New York Times

George W. Bush: The role-playing game

George W. Bush: The role-playing game

Video games often tackle tricky questions, but it's rare that a president that's alive helps to organize a way for us to see the world as he did in such a direct manner. The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University will allow visitors to come inside, walk through a curated version of Bush's presidency, and try their hand at becoming the nation's 43 president.

In a new brick-and-limestone museum, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?

-The New York Times

This sort of exhibit provides past presidents with a good way to make the case for themselves. They can explain what they were thinking, and they can share some of the information they used to make their decisions. They can offer historical items, carefully placed under glass, that help to give us an idea of what they consider important to their presidency. This library, in a modern twist, also seems to offer a sort of role-playing game that allows you to second guess Bush's decision-making process.

The hypothetical exercise, which includes touch screens that let users watch videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Mr. Bush did, revisits the most consequential moments of his administration. In the process, the country is being asked to re-evaluate the two-term president who presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the nation’s history.

-The New York Times

Maybe this is more adventure game than role-playing game, as games like the Walking Dead simply present us with a situation and limited information, and then give us limited time to make a decision about what to do next. It's a powerful way to place someone in a position of authority, and allow them to feel empathy for the pressure you were under when you had to make these decisions.

This is also a great way to allow people to see you in a different light, as you can carefully edit and control the information presented leading up to the decision, and then decide what the resolution of each decision will be. It's unlikely that museum goers will have the time or the patience to wade through intelligence briefings, research these matters, and create a well-informed position before pressing that button on a touch screen. Instead they'll watch a short video, make up their minds, and walk away either thinking about the issue again, or secure that their first idea of what happened was justified.

As president, he rarely had a chance to rest given the endless cascade of crises as visitors will experience in the Decision Points Theater. As many as 24 visitors at a time are presented with one of four situations — the invasion of Iraq, the troop buildup in 2007, Hurricane Katrina or the financial crisis. Visitors have four minutes to pull up videos of actors playing White House aides, generals, lawmakers and others giving advice, then they pick one of three options.

-The New York Times

You're given the museum's thoughts on the likely result of your selection after everyone is given a vote, and then President Bush appears on the screen to tell you what he did. Presidential libraries are always a way to show the men who lead our country in the best possible light, but the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Musuem is able to invite us to look back on history and make up our own mind, based on the information given to us by those who curate the museum.

If this doesn't make us sympathetic to the hard decisions that plague every president, at least it will allow us to see what it's like to make decisions based on data that has been carefully selected by a group of other people, unseen, perhaps hoping for certain outcomes.