Video Games, Like Life, Are Full Of Godawful Presidents

Illustration for article titled Video Games, Like Life, Are Full Of Godawful Presidents
Image: Activision / Kotaku

This week, America had a normal one. Nothing major or out of the ordinary happened, and no disgraced proto-fascist insurrectionists with mouths wetter than a slip and slide left the highest office in the country. And yet, for some reason, we decided to center this week’s Splitscreen podcast on presidents.

To kick off the episode, Fahey runs Ash and me through a list of things real presidents and video game presidents have done, and we have a remarkably difficult time figuring out which is which. Did you know that one of our real human presidents—not one from a Hideo Kojima game—had a jaw partially made of vulcanized rubber? Us neither. (It was Grover Cleveland, by the way.) Then we talk about our favorite and least favorite video game presidents, which allows us to get the obligatory mention of Michael Wilson from Metal Wolf Chaos out of the way. Other halfway decent presidents: Die Hardman from Death Stranding and you, dear reader, from Saints Row IV. Finally, we close out with a discussion of governance and how games often fail to convey the human stakes of your presidential decisions—at least, in a way that feels tangible or emotionally impactful.

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Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.


Nathan: Let’s start with the single worst president in any video game: Ronald Reagan, who of course is in the most recent Call of Duty. Even just in that context, he’s a terrible president. He’s like, “Yeah, you know, maintaining world order requires a whole lot of extrajudicial murders and coups and war crimes. But because we’re Americans, it’s fine,”—not unlike the real president Ronald Reagan. Say what you will about Call of Duty, but they got that part right at least.

So yeah, he’s the worst. The second worst is probably Elizabeth Winters from Vanquish. So the future depicted in that game is a world ravaged by overpopulation and climate change—so, you know, plausible.

Ash: Ripped from the headlines.

Nathan: Right. So at the start, Russian terrorists take over a space station the U.S. uses to harvest solar energy, which seems pretty important at that point. Then they turn it into a mega-weapon that wipes out San Francisco. I assume the Russians were like, “We just watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and we need a city to target, and I’m thinking San Francisco. I just can’t get it out of my mind. Let’s blow up that one, again.” Anyway, then you fight through the space station and find out that the president was behind the whole thing as a pretext for a war with Russia. There are many easier, less destructive ways to start a war with Russia.

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Fahey: Yeah, just declaring war would probably do. And she actually helps orchestrate a coup to take over the leadership of Russia, I guess thinking that after the powers stabilize, they can go in and invade or attack. She’s responsible for the deaths of millions.

Nathan: In the end, she dies by suicide, because... video games! To be fair, everything about Vanquish is as maximalist as possible, so you may as well take this to the bitterest possible conclusion.

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Fahey, who’s the president in video games you like the least, aside from fictional video game president Ronald Reagan?

Fahey: It’s another president who most of the time ends up dying by suicide. I say “it” because my least favorite president is John Henry Eden from Fallout 3. He’s a great spokesman. You’re like, “This guy’s nice. This guy’s a man of the people. This guy... is an AI built from the thoughts and policies of several different presidents, and he’s really horrible, and he wants to start a civil war.” Nine times out of ten, you end up logic-ing him into self destructing. You pull the old Captain Kirk, “If so, then what, robot?” and the robot’s like, “Ahhhhh, boom.” So that’s John Henry Eden. He’s not even human.

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Nathan: He is, however, one of the more accurate video game presidents in that they took a composite of a ton of different presidents, and what they came up with was genocide.

Fahey: Exactly. He wanted to get rid of everyone who wasn’t human and start over. Just, you know, the best way to make sure humanity is intact is by killing everything that’s not human.

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Ash: I mean, logically.

Fahey: So that’s why he was bad. But he had a lovely speaking voice.

Ash: My least favorite president—I think this counts—may not be president of an entire country, but he’s the president de facto, if not du jour: President Shinra from Final Fantasy VII. He’s the guy at the head of this life-sucking corporation that’s built this stratified city that has no qualms with crushing its citizens in service of its goals. It’s just this really bleak dystopian city company that he heads up. I mean, Shinra is the de facto ruler of Midgar.

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Nathan: Right, it’s basically what would happen if we just let Facebook or Tesla expand infinitely forever. We’d just get Shinra.

Ash: Yeah. They’re sucking the life out of the planet as it is, and by “sucking the life out of,” I mean brainwashing all of our elderly people into believing conspiracy theories.

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Nathan: And keeping with the theme of genocide, I think you could argue that dropping a giant plate on every poor person in the city constitutes a form of genocide.

Slight tangent, but I came away from playing Final Fantasy VII Remake unable to comprehend why anybody likes Reno or Rude—both of whom play the most important role in actually making sure the plate falls. Fuck them! They’re awful people!

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Ash: They are awful people, but people also think they’re cool and hot. People want to make them kiss. But if you’re thinking about it now, it’s like, yeah, those guys suck a lot. I think they sucked less in the first game, but their roles have been expanded in Remake such that their suckitude is more prevalent. In the original, they just seemed like these henchmen who were chasing after Cloud and Aerith like, “Nyeheheheh, I’ll get you next time,” but in Remake, they’re actively assholes.

Another also-ran for presidents I don’t like: whoever Giancarlo Esposito is going to be in Far Cry 6. He doesn’t seem like a great guy.

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Fahey: Isn’t he more of a presidente, though?

Ash: That’s a president.

Nathan: Yeah, that’s just the word “president” in a different language.

Fahey: No, no, it’s like when you go to a “ristorante.”

Ash: Isn’t that still a restaurant?

Fahey: No, it’s an amazing, magical place.


For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at splitscreen@kotaku.com if you have questions or suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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DISCUSSION

fire-dragon-1321
FireDragon1321

Oh sweet summer child.

There are people who think Sephiroth is really a tragically misunderstood good guy. Because stalking, mind games, and murder are things good people participate in! The remake made him even creepier. He went through the same kind of evolution as Reno and Rude. But no. Pretty silver hair, let’s have him kiss Cloud, the person he psychologically harasses!

...Sorry. I have spent literal years dealing with mushy-brained people in Square Enix fandom and it’s turned me into a crotchety old woman in my twenties.