In what seems a remarkably cynical, small-minded maneuver, the Republican Party in Maine has chosen to hang a popular video game around the Democratic candidate for Maine State Senate’s neck like an albatross, accusing her of being unfit for office because she plays World of Warcraft.
“Colleen Lachowicz is a Democrat candidate for Maine State Senate,” begins a disclaimer at the top of a spartan, orange-on-white website “paid for and authorized” by the Maine Republican Party and disparagingly dubbed “Colleen’s World.”
Then the long knives come out: “In Colleen’s online fantasy world, she gets away with crude, vicious and violent comments like the ones below. Maine needs a State Senator that lives in the real world, not in Colleen’s fantasy world.” The claim parallels a press release, also sent by the Maine GOP, with the tabloid-esque subject line: “Democratic Senate Candidate Colleen Lachowicz’s Disturbing Alter-Ego Revealed.”
It’s an ironically crude and viciously parochial allegation — one that’s likely to offend anyone who’s into video games, or just imaginary worlds in general. Fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books? Enjoy an occasional game of Chutes & Ladders with your kids? Ever play Dungeons & Dragons? Do not pass go, and don’t even think about running for political office.
What’s next, “I didn’t roll the dice” is the new “I didn’t inhale”?
But no, I’m guessing the misguided folks who decided that using faulty video game stereotypes to bludgeon Lachowicz (and, by association, gamers of all stripes) might argue it’s also about what Lachowicz said while discussing gameplay mechanics, waxing political and using adult language in online forums.
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?!
We’re progressive…in fact we joke about being a socialist guild.
But the point isn’t really about the the comparison to 9/11 so much as what a tremendous opportunity we have, our president has to create a unity of purpose, joining liberals, teabaggers, citizens to take on this task.
But as Bangor Daily News noticed, Lachowicz isn’t the only one taking strong positions or using coarse language:
Speaking of online comments, The Maine GOP should probably watch their own a little more closely. In a Facebook response to Republican activist (and BDN blogger) Chris Dixon who spoke out against the Party’s actions, they wrote “Chris – You probably like seeing your name in the paper, but next time you have a problem with something the party does, grow a set and give us a call.” They also refer to Romney’s performance in the debate as an “ass kicking,” the exact same language they criticize Lachowicz for using (and censored with asterisks) on their attack site.
The rest of Lachowicz’s comments can be found strewn about “Colleen’s World” below a giant picture of her WoW character with the caption: “Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga is a Level 85 Orc Assassination Rogue in the World of Warcraft.”
By comparison, the only real-life picture of Lachowicz shown is a tiny thumbnail scraped from her campaign site — a thumbnail that’s been edited to cycle between her face and the face of her WoW alter ego. The Maine GOP is also distributing the following flier:
The implication is clear: Voters are supposed to identify Lachowicz as her in-game avatar — a giant green-skinned, purple-mohawked, knife-and-spiked-sickle-wielding creature who likes to “stab things…a lot.” According to the Maine Republican Party, vote for Lachowicz and you’re voting for that.
Lachowicz was understandably surprised and troubled by the attacks.
“I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games,” she said in a statement on her campaign site. “Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!”
“What’s really weird is that the Republicans are going after my hobbies instead of talking about their record while they’ve been running Augusta for the last two years. Instead of talking about what they’re doing for Maine people, they’re making fun of me for playing video games. Did you know that more people over the age of 50 play video games than under the age of 18? As a gamer, I’m in good company with folks like Jodie Foster, Vin Diesel, Mike Myers, and Robin Williams. Maybe it’s the Republican Party that is out of touch.”
Out of touch indeed about video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry report, the average U.S. household owns at least one game device, half own an average of two dedicated game consoles, the average gamer is 30 years old and has played video games for over a decade. Forty-seven percent of all gamers are women, and women aged 18 or older are one of the games industry’s fastest growing demographics.
What’s more, Lachowicz has been open about her sometime hobby from the start. In December 2011, one of Lachowicz’s guild-mates posted the following to Daily Kos:
One of our original founding members, Colleen Lachowicz, better known in the guild as Santiaga or Ralista, is running for the Maine State Senate. Colleen is a long time political activist and advocate for kids and health care. Also her DPS is amazing. Mainers will be fortunate indeed if she wins to have her in there fighting for education, kids, health care, jobs and the 99% against the one of the absolute worst of the Tea Party Wing Nut Governors which were inflicted upon us all in the 2010 election patch. (I hate that patch.)
I asked Stardock president and CEO Brad Wardell what he thought of “Colleen’s World.” Wardell is known for designing as well as publishing memorable PC strategy games like Galactic Civilizations, The Political Machine and Sins of a Solar Empire. He also identifies as politically conservative.
Wardell told me he was “pretty disappointed to see the [Maine] Republicans using an online computer game character as the means to belittle someone running for office” and that it “makes the Republicans appear out of touch and dishonest to the millions of people who play online games.”
“I think it’ll backfire on them,” he added.
And in a post critical of Lachowicz’s political positions, conservative blogger David French acknowledges that the Maine GOP is “playing a dangerous and misguided political game.”
It’s dangerous because Colleen’s gaming hobby is now more popular than going to the movies, and increasing numbers of young people (my age and younger) see gaming as just another form of entertainment — a form superior in many ways to the entirely passive acts of television and movie-watching. In other words, when you mock gamers, you mock millions upon millions of entirely-normal, high-functioning individuals.
Even The Colbert Report weighed in:
People tell me Colleen Lachowicz is an orc and I believe them because Sting [not the musician] is glowing … Maine simply cannot afford to have a level 85 Orcish Assassin riding her Albino Drake through the Senate chambers and intimidating colleagues with her Gylnian Ring of Ruination.
Lachowicz is squaring off against Republican incumbent Thomas Martin, Jr., elected to represent the second district of the Maine State Senate in 2010. Martin has so far offered no comment on his party’s attacks, and the website itself tucks a disclaimer away at bottom reading “Not authorized by any candidate.”
We’re each accountable for the things we say — even more so when running for elected office — and there’s nothing wrong with challenging Lachowicz on the merits of what she’s said, online or off. But tarring her or any candidate with the “plays video games” brush is irresponsible and dishonest, a ploy to shame her by playing up hackneyed stereotypes about the sort of people — all 183 million of us in the U.S. alone — who play video games.
Whoever authorized “Colleen’s World” owes both Lachowicz and video gamers in general a sincere apology.