Attention Republicans: How you answer 18-year-old Jesse Vetters' question in the CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday may determine whether he votes for you.
And he wants to know, specifically, how you feel about video games.
His question isn't guaranteed to be asked. You may wind up fielding questions from snowmen or be asked to talk about the war and health care. But Vetters, a student of Greenfield-Central High in Greenfield, Indiana, is hopeful you're going to get a question like his — or any others that his video inspired — sprung on you. "I expect one of [my school's] videos to go up on the debate," he told MTV News. "I think the response was enough that if one doesn't go up, I would be disappointed."
Over the summer, Vetters started searching YouTube to see what questions had been asked during the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate. "I saw there was nothing on there about anything I really cared about, video games being the main thing," he said. He then checked the questions submitted for the Republican one, scoured through about 200 and saw nothing there.
In early August, Vetters posted his 39-second question to YouTube (view it here). He had set his digital camera on a card table, booted up his PlayStation and a clip he downloaded of an upcoming game called "Infamous" and asked aloud what politicians would do to make sure that games weren't vilified by the government.
He had tried other ways of reaching politicians. A year ago he read an article in a gaming magazine about attacks on violent games — accusations made by Jack Thompson, a lawyer highly critical of violent games. Vetters also took note of politicians such as presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who have voiced support for legislation restricting the sale of extremely violent games — support that could be perceived as a bit unusual, given that most of the political voices supporting gaming legislation have been Democrats. He grew concerned about the repeated efforts by state governments to make such laws, even as such laws continued to get thrown out by federal courts.
He tried writing his congressman, Dan Burton (R-IN). He e-mailed Burton's office. He got a form reply, so he tried again. "I sent a completely different e-mail," Vetters said. "And got the same response."
So he made the YouTube clip. It caught the attention of Dennis McCauley, editor of GamePolitics.com whose post on the site drew the attention of Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association, a new advocacy group for gamers. The ECA owns Game Politics, and Halpin and McCauley hatched a plan to offer free ECA T-shirts to anyone who would follow Vetters' example. About 20 of them, all young gamers, only one of them asking their question behind the digital mask of a clip of Master Chief from "Halo." (See the rest of the videos here.)
Halpin feels that the very fact that Vetters made his question — and that other gamers answered the ECA's call — is a victory. "Whenever I'm dealing with the mainstream media, their vision of gamers is apathetic, uninvolved, don't get out to vote. And here's this high school kid willing to jump into the deep end."
Halpin said he was approached by a gamer at the Penny Arcade Expo in August who was inspired by the movement. "He was torn between [Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack] Obama and Hillary," Halpin said. The gamer said he knew where candidates stood on other issues. The gaming thing was more of an unknown. "Here's the issue that could be a tipping point. I bet other gamers out there feel similarly," Halpin said. "And that gave me a whole new perspective on what this could mean."
Neither the ECA nor Vetters knows if any gaming questions really will be asked, let alone answered, when the debate airs Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
But Jesse Vetters will be listening. "I want to hear them say they are against regulating games," he said. "I think a few might, but they probably wouldn't say it in those words. They'd say: 'There is nothing I can do about what Congress passes but I will do my best.'"
As long as they say something, that will be progress — and a whole lot better than a form-letter reply e-mailed twice.
For more from the Republican presidential candidates, be sure to check out MTV and MySpace's chat with Senator John McCain on December 3.