Abi Thoreau is a true believer. She sees charismatic political hurricane Daffy Drumpf as the solution to America's ills. A legal whiz, she takes a job as part of Drumpf's braggadocious campaign for the presidency. Almost immediately, Drumpf recognizes her as a useful operative. He takes her into his confidence.
Paper Drumpf is an 11-chapter text adventure about a Donald Trump-like figure and his efforts to secure the world's most powerful position. It's a wordy investigation into the psyche of a demagogue, driven by a lust for affirmation and adoration. As Abi, players make dialog and action choices as she comes to know Drumpf, his true beliefs and his modus operandi.
The game — freely downloadable on a pay-what-you-want basis — was written by Greg Buchanan. He also created Paper Brexit, released earlier this year, a gloomy prediction of life in Britain under an isolationist, right-wing regime. Buchanan writes his indie games when he's not working full-time as a narrative designer at Supermassive Games, best known for the highly regarded horror game Until Dawn.
"I’m interested in the private psychology of someone who would grasp at that position of President, who would respond in this way to perceived slights and betrayals and adulation" says Buchanan. "He craves the whole world to tell him he’s right, that only he can save them."
Although Drumpf publicly addresses many of the themes of the current Trump campaign, in private he is perceptive, cynical and arch about his fellow humans. "A hypothetical presidential candidate like Daffy Drumpf clearly couldn’t get to where he is without some level of strategy and intelligence. I’m not interested in telling stories about caricatures," says Buchanan.
In the story, Abi clashes with Drumpf and learns to mistrust him. She is nonetheless a believer in his political views, in the broadest sense. Donald Trump's racism, Islamophobia and misogyny are treated as "ghosts at the feast," according to Buchanan.
"If Abi Thoreau tries to stop Drumpf under the player’s control of her choices, she does so not because of any objection to his politics, it’s entirely because of the way she’s treated as a person,” he says. “This isn’t a game about Drumpf’s policies. This is a story about how a person makes choices in relation to how they're treated.
"This is the route of all politics, of all empathy, of everything we do. Few people are naturally left or right wing; we are shaped by those we meet, by those experiences we have, by selfish, sometimes ugly reasons, whatever side of this political spectrum we’re on and whatever rationalization we may make to tell ourselves stories about our own righteousness."
For Buchanan, the decision to create a text adventure makes perfect sense, allowing both the form of a written narrative and of an interactive story with branching events and dialog.
"Games about current events frequently draw on platformers or quick abstract mechanic-driven genres to carry out their comment upon the state of the world," he says. "While shooting a virtual politician in the face or hurling them up to the moon can be cathartic ways for players and developers to express their anger at a situation, they hardly address the complex emotion and pathos of the huge power that crowds and politicians wield.
"Narrative isn’t used enough in games to explore real world political situations. I wanted to tell a story about the role of an individual who is close to the heart of the political machine but who has to negotiate their relationship and feelings about what they’re doing on a daily basis, who has feelings both private and public. The capacity of text adventures to communicate both interior thought and exterior action with ease made it ideal for this project."
Buchanan's main interest is in the desires and drives of a polarizing figure like Donald Trump, who has courted fame all his life. Through this election season Trump has fascinated and appalled the public, not only in the United States but around the world.
"Do I think Trump wants to do anything other than make America great again, just like he claims he does? Of course he does," says Buchanan. "But he wants to use the situation to his best advantage at the same time.
"The two aren’t mutually exclusive, not at first. But it’s the fable of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion wants the frog to help it cross a river; the frog knows it might be stung, but the scorpion assuages its fears by saying that it wouldn’t do that, they’d both drown and sink together if the scorpion attacked its new friend. And what do you know? Of course the scorpion attacks the frog. The frog, about to die, asks the scorpion why it did this. The scorpion replies that it was its nature."