Specials: Why Jack Thompson doesn't want you playing video games.
I am a gamer. I make no attempt to hide from this label. I am not ashamed of it but Jack Thompson wants me to think I should be. Jack Thompson is an attorney from Miami, Florida who specializes in bringing lawsuits against companies that expose children to media violence. He was the main force behind bringing the rap band 2 Live Crew up on obscenity charges in the 80s. He was also the man responsible for getting Ice-T's "Cop Killer" pulled from store shelves in 1992.
Lately he has turned his focus to video games. In 1997, after the school shooting at Paducah, Ky, Mr. Thompson filed a monster lawsuit against nearly every video game and movie company saying they had contributed to the unbalanced mental state of Michael Carneal and had forced him to shoot up his school. After the Columbine tragedy, Mr. Thompson turned his ire solely to id Software, the company behind Doom, a game which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were big fans of. He also suggested that the D.C. sniper trained on the "sniper simulator" Halo. All of these links or lawsuits were summarily thrown out by the courts as without merit.
I recently contacted Mr. Thompson through his website, StopKill.com, to try and get an explanation for his opinions on video games. My first letter looked like this:
Subject: A message from a game journalist I thought it was a rather simple message. Yes, I was probably a bit more harsh than I needed to be, but I did not want to speak in code. I wanted to make my opinions known so that he would make his. And in his reply he did:
Odds are you will never see this email, but I would like you to know that I have nothing but contempt for the way you have continuously ignored the mounting evidence that video games are not harmful in your tireless crusade to make gamemakers "pay."
Personal responsibility is a wonderful thing Mr. Thompson and by constantly spouting off that video game developers owe the victims of their violence "blood money" is just plain ignorance. The fact of the matter is that someday soon, the lawmakers of this country will be the kids that grew up on video games. And it is then that they'll see you for the fraud that you are.
Subject: Re: A message from a game journalist The great Jack Thompson, defender of children from violent media everywhere, resorts to petty name calling in his response to a serious question. Naturally I called him on it with a follow up email:
Game journalist; that's an oxymoron.
Subject: Re: A message from a game journalist After a week I received this reply:
Why do you feel the need to stoop to petty insults? I wanted to open a real dialogue about your thoughts on video games and all you can muster is a five word insult.
Subject: Re: A message from a game journalist I tried to start a dialogue with Mr. Thompson, but seeing as how I do not represent a morning talk show that caters to the soccer mom demographic, I was brushed aside. There's no way to verify if Jack Thompson is really behind these emails. It could very well be his publicist or a secretary, but the fact remains whoever wrote that email represents him. So if Mr. Thompson does not want to discuss with gamers why he wants to destroy our hobby of choice, then allow me to show Mr. Thompson's arguments for the lies and hypocritical ramblings they are.
His latest crusade is against Take Two Interactive, the publisher of the Grand Theft Auto series. Two separate cases involving teens that have played the admittedly violent series were all the springboard Mr. Thompson needed to launch another lawsuit against a video game company.
The first involves the beating death of Jo Lynn Mishne in Ohio. She was killed by another teen, Dustin Lynch, and Mr. Thompson claims that he was inspired to do so by Grand Theft Auto III leading to his first lawsuit against Take Two. The second involves the more recent highway shooting in Tennessee. The two teens said they were bored and took guns out to the highway to shoot at tractor trailers, "not the people." They said they got their inspiration from Grand Theft Auto and Jack Thompson has turned this into another lawsuit.
In the past few days Mr. Thompson has even floated the idea that a class action lawsuit may be in Take Two's future for all those that were "hurt" by Grand Theft Auto. For the life of me I can't fathom the criteria that will be required to qualify for this class action. Maybe it'll be anyone that has played Grand Theft Auto III once. Of course an even greater number of gamers that enjoy Grand Theft Auto and do not have violent tendenceies could band together and dwarf any number of claimants Mr. Thompson could come up with for this class action.
Of the lawsuits that are still pending Mr. Thompson cannot comment on them specifically, but they do bring up many questions. All of the teens involved in these killings were under sixteen and had no jobs, where did they get the money to purchase a fifty dollar video game like Grand Theft Auto III, let alone the $200 console required to play it. Also being under seventeen, they fall below the ESRB's suggested age for players of a rated M (Mature) title like Grand Theft Auto III. If someone gave them fifty follars to buy it, why didn't they see where that money went?
Each case also brings up questions separately. In the Ohio case, many witnesses involved said that Dustin Lynch had a temper and was very unstable. Shouldn't these hold more weight than that he played video games occasionally? In the highway case the teens said they were bored. But they also said that they stole the guns used from a locked closet and hid them in the woods a full week before the shooting. Not exactly the signs of bored teens, more like a pre-meditated act.
But pre-meditation is not important to Mr. Thompson. He always refers to video games brainwashing the minds of children and is under the false impression that using a keyboard or controller can "train" people to fire a real gun. Mr. Thompson thinks that anyone that plays video games becomes "obsessed" and "addicted" with them.
The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) refers to all addictions under a blanket statement known as "Impulse Control Disorders." Addiction is a mark of the person, not the object being abused. Whether it be video games or heroin. Addictive personalities will become addicted. Blaming the game in this case is irresponsible and unfair to the millions of gamers who do not suffer these affects.
As for the brainwashing and the "mini-Manchurian Candidates" that video games create, I point Mr. Thompson to the case of KISS in his youth of the 70s. KISS records were said to brainwash impressionable children towards Satanism. Somehow I doubt Mr. Thompson was picketing KISS concerts with concerned parents during his early twenties. Today we can all agree that records cannot brainwash children or anyone for that matter. And in twenty years when the young adults who play games today become the parents of tomorrow, this irrational fear of brainwashing video games will also go away. But Jack Thompson stills uses it as the primary crutch of his argument.
In the interests of protecting the children, Mr. Thompson will shout at anyone that will listen about the danger of video games. But Mr. Thompson's rhetoric always consists of "making the game companies pay." Money is all Mr. Thompson ever looks for. He has no desire to allow video games to cohabitate with other forms of entertainment, he wants them gone. It's sick and unfair that his personal vendetta must be dragged into courtrooms almost monthly now and waste more American tax dollars.
His own statements prove it. After announcing the lawsuit against Take Two because of the highway shooting My Thompson had this to say: "The industry needs to cough up money so victims and their families can be compensated for their pain. The shareholders need to know what their games are doing to kids and their families. They need to stop pushing adult rated products to kids. These products are deadly."
Take Two has never once advertised Grand Theft Auto in a way that would be aimed at children. Their TV advertisements have always been during late night or adult oriented programming. Their in store and magazine ads include prominent placement of the game's Mature rating. And the fact of the matter remains that a study by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) released just three weeks ago found that 90% of all games are purchased by someone over 18. The same study also found that the average age of people who play video games is 28, a far cry from "the children" Mr. Thompson keeps insisting are being harmed by games.
It's also interesting to see what Jack Thompson considers decent activities for children. Mr. Thompson has never made an attempt to shut down paintball fields or laser tag establishments even though these activities put a real gun in the hands of the participant. They don't fire bullets, but they are a much closer simulation to a real gun than a video game controller. Of course, paintball fields and laser tag operators are not part of a $10 billion industry like video game makers are.
However most grievous of all is that Jack Thompson has no problem with children hunting. Federal law states that anyone as young as fourteen has to have a hunting license to hunt, but anyone younger than fourteen does not need a license to hunt. This means it is legal to give children guns, send them off into the woods, and tell them to shoot Bambi. Video games are "murder simulators," but actually murdering a defenseless animal is a healthy family activity? I don't understand.
And when he's not using inflated rhetoric and half truths to prove his point he flat out lies. This statement appears on his website:
Entertainment giant Sony has recently announced that it will not distribute these murder simulation games to Japanese children, but such games are "appropriate" for American and European kids. Isn't that nice?This statement would be very compelling if it weren't for these three things:
A. Sony does not own the Japanese publishing rights to Grand Theft Auto III, Capcom does.
B. Sony doesn't even own the American publishing rights, Take Two Interactive does. And Jack Thompson knows this because he's currently suing Take Two for publishing Grand Theft Auto III.
C. Grand Theft Auto III was released in Japan on September 25.
Setting an example for "the children" must begin at home, and knowingly lying is a terrible example to set.
Jack Thompson definitely does not have all the answers. He is a self appointed expert on video game violence when it's obvious he has never touched a game himself. I don't have all the answers either but I do know that the only way "the children" will be protected from violent video games is if the parents take an active role in finding out what their children are playing. Personal responsibility is a beautiful thing and by working together we won't need to hear the lies of Jack Thompson anymore.
Feel free to write me a letter Mr. Thompson.