We’re neck deep in a ludicrous and unplanned election season in the UK, between the incumbent Conservative party, champions of austerity and neoliberal market deregulation and privatisation of state services, and a newly-old-school Labour party, who under the leadership of lifetime back-bencher Jeremy Corbyn are deploying Bernie Sanders/Scandinavian-style Social Democratic policies: tax the wealthy more, spend more on public services, spend more on long-term investment. If you don’t know the backstory I won’t waste your time – but it’s proving to be a combination of thrill ride and farce that’s as fun and nerve-wracking to follow as an American election. Game of Thrones will have a job to top this one, but then so would new seasons of Parks and Rec or The Office.
If Corbyn Run has one virtue it’s that the team put together this Unity microgame in the five weeks since the snap election was called. It works, and it looks like original work, which is a step up from most of the filter-scum one dredges when searching the app store. The pixel artist deserves kudos for their distinctive sprite set that caricatures the dramatis personae of the British political scene – Corbyn looking like a tweed-coated school teacher who might possibly breed pigeons, Boris Johnson a fat straw-headed clown floating like Baron Harkonnen in Lynch’s Dune.
It’s all a bit on the nose. The scene is set with a blue campaign bus – blue being the reserve of the Conservative party – driving across the screen, emblazoned with the slogan #LIES, followed by a sweating, jogging crowd of bankers holding sacks of cash and well-dressed women dropping bottles of champagne in their wake. Corbyn runs after them, attempting to catch up to the Conservatives.
“It’s not much of a game, and as a political advert I have to call it an abject failure.”
Controls are unintuitive – my natural instinct was that pressing the screen in a cardinal direction would move Corbyn that way relative to his current position like a SHMUP, but instead he moves to the point on the screen that you touch. This makes it tricky to co-ordinate his movement with the scrolling obstacles – initially just potholes, but soon enough joined by Prime Minister Theresa May dropping champagne bottles from a helicopter, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt dropping bed-pans, and the bankers, who Corbyn must run into to release their cash. This cash fills up an energy bar that allows you to reveal a new policy -“Save the NHS!”, “£10 minimum wage!” – and brings sprites of ordinary people running alongside Corbyn: Deliveroo cyclists at the promise of a new minimum wage, graduates in their mortar boards after a policy to scrap university tuition fees.
It’s not much of a game, and as a political advert I have to call it an abject failure. It has one achievement – just as PETA got scads of attention for their anti-fur policies after they told Games Workshop to stop putting plastic fur on their plastic soldiers, here I am talking about left-wing politics on a video-game blog.
I dislike works of art (or craft, or political artifice) that are carelessly executed, and Corbyn Run models the Corbyn campaign poorly. Corbyn’s campaign energy-meter is filled up by knocking coins out of bankers. The message – that Corbyn will stand up to fat-cats – might be popular, but it isn’t how the Labour party raise funds. While the Conservative party leans heavily on wealthy donors from business, their average per-person campaign donation being £60,000, Labour’s campaign has been funded by member and affiliate member donations. Corbyn certainly isn’t ambushing business leaders in the street to secure funds for the party. It also puts an undue narrative on Corbyn as the sole political force driving forwards all this activity; in reality the party’s popular manifesto, and the current stability of the (notoriously fractious) alliance between blocs within the Labour party is the result of careful compromise and negotiation.
“It replicates the cult-of-personality narrative that is dismayingly prevalent throughout the media.”
Grandees of New Labour (which, for those outside the UK, is confusingly the previous leadership of the Labour party, now out in the cold) who were adamantly opposed to Corbyn months ago have come out swinging, with the likes of Fattie Two Jags Prescott (we have great political nicknames here) and the neo-liberal Chukka Umunna putting in sterling performances for the party. Accepting his role as figurehead and symbol for the party has been a necessary shift in ideology for lifelong backbencher Corbyn, but Corbyn Run simplifies everything down to an inordinate degree. Perhaps it’s inevitable in a game so small, but it replicates the cult-of-personality narrative that is dismayingly prevalent throughout the media, whether positive or critical of the man himself.
“Who is Corbyn Run supposed to convince?”
Who is Corbyn Run supposed to convince? From the very opening moment it is obvious that the game is antagonistic against Conservatism on an ideological level. That’s not a stance that will convince a Conservative and won’t have much play with the undecided. In these dreadful Drumpful days an obvious political stance can be read as the mendacious willingness to compromise the truth to serve your ideology, and the game offers very little in further reading to support its implicit arguments. If it is aimed at dyed-red Labour voters, what is the goal of the game? These people don’t need convincing of the virtue of their project. They might benefit from a link to the Labour Events webpage that will help them participate in the serious business of canvassing, leafletting, and reminding people to vote on polling day; even a quick link to the party fundraiser would surely generate a valuable click-through or two. Instead the game ends with a chance to Facebook or Tweet about the game itself.
I’m reminded of Sinead Murphy’s 2012 non-fiction book The Art Kettle, which reflected on the political malaise of the previous Labour and then Conservative-Liberal-Democrat era (for non-Brits, I know that last conjunction was just a list of different political philosophies – we had a coalition government between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party, who were themselves the result of a 1988 merger between the older Liberal party and breakaway neoliberal Labour party members… whew.) Art, both the appreciation and creation of art, had become vessels to contain and gradually dissipate political energy. The mythology of individualism and the consequent holiness of purposeless individual expression found their zenith in a world where art was utterly apolitical and every middle-class individual was encouraged to engage in it instead of doing anything about the world. Corbyn Run seems like an exemplary output of that malaise: a game for Corbyn supporters, by Corbyn supporters, that does nothing at all to turn them into Labour activists.