Presidents have been appearing in video games at least since the Bad Dudes were sent in to rescue Ronald Reagan from Dragon Ninja back in 1988, but it's a somewhat rare thing to occur outside of obvious indie parody titles. I saw George W. Bush in at least three juvenile online flash games, but you never heard him alluded to as the current president in, say, the Battlefield titles set in modern times even though he totally should be based on the plot and settings.
You'd think that if any president would be a solid presence in the video game world it would be Barack Obama. In addition to being a known geek and the first president to run ads inside a video game thanks to buying ad space from Electronic Arts, he received a collector's edition of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings as a present from Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk when he toured Europe in 2008. Though he's been on record against violent games in the past, earlier this year he made a surprise turn toward endorsing them after meeting Mark Zuckerberg and hearing how interest in games led to his career in programming.
Yet even Obama pales in comparison to his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton when it comes to a solid presence on the video game world. In reality, no other president even comes close to Clinton in that department.
Granted, they both do appear as hidden characters in the 2010 NBA Jam along with Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Joe Biden, but for Clinton that was a reprise. Both Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, along with wife and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all were featured as hidden characters in the original NBA Jam back in 1994.
He's also been featured as the acting president during times of crisis for America. He's generally accepted as the sitting president in the Strike series, which was most popular during his two terms in office. Granted, it doesn't portray Clinton in the best of lights. Slip to 1:33 in the video above and you'll hear the character of General Earle explain to the newly inaugurated president (played by Carlos Alazraqui) that while he may do as he pleases with domestic policy, foreign policy will handled entirely by the covert military group known as STRIKE.
Though he relinquishes the role to a generic character later on in the series, Bill Clinton is also clearly the president in the Duke Nukem 1997 expansion pack Duke it Out in D.C. as you can see from the portrait that hangs on the wall in the White House alongside attorney general Janet Reno. The Duke is called upon to rescue the president from an invasion of alien scum that descends on Washington. He is never named, but his likeness appears in the ending where Duke saves him from the alien overlord and Clinton erects a statute of Duke on the White House lawn in gratitude.
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Perhaps the oddest Bill Clinton video game contribution comes not from Clinton himself, but from his pet cat Socks. Socks was adopted while the Clintons still lived in Arkansas, having jumped into the arms of Chelsea Clinton as she left the home of her piano teacher. During his time as official White House pet his cartoon image served as a online guide for kids on the White House website, and Hillary Clinton included letters from children to the cat in a 1993 book.
Socks also got his own video game... sort of. The idea for Socks the Cat Rocks the House, developed by Kaneko for the SNES, would be a sidescroller controlling Socks as he tried to get past politicians, photographers, spies, and other enemies in order to warn Clinton about a stolen nuclear missile.
The game was completed but never published in America, oddly, having been released just for the European market. The problem was that the bosses in the game were obvious caricatures of known U.S. politicians, including George H.W. Bush in his sole contribution to the video game industry as a character. Nintendo of America balked at the inclusion of overt political messages in a video game. This was 1993, when Nintendo was still censoring everything to make it as family friendly as possible, though it did get a fairly positive review in Nintendo Power.
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Speaking of the 16-bit era, did you know that Sonic the Hedgehog's personality was modeled directly after Bill Clinton's? It's true, and considering that Mario was patterned after an angry landlord it's at least one area where the Sega mascot tops his more successful rival. According to character co-creator Naoto Ōshima, "If there was a problem Bill Clinton took action right away. I saw that American attitude on TV. That was the kind of character I wanted to make."
Thus far, no president has appeared as himself as a voice actor in a video game, but Bill Clinton came the closest. President John Eden in Fallout 3 was offered as a role for the former president. He turned it down, but Lev Chapelsky, who handled the voice talent acquisition for the game holds no grudge against Clinton. Instead, he said he appreciated the frankness, speed, and courtesy of the "no," as opposed to working with Hollywood agents who don't call back for six months.
That's right...not only is Bill Clinton the most prolific video game president, he's one of the most honest and direct people the industry has dealt with. Put that in your sax and blow it.