I happened to be visiting Portland on the weekend that the official website of the Maine Republican Party put a lot of energy into mocking Colleen Lachowicz, a state senate candidate, for playing World of Warcraft. The story became literal front-page news of the October 5 Portland Press Herald, so that the toothy green face of “Santiaga”, Lachowicz’s orcish in-game persona, grinned from within every nearby newspaper kiosk.
Among the many surprising upsets and turnarounds that happened through state and local ballots in the shadow of Tuesday’s presidential election, nestled among sudden groundbreaking advances for women and gay rights, came the conclusion of this story: the mockery seems to have backfired, and Lachowicz won the election, unseating incumbent state senator Tom Martin. (Her support came largely from Waterville, my own fond home for several years post-college.)
I’ve seen some on Twitter stating proudly that Lachowicz represents a first for gamers or WoW-players in state politics, which I would be willing to wager isn’t really true, among American representatives in general or Maine’s senate in particular. More true is that this is the first time I recall seeing gameplay among (potential) American office-holders becoming so overtly politicized, and therefore becoming part of the conversation, even if only over the relatively small stage of a Maine state senate seat.
I find myself at least as interested, though, in how this story has given the lie to the bogeyman, which we like to rattle occasionally before our Facebook-addled youth, that a life lived online can only come back to haunt you later. Here we had a troublemaking entity literally mailing out colorful fliers pull-quoting Lachowicz posting gleefully on message boards about poisons and stabbing (Santiaga is an 85th-level rogue, you know), attempting paint her as a silly fool or perhaps a dangerous maniac. Not only did that not hurt her, but it might very well have helped her win.
Generation-X member Lachowicz is on the leading edge of younger citizens, digitally apt and fully enmeshed in online cultures — including games — who begin to hear the call to run for public office. There will follow countless more after her, in this country and others. To the swelling ranks of postmillenials now becoming politically active, I say this: may xkcd 137 forever serve as a shining beacon. Have courage, say what you mean, and make the change you want to see. And don’t stop playing.