While recently on the campaign trail in Denver with the UW Election Eye team, we talked with John and Elizabeth Santorum. As you can see in the video below, Rick Santorum has been working quite hard on the campaign trail, and on his high score in Temple Run.
This probably won’t surprise many of you who’ve become hooked on casual games. What was surprising, at least to me, was the look on the faces of several Santorum supporters that were present when we asked Rick Santorum about his gaming skills. Their mood quickly changed from feeling nervous about shaking his hand to feeling like they might have a real, personal connection with him. Has public opinion toward video games changed since the last presidential election? Is it suddenly OK for a conservative candidate to readily admit he’s addicted to a game? This reminded me of past debates over violent video games and made me wonder if there’s been any major shifts in the political debate about video games in general.
The fact that presidents (and candidates) play video games isn’t new. In 2007, President Bush played video games with wounded soldiers and more recently President Obama talked about bowling on the families Wii. What is new, and quite interesting, is the way President Obama has gone from virtually hating video games to tasking a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology, with researching how to make games for topics like education, health, civic engagement and the environment. Constance Steinkuehler, the women in charge of the research, says the job represents “an incredible opportunity to make good on the claim that games have real promise.”
Video games aren’t usually an issue for intense political debate (unless they’re violent), but political candidates are increasingly asked to express their views on different aspects of games during the election process. Late last month GamesRadar.com wrote an article about each candidate’s stance on video games, reinforcing the notion that those who play video games are interested in knowing which candidates support their hobby.
Below is a quick run down of the candidates and their views. Please note that this isn’t comprehensive, it’s just what I found while scouring the internet for a few hours.
Newt Gingrich has openly criticized violent games on several occasions, but seems to support science fiction and technology in general. Of all the Republican candidates, Gingrich seems the most likely to fund educational gaming research. While many of us don’t consider Second Life a game, Gingrich did a short lecture inside the virtual world in 2007 proving that he’s ultimately not against people spending their time inside of computer simulations:
Ron Paul hasn’t quite expressed his policy on video games. The video below touches on the topic, but doesn’t provide the depth I was hoping to find. I think it’s probably fair to say that not much would change in terms of regulation or educational game development under his command. I did find it interesting that one of his supporters, a video game developer, is donating $5 to Paul’s “Super Brochure” campaign for a every dragon you slay in the developers new game, Dungeoneers.
Rick Santorum called for greater federal scrutiny of violence in the movies and in video games saying that “Government has a role to play here, just as in food safety and drug certification”. Would his self-proclaimed addiction cause him to sympathize with fellow casual gamers while discouraging the use of violent games? Would Santorum support further research and development of educational games? We have yet to hear Santorum’s game plan, but he’ll likely continue to focus on regulation rather than promoting the development of educational games.
Mitt Romney heavily attacked violence and obscenity in video games several years ago, but hasn’t said anything about them lately. A campaign ad running in 2007 states: “I’d like to see less violence and sex on TV and in video games and in movies. If we get serious about this we can actually do a great deal to clean up the water in which our kids and grand kids are swimming.” Even though Romney is a proponent of technology and science, it’s hard to tell if he would fund research on educational games.
Last year, President Obama told students that he wanted to create “educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game.” He added, “I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up.” This sounds to me like a major challenge, but a much better policy than simply attacking violent games and established free speech rights.
So it appears that all of the Republican candidates, except Ron Paul, support government regulation of violent games. None of the candidates have framed video games as a distraction or directly tapped into the idea of educational video games, and only Ron Paul’s campaign is benefiting from campaign contributions generated by a game.
On the Democrat side, President Obama is immensely opposed to kids wasting countless hours playing video games, but doesn’t suggest further government regulation to solve the problem. Instead, President Obama has urged kids to make their own video games by launching the National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Video Game Challenge, appointed a head of educational game research, and repeatedly called on parents to limit their kids use of video games.
As we inch closer to the 2012 presidential election, I’m looking to the Republican candidates to come up with creative and innovative solutions to America’s problems. Playing Temple Run or Angry Birds on the run may help reduce some of the tension between candidates and voters, at some point though, I’d like to see them put down their devices and come up some real ideas on how we’re going to fix the problems we face.
Are you interested in hearing more about the candidates video game policies? Do you support President Obama’s initiative to develop more educational games? Do you think video game sales should be regulated by the government? Let us know in the comment section below.