Obama Campaign Theme: Video Games as Metaphor for Underachievement

February 20, 2008 -
Unlike rival Hillary Clinton,  Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama does not have a significant track record with regard to video game content issues.

His speeches, however, often contain a reference to parents making their children "put away the video games." For Obama, video games seem to serve as a sort of metaphor for underachievement.

The Illinois senator repeated the theme last night in a victory speech following his big win over Clinton in the Wisconsin primary. As reported by the Washington Post, which carried a transcript and video of the speech, Obama said:
I know how hard it will be to alleviate poverty that has built up over centuries, how hard it will be to fix schools, because changing our schools will require not just money, but a change in attitudes.

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.

A day earlier, speaking to a college crowd in Youngstown, Ohio,  Obama made similar remarks. The Youngstown Vindicator reports:
[Obama called for] investments in early childhood education to close the achievement gap, but with an added emphasis on poetry, music and art, not just academics. Obama admonished parents to do their part by turning off the television, putting away the video games, and instilling in their children a desire to get a good education.

Nor is this a new theme for Obama. GamePolitics reported on similar comments as far back as April, 2006.


There is nothing wrong with what he said there. He didn't say that we need to ban games, or stop playing them entirely. I think that the general spirit of what he's saying is that parents need to be a bit stricter and control how much time there kids are spending doing these things so that they can focus on studying more. It's good advice.

Everything needs to be in moderation, or it becomes bad for you.

I see no problems with a parents need to parent, turn off TV & games and educate kids... My parents forced me to go to school, do my homework, and finish my chores before allowing me to play games (be it outside or video games). That's how I'm going to parent... you can't be a passive parent.

I like Obama. He's taking the correct approach of getting parents to do their job.

Look, I likes games as much as the next guy, probably a whole lot more. However, it IS true that if you want to pass college, if you want learn Japanese, if you want to make a baby, you HAVE to stop playing the games for at least that long.

"Put down the video games" is something that has to be done from time to time. Games aren't life, they are a part of life, and if you can't put them down then something is wrong with you.

I'm a huge gamer, however I also just about aced college (I got a B in english, sue me). I had to do homework, I had to do research, and I only studied and did homework ABOUT video games some of the time.

So far this isn't a bad message.

yeah..so video games invite laziness. a fair opinion i think...though he is a bit wrong for generalizing..but that's what I expect of all non gamers.

I agree with Obama.

@ Mogbert:

"“Put down the video games” is something that has to be done from time to time. Games aren’t life, they are a part of life, and if you can’t put them down then something is wrong with you."

I understand this but my problem with his comment is that he singles out video games. Why not say "Put down the football" or "Put down the prayer book"? Sports and religion are a part of many people's lives, yet spending time on them at the expense of your studies will affect your education. If people can't put them down, then something is wrong with them, yet video games are highlighted in Obama's comment.

I believe he should have worded things more ambiguously while still retaining the message of encouraging children's education and acting responsibly in supporting it. eg. "We’re going to have to parent better, make sure our children don't skip their studies for anything else, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that’s going to take some time."

It may not have the same punch as "Turn off the tv! Turn off the video games!" but it is more reasonable and covers any activity that kids might spend their time at instead of studying, be it sports, video games, hanging out at the mall, etc.

I think he's more or less advocating balance, not outright putting that stuff out of one's life. And I do like that he also would like to see emphasis on the arts instead of just prepping a kid to sit behind a desk the remainder of his life.

I don't really find anything wrong with Obama's comment. However you spin it, He's basically saying "BE A PARENT, RAISE YOUR DAMN KIDS, DON'T LET THE TV RAISE THEM FOR YOU".

Which honestly, is a stance that I think we all can agree on.

I still am voting for him.

Don't have a problem with someone saying 'We need to ignore the distractions and focus on the problems', it's certainly better thought out and more intelligent than 'put down the controller and get a life'...

@Shoehorn O'Plenty

"Why not say “Put down the football” or “Put down the prayer book”? "

I understand what you are saying, but there are fairly practical reasons why no politician would say what you suggest.

Football, as a sport, brings a *lot* of money into the country. Way more than video games do. And playing football can lead to a career, whereas an actual career playing games (while possible) is much more unlikely.

As for "prayer books", that's pushing it way too far. Religion is not meant to be a hobby (and don't bother pointing out to me how it is like a hobby for lots of people, that is not my point. My point is that it is *meant* to be a way of life, not a hobby). If he actually said "It's time to put down the prayer books" he would be comitting political suicide, so it is unfair to expect him to do it.

And games aren't entirely singled out. He also says "turn off the TV", which is a really good thing. Watching the vast majority of TV programs is probably the least productive thing a person can do. And as much as I love gaming, most games are also a massively unproductive (and that's why we love them). The whole point is that playing games is fun, but needs to be done in moderation :)

So come on, give Obama a break and acknowledge that what he is saying is not really a bad thing at all. He could have also said "waste less time on non-productive entertainment and media and more time improving yourself". Would that have made you happy? ;)

"Barack Obama does not have a significant track record with regard to video game content issues."
He doesn't have a real track record about ANYTHING. Maybe if he were to spend his term as a Senator actually VOTING on things, I'll give him a more serious look. Charisma for me counts for shit. I want a voting record and capitol hill experience. No speech can hide what you have done there.

"Give Obama a pass, he’s earned it"
Not with a very Democratic "nanny state" mentality, I will not. I shall remain skeptical and fearful as I always have.

"I shall remain skeptical and fearful as I always have. "

lol :-)

cynical one, aren't u ;-p U may be right tho, time will tell. However, who would you vote for rather than Obama?

Thomas P's hit it right on the head folks, Obama's not calling for the ratings system to be overhauled like Hillary, he's calling on parents to actually do their jobs and parent their kids aggressively, not be a passive parent.

And to the above poster who said they were gonna abstain and not vote for either candidate, all that I have to say is that we can do a hell of a better job than our current president, that's all.

I think my son and I will break out the V-Smile after nap.

Obama is all hot air with no solutions. We've been saying [to parents] to get up and raise your kids [this includes not letting them games all day or don't buy your 5 yr old GTA20X6], but first, how is it the Executive Branch of our Federeal Government's job to tell people how to raise their kids, and second, just HOW will he do it?

We all yell at Hitlery for Nanny-stateism, but when Obama just words it differently, we lap it up. Look, when I want a spiritual leader, I'll talk to a Priest, Reverend, Immam, Cleric, Rabbi, Monk, Zen master, or my mother. Not a Democratic Presidential candidate.

A President has no business telling people how to raise their kids. Even when we agre with his ideas. IT'S NOT HIS JOB.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

I have absolutely no problem with this stance, and anyone who is against government regulation of video games shouldn't either.

The keyword Obama uses here is "parents." As far as I'm concerned, the fact that Obama thinks that is it up to the parents to get their kids to do what they think is best for them is a testament to his character.

If he was, on the other hand, saying that it's time for the government to get kids to put the games away, then I'd have a big problem with Obama. But he's not, he's telling parents to parent.

Obama should be praised for this kind of thinking.

@ L42yb:

"Football, as a sport, brings a *lot* of money into the country. Way more than video games do. And playing football can lead to a career, whereas an actual career playing games (while possible) is much more unlikely."

I understand that football is a big business, but how many kids out of the millions that play as a pass time go on to be professionals and make a career out of it? As time goes on and the gaming industry grows, there are more and more jobs available in the gaming industry and this trend should continue. I actually work myself playing and testing games in the localization sector so it's not impossible :)

"As for “prayer books”, that’s pushing it way too far. Religion is not meant to be a hobby (and don’t bother pointing out to me how it is like a hobby for lots of people, that is not my point. My point is that it is *meant* to be a way of life, not a hobby). If he actually said “It’s time to put down the prayer books” he would be comitting political suicide, so it is unfair to expect him to do it.""

I never said that it had to be a hobby, or that religion was like one. I'm talking about the fact that of all the other things you could do with your time other than studying, video games is brought up as an example and I find this a little bit unfair. If you take 3 kids, one spends all his time playing video games, another plays football and another goes to church for hours and prays. None of them are spending their time studying and all will have lower grades than other kids. It doesn't matter a damn which activity you prefer or approve of, none of them are contributing to the child's academic improvement. It just smacks a little of pandering and ignorance to single out games like this.

"So come on, give Obama a break and acknowledge that what he is saying is not really a bad thing at all."

I know it's a good thing he is saying, I just don't appreciate the way he has a little jab at one of my preferred pass times in the way he says it.

"He could have also said “waste less time on non-productive entertainment and media and more time improving yourself”. Would that have made you happy?"

Honestly, it would have. No one activity is singled out as worse than another and the the message that kids have to balance their time and commit to their studies is still there. I understand that perhaps the image of kids sitting in front of the screens doing nothing is ingrained in society, but if a child is not doing enough study, whether they are sitting at a screen or running and kicking a ball in a field makes no difference to me.

@Shoehorn O'Plenty


Nice arguments. I think that the true reason he didn't mention sports or church as examples are mainly because of how many people in the US would have perceived those comments. People see sports as a form of physical exercise and therefore "good for you". People see church as spritually fulfilling and therefore also "good for you". Most parents see video games as a massive waste of time and therefore "not very good for you". I personally love games, but you cannot deny that this is the impresion in many adults in the US right now. He is being a politician and tailoring his speech to his audience.

But you are right, he has unfairly targetted games. I just don't think he really meant anything by it, other than to try and strike a chord with parents who think similarly.

"“He could have also said “waste less time on non-productive entertainment and media and more time improving yourself”. Would that have made you happy?”

Honestly, it would have."


Maybe I should run for president... :p

Obama said if government regulation is necessary, it shall be done. Hillary wants government regulation even though it is not necessary. There is your difference.

Papa Midnight

I do think that parents should put away the video games when its time for homework. When I was a child I had a friend who's parents only let their kids play games on the weekend and school breaks. It worked, the kid was in Honors classes in school and now works for GM as an engineer. Obama still gets my vote. at least he doesn't consult with JT like Hillary does.

Who wrote this post?

The political bias shows quite a bit here. This is the best attack on Obama the writer can come up with?

@Darth Astard

Exactly, I think that's what Obama is saying, Parents have to learn to say 'No' to their children, it's happening far too rarely these days, I think a discouraging number of parents think the way to show their child they love them is to give them everything they want, when the true way to show love to your child is to stop trying to be a 'friend' and be a parent instead.

I agree with all the sentiments spoken here which say that Obama's stance on video games is not entirely unfounded. As much as i value the content of this site and its reporting, i do feel it's a bit extreme to make note of one line in a speech by a politician who shows no signs of anti-video game sentiments.

When he is telling us to "put away the video games," he is right. He doesn't mean get rid of video games entirely. I see this as a stance that children today, whether it's TV, Movies, or Games, are spending too much time on entertainment and not enough on education. This is not entirely untrue. I do not beleive Barack Obama wants us to destroy all television sets, so why beleive he has even remotely hostile intentions towards video games? I think it is merely an understanding that, just like any entertainment medium, video games are a hobby and an escapism that should be enjoyed but not allowed to consume your life.

If that is indeed his point, then i see no reason to disagree.

Why is Obama getting a free pass from this comment? He's equating video games as irrelevant entertainment. You don't hear him saying "put down fiction books" or stop going to plays, or feature films. He's using the same tactic as every other politician, using video games as an easy target. Any other politician saying similar things is not looked upon quite so forgiving. People need to stop pretending that Obama has intentions different from any other politician. Most politicians even conservatives, don't propose any other regulation other than keeping M games from minors, and I'm sure Obama supports those laws just as rigidly if not more. It's this type of rhetoric that's ignorant and damaging, not just legislation.

@Pichi -

He is generalising. And it's not really an unfair generalisation...

The speach kinda loses it's punch when you try to cover every single possible base with every sentence you speak... I understand this, so his statements about games do not bother me. In general, they are true.

So, if he doesn't plan on trying to enforce what he says by policy enforcement, then why is he saying it at all? Oh yeah, it sounds good, and he doesn't have to do anything about it (at best), or at worst, he plans on doing something about it. Neither is good for us. Like I said, hot air, no plans.

"Obama said if government regulation is necessary, it shall be done. Hillary wants government regulation even though it is not necessary. There is your difference. "

Is necessary? What tripe is that? You've just handed the government the keys to regulate video games. Parents either care enough to regulate media themselves, don't know how to, or plain won't. In two of those cases, an argument can be made that regulation is necessary. Who gets screwed? As always: Good Parents.

The only thing that can help: Education. More parents need to know games aren't simply kid's toys. The government has no compelling interest here, and for a Presidential Candidate to harp on about 'change' where he has no power to (currently) and shouldn't have power to, aren't people suspicious?

He's using spiritual leader rhetoric and the masses are drinking it like poisoned Kool-Aid.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

@Josh -

I think that the vast majority of kids in the US today spend a lot more time watching TV and playing games than reading fiction, going to plays or going to movies. He could have listed them all, but once again your speach loses it's ability to get through to the masses when you start getting so specific about *everything* you say.

Sure, he could have used a term like "non-constructive media and entertainment" but the strategy he is using is trying to strike a chord with a specific audience. In such cases, it is better to list some specific mediums that will be widely recognised. Is that such a bad thing? Yes, he is a politician, but he is still the best choice out the bunch available this election (IMO).

@the1jeffy -

You say "hot air", I say sound advice. I don't think that advising parents is a bad thing at all... obviously you think it is, altho I'm not sure why it annoys you so much. I agree that it is a political strategy, and games are targetted because they are a hot topic, but at least he is not attacking them outright like some other candidates are...

I would be interested to know who you support as a candidate, and why, since you are clearly against Obama...

"The political bias shows quite a bit here. This is the best attack on Obama the writer can come up with?"
GP will always cast those who want you to stop playing video games in a bad light. However, I never heard these kinds of comments come from you guys when he was bashing Romney, Clinton, or Lieberman.

I guess the video game industry will come to a standstill when either president enters office.

I'm still going with Obama so far, haven't been really given a reason to change my mind on this lesses of 3 evils.

As far as his comments go, its *almost* hits all bases in general. I mean kids do need to put down the video games and get out more, definently agree there in some aspects, which is why i'm not running around screaming hes anti-video game *yet*


I completely support Obama. I was defending him then.

I have to say, I think Obama is the best canidate for President, I was a little nervous of him at first, but I am starting to agree with most things he says. Much better than CLinton, thats for sure. I agree with him, everything in moderation. I am sure he doesn't think there is anything wrong with have some downtime, and when you have some, do whatever makes you relax. The problem is when kids, college students, or even adults get so addicted to a game they fail classes, lose jobs, lose their marriage, and even let their child die(Has actually happened in Japan when two parents left their newborn in a crib for more than 13 hours wile they played WOW. If I remember right, the baby unable to roll over, drowned in its own throw up.) I agree, parents need to parent and put a drive of excellence in their kids. Teach them how to manage their time wisely!

I also defend Obama's statements. Video games are awesome and my favorite hobby, but spending all your time just playing video games is just not good.

Wasn't Obama the one who said his daughters play Game Boy or DS? This is fine. And it sure is a hell of a lot better than Clinton's rhetoric concering games.

Go Obama!!

I think that he's right. How many of you complaining even have kids? I'm 28 with a 5 year old son and a 2 year old daughter and I probably game between 10-15 hours/ week. Now I try to do it all after we put the munchkins to bed, but that's not always the case. I don't think he's trying to say that anybody that plays video games is a delinquent or an underachiever, I think he's just saying that moderation is the key. If I'm spending more time playing video games than I am with my kids every week what does that teach them? How well do we expect them to interact with society if all they see is us typing away at a keyboard or button mashing some console?

Just my opinion, I didn't read all of yours and I doubt many of you read this.

I don't think he's blaming the games as much as saying children are using them as an excuse. Besides I've taken him with a grain of salt sing the "Can wwe do it?" speech.

Hate to make it political....as both Clinton and Obama are better then anyone the Republicans have to offer.

Obama = Style
Clinton = Substance
McCain = Draft you young'ins to fight a 100 year war

I would ask him if that is merely a suggestion. It sounds like one to me, but I'd just like to make sure.

"However, who would you vote for rather than Obama?"
If there existed a magical creature that was a hybrid of Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani, I just may vote for that.

Lol. What the heck is this garbage? The article is totally twisting what Obama is saying. Haven't seen propaganda this bad since the 1st W.Bush term.

Obama, please come to Canada. Most Canadians support you anyway.

Obama doesn't attack video games. I find it great that he is just saying that kids should do more creative and active activities, and nothing is wrong about that on either side of the video game controversy(gamers and anti-video game activist).

Instead of taking away video games, he is just encouraging us to do better things with our free time. That's how anti-video game activists should of handle this the whole time.


You said it best I think. Will you be sending a similar letter to Obama? Maybe throw in that video games fall under music and art. Or least they CAN fall under it?

I think that his message "Parents need to take responsibility" is exactly what the ESRB has been saying all along. I'll admit I'm biased towards Obama...but he's not condemning video games, just saying that kids need balance and that parents should take an active role making sure that thier kids practice moderation and find balance between work and play.

Don't think there's anything wrong with that message.

factor in that he IS trying to do something good for all gamers, the less annoying yankee kids on xbox live the better!


I do reckon that he has the best interests of all people at heart, and I totally agree that young children should not be playing 24/7, if anything this further reinforces my belief that he is the president we have all been waiting for!

(and he looks like an old Lewis Hamilton!)

how is this twisting anything? Obama said, to get smarter, children must put down their video games. therefore, according to Obama, video games are things that keep our children from being smart. Which is bad. So, according to Obama, video games are bad. But all that extrapolation isn't even stated in the article. All that is in the article is this: "Obama said such and such." How is quoting Obamas own speech twisting words? especially when such large chunks are taken at a time.

There is no political bias here. Romney said some things, it got reported. Clinton tries to legislate some things, it gets reported. Huckabee does something, it gets reported. Obama says something, it gets reported. This article is not out of line with how every other candidate has been covered. That is the definition of a lack of political bias. way to go, GP.

This is the fundamental problem with Obama. because he has no voting record, any of his comments can be interpreted however anyone wants. You don't know that he's just encouraging us to do something better with our free time. If he gets into office, he could do anything, and we have no idea what that will be, because he hasn't done anything so far. That comment could come to nothing if he's elected, or it could turn into sweeping anti-video-game legislation based on an initiative to improve our children. The fact is, none of us know.
To be fair, he is not singling out video games, as he is also mentioning television. But we still don't have a voting record showing how he feels about any of these things.

Also, I fail to see how this is fundamentally different from when Romney made his comments about the ocean of filth. Certainly, there is a difference of degree. Romney's comment essentially was, "video games are bad for our society". Obamas comment essentially was, "video games are bad for our children". A difference in degree, but the same issue, fundamentally. How can none of you see this?

I'd like to point out that Obama was referring directly to parents. He's not targeting video games that agressively, oy. Remember one of the earlier articles? He wants the parents to take more responsibility, oy.

Wow, I'm all for video games, since I was old enough to hold a gamepad, but this is some serious stretching of material. Oh shit, you have to actually turn the games off and do your homework to do well in school and by extension adult life? How dare he! The nerve of that guy! This article strikes me as very stupid. They're trying to spin his line, hard. Making a mountain out of a molehill. Like I said, I love games, to death, but the people who are successful from just playing them are the exception not the rule.


Right, taking his words as it is, he's "unfairly" targetting games. But the truth is, it was a couple of words in his speech for one, and the other is he's drawing on something that's become an icon. Gaming as bad for children or making children lazy has been a message that's long been playing, and gamers themselves have reinforced that perspective as much as non-gamers.

How many gaming ads or gaming commercials begin with two boys (or these days men) sitting on a couch, with a stack of video games and snack foods around them? How many times does Hollywood or television feature a character stating that he's a slacker and plays video games?

Sure, Obama is perpetuating the whole "gamers are lazy" schtick, but he's not the one that's starting it, and it is not the crux of his message. Honestly, if you wanted to just win the point that he was badmouthing games, then congratulations! Now, please point it out the next 20,000 times its done as well and maybe we'll start scratching the surface.

I'll totally support this. it's not a metaphor for underacheivement, what it is is a perfectly valid critique of modern parenting. Parents who don't get involved in their child's life and let the "electronic babysitter" run the joint create problems, like a lack of role models. when parents don't raise their kids, it leads to "concerned mothers" bitching about how they need laws like Hillary's because they're too retarded to say "fuck your xbox, junior, we're going on a family outing, where would you like to go?" So if junior doesn't get to play mario party 8 for 6 hours a day, I'm fine with this.
maybe if parents were more involved with their kids and helped to do things as a family that everyone enjoyed, junior wouldn't WANT to play mario party 8 for 6 hours a day.

Thats not to say that families couldn't gather round systems like the WII or Rockband to have fun, I think those personally make awesome family games, especially when playing warioware.

But what we've grown up is with a generation of parents who've let TV and video games raise their kids. Parent's not responsible enough to be involved with what their kids are doing, and when they're not doing that, they're letting video games and TV raise their kids.

Honestly, would you, as a parent, let your 10 year old play GTA San Andreas? or Kane and Lynch every moment of their spare time? I know I wouldn't.

I'm not saying they'll make him a psycho or anything, but like certain movies and TV shows, they're just not age appropriate, but many parents aren't even involved enough to say "no, you're not old enough".

Parents NEED to be involved with their children, and if that means less video games played, I'll still support it. Because when we have parents raising kids, we'll have better rounded children, and when parents can once again be held accountable for the way their kid acts, legislation to regulate video games becomes unneeded, and hard to support.

To reiterate, it's not gamers obama's bashing, it's irresponsible parents.
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