When politics collides with World of Warcraft: Colleen Lachowicz' public shaming

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Maine state Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz participates in World of Warcraft as her avatar, Santiaga, a green-skinned, mohawked, trash-talker.
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Maine state Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz participates in World of Warcraft as her avatar, Santiaga, a green-skinned, mohawked, trash-talker.

While a Democratic Maine state Senate candidate is facing ridicule for her online life as a trash-talking assassin orc, the state GOP is taking flak for making it an issue

It's getting to be a truism that, in politics, what happens online doesn't stay online. But the scrutiny of a public figure's tweets, Facebook and blog posts, and sometimes even emails is one thing; what's happening to Maine state Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz is on a whole new level. Lachowicz, a Democrat, is under fire from the state Republican Party for her activities as a level-85 rogue orc assassin in the popular online game World of Warcraft. While Lachowicz is a rather nondescript social worker in real life, her WoW avatar, Santiaga, is a green-skinned trash-talker with a mohawk, and the Maine GOP has combed through all available details about Santiaga and posted them on a website they created to try and disqualify Lachowicz for leading a "time-consuming" and "bizarre double life." Her Republican rival, Tom Martin, is apparently not involved in this get-Santiaga campaign. Can the GOP really sink Lachowicz for enthusiastically playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), like millions of other Americans?

"I'm not sure if this is more disheartening or hilarious," says Rebecca Pahle at The Mary Sue. I mean sure, Lachowicz does get a little political in Santiaga's posts to various WoW forums — she calls selfish role-playing gamers "teabaggers," jokes that she'd like to "hunt down [anti-tax activist] Grover Norquist and drown him in my bathtub," and writes: "So I'm a level 68 orc rogue girl. That means I stab things... a lot... Who would have thought that a peace-lovin' social worker and democrat would enjoy that?" But if a "completely normal" WoW habit is disqualifying, we're reaching a new low.

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Yes, "on the one hand, this is a completely unfair attack," and "there's definitely an element of nerd-shaming here," says Louis Peitzman at Gawker. But nobody made Lachowicz mix politics in with her gaming, and her "word choice isn't exactly Senate appropriate" at all times. To someone outside the WoW culture, talk of stabbing just "sounds bad, and sometimes that's enough to tank a campaign." Besides, a "life-consuming" World of Warcraft habit can get in the way of work.

Oh, come on: "You can lie, cheat and steal, and still be elected in America," but not play World of Warcraft? says Michael Peck at Forbes. "WarcraftGate may be the funniest political 'scandal' of the season, [but] it's actually not funny." The Army now uses games to train soldiers, and universities and schools use games to teach — if all these people are held responsible for everything they do in those games, nobody will dare run for office.

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Not so fast, gaming researcher Ladan Cockshut tells BBC News. Plenty of doctors, business managers, and other responsible people play MMORPG's, and tend to admit it, when they do, with "a degree of apology or embarrassment." Having a viable state Senate candidate exposed for her World of Warcraft persona could actually help lift the "stereotypes that we love to assign to gamers: That they are lazy, antisocial people who don't have a 'real life.'"

Look, "everyone is weird on the Internet," says Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post. Everyone. "This is one of the Internet's immutable laws," and that's why this political gambit is important to everyone:

There is no one whose browser history, if broadcast, would not fill the world at large with shock and horror.... It used to be that, on runs for office, you were held accountable only for the things you did in actual life. Actual life, we understand, now extends into Facebook and Twitter and all the other tentacles of the Real World Online, where you answer to your actual name and your comments all go on the record.

One of the trade-offs of political and public life in the Internet era was that we were willing to curb our Identified Online activity. Don't post anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t say out loud. It was a sacrifice we made with the understanding that you would leave the orcs alone. ... Lachowicz, by day, is a candidate for office. By night, she’s a level-85 rogue orc in World of Warcraft who enjoys stabbing and poisoning. You can't expect a level-85 rogue orc to act like a state senator from Maine. Stabbing and poisoning is a no-no, at the statehouse.... If this is open to attack, we are going to have some very empty seats in years to come.

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