Friday, October 5, 2012

Santiaga for Senate

Colleen Lachowicz plays the popular online fantasy game World of Warcraft, where she assumes the guise of an orc rouge assassin named “Santiaga”.

Nothing wrong with that, as millions of Americans play WoW and battle monsters in an online pixilated realm.

Lachowicz is also a Democratic State Senate candidate in Waterville, Maine, and her opponent, State Senator Tom Martin, believes playing fantasy roleplaying games disqualifies one from elected office.

So much so that the Maine GOP gathered Lachowicz’s online comments and put them in a blog.

Most of these comments are many years old and casually refer to stabbing online foes and real-world politics and characterizes the GOP as "selfish". 

Yet the stabbing references make the GOP go apeshit.

Before I go any further, I must confess I’ve never played WoW, or any MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) before. I primarily design and play pen and paper RPGs (Role-Playing Games) and have for many years. Reality Blurs, a game company in Memphis, Tenn., published my game, Ravaged Earth, in 2008. The second revised edition of Ravaged Earth will be released in the next few months. The closest I’ve come to playing WoW is Skyrim, a sprawling, epic fantasy adventure from Bethesda Softworks. Even though I don’t reside in Maine or know anything about Lachowicz’s campaign or where she stands on the issues, I’ll venture to say we both enjoy gaming.

Gamers, regardless of their political leanings, should unite and stand up for each other.

The Maine GOP prepared a mailer showing a photo of Lachowicz and her online doppelganger, the green-skinned, mohawked orc.

“Colleen Lachowicz spends hundreds of hours playing in her online world Azeroth, as an orc assassination (sic) rogue named Santiaga.”

Seriously? You can’t even get the character class “assassin” right?

“What’s worse, in Colleen’s World she gets away with crude, vicious and violent online comments”, the mailer continues.

What? On a private online server between fellow gamers, she can let her hair down, relax and vent?

It almost makes you wonder if the intended demographic for this mailer includes little blue-haired elderly dowagers with fainting couches.

So what are these scandalous comments which doth maketh baby Jesus cry?

“I love poisoning and stabbing! It is fun. I never thought I would love it so much either. I did not start out WoW with a rougue…” Lachowicz wrote Feb. 11, 2010.

“I used EJ to re-spec my rogue (the lovely and talented orc rogue Santiaga here. Thank you for noticing my totally hot purple Mohawk!) I got heavier into the assassination tree for more mutilate skill. I did lose some speed and ability in stealth as a result, to my dismay. But my dps (Deaths Per Second) increased quite a bit…” she wrote June 11, 2009.

“I play a rogue…I like to stab things and I’m originally from NJ…what’s your fucking point?! lol” she wrote Feb. 11, 2010.

I’m from New Jersey, too and I attest we don’t fuck around.

“Oh…and I can kill stuff without going to jail. There are some days when this is more necessary than others,” she wrote on Dec. 17, 2009.

“That is the joy of the VM [Vagina Monologues] traditional or trans! Yelling “CUNT” onstage always cracks me up.” She wrote Nov. 12, 2009.

Wait, what?

What does her quote about the Vagina Monologues have to do with online fantasy roleplaying? Oh, I get it. It’s because she used the pejorative word “cunt”, one of the foulest words in the English language, and if you don’t believe me, call a woman this and see what happens. I guess this quote was selected to make Lachowicz seem like a Tourettes-addled potty-mouth.

You know how Republicans hate using obscene words in public. In private, it’s a whole other matter.

So how does the ad consolidate its message?

“We need a Senator who lives in OUR world, not Colleen’s World. Vote NO on Colleen Lachowicz.”

What this attack ad tries to accomplish is portray Colleen Lachowicz as a lazy, deluded woman-child wholly divorced from reality. It tries (unsuccessfully) to paint her as someone who prefers enacting violent fantasies in an imaginary place, and a videogame, of all things.

Delusional, fanciful, and pitiful, Lachowicz should be ignored because she’s not a member of “our” world, of the “real world”, where she’s running for political office, according to the Maine GOP.

There’s a certain segment of the population, older, more conservative and curmudgeonly, who will never understand the concept of RPGs and online gaming. To them, it’s just a child’s toy, a pastime for geeks, dweebs and dorks too socially awkward and uncoordinated to man-up and play sports.

It’s the old high school rivalry of jocks versus nerds. It’s the same level of bullying and cajoling you see in 17-year olds confronted with something they don’t understand, so by ridiculing it, they gain instantaneous satisfaction.

WoW is a hobby. It’s a way for Lachowicz and others to unwind.

When imagination is frowned upon with a condescending eye, what’s that say about us as a culture?

Gamers transcend political party, race, economic and social barriers. They are a zany yet intelligent bunch who love being entertained and socializing with each other.

A political flap over Dungeons & Dragons surfaced in 2008 when then-Republican candidate Senator John McCain’s staffer Michael Goldfarb wrote, “It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement.”

Translation: “Shut up, nerds! Let the grown-ups take control for once!”

Viewed through the conventional lens, games like WoW and D&D are strange, weird and bizarre, and so are the players. The geeks who attend conventions dressed as anime or Nintendo characters or wear chainmail bikinis or…actually, the chainmail bikinis are pretty cool.

Until the media portrays geek culture and gaming culture with dignity and realism, we're just going to be labeled as pariahs and annoying stereotypes.

So how batshit loopy is Colleen Lachowicz? If she’s a hardcore gamer, she’s got to be a slob with a sub-par IQ who works part-time at Kinko’s, right?

According to her website, Lachowicz graduated with college and spent a year in Eastern Europe providing counseling services to international students before attending graduate school at Boston College for a Masters in Social Work. She worked at Kennebec Behavioral Health since 1997 and was the Program Director of School-Based Services since 2005. She’s a wife and stepmom and has been working since she was 15 years old.

From reading her website, she seems like a down-to-earth, nurturing person, one bereft of pretenses and snobbery.

But somehow because she plays WoW, she shouldn’t be taken seriously as a candidate and dwells in a fantasy world?

Let’s talk violence, because that seems to be a major concern with the Maine GOP’s criticisms. Lachowicz’s comments indicated she enjoys stabbing and killing in the game.

Yes, combat and violence are a part of MMORPGs and RPGs. Fighting enemies, taking their loot and upgrading weapons is standard.

What about a hunter who, as part of his hobby, goes into the woods with a rifle or shotgun and shoots a deer in the face or stabs a peasant in the gut? A sportsman can kill animals in the real world and be celebrated, but someone killing things in an imaginary online world is a psychopath?

Not that I’m against hunting, or firearms ownership, but if you’re implying someone’s dangerous because they say they like stabbing targets in an online universe, while hunters kill real animals and nobody blinks, it’s a little disingenuous.

Also, this notion that assuming another persona is somehow creepy and unsettling should be put into context, especially with the popularity of Civil War reenactments. So portraying an orc rogue in a computer game is weird, but actually dressing up in 19th century military gear and fighting the Battle of Gettysburg is normal? Camping out, marching and eating hardtack while cleaning your scattergun is completely acceptable, but the nerds at the Renaissance Fair in leggings and ruffled shirts are just freaks.

Fantasy versus reality.

What world are you living in?

Remember Rich Iott, the Republican who ran for Congress in 2010? Iott was known for dressing as a Nazi in World War II reenactments. Say what you will about Lachowicz and her kooky green orc, but she never donned a Waffen SS uniform and pretended to be the very epitome of evil.

Yet not all people who participate in historical reenactments are reactionary throwbacks longing to re-live past conflicts, but then again, not everyone who plays computer games are dangerous, nutty loners.

The problem with such an attack against a woman and her WoW hobby is it’s desperate.

Attacking a candidate on their positions, their records and proposals is fair game. Yet the game the Maine GOP wants to play is dirty. It’s the worst kind of mud-slinging, the implication that someone in mentally unbalanced because they enjoy RPGs and MMORPGs.

Lachowicz’s orc character is level 85, according to the Maine GOP. That takes dedication and skill, but in the jaundiced eyes of non-gaming haters and scoffers, it means she’s lazy. Out of touch. An overgrown child.

Yet it’s the Maine GOP who are acting like children for pointing this out in the first place.

WoW is Lachowicz’s hobby, and a very benign and harmless one.

When a state political party savages a woman because of her online postings in a game forum and doesn’t use the opportunity to discuss policy, the voters ultimately lose. This lack of substance and rise of superficiality in political discourse frankly disgusts me. This is what’s important to us? Someone’s online fantasy character?

The real difference between the two candidates in this race is simple; one candidate has a childlike enthusiasm for living in a fantasy world of barbarians, monsters and mythology, and the other candidate has a World of Warcraft account.

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