October 5, 2012

Don't judge candidate on 'Warcraft,' gamers say

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Mick Pratt thinks drawing attention to a political candidate's video gaming habit is sort of like telling folks not to vote for a candidate who attends football games while painted New England Patriots' colors.

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The "Warcraft" video games are known as massively multiplayer online role-playing games, where large numbers of users can interact in a virtual game world. Its 9.1 million subscribers are the most of any video game of its type in the world, according to the game’s developers.

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"Somebody who dedicates a lot of time to playing 'World of Warcraft' might be the equivalent to somebody going to a Patriots' game with a logo on their chest and getting drunk," said Pratt, 26, of Portland, who has been playing the game for seven years. "Everything in moderation, right? To say someone is a bad candidate just because they play video games or root hard for a football team, is ridiculous."

Pratt was one of several Maine gamers who reacted with disdain Thursday when they heard the Maine Republican Party had created a website to focus attention on the fact that Colleen Lachowicz -- a Democrat from Waterville running for state Senate -- plays the violent video game "World of Warcraft."

The website also links to Lachowicz's gamer profile, attributing a list of blog posts to Lachowicz's game character, Santiaga. The Republican website charges that in the blog posts, Lachowicz makes "crude, vicious and violent comments."

But people who have played "World of Warcraft" for years say it is not as violent as other games, and that it's nearly impossible to prove who made specific comments online. Gamers said game players' accounts can be stolen or used by other people, and that many people can have the same character name.

"There might be 30 people with that character name, so there's no good way to prove it," said Ryan York, 31, a "Warcraft" player and owner of a shop called Weekend Anime in Westbrook. "If she says it's her, then you know. But if she doesn't, how do we know it's not somebody using her account? We don't."

Pratt, York and others disputed the implication that "World of Warcraft" -- a multi-player game -- is violent, any more than some movies or TV shows accessible to all ages are violent.

"You're mostly killing monsters and villains, it's not like some games where there are beheadings or hacking off of limbs. The violence is stylized, it's very cartoony," said Pratt, who works at the Bull Moose music store in Scarborough. "It's a fantasy land of dragons and wizards."

A 2010 study of adolescents who play video games -- published in the Review of General Psychology by the American Psychological Association -- offered mixed results on the question of how the games affect behavior. The study found generally that violent video games could make "less agreeable" teens more hostile, but for some teens, playing violent video games allowed them to learn new skills and improve social networking.

"This game ('World of Warcraft') doesn't promote violence. If you look at it abstractly, it gets people from all over the world to work together to stop evil (in the game)," said Douglas Hanrion, 29, of Westbrook. "There are a lot worse things a candidate could do than sit in their house playing a video game. It's better than the elected officials we have who get caught with hookers."

Hanrion and other gamers say they understand that some people who don't play video games might be alarmed by the presumed violence. Or they might have heard stories about people obsessed with video games behaving in strange ways. But not all gamers should be painted with the same brush, they say.

"Certainly there are people who abuse it, who play too much to the detriment of other parts of their life," said Dem McCarthy, 33, of South Portland. "But that doesn't mean all people who play video games should be vilified."

Pratt said that whether or not someone plays violent video games would have no effect on whether he'd vote for that person. He said he also wouldn't vote for a fellow gamer just because that person is a fellow gamer.

But Hanrion says he would be more likely to vote for a fellow gamer. And since millions of people of a certain age grew up with video games, Hanrion said, he thinks it might be a mistake for Republicans to highlight Lachowicz's gaming.

"I would certainly be more likely to vote for someone who plays 'World of Warcraft,"' said Hanrion, who works at Dirigo Hobbies in Yarmouth. "Because it shows that candidate is more tapped into my generation."

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

 

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