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Interview: Maine Senate candidate tells why gamer shaming bodes ill for the future

Interview Maine Senate candidate tells why gamer shaming bodes poorly for the future
Is playing World of Warcraft so bizarre and disturbing that players should be considered unfit for public office? According to the Maine Republic Party, the answer appears to be yes. Late last week, the party launched a jaw-droppingly clueless campaign attempting to shame Democratic State Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for -- oh yes, here it comes again -- playing a video game.

"We're not attacking Colleen for being a gamer," Maine Republican party communications director David Sorensen denied in an interview with Polygon. "Our website and mailers are focused on Colleen's extremely offensive remarks made in connection with her gaming, including saying that Maine's governor must have been a child prostitute or drug dealer, and how she might drown conservative activist Grover Norquist in a bathtub."

Despite the GOP backpedaling, one look at the mailer and ColleensWorld, the supporting website, makes the gaming slur (and the noncontextual nature of Lachowicz's comments) painfully obvious. Clearly, whoever conceptualized the campaign suffers from a lack of cultural context. Perhaps they didn't know that World of Warcraft is even used as a teaching tool in public schools, making gaming a natural fit for 48-year-old Lachowicz, a licensed social worker, stepmother, and licensed foster parent. We're guessing they probably didn't visit Lachowicz's campaign Facebook page, where a clip from gaming innovator Jane McGonigal outlines how gaming in moderation actually makes people better at the other things they do.

Why does nonsense like this persist? In an exclusive phone interview with WoW Insider, Lachowicz told us why the Maine GOP's embarrassing misstep hasn't negatively impacted her campaign but still fills her with foreboding for the future of young people growing up in the digital age.

Interview Maine Senate candidate tells why gamer shaming bodes poorly for the futureMain character Santiaga, orc assassination rogue
Guild Wreck List
Realm Garros (US)

WoW Insider: This must be such a frustrating incident for you, having your entire campaign derailed by an attack on your hobbies, of all things. The Maine GOP claims it's not attacking your gaming but rather the "violent rhetoric" of your forum posts -- but obviously, it's the pseudo-sinister image of a video game player with a somewhat tenuous hold on reality that's the hook. What's the social and political culture there in your senatorial district? Are there significant numbers of Maine residents who don't realize that video games are a mainstream hobby today?

Colleen Lachowicz: I don't know -- I have no idea. I was shocked that they attacked me for video gaming because I would think most people realize that it is very mainstream. I don't know if the people who developed the ads know that. Most people I run into think it's rather silly that they attacked me over that.

What about the forum posts your opponents have resurrected from the past? Some people have questioned the wisdom of your tone and and conduct there. Others defend your remarks, noting that they seem rather unremarkable in context of where they were written. At this point, how are you responding to critics of those remarks?

I'm saying the same thing that I've been saying for days now, actually, that it's unfortunate that they were taken out of context. And it's all a mish-mash of stuff, about gaming and things like that. It makes no sense to me that they're just pulling them out like that. I found it funny when I saw the mailer, and one of the quotes was a reference to an Elitist Jerks kind of thing I had said -- and I was like, "Wow! All the geeks will be impressed with that!" (chuckles) And they didn't know what DPS meant, did they? (hearty laughter)

Interview Maine Senate candidate tells why gamer shaming bodes poorly for the future
"Deaths per second ..."

I know ... I was like "Wow..." (more laughter) So yeah, I think they're all taken out of context -- and for people who have gamed, they know exactly what I'm talking about.

The whole kerfuffle seems to be more indicative of a generational divide than anything else -- not only the whole mistaken idea of gaming as something odd and somewhat creepy, but being able to understand the context of your remarks on the forum. It seems the campaign was counting on voters to demand the polished background of a career politician rather than the real-life working professional you're presenting. Are voters getting that difference?

I think so. And I think gaming is so mainstream that you know, when you say there's a difference between a real-life professional versus a regular games person -- what's the difference between them? I gamed with people who are lawyers, college professors, all sorts of things -- retired people ... It's everyone.

I mean, I don't even know if it's generational. That's often a misperception too, that it's only young people that do it. I work with young people, and lots of them game, but there's also plenty of adults. I just met a guy yesterday, I was knocking on doors, who's 64 years old and plays EverQuest.

At the national level, of course, the media continues to pick apart every last scrap of personal minutiae available. Do you think voters weigh the personal lives of candidates differently at the state and national levels?

I don't know. My concern is (and I said this the other day too) that there's personal issues, and then there's: Are you going to kind of hold everyone up to a microscope, you know, things they've said?

I really worry about young people who are living much more in the digital arena than I am, even. Is everything they say going to be held against them? I worry about it discouraging people to run for office, if they think that things from seven years ago that they may have tweeted might be held against them. There's a point where you have to have a little more sanity about this.

Maybe move our attitudes as far into the digital age as our actions?

That would be good. (laughs)

Interview Maine Senate candidate tells why gamer shaming bodes poorly for the futureHow has all this publicity affected your campaign strategy?

I don't know that's it's affected the strategy. I've been doing this for a while, close to a year now, where I knock on doors and talk to voters and tell them a little bit about me and why I'm running for office, some of the things I'd like to change and ask them what their concerns are. That hasn't changed. I keep doing that every day. That's what I did this weekend; that's what I did in the midst of all this thing blowing up. That's hasn't changed.

I think the only difference would be that we have far more people paying attention to that now. I've gotten a lot more support from the 18-to-30 crowd -- but also from other people, too. It's funny that exactly like like the guy I talked to yesterday who's 64, I knock on the door now and some people recognize me. It's sort of funny.

"It's that rogue ..."

(laughs) I know, right?

Stabbing things aside, what are the actual issues you're trying to talk about in your campaign for the Senate seat?

Well, I'm a social worker, and I work with Maine children and their families every day. I became concerned because I saw that some of the legislation that had come down had increased the cost of health insurance, primarily for working families. And then there were cuts that impacted primarily children and elderly people. I just thought that was wrong and no one's talking about this.

And it's kind of funny: I've been knocking on doors for nearly a year now, saying "I want to talk about these real issues." I'm still frustrated, like many people, that it winds up being about theater instead, right? This silly stuff. So then to have this attack happen was sort of like, "This is what I've been saying for a year now." I want to talk with people and have a real conversation about where they want to go and what things are important.

Is this your first run for public office?

Yeah, I've never run for office before.

When did you begin the process?

Last fall.

Let's turn to World of Warcraft. You've been playing since Wrath of the Lich King, yet we've noticed it's not exactly true that you're a hardcore player pouring hundreds of hours into the game.

No! (laughs) That's the funny thing. When I saw that, that they tried to make out like I'm this hardcore gamer and have no life -- and I was like, "Did anybody check my gear score?" (chuckles)

I'm actually most proud of my pet collection. Back in the Wrath days, I collected four of the colored whelplings by hunting them all myself, not buying them on the auction house. I also caught the firefly in Zangarmarsh.

Your last three logins -- that's so sweet! You cooked ... and you fished ...

... and I hung out with friends. That was it, because I don't have time!

How would you characterize your usual playstyle -- that is, before you swung into campaign mode?

Back in Wrath, I did quite a bit of raiding, and I kept very much up with keeping my rogue in the proper spec, using Elitist Jerks. But then there came a time when I was just doing other things. I didn't do it as much and just ran a few dungeons and kind of got involved in other things – and not just campaigning, but family obligations, social things ... But I always kept in touch with my WoW friends, some who live not far from me and some who I kept in touch online with. So sometimes I would play, and sometimes I would just sort of hunt and peck to people.

(Lachowicz's GM, Dkosmama of Wreck List, added via email: "During a particularly frustrating fight on a tough raid boss, she's the one who can defuse the tension with her wicked sense of humor and get people to work together effectively to achieve the goal.")

We noticed right away that you're a member of Wreck List. Have you had a chance to visit with any of your guildmates since this turn of events?

I actually logged in Saturday night just to say hi and thanks. I checked my mail, because someone had told me that people were sending me mail in game, so I figured I should log in and see what that was.

Do you think you're going to play Mists of Pandaria when all this is over?

I think I will! Actually, someone from Blizzard called me and said they wanted to give me an autographed copy by the development team of the collector's edition. But I didn't know if I can legally accept it, and I can't call her back because her number was restricted. So I suppose I'll have to figure that out ...

Interview Maine Senate candidate tells why gamer shaming bodes poorly for the future
Have you seen the in-character @SantiagoforME Twitter account?

There's a Santiaga for Maine Twitter account?

There is! It's making in-character campaign tweets.

No, it's not us! What are they saying?

(Reads off some tweets.)

(begins laughing uproariously at the mention of Leeroy Jenkins) No, no, it's not me. See, that's how long ago those quotes were taken, as quoted in the mailer, because I've gotten to level 85 now! (chuckles)

You know, I didn't anticipate any of this happening, but one of the things I think has been the most touching has been the emails and the messages from all around the country -- and around the world, really -- from all political stripes. Especially the gamer girls, who're just like "you're my hero" kind of thing. It's sort of overwhelming.

It just really goes to show that I think those of us who do play games are eager for it not to be stereotyped anymore.

I've been reading everything people send -- the in-game mail, the phone messages, the Facebook messages, the email messages -- but I can't possibly reply to everyone, and I'm trying to get to as much of it as I can. Really, if you could just communicate to people thanks so much for the support.

That's been the most wonderful part of this. I might have been upset about the attacks, but the support from gamers all around the world and people that realized it was not a big deal, even if they didn't play WoW or if they played another game ... RIFT supporters, you know? Hey, I played RIFT for a short time, too. It's been great. And I thank them all.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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