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Monday, June 06, 2005

Jack Thompson, Crazier by the Minute

By way of Corvus via slashdot comes this excellent 1UP double header with crazyman Jack Thompson and MIT video games nut Henry Jenkins.

Readers have grown accustomed to me taking Jack to task or at least highlighting his insanity. I'll engage in a little of both here.

Many stings have found that up to 50 percent of kids under 17 were sold M-rated games. And with 14-year-olds, between 70 to 80 percent of them were able to buy titles like San Andreas.
-- Jack Thompson

Now we should note that the question was "how often do M-rated games end up in the hands of kids in stores?" ... which Jack didn't answer. He just quoted some successful stings. They must teach that kind of flimflammery at flimflam law school. Jenkins notes, as I've mentioned before, that the overwhelming number of purchases for minors are made by adults anyway:

I'm sure it does, but I'd like to first point out that roughly 85 percent of game purchases for those under 18 are by adults. It doesn't mean they're informed, mind you. Adults have to act more responsibly. How many $50 or $60 purchases would you make without doing research? It boggles my mind.
-- Henry Jenkins

Boggles me too, Henry. What Jack & Company are doing, quite flagrantly, is ignoring the real problem here. We don't have a corrupt games industry out to brainwash our youth, we have irresponsible parents who rely on Best Buy to tell them what they should or should not buy. Now, a more cynical person might suspect that the reason for that is because many in the games industry have lots of money compared to parents ... and therefore make much more lucrative lawsuits.

But I'm not that cynical. I don't think Jack is all that greedy. I think he's insane. Here's a brilliant exchange which shows his mental state:

EGM: You once compared Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, to Saddam Hussein.

JT: If I did, I want to apologize to Saddam Hussein. Doug is a propagandist to whom the facts don't matter. He's paid to lie and he does it very well. Doug is paid a handsome salary, probably seven figures, to say there are no studies that indicate [violent games have] an effect on anyone. If this is true, why is the military using them to create killing simulators?

Let's repeat that statement for the viewing public:

If I did, I want to apologize to Saddam Hussein. Doug is a propagandist to whom the facts don't matter.
-- Jack Thompson

That's right, people ... according to Jack Thomspon - Doug Lowenstein is worse than the Butcher of Baghdad. Of course, Jack also called Lowenstein a Nazi, so this shouldn't be any surprise. Parents ... is this the guy you want as your advocate?

This is my favorite, however. This is the cake. The bomb, as it were. Jack's been suing people left and right over video games. How has he been doing? Well, so far his track record is zero and whatever number of cases he's had. Yes, he's been utterly and completely unsuccessful when it comes making his argument in any sort of legal sense. He's real good at sound bites, but apparently falls short at the ... law. How does Jack account for this?

Lawyers tend to be to the left of normal people, and judges tend to be the left of the lawyers. Federal judges tend to be the left of them. So you have a bunch of First Amendment absolutists who block these kinds of lawsuits. State courts, however, are far more responsive to parents. I suppose federal judges by and large don't have a problem with mental molestation of children with murder simulators.

Ah yes, those cranky activist judges who keep defending that old First Amendment. Naturally, the best line is "mental molestation of children with murder simulators". That's right, Rockstar is raping the minds of teenagers. That's a mental image for your morning coffee.

Jenkins sounds a little more ... sane:

Most of the court battles have gone the other way—that games are protected by the First Amendment. Jack is trying very hard to get the courts to rule his way. He created a lot of heat but the courts are not going with him. Periodically we see an investigation, as we did after Columbine, but our society says free expression is of important value.

Now, lets focus back on Demuzio for a second. There are two things that should worry us. Number one, the Demuzio Law was framed in a way that it avoids the First Amendment, clearly trying to sidestep what has been to date the most successful defense for video games in the courts. Number two, the Demuzio Law puts Thompson's diatribes about murder simulators into legal text ... which will give Thompson a leg up should he ever need a precedence to show that yes, video games killed someone.

These people have fabricated a crisis. There is no rash of youth violence caused by video games, in fact ... the opposite:

I'm not making light of these losses, of course, but we would expect violent crime to be on the rise if games were a causal factor. That's not true. Violent crime is actually down.
-- Henry Jenkins

So let's ask that all important question ... what problem are we trying to solve? It can't be lowering violent crime ... we already have that. It seems the real problem here are these parents who can't be bothered to do so much as a google search on a title before getting it for their kid. Thompson mentions education - but it's all lip service. Nothing he has said or done would help educate parents one iota.

Instead, all that is happening is false hysteria and an attack on free speech. Look, I'm all for parents deciding not to buy Manhunt for their nine year old. Heck, I thought Manhunt was bad enough that I'd be OK to decide that nobody play the game. But I'm certainly not going to sue Rockstar to make sure it happens.

All this said, I think I have come to a decision. Thompson is a nutjob with a microphone. I'm beginning to think that the worse anyone can do is actually pay attention to the man. He's had his chance to prove his case in sensible, logical ways - and every time he rambles off phrases like "mental molestation" or "cranial menu". He's insane, he's paranoid and he's got a bit of a messiah complex.

So I think there should just be a moratorium on interviewing the guy. All he does his generate frenzied quotes which informed people will laugh at, but the niave will get actually spooked. And that's how he works. He's trying to scare parents into supporting him. He's like those antibacterial commercials where if you don't buy their products, little Jimmy will surely die of some avian flu he caught off a slide ... all because you didn't spray it down first.

As such this will probably be the last post I give to the guy. It's getting redundant anyway and I don't want him to have any more stage than he deserves.


Mighty Monk Q said...

Thank you for such a well thought out post on this interview with Thompson. When I first read it in EGM I was freaking shocked. Thompson is a total loon. The gaming community needs to do more to get this guy outted for what he is in the mainstream media. Look in the article at all the television shows the wack-o has been on, then look at the shows Jenkins has been on....not good. I find it very disconcerting that Thompson is the voice of the crusade against videogame violence, and people are listening. It seems that with every law that gets passed banning game sales to minors, we lose a little bit more of our 1st Amendment right to Free Speech. Then again I guess I am a leftist activist for thinking that.
Thanks again for this excellent post.

Josh said...

Quite welcome.

Sadly, Thompson's insanity is what makes him good TV. It's like getting Limbaugh or Miller to do commentary on football. Neither has a real legitimate spot there, but they make for good entertainment.

I did try while writing on the Demuzio Law to get in touch with amore moderate voice of the anti-violence movement, but they've been mostly quiet.

Tony said...

He's trying to scare parents into supporting him. He's like those antibacterial commercials where if you don't buy their products, little Jimmy will surely die of some avian flu he caught off a slide ... all because you didn't spray it down first.

Think of the children, Josh! Think of the children.

Josh said...

Heheh. You know, when I was a kid I think I used to eat mud, skin my knee and generally put myself into bodily harm on an hourly basis.

Kids are way more resilient than we give them credit for.