MANILA,  MAY 14, 2010
(STAR) THE PLAYER By Enrique Y. Gonzalez - There are over nine million gamers in the Philippines today. This is approximately 10 percent of our population, slightly more than all overseas Filipinos and represents more people than the entire populace of Metro Manila.

Gaming has official hit mainstream.

E-Games currently manages a community of 11 million registered members, of which 3.5 million are active users who play our games on a regular basis. Millions of avatars eat, sleep, work, trade (buy and sell… what do they buy and sell?), and socialize inside our virtual worlds.

One could say we have our own mini-republic of online gamers.

Being responsible for such a virtual world has some parallels to the public sector.

In the same way, we must ensure our virtual worlds have minimal interruptions, known as “server downtime.” It must have well-maintained infrastructure that can keep up with population growth, and ensure a level playing field for all gamers that establish a meritocratic system (i.e., highly skilled and/or hardworking players advance faster than indolent players). Gamers build up experience points that determine their skill level, and gold coins that determine their material wealth. Gold coins (or any in-game currency for that matter) allow gamers to acquire a virtual items ranging from vanity apparel to faster mounts (horses, bikes, flying dragons).

We maintain a 24/7 team of in-game police, administrators and representatives that interact and service this community. Communities thrive on a level playing field as gamers strive for these kinds of environments. We have had our fair share of having to crack down on both gamers and administrators that give in to the temptation of breaking regulations (for personal profit or gain). These range from sophisticated rent-seeking schemes to basic theft or stealing.

I have personally seen the effect corruption and poor governance can have on an online gaming community. Much of the wealth is concentrated at the top, and the majority of gamers are left impoverished and disenfranchised. Such an environment often leads to a mass exodus of gamers to seek greener pastures, while those that remain either join the corrupt players or play in isolation from everyone else.

Most of our gamers, however, I’d like to think are of the noble kind. For example, they pay their virtual taxes to ensure the virtual world continues to progress and develop.

I cannot help but compare the similarities and relevance of this with our country as we approach the May 10 elections. It is often said that we get the government we deserve. Such is the importance of how we choose our leaders.

Chairman Mao spoke the following words right before the cusp of Communist China leadership shifting ideology towards a more capitalistic society: “To be rich is to be glorious.”

Communist party leaders have faithfully executed this vision. Today, this ideal has more or less been realized. China has become the manufacturing hub of the world. Everything from our iPods, shoes, DVD players and computer parts partly or fully owe their existence to China. China today has one of the highest foreign currency reserves next only to the US and Japan. It also boasts one of the highest GDP growth rates (eight percent per annum) and increasingly is one of the highest per capita incomes in Asia.

It is incredible how dedicated and committed leadership can transform an entire nation and affect the lives of millions if not billions of people.

I frequently travel to China, Vietnam, and other economically progressive countries. I see first hand how these countries continue to advance and make progress. Most if not all have overtaken the Philippines. I cannot help but think what would it take to finally uplift the Philippines and put us on par with our neighbors?

It’s as simple as choosing the right leaders.

As our country enters the electoral crossroads, we the people have the right and the responsibility to choose the powers that will be. As is evident in many of our developing and developed neighbors, it is this very choice that will determine the future of our country.

Gamers use online avatars and virtual worlds as a tool for living vicariously. Although this fantasy can oftentimes be misconstrued as escapism, it nevertheless embodies the collective spirit of a large, mainstream and seriously tech-savvy part of our population. Fifty percent of Filipino gamers or 4.5 million are above 18 and therefore are of the voting category. If these qualified voters do their part, this would represent close to 14 percent of the expected voter turnout (33 million). Talk about a voting bloc.

I would therefore urge our gamers to vote for future leaders for the right reasons. We should select leaders not based on popularity, but established on their characteristics, qualifications and performance. It’s elementary knowledge but we often forget that honesty and integrity are virtues that we must seek in a leader. They must be more than qualified, they must be born to lead. Then there are the basic things, like knowing how to speak our native tongue and English proficiently. They must possess sufficient competency and experience to lead the executive team that manages the entire executive branch of the government. We also need to have leaders that have performed well in the past, and have a high likelihood of performing in the post they are being elected to. A leader that has played video games is not mandatory but preferred!

I thought it would be interesting to do a presidential survey among our gamers.

Below are the presidential survey results from our gaming community.

A total of 192 responses were tallied from among gamers who were of voting age. Of this total, about 79 percent are expected to cast their votes on May 10 while the remaining 21 percent will not do so given various reasons with “inability to register” as most mentioned.

This voting segment is largely male at a 4:1 ratio where almost half are aged 18-20 years old. Luzon is the most represented area of residence with NCR respondents comprising about a third.

I would also like to honor a few very high ranking gamer guilds in the Philippines.

What kind of player are you?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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