Skip to main content

Surgeon Simulator: Inside Donald Trump, explained to my future children

Surgeon Simulator: Inside Donald Trump, explained to my future children


Anxiety and absurdity on the campaign trail

Share this story

Whenever I see some piece of election-related ephemera, I like to imagine how we'll look back on it later — not in eight years, which is already surreal enough, but in several decades, when we have to explain half-forgotten topical humor to a new generation of teenagers who will think we're idiots no matter how many witty tech blog posts we've written. But unlike your average throwaway Flash parody, the strange creature known as Surgeon Simulator: Inside Donald Trumpreleased yesterday as an add-on to the well-regarded and similarly odd game Surgeon Simulator — will at least be fairly interesting to muddle through. I thought I'd save time in the future by taking a stab at it now.

What is Surgeon Simulator?

Well, technically, it launched as Surgeon Simulator 2013, and it's a video game that simulates the occupation of a surgeon and was made in 2013.

This explains nothing.

It helps to understand a few things about the contemporary culture. The first is that around 2000, the video game world started adopting something known as "ragdoll physics," a revolutionary animation process that enabled virtual bodies to flop around like terrifying boneless skin-fish. The inherent humor in this helped fuel the rise of an extraordinarily difficult but popular game called Qwop, in which players used a computer keyboard to control each individual limb of an Olympic runner.

The second is that in the early 2010s, people started noticing that there was a weirdly beloved game genre composed of detailed simulations of mundane blue-collar jobs that often (but not always) involved driving some kind of large vehicle. A video game version of Tonka Trucks? The inherent absurdity of late capitalism? Who knows. But because it had become cheap and easy to make decent-looking 3D games at this point, some surprisingly high-quality parodies followed.

We love watching people play incredibly difficult video games badly

The third is that around the same time, people became incredibly interested in watching other people play video games over the internet, and there was significant demand for silly, experimental games that would provide good footage. Since "e-sports star" and "professional streamer" are probably two of the highest-paying professions in your world, I won't dwell on this one too much.

All these things were factors in the creation of Surgeon Simulator 2013, in which players individually control each finger of an imaginary hand in order to perform (or, usually, fail at performing) life-saving surgical operations.

No, seriously, I'm not reading all that. Why do people play this?

Because it's a "simulation" that's actually humorously unrealistic, it usually results in somebody's internal organs flying out of your hand like a bar of wet soap, and the team keeps releasing funny options and scenarios for it. Which brings us to...

Who is Donald Trump?

A New York-based real estate tycoon also known for running a beauty pageant, delivering a pithy catchphrase on a reality television show called The Apprentice, running an allegedly wildly fraudulent "university," subscribing to a tenuous and fairly racist conspiracy theory regarding the birthplace of President Barack Obama, and becoming the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election. Among other things.

What's with the steaks and the vodka and the tiny hands?

Well, the first two reference his propensity for flashy self-branded products, and the last is a 30-year-old running joke about his finger length, embedded in a complex web of cultural associations concerning genitalia. As are most things, I suppose.

Give Trump a "heart of stone" or a "heart of gold"

If this is a game that's mostly about accidentally tearing out people's body parts, I guess the idea is that you can kill Donald Trump and that's funny?

That's the obvious assumption, and it would be a little bit creepy. Granted, Trump is probably the least creepy candidate for this kind of treatment, because he's wealthy and powerful; his public persona is that of a crass bully; and as a straight, cisgender white man, his physical body isn't marked with the kind of vulnerability that — in our era — would make harming it carry ugly historical baggage. But encouraging vicarious murder of a specific real person still isn't a good look, and the Surgeon Simulator developers seem to be staying away from it.

The actual premise is that Donald Trump needs a heart transplant, and you can give him a "heart of stone" or a "heart of gold," depending on whether you think he is (or maybe whether you want him to be?) good or evil. Then players' choices all get tallied up and posted live on the Surgeon Simulator website. "Stone" is winning right now, incidentally.

Again with the reading.

If you had to pin it down, I guess the idea is "Donald Trump is a human action figure, and people enjoy seeing him translated into slightly surreal video game form." It's not hugely biting political commentary, but it's harmless fun. In fact, it's a surprisingly good encapsulation of the anxiety and absurdity that was the 2016 election season.

That's all fine, but why am I talking in the style of the popular '10s web journalism "explainer" format? This seems awfully convenient for you.

You know what? Forget everything I just said. In the early 21st century, we chose the leader of the United States by implanting each candidate with a synthetic heart whose tissue was genetically engineered to represent the average American citizen, and the fittest survivor of the operations (if one existed) was elected to serve until the organ broke down after an eight-year period, representing the erosion of a popular mandate.

Surgeon Simulator eventually emerged as a cheaper, more efficient digital recreation of this process.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Not just you

Thomas RickerTwo hours ago
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.