THE WASHINGTON POST – Presidents in video games don’t serve the public, they serve the game. If presidents are often thought of as figureheads for a political party, video game presidents are stand-ins for many different functions. Most often, they’re figures of authority and order. Sometimes, they’re dudes in distress who needs rescuing. All the time, they’re a bit goofy and not at all representative of how presidents actually behave.
We’ve got a new president in America, and we decided to take the time to look back at how these digital public servants improved the lives of their games. This is The Washington Post’s ranking of the best presidents in video games.
5. MR PRESIDENT
(Sonic the Hedgehog series and Shadow the Hedgehog)
More function than human, Mr President isn’t exactly the American president, but he is the commander in chief of the United Federation, which I guess is the Sonic equivalent of America, mostly because he also resides in the White House.
Most presidents in real life and in games have stained their hands with the blood of innocents, and Sonic the Hedgehog’s president is no different. In Sonic Adventure 2, we learn that Mr President requested Eggman’s grandfather Gerald Robotnik to unlock the secrets of immortality.
Robotnik was driven by his need to cure his fatally ill granddaughter Maria Robotnik. Of course, these experiments led to the creation of the “ultimate lifeform” Shadow the Hedgehog, as well as a galaxy-level threat in some kind of biolizard thing that Sonic kills as Super Sonic. Anyway, the point is that there’s a direct line of cause and effect from Mr President’s decisions and the creation of the Eggman Empire, which threatens the peace of the United Federations.
Mr President eventually works with hedgehogs Sonic and Shadow to defeat Eggman. This leads to the real reason he’s on this list at all: Shadow the Hedgehog (2005) revealed that the president has, on the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk, a photo of Sonic and Shadow, like they’re his own children. It’s video game absurdity at its finest.
4. PRESIDENT RONNIE
(Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja)
President Ronnie, based on President Ronald Reagan, is likely the first president for any gamer over the age of 30. More famously known as Bad Dudes, the original old school beat’em-up game asked players an abrasive, terse and plain-spoken question: “Are you a bad enough dude to rescue Ronnie?”
Spoiler alert: In the game’s ending, you actually do rescue Ronnie. Throughout the 1980s, narratives in video games were still in an embryonic stage. Princess Peach thanking Mario was about all we got. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when Bad Dudes also ends as abruptly as it started, with President Ronnie laughing the whole thing off and inviting the dudes to the White House to chow on some burgers.
President Ronnie is pretty emblematic of most video game presidents. Video games are often based on conflict by nature, and no job stirs conflict quite like being president, as I’m sure we all know by now. Video game presidents are usually written to provide some kind of authority or deference for law enforcement or protagonists, a red emergency hotline which bad dudes and hedgehogs may answer. Games are not unlike many movies, books or other forms of entertainment in this way. Bad Dudes was a game that knew exactly how much “president” a game needed, if any.
3. PRESIDENT JOHN HENRY EDEN
Spoiler alert for Fallout 3: Lonely robots glide across the wastelands of Washington, DC, bellowing patriotic marching tunes by John Phillips Sousa and others, interspersed with “Fireside Chat”-like monologues from President John Henry Eden. He speaks with a trans-Atlantic accent, claims to hail from “rural central Kentucky” and have a dog named Honey, and raves about traitors and how “no one will take this great nation away from me”.
Since taking over the brand, Bethesda Games Studios caught some criticism from longtime Fallout fans for removing some of the beloved levity and dark humour in the franchise’s writing. But Eden’s introduction and eventual reveal was one of the great narrative tricks of Fallout 3, a game that played with expectations of what exactly a democracy could look and sound like after the great fall.
It’s later revealed that President Eden is an amalgamation of every single US president ever (except maybe Trump) created by artificial intelligence (AI). Eden began as a supercomputer, and as a nuclear holocaust scorched the planet and American democracy fell into tatters, the AI became fascinated with American history and the biographies of presidents. It started to assume the identities of its greatest one, even claiming to hail from Kentucky, just as President Lincoln did.
It was an unforgettable, chilling scene, to come face to face with the very idea of a leader, coldly calculated through algorithms and code. It was a painful reminder of what we lose when we remove humanity from any equation for law and order.
2. PRESIDENT GEORGE SEARS/SOLIDUS SNAKE
(Metal Gear Solid series)
President George Sears was an unseen puppeteer in the landmark first Metal Gear Solid game. Its big, post-credits “stinger” (long before the Marvel films used this tactic) revealed that President Sears is actually the mysterious, third, “perfect” clone of the legendary soldier, Big Boss. The other two “imperfect” clones were the hero of the series, Snake, and antagonist Liquid Snake.
It wasn’t until the controversial sequel Sons of Liberty when Sears finally plays his hand. He was hoping to change government from the inside, ascending to the top office just to get close enough to confront the real power brokers of the world, a shadowy group called The Patriots. The end game of The Patriots was societal control through combating “junk data” and misinformation on the Internet. Yes, this game was released in 2001, and was that prescient.
Sears launched a terrorist attack to draw out The Patriots, but was ultimately taken down by them, thanks to you, the player. Sears wanted freedom of information, and was slain for it. It’s still a pretty legitimate debate whether President Sears was a “good guy”, but it’s without doubt that the man had intentions beyond himself or the power he can accrue. He was a man obsessed not just with his own legacy, but the ability of all people to create their own stories and histories.
“We’re all born with an expiration date,” Sears bemoans, which is why humans need to make the best use of this time. It’s this hint of benevolence that makes him perhaps the most complicated video game president we’ve ever had.
1. PRESIDENT MICHAEL WILSON
(Metal Wolf Chaos)
President Wilson’s schedule includes a conference and dinner party at the Japanese Embassy regarding wildlife protection.
“Oh yeah, sorry but I’ll have to cancel that. I’m headed out to save America,” Wilson states.
Wilson then exits the White House in his big, black and red mech suit, blasting out the front with a shrill scream, “LET’S PARTYYYYYYYYY!!!”
In another level, President Wilson has to stop the “Alcatraz Cannon” from destroying all of the West Coast.
“I’ll smash it faster than a Florida recount!” Wilson barks in response.
Metal Wolf Chaos, developed in 2004 by the creators of Dark Souls (I know right?), feels like revenge for letting Tom Cruise star in The Last Samurai. It’s an unsparing, brutal and hilarious satirical take on the notion of American exceptionalism, embodied by the goofy, America-obsessed Wilson. The antagonist of Metal Wolf Chaos is none other than Vice President Richard Hawk, who has his own mech suit. He’s a vice president so evil, he reinstitutes slavery. Developer FromSoftware can’t help but add its own twist to this idea: All the enslaved people are only white, and they’re all being shipped off to Florida. It’s up to you, President Wilson, to save white Americans from forced slavery from Vice President Dick.
President Wilson is the greatest video game president because the thinking underlying all of his actions is simply: “I am the president of the United States of America.” His fight dialogue includes, “Come at me with all your body and soul. I’ll hug you to death!”
I didn’t even need to add colourful language when it comes to writing about President Wilson, because the only colours he needs are the red, white and blue. Viewed from a 2021 lens, Metal Wolf Chaos and its portrayal of President Wilson feels like one of the few works of pop art that accurately predicted that democracy dies not just in darkness, but also in total secondhand embarrassment of who we are.
For most of our unfortunate realities, who we are is not the president of the United States. But at least we can be President Michael Wilson, who’s always headed out to save America.