Using Video Games in Political Campaigns: Reaching Voters Offline

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Playing video games can be great for politicians.

The benefits of being a gamer can range from enhancing problem solving skills to providing insight into some of the legislative issues that they are faced with on a day-to-day basis.

Playing video games can also help politicians get elected.

How, you ask?

As a 2018 article on the Politico website points out, being a gamer can give a politician a way to connect with colleagues, the press, and his or her constituents on a more personal level.

Having this shared interest helps them be more relatable to the person who they are interacting with or even trying to persuade. This can be a very valuable thing, especially in the world of politics.

“I think people in my district get kind of excited,” Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat said in the Politico article. “I played against my congressman!” 

When Polis is talking to a fellow gamer, he says “there’s five or 10 minutes of small talk you just have with somebody.”

This is a perfect way to connect with younger voters.

It’s therefore not surprising that when election season comes around, politicians have started to use video games to connect with their constituents who they might not otherwise be able to reach.

Using Video Games to Reach Voters Offline

In some cases, video games can be used in very creative ways.

For example, given the fact that smartphones have combined the online and offline worlds thanks to augmented reality (AR) games like Ingress and Pokémon Go, video games can now provide a way for politicians and their campaign teams to interact with hard-to-reach voters offline.

This is something that the people behind Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign realized when Pokémon Go was a hot new game in 2016. 

According to an article on the Verge website, Hillary Clinton held a campaign event at a Pokémon Go gym in Madison Park in Lakewood, Ohio, on July 16, 2016.

Clinton’s campaign posted the following message on their website, “Join us as we go to the Pokéstop in Madison Park and put up a lure module, get free pokémon, and battle each other while you register voters and learn more about Sec. Hillary Clinton!!! Kids welcome!”

This was a very smart way to reach voters! Not only did it help Clinton’s team get people registered to vote, but it also hopefully led to some additional votes.

And, they used similar tactics at other Pokémon Go locations, as well.

For equal time, I need to point out that the Republican party did something similar during its 2016 Republican National Convention.

According to an article on The Hill, “The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is now a Pokémon gym in the wildly-popular mobile game, Yahoo said Friday.”

As the article points out, that was the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention.

While this appears to be a way to get some press coverage for the game, the GOP did get mentioned. So, it served a purpose for them, as well.

However, in this case, I’m pretty sure everyone at the convention was already going to vote for the Republican candidate.

In-Game Marketing Might Be a Better Way to Get Out the Vote

While Hillary Clinton’s team was able to achieve some of their goals by using Pokémon Go gyms to lure voters to them in the offline world in 2016, the better way to reach constituents might be to go to voters while they are playing video games by using in-game marketing tactics. This is particularly true this year, given the fact that voters are being asked to social distance and stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19.

In my next blog post, I plan to explore how in-game marketing tactics have been used in political campaigns in the past.

In that post, I will examine the different ways to reach voters, as well as some of the reasons why some gamers object to the practice.

Chad Thiele

Chad Thiele

I am a marketing analyst and strategist. I earned my master's degree from West Virginia University in Integrated Marketing Communications in 2023. I also hold a bachelor's degree from UW-Madison in Sociology with a Concentration in Analysis and Research, and I completed the Mobile Marketing Professional Certificate Program from Auburn University in 2015.