Oct. 3, 2012 at 4:15 PM ET
As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney prepare to duke it out on stage Wednesday, virtual avatars of the candidates are quite literally duking it out in a video game geared to motivate voter registration. And that game has declared a winner (at least for the moment).
When respected developers Epic Games and Chair Entertainment launched their presidential election-themed game app — called "Vote!!! The Game" — they had hoped the political slugfest of a fighting game would not only provide a bit of election-year entertainment but, more importantly, would help get gamers registered to vote.
One month later, the game (which is available free for iOS devices) has certainly done both, but it's also provided an interesting look at how gamers might cast their votes in the upcoming election as well as a look at which political party players are registering under.
Epic and Chair shared with NBC News some statistics they have pulled from "Vote!!! The Game" — statistics that are based on the behavior of the "several hundred thousand" players who have downloaded the game.
The game — a cousin to Chair's hack-n-slash hit "Infinity Blade" — finds players selecting their candidate of choice (either President Obama or Mitt Romney, sorry, no third party here) — and then taking them into a slapstick battle in which they use everything from microphones to light sabers to the rolled-up American Constitution as weapons.
For each round you win, the votes you accrued are cast for your candidate. And as of today, Virtual President Obama leads with 51 percent of the votes. That is, players have given him more than 19 million votes while giving Romney 18 million (see image at top).
Donald Mustard, creative director for Chair Entertainment, insists, "Despite the game's election theme, we were very careful to avoid the game being overly political or at all partisan. Our goal was to keep the game light and fun, and 100 percent neutral so it could be enjoyed by a broad audience of gamers, regardless of their political persuasions."
In fact, what's interesting to see is how gamers are casting their votes state by state. Chair provided the following map showing the break down so far, and the red-vs-blue state lineup in the game seems to align fairly closely with real-world polling and election data. (To see the map up close follow this link.)
The virtual swing states even seem to align with the real-world swing states — for the most part.
"While it's interesting to see in-game voting reflects similar trends per state as you might see in the real-world 'swing states' like North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado, the game has created its own 'battleground' states, such as Montana and North Dakota which maintain smaller margins and have changed back and forth between blue and red since launch," explains Geremy Mustard, technical director for Chair.
The map below highlights in green the states where Obama and Romney have been neck-in-neck in their virtual battle since the launch of "Vote!!!" (For a close-up look at the map, follow this link.)
But much like in the real world, how the virtual candidates are faring remains in pre-election flux and changes week to week.
And Obama had better watch out. As of last week, Virtual Obama had a larger lead over Virtual Romney than he does today, as the candidates gear up for their real-world debates. In fact, the states are growing redder in general.
"As we watch the in-game voting by state we notice that many more states start out as blue states but over time, gradually turn red," Geremy pointed out. "This suggests to us that possibly a higher number of early adopters are more inclined to play as Obama or be more Democratic voters, but that over time more Romney supporters jump on board to sway the state towards red."
Check out the video below to see how the states have swayed between red and blue over the last month since the game launched.
Besides offering gamers a chance to take up virtual arms on their candidate's behalf, "Vote!!! The Game" has given players a chance to quickly and easily register to vote, thanks to Chair's partnership with Rock the Vote.
Donald Mustard says that more than 1,200 gamers have registered to vote through the game. And so far, the game has registered significantly more Democrats than Republicans, according to the data provided by Chair and Rock the Vote.
As you can see from the below chart, 472 people have registered as Democrats and 261 have registered as Republicans. But it's worth noting that 427 of those who registered claimed Independent or no party affiliation at all.
Of course, this data is far from scientific and comes from a relatively small slice of the gamer population. But it does offer an interesting look at how a segment of that population is feeling about the candidates at the moment. Of course, whether "Vote!!! The Game" has any kind of predictive powers will ultimately be seen this November.
It'll also be interesting to see how Virtual Obama and Virtual Romney will fare in the game after they duke it out on stage at the debates tonight. (Note that as you play the game you can watch how the candidates fare moment to moment because you and your fellow gamers' votes are being tallied live.)
More than anything, says Donald Mustard, "We're excited to have the ability inspire young voters, and more specifically gamers, to become more involved in the political process."
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti, and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.