If you are like me, living in the United States at this time of year, you know that it’s time for politics. The phone won’t stop ringing, ads for this candidate or that candidate pop up all the time on the television, and little cardboard signs have started appearing on all the neighborhood lawns, declaring each house’s allegiances.

However, unless you live in Maine, you may not have heard a recent story that demands the gaming community’s attention. The implications of the story of Maine State Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz are huge for the community and culture of gaming. The political landscape of not only America, but the world, is changing, and this story is an example of the growing pains. It is important for politicians from both sides of the aisle and from any party to understand how gaming has changed, who gamers really are, and even use this to both help their campaigns and form their policies.Political Machine

The story of candidate Colleeen Lachowicz starts way back in 2009 when Mrs. Lachowicz was running about the world of Azeroth, playing World of Warcraft like so many others. As Santiaga, a Level 85 Orc Rogue, she enjoyed stabbing things.

Colleen’s Character: Santiaga

So I’m a level 68 orc rogue girl. That means I stab things… a lot… Who would have thought that a peace-lovin’, social worker and democrat would enjoy that?

That is a direct quote from Lachowicz from a forum she frequented, and is a normal enough sentiment for many modern gamers. I myself found great relief during university, after a long day, in sitting in front of a television, loading up Call of Duty: Black Op Zombies, and laying into the living dead with a Thompson’s Machine Gun with a couple of my friends (it’s okay, they’re Nazis and Zombies!). Digital violence can not only be a stress relief, but a good way to train your hand-eye coordination!

Fast forward to the Fall of 2012. Lachowicz has been involved in Maine politics for some time and has decided to run as a Democratic Candidate for the State Senate. The Maine Republican Party has dug up a number of Colleen’s old forum posts and in game messages and have launched a campaign at www.colleensworld.com, ridiculing and attacking Lachowicz for her time in World of Warcraft and many of the statements connected to her through her guild and gameplay.

To a gamer, the site reads like a bad joke, but it has gained attention on numerous news sites, from the Escapist to Forbes, CNN to Fox News. While there are numerous posts that I actually think opponents would be wise to question (in particular Lochowicz statement about wanting to drown Grover Norquist, an American conservative activist, in a bathtub), and that Mrs. Lachowicz is going to have a very hard time explaining the VAST majority of the posts and comments highlighted as shocking – yet many of her posts come off as laughably quaint. It is fair to question this woman’s suitability for governance when she comments that she’d like to kill an opponent. It is not fair to question her ability when she says she enjoys “cooking sausages on the grill while doing dungeons.”

This isn’t an issues of Democratic versus Conservative ideals, nor even attack ads, privacy, or civil discourse. This is a much bigger issue. This is about gaming becoming part of the mainstream global culture. Face it boys and girls, we are not underground anymore.

The Conservative party does have a larger percentage of people who are part of the older generation. No skew, just a fact. Honestly, I think old people have some damn fine ideas, and I’d like to see every generation and every political party debate and argue at the same level, but right now there is a problem with that. Some people simply do not have the same vocabulary of technology and gaming that we do. Many of us have now grown up with gaming around us for our entire lives.  There are still numerous misconceptions that exist in the political world and it is time we started, as a community, not ridiculing people for these misconceptions, but educating.

First and foremost, the argument that a politician should not have time to play videogames is simply bogus. Gaming is hobby, just like any other. No one would bat an eye at a Politician saying he played golf, collected stamps, or was part of almost any other hobby. People simply have a misconception about what the “gamer” is now. From the Colleen’s world site, there is the statistic listed that “the average WoW gamer is 28 and spends 22.7 hours a week playing in Azeroth”. I actually was kind of shocked by this. I thought it would have been a much lower age  and a far greater time commitment. Let’s round up (because I dislike math),  and that gives us a 30 year old gamer who spends roughly three hours a day playing World of Warcraft. That average probably doesn’t account for weekend binges and I know I’ve spent hours in an MMO simply using it as a chat room. That’s just an average, and is more than likely thrown off by outliers on either side of the data set.

Who is the “Typical Gamer”

The 28 year-old comment shouldn’t even hold weight. The average gamer is now figured to be 34 [quoted from http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp]. Gaming is a hobby that is edging more and more into older and older generations. Casual gaming has been introduced into many senior living centers, and the average age of gamers continues to climb. The claim that gaming is a juvenile hobby doesn’t really hold weight anymore. It certainly began as a hobby for children, but in an industry producing as many “M” rated games, specifically meant to NOT be played by children, as it does, I don’t think you can even claim the gaming industry is dominated by children anymore.

Now, the time spent in this hobby is at least a marginally valid complaint. No matter what your job, if you spend most of your time doing something other than that job, your performance is likely going to suffer, and people have every right to criticize you for it. When your performance suffering is going to affect the governing of an entire state, and all the people living there, it’s probably a good idea to rethink your priorities.

WHICH CAN HAPPEN!!

Who’s to say that, upon winning the position as State senator, Lochowicz wouldn’t let her WoW account lapse for a while, or simply not play nearly as much? Any hobby can do this. If a politician were to play golf during a crisis, that would be unacceptable, but there is no problem with him taking time off to relax and enjoy a hobby every once in a while. WoW is just another hobby, nothing more, nothing less. You can play it casually or over-indulge.

The idea of playing games and working in politics has even been proven to not only be acceptable, but perhaps even

Sean Smith and VileRat, his avatar

beneficial by another story that popped up in the news  a month or so ago. Sean Smith was one of the four Americans killed at the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi on Septemebr 11th of this year [http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/09/vilerat/]. He was a valued member of the Diplomatic Service… and what can only be deemed a more than casual EVE online player. While it was tragic to hear of his death, it was also more than a little inspiring to see a gamer (and one who played EVE, a game only the most determined and hordcore of gamers can handle) in such an important political office. But that isn’t the most important part.

While in the world of EVE, Sean Smith, known as Vile Rat , was a diplomat of great skill and renown. Not only for his Alliance, the Goonswarm, but within the entire game. EVE was, in many ways,  another world for Smith to practice the art of diplomacy, and skill he was directly connected to in his life and to his career. Gaming provided him a training grounds. Gaming helped him be better at his job.

And who is to say games haven’t been doing this for a while? Simulation games can teach you a lot about whatever you are simulating, be it plane, train or city to build. Playing the economy in a game like WoW or GW2 can teach you a lot about how the stockmarket works. I know I have learned a ton of knowledge about history I may very well not have come across from the Age of Empires series, and learned a ton of vocabulary for my Archaeology of Greek and Roman Daily Life class from CivCity Rome. (Hey, whatever works, right Dr. Shumka?)

So what do both parties have to learn from this exchange? First and foremost, we live in an age where anything you say online can be brought against you. Mrs. Lachowicz probably should have thought twice about typing some of those remarks, particularly where she was already in Maine politics. Once you enter the public sphere of politics, your leisure and personal life are in a spotlight. You may hate it, but that’s the truth.

Politics + Gaming = Great Stuff

However, the Maine Republican party has made a grave error in mixing style and substance. What they should be caring about is what Colleen said, not where she said it. Gaming is a part of adult culture in today’s world. The average gamer in 34, and 25% of all gamers are over 50. [from http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp] What may have been the domain of children once is now firmly placed its feet in the adult market. The fact that someone plays a game as their hobby, and let alone enjoys being part of the community and killing a few digital monsters now and again is mo longer a valid critique of their character.

This is a larger issue, in truth. That vast majority of politicians have come from a generation that did not deal with video games, may not have ever played a video game, or experienced the internet during it’s growth. These were hobbies of the younger generations, of the 80’s and 90’s. As more and more people who grew up with video games and the internet make their way into politics, I think we’ll see a more accepting and understanding political body. Of course, by that point, we’ll probably be complaining about the fact that our kid are spending all their time in Holodecks.  At least we killed monsters and talked with REAL people while playing games!

(Everything really is cyclical, isn’t it?)

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.puresophistry.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/profile-pic.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Born in Maine, Educated in Canada, and forged on the Internet, Jacob is a proud gamer, unabashed nerd and writer. He received his degree in Classics from Mount Allison university and his love of stories and their meaning from countless hours reading Homer, playing old school RPG’s and studying Joseph Cambell. His one rule to live by? “Always dress as if you were going to give a speech.”[/author_info] [/author]