France’s far-left presidential candidate launched a video game where he steals money from the rich—and he’s gaining in the polls

Game face.
Game face.
Image: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
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Far-left French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants voters to take down capitalists at the ballot box—and in a video game.

Last week, Mélenchon’s campaign released a free online game (link in French), called Fiscal Kombat, in which players literally get to shake down the rich. Mélenchon stars as the main character in the game, which was inspired by the popular video game franchise Mortal Kombat.

Fiscal Kombat
Fiscal Kombat

The far-left candidate, who has recently surged in the polls in a highly fractious race, stars as the protagonist, lifting up his enemies—members of the financial elite—and shaking them until money drops out of their pockets. The villains include numerous French and European politicians and businesspeople, including IMF chief Christine Lagarde, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.

The game was born in chat rooms (link in French) dedicated to Mélenchon’s party, Unsubmissive France. Heavy on gamers and avid young supporters, the online venues have grown from tens of users four months ago to nearly 10,000 users who pop in at least once a week. A group of volunteers of various backgrounds, from graphic designers to programmers, took on the game’s development under the supervision of Melenchon’s campaign director, Emmanuel Bompard.

The clever publicity stunt is emblematic of Mélenchon’s creative campaign, which has embraced technology as a way to reach the young and enthusiastic. The candidate announced his candidacy in February using a hologram that made him appear in Lyon and Paris simultaneously.  “Where am I? I am in Lyon,” Mélenchon said before snapping his fingers and declaring, “Now I’m in Paris,” as his hologram was beamed into a venue 310 miles away.

The self-professed lover of Mao Zedong defected from his Socialist Party of 30 years in 2008, forming his own far-left party in 2016. His anti-elite, anti-globalization platform includes increased spending a 100% top income tax rate on any revenues more than 20 times the median income, a sharp minimum wage hike, and a 32-hour work week (down from 35).

On foreign policy, his views converge with his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen. He’s promised to overhaul France’s relationship to the EU, withdraw from NATO, and forge stronger ties with Russia. By contrast, he defends (paywall) the rights of immigrants and refugees, resisting more open borders in favor of tackling the problems causing mass migration.

The Socialist Party’s weakness under François Hollande’s rule has only served to boost Mélenchon. In the past two months, he has shot up from fifth place to just shy of third place, held off by conservative opponent François Fillon. His natural rival, Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, has struggled to unite his party and keep up.

For voters bucking France’s stodgy political elite, Mélenchon’s strong selling point is his personality. Mélenchon shows off his “eloquence and charisma,” which makes for an “explosive cocktail,” France’s Le Point wrote (link in French) about his popular YouTube channel.  He “gives the impression of being a real person with passionate beliefs and people are responding to that,” François Durpaire of Cergy-Pontoise University told the Financial Times (paywall).

That charisma has shone through in Mélenchon’s TV debate performances. In a snap poll after the second debate on April 5, Mélenchon came across as ”most convincing,” even though his centrist opponent Macron had “the best plans.”