and an end that invites repeated play. Connacher says he took his inspiration from the hoary 1970s computer game "Oregon Trail," which taught the history of the expansion west while entertaining players and offering a definite narrative beginning, middle and end.

"We don't intend for anyone to win the first time they play," Connacher says. "One goal is to make this an eye opener of how hard it is to run for president."

The key, he emphasizes, is "to make failure fun," so players want to give it another shot. The storyline seeks to stay entertaining no matter which way your virtual campaign goes, so players come back to try again.

The game targets youth—content is geared toward a high school level of comprehension—in hopes of getting them engaged in the political process, but intricate enough to snag political junkies as well.

Political choices throughout the game influence results

"People are compulsively looking at their phones nowadays, I'm as guilty of it as anyone," Connacher says. "It's what young people do, and if you're going to reach them, that's where they are."

He says that the immediate application would be for the fall election, but his ultimate hope is that "The Road to 1600" will find traction in the educational realm and nonprofit sector, which are similarly aligned for civic engagement and hopes to introduce the concept that public sector careers can be rewarding and fun.

If the game gains traction and at least a cult following, Connacher says there are ambitions to broaden gameplay that will allow players to create completely unique personas beyond the current slate of choices, as well as a "career play" mode where a player can start out running for city council or mayor, then fight and claw their way up the political food chain. He also says that specific elections could be recreated, like 1860's legendary Lincoln vs. Douglas, or 1960's JFK vs. Tricky Dick.

"We've got to get young people re-engaged with the political process in a way that's more than just some kind of reality show," Connacher says. "The only real political engagement message being communicated to the younger generation is 'go out and vote,' when we should be telling them 'go out and lead the country.' What we've got now is a few from a certain pedigree. We've got to broaden that."


See all events on Thursday, Oct 20