On the Bright Side: Not Every Politician Hates Videogames
At a VIP game developer event in a secluded upstairs San Francisco lounge, a well-dressed man in his 50s is making the rounds. "Hello, I'm the mayor of Baton Rouge."
"Do you just walk around calling yourself a mayor?" asks one doubting attendee.
"No, I'm really the mayor of of Baton Rouge."
And he is. His name is Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden, and he was attending the Game Developers Conference for the second time in as many years. He wouldn't be there (or be a sponsor) if he didn't like videogames -- or at least what they've already done and potentially will do for his city's inhabitants.
You see, in 2005, a Dallas-based developer named Nerjyzed Entertainment (pronounced "Energized") relocated to Baton Rouge after Louisiana passed an aggressive tax incentive to attract digital technology companies. Nerjyzed quickly ramped up its workforce to 45 employees -- not a lot for either New York or Los Angeles, but enough to make the Southern capital take notice and become hungry for more.
"We will be a force to be reckoned with [in games]," the mayor tells me, while sitting in a municipal conference room surrounded by foreign gifts. His statement is somewhat haughty, but it also shows his commitment to leveraging videogames for driving economic growth. He understands the "vibrant" industry is no longer child's play, and he rightfully wants a piece of the $18 billion action for his residents.
It's obvious the mayor isn't an expert when it comes to the industry. He often defers specific questions to his technology council, but he knows his local studios by name. He knows that one of them has the top downloaded educational game at the moment (IQ: Identity Quest). He knows a third developer is ramping up its workforce, as is Nergyzed by more than double amid increasing demand. And he knows the medium can salvage outgoing talent. "Videogames reduce brain drain," he maintains, reminding me that down the road LSU has already begun offering game design and development curriculum.
When asked about the incessant controversy of videogames in politics, Mayor Holden brushes the issue aside calling it growing pains. He clearly has perspective.
So what sold Kip Holden on games? Was it their commercial appeal? Or does he posses a personal appreciation for the medium? I suspect it's a little of both. The business side obviously interests him as a holder of public office, but his face lights up when recounting an NBC report he saw earlier that morning on Wii Fit. Not only does he find the technology fascinating, but it reminds him that games will become even more ubiquitous. A double whammy.
I must say it was a rare experience to hear a politician in French cuffs speak so favorably of and be so open to entertainment that I and so many others hold dear. "We want to be at the vanguard of gaming," concludes the Baton Rouge CEO, an aspiration hardly shared by other statesmen.
And therein lies the rub. The mayor isn't visible on the national stage, where his rationale, optimism and influence are needed the most to combat grandstanding politicians, who are more concerned with popular votes than maintaining principles and sound policy. Still, I suspect Mayor Holden's distinct Louisiana charm will plant some seeds just the same.
In any case, gamers have at least one political ally.