Britain is once again caught in the grip of political turmoil as it gears up for a snap General Election this week. In the run-up to this critical decision, an improbable video game hero has emerged to win the hearts and minds of voters — Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the left-leaning Labour Party. We had a chat with James Moulding, producer of Corbyn Run, about the game that aims to build a movement.
The State Of Play
For readers who might not be so familiar with the political situation in the UK, the early election was called by the current right-leaning Conservative Party government in order to strengthen their popular mandate to manage Brexit — the exit of the UK from the European Union, which remains an incredibly divisive issue in and out of the country.
Enter Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader — a principled and reserved left-wing activist who has drawn parallels with previous US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. In fact, veterans of the Sanders campaign are offering advice and support to UK Labour activists in the upcoming contest. Some of these Labour activists have their own ideas about how to make the message accessible to young people, which is how Corbyn ended up becoming the star of his own video game.
Hugely popular #VideoGames such as Metal Gear Solid and Skyrim don't shy from political themes in their fictional worlds, but as development tools become more accessible, we're seeing a rise of indie games with political points to score. Over in the good ol' US of A, the last election cycle gave us the Donald Trump-inspired physics game Mr. President!, as well as the satirical GOP arcade collection. In South Korea, presidential candidates spread their message through Overwatch and StarCraft.
Now, in the lead up to that fateful day of reckoning on June 8, Corbyn Run is a quest to save the UK through people-power in video game form.
Run Corbyn Run!
In Corbyn Run, the player controls the opposition leader as he dashes through the street, liberating public money from tax-dodging toffs and assorted posh-looking types.
Aside from dodging potholes and broken champagne bottles, Corbyn has to evade attacks from boss enemies. These formidable foes include Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (making a hilarious appearance on a zipline), and even a terrifying manifestation of the ghost of Margaret Thatcher.
It's a short, fun game that provides some entertainment while also getting across the Labour party manifesto messages and their mission of building a mass movement.
You can play Corbyn Run right here for free, and it's also available as an app for iOS and Android. After taking the game for a spin myself, I reached out to the dev team to get to know the story behind it.
Making A Game To Build A Mass Movement
Corbyn Run isn't an official product of the Labour Party. Rather, it was put together by a small international team of nine Labour party supporters, activists, game designers, and developers who came up with the idea at the Ludum Dare GameJam in April.
Not every member of the Corbyn Run team — which counts Spanish and Italian UK residents and game industry workers among its members — are able to vote, but all wanted to make a contribution to the election of a Labour government.
We had a chat with James Moulding, producer of Corbyn Run, about digital activism and making a game to inspire a mass movement.
Now Loading: What made you want to make Corbyn Run?
James Moulding: We made CorbynRun because our team wanted to make a fun and creative way of promoting the Labour Party's message at this crucial election, in a simple and accessible way - what better way than through a game? The game is aimed at 18-34 year olds, who are more than ever, crucial in this election.
NL: What's your favorite feature of the game?
JM: My favorite is the ability to gather people power and launch Labour manifesto pledges, it helps to not only promote Labour's popular policies in this election, but more importantly perhaps, it gets across the idea of building the movement, and the co-operation and collective action that it entails — having said that, people love Thatcher's ghost and Boris on the zipwire!
NL: Recently, left-wing French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon tried out similar digital activism with his Fiscal Kombat game. Did you take inspiration from it?
JM: This game was definitely inspired by Fiscal Kombat - however, we noted importantly that in that game, despite him (Melenchon) building a movement, it's just him in the game - taking on the corporate and political elite by himself. In this game we felt we had to correct that, so we made the game about building the movement.
NL: Are there any fun ideas that the team had for Corbyn Run that didn't make it into the game?
JM: More bosses, representing the domination of the media by the right in some way, i.e. a Rupert Murdoch boss. Jeremy jumping, the crowd being able to fight Tories alongside Jeremy, a more elaborate and funny endgame including a large banner with Vote Labour that would have trailed across the screen on the game over, also totaling the score in the same way as Fiscal Kombat with a grand total at the end of the game of everyone's collective score (we did actually do this, but couldn't think of a good way to represent it - we're going to put the grand total on the website soon) - we're now also planning to launch "Gotta Tax 'Em All" trading cards, 8 cards, for the 8 enemy game sprites, releasing one each day until the election.
NL: Do you think the tech industry should be playing more of a role in political activism?
JM: Social media is fast becoming a primary medium for news and campaigning and more people than ever are taking to the internet to express their political opinions and join political movements. From partisan election campaigning to developing tools helping people register to vote, tech activism is more important than ever.
NL: Do you think that there's something special about what a video game can achieve as opposed to more traditional media?
JM: Games can change the way you think. They're more than just entertainment, they can help us engage, teach, influence, spark conversations and start movements for change.
You can communicate most effectively if you keep your audience engaged. Our players have been spending on average three and a half minutes playing our game, this is far more than an average 18-24 year old would spend engaged in a flyer or tv ad.
We're speaking directly to young voters. The latest opinion polls show Labour has a 57 point lead over the Conservatives among voters under 25. In the past young voters have been less likely to vote than our grandparents' generation, but in this election we are realizing the future lies in our hands. The game hopes to build off this momentum and encourage young voters to get to the polling stations on 8 June to ensure this support carries over into a Labour government
NL: What's the main message you want people to take away from the game?
JM: At its core, this is a game about building a movement, about coming together, realizing our collective power in the face of the Tory government - about forging a tidal wave of optimism for an alternative to austerity - our aim is to show how we seize that hope of how another Britain is possible when we work together for it. Everyone can see the Conservatives are holding young people back. Debt, high rent, zero-hours jobs and low pay - struggling from payday to payday - prevent many people my age from fulfilling our dreams. Labour, and Corbyn, have given our generation something to rally around in this election.
NL: How has the response to the game been? Have you heard anything about it from Corbyn's team?
JM: The response has been incredible and inspiring to our team! We only intended on posting the game to a few Labour Facebook groups this morning but instead it went viral. Labour's social media team got in touch with us earlier and love the game - We've been in touch with John McDonnell's staff for the last few weeks, John said: "Great initiative from Labour supporters. The Tories may own the media but it's the people whose creativity will win."
NL: I imagine that the team will be particularly busy until election day on June 8th, but do you plan to keep working together in digital activism for the future?
JM: We're going to try and capitalize on the awesome art and sound assets we have. There's an election hackathon on Sunday at Newspeak House in London (where we're based) nwspk.com - we're going to let people play around with the game and invite those who attend to remix the game or build upon it
But the project team will continue in the form of Games For The Many in the future, hopefully, beyond the election.
Get Used To Political Video Games, Because We'll Only Be Seeing More Of Them
The critical 18-34 age demographic that James and the rest of the Corbyn Run team are reaching out to might be notoriously disillusioned with politics, but we're more engaged with games than ever before. Young people are leading a move away from traditional media into an era in which video games are more important, and games increasingly appear to reflect the anxieties of the generation who grew up with them.
Games like Corbyn Run aren't likely to convert anyone committed the other side, but for an uncertain, apathetic young voter, it delivers a package of important information wrapped in humor and entertainment to someone who might otherwise not pay attention to politics or read a pamphlet.
This is critical in the UK election, as one of the demographics most likely to suffer under continued Conservative rule are the young — already hit hard by harsh policies of austerity, high tuition fees, cuts to social services, a weakening of workers' rights and a lack of affordable housing. Young people are also the least likely to vote, but their participation in the election could absolutely swing it.
Regardless of the result on June 8, the accessibility and popularity of games like Fiscal Kombat and Corbyn Run are breaking new ground in how our generation communicates political issues. James and the team deserve credit for a great piece of digital activism that communicates serious issues in a fun way, and this hopefully won't be the last we see of their games for a good cause.