Can a Gaming Convention Shape a National Election?

Author: David McMillin       

When most people think of computer games, images of Mario, Princess Zelda, Pac-Man, and other iconic names from the electronic world come to mind. However, when a select group of attendees arrived at gamescom in Cologne, Germany on Aug. 22, a surprising speaker took the stage for the opening session: German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel. Why would the leader of Europe’s largest economy take time out of her schedule to greet gamers?

On one hand, Merkel’s visit reflected the importance of gaming in the knowledge economy. “The technologies of the games industry already play a central role in the digitalization and networking of the economy and society,” Felix Falk, managing director of the German Trade Association of Interactive Entertainment Software, said when her visit was first announced. “Germany needs a strong games industry in order to also secure itself a top position in the digitalized economy.”

An article in Bloomberg pointed to another reason for Merkel’s visit, however: The battle for young voters in the upcoming election on Sept. 24. More than 345,000 attendees gathered at gamescom in 2016, and the gaming community includes a significant number of German citizens who will be casting their first ballots as adults. “With an estimated 3 million first-time voters in play,” Rainer Buergin, Stefan Nicola, and Arne Delfs wrote, “front-runner Merkel and her main opponent, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, have good reason to court the twenty-something demographic.”

At first glance, her visit seemed like a serious challenge for the convention — the prospect of providing adequate security for a world leader with hundreds of thousands of attendees was daunting. However, Merkel’s speech was a VIP component for 350 exclusive guests and more than 150 journalists. So while she didn’t connect personally with the massive crowd of gamers, media coverage is aligning the chancellor with the gaming community. Will it be enough to convince those twenty-somethings to press pause on their games and head to the polls to vote for her? We won’t know until late in September, but her speech highlights the massive influence that gaming conventions can have away from the console.

Politicians aren’t the only ones playing games. Click here to learn how a craft brewery is cashing in on one of the biggest gaming conventions in North America.

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