Gaming and Politics – Who Is Out Of Touch?

You can always count on US Politicians to have a go at video games at least once in the candidate run for the Senate. This time, predictably, it’s the Republicans arguing that the state of Maine candidate Colleen Lachowicz plays World of Warcraft. Thing is, is it really so bad to see a politician playing video games?

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“Maine needs a State Senator that lives in the real world, not in Colleen’s fantasy world.”

That is the damning viewpoint the Republican party are leveling at Colleen Lachowicz, a candidate running for the Maine Senate. The assumption is obvious and clear; those who play video games are not in touch with the real world, and unaware of what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, they cannot possibly do their job properly. Perhaps this is true in some cases; there are clear examples online of people who are completely consumed by their online personas – you never really know where the character stops and the person begins – but is it really sensible to be painting 183 million Americans with the same brush?

There are of course some choice out of context “quotes” from Colleen talking about her experiences in World of Warcraft – most of them are, frankly, ridiculous and it’s fairly obvious despite the image that she is in no way a hardened player of the game. Talking about “Deaths Per Second” and carrying a rather prominently vulgar potty mouth shows how completely out of touch she is with the game she is actually talking about playing, as someone who has been playing World of Warcraft off and on for seven years I would frankly have placed her on my ignore list by now. She’s not the most eloquent of people and it is fairly clear she isn’t in any way an end-game player with a grasp of the deeper mechanics of the game. If she is going for the “Gamer” vote, she’s clearly misunderstood that most adults are perfectly capable of holding a conversation without resorting to swearing. It’s a turn off, not a highlight.

It may be that many segments of the online gaming world are a bit vulgar – Call of Duty, Darkfall and the old Vanguard forums spring to mind immediately, with Halo and Battlefield running closely beside them. But the truth is most of us stay away from that segment of the gaming world. Where there is no moderation, or a failing in moderation, people feel like they can say and do whatever they please as there is clearly no repercussion to their actions. This is bad, but it’s the story of the Internet – the Penny Arcade Greater Internet F***wad Theory has been proven correct so many times now it beggars belief. Give a normal person an audience and anonymity, coupled with the idea that they cannot possibly be held to account for their actions, and watch their inner “Dark Side” emerge. We all have an inner dark side, but it is how it is manifest that is important. This means that people who are otherwise smart, intelligent and witty can land some absolute clangers, such as Colleen’s “I can kill stuff without going to jail” remark. Yeah, it’s true, but in a position of power, surely this is the worst way to phrase this?

HOWEVER, aside this, she raises some valid points that the Republicans really need to pay attention to. Namely, some statistics from the ESRB;

  • 65 per cent of U.S. households play video games daily.
  • 49 per cent of 18 – 49 year olds play video games.
  • 26 per cent over the age of 50 play video games.
  • 25 per cent under the age of 18 play video games.
  • 2 out of 5 Gamers are female
  • The average age of a gamer is 34
  • It is a $24.8 billion industry

Video games are an unavoidable part of everyday life for a huge portion of the population of America (and here in the UK as well). We are bombarded with advertising, with flash games, with smartphones pushing games and so forth. Video games are NORMAL. The last twenty years has seen this industry positively thrive and become part of the fabric of society; where once the world looked upon it with disdain, stereotyping us all as sexually-repressed thirty-stone blobs, now it’s for everyone. The success of the Wii alone should be evidence of that; the Wii destroyed the previous notion of expensive power and made games and gaming affordable for more and more people. You can’t escape games. They are here, taxed and tested. You cannot have it both ways; a huge industry that rakes in billions of dollars whilst attacking it at every available opportunity makes no sense in a modern era.

Does that mean though that all games are good? Of course not. I can’t sit here and say that everything is rosy in the Garden of Eden, but I can say that I would resent a gamer who clearly had no concept of what it means to play games on a regular basis. I could not approve of a politician who would suggest they skip meetings and work just to squeeze in a few extra hours of gameplay. I need physiotherapy a lot right now, I wouldn’t dream of actually skipping that just so I can participate in a Sha of Anger fight. For you see, some things in life are MORE IMPORTANT than games. My current health a very real point for me, as I struggle to sleep on my medication I have become acutely aware that games can be very therapeutic – it’s a known and studied effect that gamers have more tolerance to pain, and playing games whilst in pain can take the edge off as effectively as over the counter pain relief. This is great – but when it comes down to it, my issue is blood flow, making sure I don’t lose my leg completely. That’s not something a game can help with – and therefore, it must be exercised, it must be massaged and I must have it seen to and checked at regular intervals. If you are a candidate for the US Senate, the idea you could skip running your office for a cheeky hour in Azeroth is quite abhorrent. It’s an important task, a big job, and therefore must be taken seriously. Gaming in your downtime is fine; just don’t let it cloud your senses to do less and less.

But again, flip-flopping through this argument, the fact remains that Colleen Lachowicz, whilst a little immature for a woman of her stature, is at least aware of the realities of the industry being huge, the fact that many do play games and that many are likely laughing at the recent Politikal Kombat thing. She may not be perfect but she is aware that it is a very large thing in a modern world, compared to the Republicans who have tried to argue all books are more high-brow than games. Really? I mean, REALLY really? So you’re going to tell me Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is a higher artform than something like Dark Souls from FROM Software? Just no on that front. Do some research and then come back with an argument that isn’t based in the 1800’s.

For you see, where I am going with this is here; the games industry has become huge, a bloated behemoth in the modern world that can do so much good and still does so much bad. We have real problems when politics can force a company like Blizzard to totally cut off players in another country like Iran. When we have an E3 run-up that has someone in the industry insinuating that a character can/could be raped. Games and politics have crossed paths many times and the result is akin to a Resident Evil 6 Ju’avo; vaguely recognisable but mutant beyond recognition at the same time. We need politicians in the world who understand the social as well as the political impacts that video games have, we need people who can push for legislation to be laxer in some areas, whilst being tightened in others. We need people who can sit down with the industry and talk to them without sounding like they jumped out of the screen of a showing of Gangs of New York, with intelligence and grace. The industry could benefit so much from a political system that can both encourage and punish them with equal force.

We’ve reached an impasse in the gaming world where Sony have run out of money, Microsoft can throw whatever they want at it and Nintendo fly ahead laying the foundations for others to follow. Where more and more games are selling on controversy, not on the quality of the product – a subjective issue, but surely one that is important to at least consider in this world of free information. Where gamers are subjected to harassment in the press because they cannot understand it either. Like it or not, this is a position in the world where good politics could help at least untangle and assist in the smoothing out of so many problems. Instead, it is boiled down to a personal slagging-match attacking someone for their hobby, rather than the quality of their work or their CV/Record.

I find that really depressing. For you see, the US political race and Call of Duty are not dissimilar. They are both filled with shouty, vulgar individuals who think they can get away with saying whatever to whomever because hey, it’s the time and the place for it right? May as well cash in all those slips whilst we can and undermine the opposition. Both are full to the brim with potential, and people who have potential, but are coated in a layer of filth and trash that frankly would make me think twice about jumping into the pool. And both disappear after a while, only to resurface when a new challenger approaches to take over things.

There’s not a lot of difference. Most gamers are intelligent, sensible people who play for fun, play to win, but are respectful. Not all, no, but then again – looking at the politicians gunning for a US Senate seat, I think you chaps in the States do a good job collecting up a group of oddballs and idiots for the rest of the world to laugh at. It’s not who you are – but by jove, we’re laughing. At you, with you, behind you, beside you, beyond you – and every which way.

Politicians need to make sure that even if they hate games, it’s a huge industry that they would really do with keeping on-side as much as possible. One day, perhaps there will be a good thorough cleaning up of both sides by both sides, gaming and politics, working together to purify stagnating waters and putting old out of date accusations to rest. Ensuring the industry can continue to thrive and flourish well into the future, and be a real driving force for good in the world.

I am aware that “One day” may be “another evolutionary rung on the later” (cheers QC for that line! Been desperate to find a use for it for ages!), but we need to at least be taking steps towards it. Instead, we just have people duking it out on the floor not caring about the future, the economic future, the social future, the political future that is so important to ensuring the industry is the best it can possibly be. They would much rather constantly fight than do anything remotely sensible that could impact the world for the better.

And on that front, whoever wins – we will lose. And we must stop accepting that as a result. Because it’s not fair, it’s not right – and it’s not getting us anywhere!

 

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