I was casting about for a good topic to write about in this month’s installment of Culture Clash, my montly column for the International Game Developers Association, and this one fell into my lap. It is, after all, American Politics Season – and a completely irrelevant race in the state of Maine got my attention. Topic discovered!
In other news, this is actually the second time I’ve used a play on World of Warcraft in my title- wait… third time? I’ll have to check. In any case it’s not the first. Originality and me, we’re not always, you know, together. Enjoy!
World of Wonkcraft
By Matthew Sakey
Originally published by the International Game Developers Association
By the time you read this, the U.S. Presidential election will be less than a month off. That’s the big event, though CNN’s exuberantly complex infographics and Wolf Blitzer’s ability to speak breathlessly for minutes at a time without actually reporting any news will ensure that at least some of the hundreds of subordinate local and state races get a bit of coverage.
Presidential candidates don’t talk about games except in sound bites. It kind of makes me shrivel a little when they do. I’ll never waver in my support for Obama, but I do despise that “turn off the Playstation” crack of his. It’s just so ignorant and so… beneath such an otherwise savvy person. To his credit I haven’t heard it in this current race. Maybe he’s saving it for the Inauguration. But in general the people campaigning for the highest office, at least in the United States, are for some reason “above” serious talk about the fastest-growing leisure sector in the world.
Not so for the bevy of Drain Commissioner, Dog Catcher, and City Comptroller candidates at the local level who will also be elected in November. These individuals could be divided into two general categories: people who play or at least understand games, and people who make damning observations about their ruinous effect on the youth. Occasionally they clash, as in the instance of the Republican party and Colleen Lachowicz, the Democratic candidate for a seat on the Maine State Senate.
Lachowicz plays a little World of Warcraft. Learning this, opponents spun up the smear machine, with a web page and a nasty mailer about the candidate’s “online fantasy world.” Republican spokesman David Sorenson said that her gaming “says something about her work ethic and… immaturity.”
The candidate’s WoW hobby isn’t being attacked by her opponent, Republican Tom Martin; he actually seemed seemed a little sheepish about the whole thing. It’s his party’s machinery that’s behind the attack. Lachowicz’s response to the affair probably marked the last we’ll hear of it – Maine State Senate races could be aptly compared to what goes on in The Casual Vacancy, which is to say they’re hugely interesting only for those directly involved and practically nonexistent for everyone else.
Even if more coverage materializes, it won’t be useful or constructive, choosing to focus on mudslinging in politics, or possibly to present Wolf Blitzer with an opportunity to ruminate in ill-researched generalities on the pastime. I assure you that it wouldn’t ask the question the news doesn’t seem to ask: what’s wrong with a politician playing a video game? The woman has a hobby. If her hobby was gardening, consuming her evenings and Saturday afternoons with weeding and watering, so what? No one’s attacked Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan for exercising two hours a day (I can’t imagine Lachowicz gets more WoW time than that). Those are hours he could have spent learning about the economy, after all, something he very clearly needs to do.
The Lachowicz story is a comic example of how misguided, disingenuous, and occasionally downright strange American politics can get, that something like this is even a… a thing. If this is “cutthroat politics,” we’ve sunk pretty far. Back in the day our politicians would engage in pistols at dawn from time to time. That’s good watching.
But even more curious than what’s wrong with a politician playing games, I wonder why more politicians don’t play games. Any assertion that they’re lazy, childish, dangerous, or pointless is demonstrably ignorant – gaming is no different than watching Monday Night Football, or reading books. The worst anyone could say about gaming is that it’s kind of a sedentary hobby, but so are the two I mention above. From a politician’s point of view, modern games seem like they’d be a godsend. A game is a simulation; a “series of interesting choices,” if you will. It allows the player to experiment with decisions and consequences in a safe environment. Seems to me that as long as you’re able to make the cognitive transference from the game experience to the real one, you could learn quite a bit about governance from games.
Not sold? I’m not sure if any cognitive studies have been done on this, but after chillaxing with a game for an hour or two, I sometimes discover I’ve spontaneously come up with solutions to completely unrelated challenges. Possibly because taking your mind off something often helps, but it seems equally plausible that while the brain’s problem-solving machinery is working to succeed in a game, it is simultaneously and unconsciously multitasking on other dilemmas. Could Obama and Boehner prevent the looming Sequestration if their meetings included regular Darksiders 2 breaks?
Or let’s consider the connect-with-a-constituency tack: a national politician who goes on Kimmel or something and speaks knowledgeably about, say, his or her Call of Duty skillz is going to get some votes out of it. Most people vote on the issues, but not all. George W. Bush spent eight years tainting the White House in no small part due to the votes of imbeciles who based their choice on the sense that he was “someone you could have a beer with,” imbecile-speak for “I don’t want someone who’s intelligent or qualified, I want someone who’s an imbecile like me.” That he’s a teetotaler demonstrates how qualified those people are to have an opinion, but hey. In any case, I bet imbeciles of another kind might head off to the polls if they hear from a politician who shares their hobby, and for no other reason than that.
The news cycle has already moved beyond the tiny blip of Colleen Lachowicz and her World of Warcraft fun. Heck, I only heard about it myself because I got an outraged e-squawk from the Video Game Voters Network and saw a piece in GamePolitics. The mainstream media barely mentioned it at all. A stupid conflict between nonentities in an insignificant race is most interesting for the corollary questions it raises.
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