Obama Video Game Ads Contradict Early Rhetoric

     Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama is earning praise for placing campaign ads in video games. Supporters say his targeting of a younger, captive audience shows the junior Illinois senator is “hip.”


     According to National Public Radio, Obama is running ads “in 18 video games, targeting 10 states that allow early voting,” including Electronic Arts’ “Burnout Paradise” on XBox 360.


     “First of all, I think it’s clear evidence that the Obama campaign has more money than they know what to do with,” Evan Tracey told CNN in an Oct. 17 segment. “This is a captive audience. You know, the other risk is that they’re going to stay in and play games and not vote. So, I think what they’re really trying to do, in sort of a subtle – a subtle, gentle reminder to turn off the games on Election Day and get out and vote.”



     But is the “subtle reminder” a brilliant campaign move or a hypocritical exercise – considering Obama has encouraged young people to put video games away?


     One of the themes Obama focused on during his hotly contested primary campaign against Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was a change in attitudes to improve education – including “putting the video games away.” This has been largely ignored even in the wake of Obama's video game advertising by the media.


     “We’re going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that’s going to take some time,” Obama said on Feb. 19 in Houston following his Wisconsin Primary victory.


     He reiterated this at a speech in April in Indianapolis. On the day of the launch of the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV,” Obama and his wife went as far as saying that video games were ‘raising our kids’ and blasted them for taking up time that could be used for “their studies.”


     “I was just catching the news this morning about Grand Theft Auto, this video game, which is going to break all records, make goo-gobs of money for whoever designed it,” Obama said. “Now this isn’t intended for kids, I understand – although I promise you there will be kids who are playing it. But those video games are raising our kids.”


     “And it’s not just one specific game,” Michelle Obama added.


     “But it just reminded me that the video culture, the TV culture – across the board, middle class, upper class, working class kids – they’re spending a huge amount of time not on their studies, but on entertainment,” Obama said.


     Obama has also hinted at strict regulation for violent or sexually explicit video games.


     “I would call upon the video game industry to give parents better information about programs and video games by improving the voluntary rating system we currently have,” Obama said in a December 2007 Common Sense Media questionnaire. “Broadcasters and video game producers should take it upon themselves to improve this system to include easier to find and easier to understand descriptions of exactly what kind of content is included. But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would.”


     On prior occasions, Obama has rejected campaign donations from the video game industry. According to a May 11, 2006 Washington Post article – Obama returned a $500 donation from Doug Lowenstein, the founder and former head of the Entertainment Software Association, a trade association of the computer and video game industry.


     “Lowenstein attended a reception for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and made a $500 contribution,” Jose Antonio Vargas wrote for the Post. “A few weeks later, his check was returned. ‘Stuff happens’ is all Lowenstein says when pressed about it. Obama’s office confirmed that the check was indeed returned but declined further comment.”


     But Obama has accepted money from “A-list video game industry types,” totaling $86,300 as an Oct. 1, 2008 GamePolitics.com news article pointed out:


·        Strauss Zelnick (Chairman, Take-Two) $2,000

·        Sam Houser (Rockstar) $4,600

·        Patricia Vance (president, ESRB) $2,000

·        John Riccitiello (CEO, EA) $4,600

·        John Smedley (Sony Online Entertainment) $2,300

·        Alex Rigopulos (CEO, Harmonix) $32,900

·        Kathy Vrabeck (president, EA Casual) $2,300

·        George Lucas (LucasFilm) $33,100

·        Kenneth Doroshow (new ESA general counsel) $2,500