Not For Broadcast

Evo Morales was the 55th president of Bolivia, elected in 2005 as the candidate for leftist party MAS with long-lasting (though recently waning) popular support, winning over 60% of the vote in the 2009 and 2014 elections, before receiving just under 50% of the vote in 2019 but winning anyway because the remainder of the vote was split between two other parties. The subsuequent coup de’tat installed a fourth party who received an absolutely trivial fraction of the vote, but this story has a much less widely reported happy ending: Facing the threat of mass strike and possibly even armed revolt, the coup regime ran new elections in 2020, which Evo Morales’ finance minister Luis Acre won handily with 55% of the vote (in a three-party system, no less). During his presidency from 2005 to 2019, Evo Morales enacted a number of left-wing economic policies, with lots of government intervention in the economy, an emphasis on inclusion and equality between the European descended and native American peoples, and a strong welfare system.

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba under a variety of different titles as they shifted nominal government from nationalist independent immediately after Castro was installed by violent revolution to Soviet-aligned Communist after the US tried to have Castro forcibly removed from power through a variety of means (most dramatically the Bay of Pigs invasion) to more nationalist independent focus again after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. In practice, Castro was unilateral dictator from his 1959 ascendance through to his 2008 soft-retirement, and still wielded considrable behind-the-scenes influence until his death in 2016. Under Fidel’s rule (and continuing today under his brother Raul Castro), all political dissent was banned, with protesters receiving sentences over a decade in length for acts as tame as shouting a slogan at Castro. Efforts to leave the country were also illegal, and famously many of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience were arrested for creating homemade rafts and trying to sail to Florida (others tried to hijack regular rafts, which is more obviously a crime even for a free country, but also speaks to the desperate lengths people are willing to go to in their efforts to leave Cuba). Cuba remains the least politically free country in the entire western hemisphere.

According to Not For Broadcast, these two guys are basically the same.

Not For Broadcast is about a vaguely British government, so it doesn’t make any direct references to Latin American politicians one way or another. Indeed, my whole accusation here is that they are not very aware of any political situation outside the Anglosphere or which is older than Thatcherism, which leads to one very major mistake that clouds its political commentary throughout its runtime: It doesn’t see anything weird about a political party coming into power with an 80%(!) vote share and then suspending elections and turning to authoritarianism within seven years, as the leftist Advance movement does in the game. It’s worth noting that Internet Lore has declared that Cuba was a direct influence on Not For Broadcast, but I still maintain they didn’t understand the significance of Fidel Castro’s rise to power being a violent one. Even if they wanted to have the inciting incident of the game be an election for purposes of their plot and themes (which is reasonable), there was certainly no reason to give Advance such an overwhelming mandate.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea: Not For Broadcast is not single-mindedly propagandistic. Its assessment and criticism of left- and right-wing movements that currently exist is reasonably clear-minded and insightful enough to carry its concept. One of the broadcasts (i.e. an individual level covering a specific day of news television and providing a snapshot into how the country is doing) is a bring your daughter to work day where the main (surviving) news anchor’s foster daughter comes to work and is an annoying teenager with a bunch of annoying (and reasonably plausible) slang that goes over her foster mother’s head. She supports the leftist Advance government with the moody and vociferous naivete of a teenager, saying her mother should’ve been executed for not being “cohesive” enough in a fit of juvenile emotion during an argument (the outburst happens to be caught on camera, but it isn’t actually directed at the government or (fictional, in-universe) viewers as a real recommended course of action, and the government ignores the outburst completely).

But there’s also a segment at the end where she’s asked to give a monologue as part of a segment on youth perspectives (so she isn’t just suddenly seized by an Ayn Randian need to deliver 3+ paragraphs about her politics or anything), and she gives a speech about how the orphanage she was staying in was a Dickensian hole, poorly maintained, poorly staffed, and with what staff did exist being poorly vetted and abusive, and when Advance came to power that actually changed. Things got better for her, and the people who oppose the Advance government for seizing their ancestral wealth are still doing better than she is, she having been brought up merely to a reasonably dignified standard of living while they retain a firmly upper middle-class lifestyle (as has been seen in earlier broadcasts depicting opposition to Advance’s wealth redistribution, which is radical enough to probably be implausible in a democracy but still extremely tame compared to Communist dictatorships). For most of the segment she plays the part of a moody teenager, but at the end they give her a chance to explain that even if her articulation of her support for Advance is juvenile and hot-headed, the support itself is rational.

The problem is that its inciting incident is the takeover of a hypothetical Britain-esque country by a leftist party, something which hasn’t happened anywhere in the last forty years of the Anglosphere, which leaves them to guess about how that would go – and that’s where they fall down, because their guesses are totally uninformed by nations where that has happened, and where the pattern has consistently been that if they were elected, then at worse there will be a mediocre economy for a few years before they get voted out (Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the US, which was one failed social program after another and yet nobody really remembers or cares about Jimmy Carter), and at best the country does really well under them so they keep getting re-elected (like Evo Morales). If a government (leftist or otherwise) is installed by violent revolution or especially a police or military coup, then odds are you are going to have a bad time. The best you can say is that if you were already having a bad time things might still shake out for the better overall.

Most of the criticisms leveled at Advance are fairly reasonable: They provoke an extremely hostile reaction from the “World Council” (which seems more equivalent to the EU than the UN) resulting in a blockade, which is not directly their fault but is a plausible reaction to a nation taking an extreme left turn. They take extreme action to win the ensuing Twenty Weeks War against the World Council, killing fourteen million civilians abroad to save the sixty million facing starvation at home (exact numbers taken from the game’s dialogue, not extrapolated from the real world, although they do roughly match real world figures).

Side rant: The extreme action is nuking enemy cities and then threatening follow-up attacks if the World Council nations do not surrender, and the idea that this would work rather than resulting in global thermonuclear war is pretty ludicrous, but I’ll meet the game halfway here and say that it is plausible that a democratically elected leftist government would face severe sanctions from neoliberal and right-wing governments wishing to discourage similar movements at home, and that taking some kind of extreme action to break a de facto blockade is a legitimate moral dilemma, so I’ll quietly ignore the fact that the specific extreme actions taken make no fucking sense. Cuba might win the “most politically repressive nation in the western hemisphere” prize today, but only because the CIA-installed dictatorships of Chile and Argentina have fallen, so responding merely with sanctions is actually a very light touch compared to what (democratic!) centrist and right-wing nations have been willing to do in order to depose democratically elected leftist governments within their sphere of influence, so at least the idea of the blockade itself is not implausible.

I do think the game would’ve been better off portraying something like psuedo-Britain successfully invading psuedo-Spain/Portugal through psuedo-Gibraltar (the game regularly has year+ length timeskips, so this doesn’t have to extend the number of broadcasts in the game, just adds an extra hundred or two days to the date of one of them) and forcing remaining nations of the World Council to the negotiating table, and then a combination of democratic support for Advance parties in some nations, like the comically liberal psuedo-Scandinavian Svenland, and violent revolution in others, like maybe psuedo-Italy, which gets depicted as “Territory Five” at one point, or possibly the comically conservative psuedo-Slavic (Russian? Hungarian? I’m not good at placing accents and I really doubt the actor’s accent is authentic anyway) Irkistan, if we for some reason need every nation in the known world under Advance rule rather than an ongoing cold war.

End of side rant, though, Advance gets targeted by sanctions so severe they amount to a blockade, and takes drastic action to resolve them. Shady as fuck, but their only two alternatives were to allow the World Council to depose the nation’s democratically elected government for the sake of their own political and economic self-interest or to try and struggle through the blockade, resulting in massive civilian casualties anyway (from starvation instead of bombing, but whatever) and still likely ending in a weakened nation being forced, through invasion or revolt, to accept a violently installed regime instead of their democratically elected government. But Prime Minister Julia Salisbury’s co-Prime Minister (it’s an alternate universe, roll with it) Peter Clement is unwilling to go that far and threatens to expose Salisbury’s bombings to the media – so she has him killed. After fourteen million dead, what’s one more body on the pile, right? And Julia Salisbury is facing the same dilemma as before. She is genuinely acting to protect the democratically elected sovereignty of her nation, and the only options that will realistically accomplish that come with an incredible human cost.

Later, it gets worse. Not only does the media censorship reach the point where the news is basically not even reported at all in favor of feel-good fluff and celebrity interviews (interminable celebrity interviews, mind you, the main reason I have no intention of replaying this game is because of how much the last act’s fully censored “news” media is genuinely excrutiatingly dull), but a government project to develop contraceptives accidentally sterilizes 85% of the population. I don’t like how this kind of rhymes with alt-right conspiracy theories about this sort of thing being done intentionally, but taken at face value, the idea that a leftist government would try to implement a utopian overhaul of society and it would blow up in their face and cause disaster is perfectly plausible.

I can buy all of these even from a democratically elected leftist government. But then they suspend elections. But why? Advance came into power with eighty percent of the vote. Their policies are actually working, at least for most people. Celebrity culture seems to be marching on unimpeded, which suggests the economy is at least powerful enough to support a cultural elite independent of government approval (even if probably subject to government oversight and veto over specific projects). The unashamedly anti-Advance J-Zuss (off-brand Kanye West) is still showing up at major events and being given interviews by (now) state media, so political repression can’t be that bad. Advance won a war, and (unless/until you expose them in the very last broadcast) successfully covered up their responsibility for the sterility crisis, pushing the blame onto political enemies in the alt-right Disrupt faction.

Player action might plausibly be portraying them as villains, and news media does have considerable influence over people’s political opinions (particularly when it is, or is at least perceived to be, independent), but the player might also be portraying Advance as saints. Not For Broadcast has a lot of alternate clips based on different choices you’ve made, most of them contained in sub-plots with no bearing on the main story, one of which absolutely should’ve been cut if that freed up enough resources to portray Advance as continuing with a democratic mandate if they have the popular support for it, and suspending elections only if they don’t. Or, if that’s too hard to wrangle plot-wise, don’t have Advance suspend elections at all! They have a clearly demonstrated (indeed, overwhelming) ability to take power electorally and they are fulfilling their campaign promises, so why don’t they just keep doing that?

Since the whole game revolves around how news media reacts to and influences popular opinion, it’s a big deal that the popular opinion of Advance is supposed to be so overwhelmingly supportive early on, and yet within just a few years their numbers are apparently so far underwater that they’re suspending elections. This is not how that works at all, and the game’s main theme hinges upon that issue, so I’m not going to let it slide the way I did the equally stupid but less relevant thing where Advance successfully conquers most/all of the World Council through nuclear blackmail.

There’s a pretty straightforward fix to this, too. Well, straightforward in development. Since it’s an FMV game, patching the fix in properly would be very hard, require setting up a whole production pipeline with actors and sets and so forth that’s almost certainly been dismantled by now. During production, though, they could’ve just added a news story early on, possibly even in the same broadcast as announced Advance’s victory, that there’s questions about the legitimacy of the vote. A big part of the theme here is that Advance in general and Julia Salisbury in particular are well-meaning people who take extreme actions in service of their ideals out of desperation for other options, so it would be perfectly in keeping with her character and the overall narrative if she’d found some (unspecified) way of ratfucking the election to make her mandate seem overwhelming when actually she might not even have a majority. Then it would make sense that Advance escalates from ratfucking and electoral corruption to suspending elections altogether. Suspending elections is like the powered up ultimate finishing move of electoral corruption, so if Advance got into power on electoral corruption in the first place, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if they take that to the next level.

Alternatively, if Advance’s margins were very thin, it would be much easier to believe that after the Twenty Weeks War and the sterilization crisis, their odds in the next election are looking grim, but the crisis has given them enough power to suspend elections.

Alternatively-alternatively, Advance could face some massive scandal or catastrophic failure (like if the sterilization crisis and associated coverup came out before they suspended elections, not after) that made retaining a democratic mandate untenable. Because of the degree of censoriousness present in this stage of the game, it’s hard to tell whether the sterility crisis is being ascribed to Advance or not, so this might be happening, but if so, it’s too far behind the scenes to be easily noticed, and with how incredibly blunt the rest of this game’s political commentary is, I don’t think it’s fair to ask players to pull out the magnifying glass and read between the lines in the third act. Plus, exposing Advance’s responsibility for the sterility crisis is supposed to be a big deal. If all it does is confirm would 50%+ of the population already suspected, why would that be the case? This would require a more significant change to one of the broadcasts to make the sterility crisis front and center before elections get suspended, and ideally it would still react to public opinion of Advance – if the player is keeping public opinion of the government high, then that kind of necessarily means they’ve successfully dodged public accountability for the crisis.

I’ll also admit to being kind of salty about getting a military dictatorship ending, which I have discovered happened because alt-right militia leader Alan James survived the first alt-right coup attempt at the game’s mid-point. I consistently refused to cooperate with him during that broadcast, but I wasn’t very good at live-editing the memorial for fallen Advance minister Peter Clement, so it came out pro-Disrupt (Alan James’ faction). My refusal to support Disrupt in the other three parts where that’s an option apparently wasn’t enough to tip the scales. Maybe Disrupt’s overall popularity had something to do with it? I had gone against Advance censorship practices for a couple of broadcasts, allowing pro-Disrupt celebrity guests to get their message out and depicting both Advance Prime Minister Julia Salisbury’s heroism and compassion in reaction to a Disrupt terrorist attack, security forces firing on pro-Disrupt (but seemingly unarmed) protesters, and Salisbury’s too-late orders not to fire, plus I was ride or die for Jeremy Donaldson during his stand against Advance censorship (he is otherwise unaligned, but Disrupt benefits from Jeremy making Advance look bad), so Disrupt had a fair amount of public support going into the coup. But according to online guides that shouldn’t make a difference. Only your actions during the Disrupt uprising broadcast should affect whether Alan James survives it, and I was totally unwilling to provide them support during a violent uprising. If the premise of the game didn’t mean that fighting Disrupt usually came at the cost of abandoning my duty to inform the public, I would’ve been actively crushing Disrupt at every opportunity.

What particularly stings is that, had I killed Alan James, I almost certainly would’ve gotten an epilogue where Prime Minister Salisbury is imprisoned for her crimes and Advance goes on to win the next election with a new candidate (Katie Brightman, a generally reasonable economist who had a minor role in some early broadcasts). That’s not automatically the ending I would’ve gotten had Alan James died, but there’s no way I wouldn’t have run the tape exposing Salisbury’s crimes. With that ending, I’d still be nervous that maybe the elections were rigged because Advance has gotten shady as Hell over the course of their regime and we don’t really know much about this new prime minister, but that’d still be a way better ending than the one where a military dictatorship is installed after Salisbury gets assassinated by James and is subsequently gunned down.

1 thought on “Not For Broadcast”

  1. > it’s a big deal that the popular opinion of Advance is supposed to be so overwhelmingly supportive early on, and yet within just a few years their numbers are apparently so far underwater that they’re suspending elections
    That’s actually not true. Whether Advance is popular or not depends entirely on how you present them, which leads to them either winning, losing, or tieing if the elections are forced to happen. I would assume the elections get suspended because Julia gets increasingly more paranoid and dictator-y as the game goes on and doesn’t want to risk anything, but who can tell.

    Where the game aged worse for me is their interpretation of a relationship between the state media and an authoritarian state. It’s so incredibly naive I can’t take the game seriously anymore, even though I very much enjoyed it when I first played it. Because the war in Ukraine happened. And when the war happened, quite a few Russian media personalities spoke against it. Some of the biggest names on TV, like Ivan Urgant, host of a popular Late Night Show “Nightly Urgant”. Urgant lost his job. Immediately. The very next day he made a post on social media – his show was shut down. And a week later Urgant took his family and left to Israel “on vacation”. Because authoritarian governments do not give a fuck and will absolutely hammer down all inconvenient media.

    Not For Broadcast is a funny, well-acted game. But its messages of freedom and moderation are so vague that they are non-existent. “Authoritarian dictatorship is bad” and “Shadowy oligarchical cabals are bad”. Yeah man, no shit. It’s almost as bad Disco Elysium trying to jab at liberal democracy and “centrism” with its Moralintern.

    Liked by 1 person

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