Before the emergence of personal computers and their ability to quickly process large amounts of statistical data, games based on geopolitics and elections had already existed for years. One of the earliest such games was The Game of Politics, created by Oswald Lord in 1935 which remained in print until 1960. In 1954, the board game Diplomacy was created, which differs from other wargames in that it features a "negotiation" phase during which players reach agreements with other players, and then execute military moves simultaneously. National politics has remained a vital area of board gaming, with products such as the 1986 board game Die Macher featuring elections in Germany, and Wreck the Nation which satirizes the politics of the United States under the Bush administration.
As computers became more sophisticated, games in this genre moved beyond e-mail to more complex simulations. One of the earliest titles in this genre was Balance of Power, designed by Chris Crawford and published in 1985. This game features conflict at the height of the Cold War, using political and policy decisions to shape outcomes rather than warfare. In Balance of Power, any armed conflict between the player and the opponent superpower results in a nuclear war, which is considered a loss condition.
Other Cold War era games included Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator created by Virgin Interactive, and Spectrum Holobyte's Crisis in the Kremlin. Conflict simulated a hypothetical situation in 1997 in which the player assumed the role of the Israeli Prime Minister and was obligated to employ various diplomatic and covert directives to defeat its rival nations. Surrounded by hostile nations, the player was restrained by a very limited military force and was thereby encouraged to employ peaceful means to remain in power until he acquired more advanced weapons systems and power.
In Crisis in the Kremlin, the user could play as any of the three Soviet politicians Mikhail Gorbachev representing the reform party, Yegor Ligachev, the leader of the hard line party and Boris Yeltsin who was the prevalent figure of the nationalist party. The player could use the simulation to test certain strategies to lead the failing Soviet Union into a new era of prosperity or force its dissolution and integration into the new world order. This game introduced the concept of budget management, citizen and faction satisfaction as well as multiple economic values and political spectrum.
Early political simulation games were intended more for education than entertainment. In 1987, On the Campaign Trail was developed as a tool at Kent State University's political campaign management program, and engaged students in decision-making regarding the campaigns for United States Senate elections between 1970 and 1986. Subsequently, a commercial market developed for packaged games involving elections and campaigns.
The 1992 game Power Politics (and, before it, 1988's President Elect) focused on domestic United States political campaigns (but not the running of the country upon election). In 1996, this was adapted to the Doonesbury Election Game, designed by Randy Chase (who also did Power Politics) and published by Mindscape, in which players conducted a campaign with the assistance of a pool of advisors selected from characters in the Doonesbury comic strip, a successor entitled Power Politics III was released in 2005. In 2004, Stardock published Political Machine, in which the player steers a candidate through a 41-week election cycle for United States President, developing policies and tailoring talk show appearances and speech content. The game is heavily tied to modern polling methods, using real-time feedback for how campaign strategy impacts polling numbers. In 2006, TheorySpark released President Forever 2008 + Primaries, an election simulation game that allows the player to realistically control an entire election campaign through both the Primaries and General Election.
Some games in the genre involve enacting policies and budget decisions to sway voters. One such game is Democracy, published in 2005 by Positech Games. In Democracy, players make decisions during each turn regarding which policies to support. As turns progress, the player views how their favorability rating changes amongst certain types of voters. Candidates make promises before each election, and failure to follow-through can result in lower support during the player's reelection campaign. Another is Commander in Chief (game), produced by Eversim, boasting an array of choices for domestic policy and decisions.
There are also forum-based roleplaying games of government simulation and nation simulation. These types of games allow players to participate in a government simulation game via a web based forum. They are usually played on a turn by turn basis and have administrators that act as the games "engine".
Other construction and management simulations require government management. For example, city-building games such as the SimCity series of games published by Maxis simulates the experience of being a mayor. SimCity features a real-time environment in which the player can create zones for city development, build roads, power and water utilities, and watch as their city develops based on their decisions. The game was originally published in 1989 and as of 2003 was in its fourth major release.
Strategy games frequently make use of government management challenges. 4X games require the management of a government, be it tribal or interstellar. This includes tasks such as building infrastructure and conducting trade. Galactic Civilizations II requires players to manage their approval rating to keep their political party in power. Domestic policy is sometimes abstracted with more emphasis on international conflict. For example, the Civilization series gives players total control over resources, and radically restructuring an empire is a matter of clicking the "REVOLUTION!" button.
Other strategy games focus on government management to varying degrees. For instance, in the Hearts of Iron games (set in World War II) the civilian population is only a factor with partisans and manpower, whereas in Victoria a player must not only hobnob and conquer, but implement the Second Industrial Revolution while warding off - or ushering in - the more literal ones of 1848, communism, etc.
Government and politics have also been incorporated into adventure games. A Mind Forever Voyaging, published by Infocom in 1985, was an interactive fiction game in which the player controlled a sentient computer capable of experimenting with potential future scenarios based on varying public policy decisions. Newsweek said of the game, "It isn't '1984,' but in some ways it is even scarier.