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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at the Casual Connect Convention in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee kicked off the Casual Connect gaming convention Tuesday, pitching the state as the center of casual gaming in North America, if not the world.

Inslee’s speech was geared toward the many gaming companies coming from all over the world for the three-day event, which used to be held annually in Seattle and has returned this year for the first time in five years. He lauded the creativity of the many gaming companies at the event, comparing them to some pretty lofty names.

“I can say with assurance that if William Shakespeare was alive today, he would be part of Casual Connect, because that’s the type of creative power that you are exercising,” Inslee said.

Casual Connect last took place in Seattle in 2012, and companies involved in the conference at the time told GeekWire that a lack of additional venue space was becoming an issue. The conference is beginning a new three-year rotation across West Coast cities. In 2018, the event will take place in Anaheim, Calif. The following year it will be back in San Francisco before returning to Seattle in 2020.

Inslee admitted he doesn’t have a ton of gaming cred, but he did mention a major accomplishment: becoming Pong champion at Willamette University Law School in Oregon in 1974. But he knows the industry is a major part of the state’s economy, and he wants to continue fostering that.

Inslee name-dropped the many gaming events that come through the state annually as well as the homegrown companies like Valve, Bungie, PopCap and others. Inslee said Washington is home to 425 gaming companies, and the industry makes up 6 percent of the state’s total workforce.

“We are the place this industry is centered, we are the center of gamer bars and lounges,” Inslee said. “I think you can honestly, say we got game.”

Washington has become a hub for virtual and augmented reality as well, with more than 40 studios throughout the state, Inslee said. Virtual reality, combined with artificial intelligence, Inslee said, will make up the next frontier in gaming. Inslee added that Washington is the cloud capital, and it is quickly becoming the “center of AI research in the world today.” That’s why the state recently facilitated a trade mission, sending 10 local AI companies to Japan to build relationships across the industry.

Inslee closed his speech by imploring the sparse audience to consider the environment and natural world around them as they are building out their virtual experiences.

“Our natural world is substantially deteriorating, while our virtual world is flourishing,” Inslee said. “And I hope in some respect that while you are developing a virtual world, you will help us find a way to maintain our natural world.”

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