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Friday, March 04, 2005

Quotes from Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson is insane. I'm making that statement boldly and probably with more evidence than a lot of the stuff you're about to read from Jack Thompson himself. I'm going to guess he has a narcissistic personality disorder. It's also possible that he's simply not very bright and compensates with spouting off nonsense. I'll let you be the judge.

Thompson has made it his personal crusade to bring down the violent video game industry. Any time a kid under the age of 18 does anything violent or criminal, all they have to do now is say "GTA made me do it", and they get free representation from Jack. He'll get on the press and get lots of coverage for his cause and threaten to sue Rockstar millions. To date, I haven't been able to find record of Thompson's cases actually going to trial. Needless to say, the definition of a crusade has changed a lot since our parent's time.

Thompson's argument is that video games are murder simulators. According to him, children lack the ability to distinguish violent fantasy from violent reality. So to a 14 year old, shooting an alien with a plasma gun is roughly equivalent to shooting an old lady with a revolver. Thompson claims he has scientific evidence of this. The problem Thompson has is that every study which tries to prove actual causation between games and violence comes up short. And this is the way it plays out in court:

"The issue is the causation. How do you prove the connection from the game to the violent act. Lawyers have tried [to prove the connection] but they haven't really succeeded yet." - CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So let's put that down right now. Thompson has no case. He's empty handed but full of words. The only case he'll ever have is by coercing a young kid into blaming a video game for his actions instead of taking responsibility for them. This is a disservice to every side of the argument. It hurts those hoping to curb violence in the media by reducing their cause to a one note media train whose only end will be to pad Thompson's wallet. Eventually Thompson alone will have created so much legal precedent that nobody will try to bring anything resembling such a case to trial. It hurts those in defense of video games by inappropriately branding them the cause of American violence. It hurts those effected by violence by robbing them of a real day in court.

Right now, Devin Thompson is awaiting trial for shooting two police officers and a dispatcher. Jack Thompson (clearly, no relation) has the families going after a game developer. Instead of the focus being on the kid, or the parents, or the actions of the officers that day - it will be on Rockstar and Take Two. And when Thompson loses this case, which he most likely will, everyone involved will be worse off thanks to the man.

CBSNews has recently interviewed Thompson, so let's cross-examine some of his statements. (Bold = Thompson)

I can tell you that some crimes would not occur but for the violent entertainment. For the families of the deceased, that is the only statistic that matters.

This is not a statistic, however, that Jack can actually prove. So it's really what one would normally call an opinion.

Armies have been known to go on rape rampages after battles because the violence stimulates sexual aggression. How lovely that GTA weds sex and violence in the same game.

So you see, in Jack's mind there is a direct analogy between a barbarian horde raping and pillaging a countryside and playing GTA. To him, there's a connection between the rape of Darfur and raising your wanted level in a video game. I think there is a person out there having trouble distinguishing fact from fiction - but I think that person is Jack Thompson.

The heads of six major health care organizations testified before Congress that there are "hundreds" of studies that prove the link. All the video game industry has are studies paid for by them, which are geared to find the opposite result. Lawyers call such experts "whores."

Actually, Jack, I'd call someone trying to profit off of an 18 year old cop killer a whore. But that's just me.

Jack is of course engaging in spin here. For the record, the testament of which he speaks is here. Nowhere in the document does it link video games to criminal behavior. It says that studies indicate that over time, they can lead to more aggressive behavior and desensitization. It also says, quite clearly:

We in no way mean to imply that entertainment violence is the sole, or even necessarily the most important factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Family breakdown, peer influences, the availability of weapons, and numerous other factors may all contribute to these problems. Nor are we advocating restrictions on creative activity.

Somehow, I don't foresee Jack quoting that in the future. However, it's the underlying problem he has. By reducing the entire problem of violence into one issue he lets all the other issues off the hook. And he won't win on that issue because he's insane - so in the end, nobody will be to blame and we won't get anywhere with this. Jack will probably make some money though.

Of course, as you actually grow neural pathways called dendrites that enable you to perform more easily the physical acts of violence.

The way Jack puts it, it sounds like Rockstar is actually capable of altering your brain chemistry to make you into a serial killer. In truth, your brain is doing this kind of stuff all the time. Sure, it's easier to commit acts of violence as you get older. It's also easier to hold a beer, click the remote and dance the tango. While video games might improve your hand-eye coordination, there's no proof that Counter-Strike would improve your aim with a sniper rifle.

One instance is Pandemic Studio's Full Spectrum Warrior. If it works for soldiers, of course it works for teens. The video game industry has absolutely no rebuttal to that argument. NONE.

Really? I'll sell them one for free. The Army has used video games since Doom. They've used it to practice tactics and communication. They have never used it to make a more physically capable, violent soldier. That's just more of the old Thompson spin.

Yeah, playing Full Spectrum Warrior might make a teen a better soldier. But a) it's not going to cause him to start shooting people and b) it's not going to start replacing boot camp anytime soon - which is where all the things Jack accuses video games of actually take place.

You just watch. There is going to be a Columbine-times-10 incident, and everyone will finally get it. Either that, or some video gamer is going to go Columbine at some video game exec's expense or at E3, and then the industry will begin to realize that there is no place to hide, that it has trained a nation of Manchurian Children.

People, I couldn't make this up if I tried. Jack actually believes that the PlayStation 2 is a vehicle of child brainwashing and that the entire video game industry is one step away from footing the bill for the next great massacre.

Let's get that orientated. To Jack Thompson, a video game console is brainwashing your child. Through no fault of yours or the child's, the child will become a psychotic killing machine and go on a rampage. Without the console, this never would have happened.

That is insane.

Witch-hunters always like the black and white argument. As Thompson's own evidence indicates, the truth is much more grey. We deserve a more complicated, deeper discussion about violence in our society. I'm not going to say that entertainment and media might not play a role, but singling them out as the sole problem is an even greater travesty. And the only ones that will benefit will be the lawyers.

We have a couple more notable witch-hunt follow-ups here and here.


Monique Mendoza said...
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Monique Mendoza said...

I am working with an Oakland, CA prosecutor in a murder trial in which the older gang members used GTA 3 to train teens to do carjackings and murders. The Army uses these games to break down the inhibition to kill of new recruits.You know, as someone who's played a number of games - fighting, racing and others - there's a large difference between driving a car, and playing Gran Turismo, kicking someone in the head, and playing Tekken 5 (I'm still waiting to godfist my roommate though), so the thought that GTA trains people to 'do carjackings' is ridiculous - it's absurd, it's beyond me how he could even argue that it's possible.

Buckley brought in a good point that I really appreciated, that many football and sports stars in general as associated with violent acts - be it rape, murder, etc - and yet, no one suggests that this violence is due to the sport, and further suggests that we end high school sports.

Thompson truly is a crackpot.

Jonn Wood said...

I quoted you in my post about the issue; [link]

Rajin said...

i belive it should be "it hurts those affected." instead of effected.

Rajin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rajin said...

It hurts those effected by violence by robbing them of a real day in court.

heavyweather said...

Fellow blogger, thank you.

It can't be said enough that these people are blithering idiots.

Tony said...

Excellent post, man. I posted a round-up of comments from other bloggers on my site, with some of my comments here. You really did a bang-up job on this, I tip my hat to you. You, sir, are a blogging genius.

I'll be watching tomorrow's 60-minutes episode with trepidation and antcipation.

Rob W said...

"If we were to create an perfect game, of no violence and no sex, no bad language and no mature content what would it be?"

It would be Pac-Man. Or Tetris. Neither violent, nor sexual, and no foul language in sight.

Thompson talks about the "number of violent games" as units shipped - presumably, because this vaguely indicates the number of people playing.

I think we can fairly GUARANTEE that pretty much everyone who has contributed to the unit count of GTA has played Pac-Man and/or Tetris, and besides those people, there's everyone ELSE who has played the latter two games without EVER touching GTA.

The picture's there, hanging on the wall, right next to the writing.

Unknown said...

It may just be me, but maybe, just maybe, Jack Thompson overlooked the fact that Tetris is a game that practices suicide bombing. Who knows, maybe he'll draw the line between lining up blocks with a little cheezy explosion sound and, excuse my comaprison, flying a plane into the World Trade Centres. The highjackers must have been practicing Tetris for years!

ken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.