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Maine Candidate's 'World of Warcraft' Habit Becomes Political Issue
10/12/2012   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

The state Senate race in District 25 in Waterville made international headlines last week after a GOP mailer took aim at Democratic candidate Colleen Lachowicz. The ad criticized Lachowicz for leading a "bizarre double life" as a character in the online role playing game, World of Warcraft. The ad also points voters to a GOP-funded Web site called Colleen's World, which shows Lachowicz's picture morphing into the green, ogre-like, fanged assassin from the game. But some media analysits question whether the attack strategy was effective, especially among younger voters. Jennifer Mitchell reports.

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The average age of a video game player is 37, according to a study released last year by the Entertainment Software Association. These adults, members of Generation X, were the first kids to have personal computers and video games. Some of the games, with names like Death Race, Gauntlet and Street Fighter, can contain controversial content - and politicians know it.

"The party is definitely trying to play to the fears of the senior voters, to say it's a deep dark mysterious world and you should be wary of people that behave this way," says Cam Marston, president of Generational Insights, a nonpartisan company based in Alabama that specializes in age-based marketing strategies.

Politicians, just like product advertisers, have the same basic problem, he says: how to get through to voters of different generations, because what works on a 65-year-old, is probably not going to resonate with the under 30s. The recent GOP ad that targeted candidate Colleen Lachowicz, he says, is likely to be less effective on younger voters.

"The Generation X-ers and the Millennials - the under 47-year-old marketplace out there who's been targeted by ads their entire lives, who have become very media savvy - they know that the person who edits this ad has a great influence on how it sounds. But they're probably also distorting the truth," Marston says. "They've got a great cynicism towards the advertising world."

And Marston predicts that taking aim at Lachowicz's hobby as a gamer will backfire with the under-45 crowd. But he says it could work rather well with Maine's many over-65 voters, if they buy into the popular notion that games encourage laziness and glorify violence.

Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen defends the mailer, and says comments Lachowicz had posted on a gaming Web site speak volumes.

"Well because many of her comments were related to her gaming, such as, for example, she said that her productivity at work was much worse now that she had been posting in her gaming forums," Sorensen says. "Let's remember the fact that she works for a taxpayer-funded non-profit agency, so, that's a relevant thing."

Sorensen says that the ad was to highlight those comments, not to villify gaming or gamers, or to offend Generation X.

"Then why did someone start a fake site with a picture of her as an assassin, you know?" says Andrew Ian Dodge, a former GOP member who worked to elect Maine Gov. John McKernan.  He also plays and reviews video games online.

Dodge recently left the Republican party to run as an Independent candidate for U.S. Senate, because, as he puts it, the party is marginalizing younger voters, many of whom play games and who were offended by the GOP ad.

Dodge recently left the Republican party to run as an Independent candidate for U.S. Senate, because, as he puts it, the party is marginalizing younger voters, many of whom play games and who were offended by the GOP ad.

"Why bring that in?" he says. "She said some things which were, I don't know, close to the bone, I think you could say. Why not concentrate on that? Why do you have to bring up the game and sort of include all these other people who have nothing to do with this little issue?"

Dodge says that gaming is an easy device by which to make a candidate seem ridiculous. He says the tactic points to what he calls a lack of respect for younger voters who don't necessarily fit the GOP's establishment profile. He says he suspects that the same attitude played a role in the primary, where Maine's Ron Paul delegates, most of whom were younger than middle age, were denied seats in Florida.

David Sorensen at Maine GOP says that the party has received phone calls from angry gamers, mostly, he says, from out of state. But he also says that many people appreciated the ad and felt that it raised valid issues.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party says that the debate has elevated Lachowicz's profile into a international arena and that support has been pouring in. The only thing that both sides can agree on is that it's the kind of viral publicity that can't be predicted or bought by either side.


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