YOU DON'T KNOW, JACK

If you've spent any amount of time surfing game news on CCC or other gaming sites or perhaps even caught a few moments of CNN, chances are high that you are familiar with the name Jack Thompson.

Thompson is the Miami lawyer who has been battling the game industry since 1999 (and the music industry since the early 90's) looking for that big payoff when a jury, somewhere, sometime, completely believes that a videogame was responsible for the events leading to the deaths of innocent people.

In 1999 he attempted to sue Sega, Nintendo and Sony (among others) in his class action lawsuit when representing the parents of the unfortunate children killed in Pudacah, Kentucky during the school shootings carried out by 14 year old Michael Heath. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case in 2002.

Thompson refers to violent videogames as "murder simulators" and attempted to locate a correlation between Washington snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo and the Xbox game Halo, citing an NBC Niteline report that Malvo "trained" extensively on the game to bone up on his shooting skills. It was later pointed out that Muhammad had been a soldier with extensive rifle training and certainly could have and most likely did, give Malvo weapons training. The bullet ridden tree stump discovered on their property was evidence of that.

Thompson rose to national attention again recently during the Hot Coffee Mod controversy surrounding Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The Hot Coffee Mod for those recently awakened from their comas, involves hidden coding on the GTA: SA disc which involved hardcore sexual acts starring CJ and a few gals which could be played - either by hacking the game or using a game altering device such as Datel's Action Replay. Thompson (and others) were horrified at the revelation - that games intended for entertainment were being infested by sex and violence - and that these games could easily fall into the hands of children who weren't old enough to play them.

On the one hand I can see Thompson's point - that is disconcerting and I don't think anyone in their right mind would really argue that. But is this a moral issue or a money issue? Is Thompson looking for the big pay off using the lawsuits against Big Tobacco as his influence or is he really morally outraged against the game industry? Come on...think really hard on that one. The word "litigious" comes to mind. This guy wants to sue anyone in hopes that sooner or later it's going to pay off. He reminds me of some dude in a bar asking every woman he comes in contact with to sleep with him; eventually the odds will deliver to him a woman who says "Yeah, whatever".

Violence in videogames has been around for decades and every once in awhile a game will raise some eyebrows. Remember the arcade version of Double Dragon? This game received hiccups of national attention when it was released in the mid 80's because of the opening sequence - thugs hit your gal in the stomach and then lift her up and carry her away to their hideout. When the big dude lifts her up and puts her on his shoulders, her panties are exposed. The underwear is what got the attention primarily, not the fact that someone slugged this poor gal in the stomach. Since the 80's, has the incidence of slugging women in the gut increased or has panty showing exploded? Well, I've had an eyeful of thongs in every color of the rainbow while walking through toy stores. Toy stores intended for children!!!! Not that I'm really complaining. If women want to show me their underwear without me having to do anything, hey, go for it. Just don't slug me in the gut when you catch me having a look.

Games that are intended for mature audiences (17 years and up) feature adult language, sexual content and violence. But it's not the violence that results in games being yanked off the shelves at Wal-Mart; it's the icky sex stuff and that my friends, is really ****ed up.

Acclaim's BMX XXX was yanked out of Wal-Mart stores due to the nudity, while Sony forced the publisher to alter the PS2 version (yet unbelievably the GameCube version was left intact). Wal-Mart and other retailers also yanked GTA: San Andreas after the Hot Coffee scandal due to the AO nature of the hidden content which only a miniscule smattering of gamers could access. Yet for years none of these retailers had any problem with the ultra-violent shenanigans occuring in todays M rated software. I guess picking up a digital representation of a prostitute, driving her to a secluded spot, having virtual sex with her (the car rocks back and forth while your health goes up and money goes down), then having the option to kill her with your fists or a weapon once she gets out of the car and take your money back is A-OK with most people, but seeing a digital representation of the nude human body is altogether more dangerous. I just don't get it. I like the human naked body especially if a female is attached to it.

You must note that I am Canadian and while we're slightly more conservative than the British (with whom we share a Queen) when it comes to nudity, our Canadian operated TV stations can show nudity and feature adult language without censoring or bleeping of any kind; even during primetime. There is a Canadian sex educational show that I've flipped by and watched a few times on a Canadian cable channel which involves young 20-somethings sitting around discussing various sex acts. This program would make a porn star blush. Yet this is primetime in Canada folks. My point being is that unlike our neighbors to the South (that's you, if you're American) we aren't that hung up on sex and we certainly don't picket the museums when Michelangelo's statue of David is on display in hopes of someone covering up his manhood. So excuse me if my take on the whole Sex vs Violence seems a little askew to you - I've just been raised that way. Sex is a part of life and unfortunately so is violence. However the world needs only one of those two to continue....So I'm okay with the natural one.

If you ask anyone who plays the Grand Theft Auto series why they enjoy it, I'm betting not one will say "Because you can kill prostitutes". There are a lot of violent games on the market - much more violent than GTA. So why does Rockstar sell so many of them? People like Mr. Thompson will tell you that it's because the kids are depraved and they love the violence. But that's not it at all. You see, no one ever takes a moment and actually asks gamers why they dig the GTA series. It's all just assumed as people like Mr. Thompson figure the gamers don't know any better and wouldn't have an answer to the question anyway. Well, I've asked and while the answer didn't surprise me, it will surprise some of you. Gamers love the freedom in the game. They love the exploration. The love the story. The love the secrets. Up until GTA came along, there wasn't any products on the market that allowed total freedom. You don't even have to play through the story if you don't want to. Of course, there is a violent side to the game but that's not why it's popular. If violence was what made games popular, we'd be talking about the Soldier of Fortune games and not Grand Theft Auto.

Back to Jack Thompson - Thompson has taken the reigns from Senator Joe Leiberman and decided to fight the game industry for reasons that we shall call "money" - which instantly gives him less credibility than Mr. Lieberman. Say what you want about Sen. Lieberman; at least he was on his soapbox because he cared about the moral fiber of America. Thompson's in it for the fame and the fortune as far as I'm concerned.

Thompson has become a common enemy to vid enthusiasts everywhere and if there's one thing gamers understand, it's an enemy. The gaming industry hasn't seen an enemy as fiesty as Jack Thompson. He's insanely passionate regarding his hatred of sexfilled, violent games and whom he considers the slacker idiot gamers who play them. He hates the mentality of gaming because it panders to the lowest common denominator, inciting lustful thoughts and promoting violent behavior. He hates that kids are sitting around playing games when they could be doing more useful activities. He hates that some games are desensitizing people to violence and believes that in some cases, causing them to commit these same acts of violence on living, breathing human beings. But again, does he hate all of what gaming stands for because it should be hated or because his askew arguments might eventually convince a jury somewhere to convict Microsoft of selling murder simulators and the pay day for him and his client(s) would be huge?

I actually agree with some of the above, but I do so because normal people should as far as I'm concerned. Even though I operate a gamesite, it disturbs me that gaming is all that some kids (not all) seem to do in a given day. What about going outside? Learning an instrument? Playing a sport? Taking a martial art? Even hanging out with your friends behind 711 is a decent alternative to just sitting in front of a TV or monitor as long as it's all on the up and up. Gaming has it's place as a fun and entertaining pastime, but if it's all you do, there is something missing in your life. And yeah, I'm a parent (could you tell?). My 6 year old boy loves gaming and he is allowed to play (only E rated games) for limited sessions throughout the week. He's also involved in Taekwondo, acting, singing and guitar lessons - all of which he loves too. Would he sit in front of the TV all day if I let him? Damn rights. The important thing is that my wife and I DON'T let him.

Thompson sympathizers (if you can find any now) will tell you that Jack's a passionate guy who is undergoing a David Vs. Goliath battle...not unlike Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2. Shameless plug alert. But he is taking it to the extreme and attacking anything that moves or mentions his name - such as the game-inspired comic strip Penny Arcade. He wants those guys arrested because they made fun of him via his publicly released emails (whom he forwards to various media outlets) and are selling "I Hate Jack Thompson" t-shirts. Read the letter to the Seattle Police Department here and be sure to scroll down to the Oct. 18th article. There is so much fodder there for ridicule that I don't even have the energy to regurgitate it right now.

Where the dookie really hit the fan and it became apparant that Thompson was his own worst enemy, was when he forwarded his game idea which involved killing satirized versions of the people at Take 2 games (the folks who publish Rockstar games) and the ESRB and urinating on their brainstems after blowing them away. Maybe Gary Coleman could get in some of that action. Sorry Gary, I didn't mean to get you mixed up in this; you're a good dude and I always enjoy our brief moments together at E3. Maybe next year I'll actually introduce myself - depending on how loud you're cursing at the game in front of you, that is.

I enjoy good satire and I've been known to write things for the sake of a joke that I wouldn't show my own clone for fear of being thought "completely insane and depraved". Unlike me, Thompson prefers to actually send these out to the public. He never learned the very important rule of "write down your thoughts, sit on them for a day, and then read them again and decide if you still feel that way". Thus he only has himself to blame now that many who were once on his side such as National Institute on Media and the Family have begun to distance themselves. Certainly the NIMF shares some of the views as Thompson but I believe it was the whole "urinating on the brainstem" thing that made them say, quite publicly "Hey Jack, could you stop mentioning us as though we're buddies?"

As offkilter as Jack Thompson may appear to gamers who love nothing more than to attack an enemy or "boss", Thompson definitely has a point in there...somewhere, deep down; it's just that he's going about it entirely the wrong way because he's obviously an extremely emotional guy who is in it for the wrong reasons (ie: "money"). He's getting caught up in the micro battles - fighting it out in emails with people who really don't matter to the bottom line of his argument - and spending far too much time satirizing the game industry with his concept for violent games which involve killing those he feels are responsible for the current state of gaming. He should know that game publishers don't read unsolicited game ideas. In gaming terms, Thompson is at the final boss (as he has the attention of the media - which won't last much longer) but he's spending all of his time battling the little mini-underlings that keep appearing instead of focusing his energy on the goal. We all know that isn't the way to win.

Obviously Thompson has done many things to damage his credibility recently and if life is truly a videogame as deathrow murderer Devin Moore once so eloquently put it, then the actions Thompson has chosen up to this point have damned him to this fate - just like in Fable or Knights of the Old Republic. See? Your actions DO affect the future! I never would have thought that possible! "Thanks videogames, you teached me something I doesn't know before!"

Do some gamers actually kill people because of what they have experienced in a videogame? No. They might kill someone in a way that they've seen in a videogame (movie, tv, book etc), but that doesn't account for where the urge to kill arose in the first place. Maybe they've been bullied, beaten, humiliated etc and need to exercise power over their tormentors or need to lash out at a certain part of society they feel is responsbile for their unhappiness. If someone is ready to act on the urge to kill, it isn't because of Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Pac-Man, Paris Hilton's The Real Life, Lord of the Flies or Ice T's Cop Killer.; it's because of other underlying problems perhaps not visible on the surface. Okay, maybe it could be because of Paris Hilton. I'll give you that one.

There are ****ed people doing all kinds of crazy things out there for reasons unknown - maybe they've been somewhat influenced by movies, TV, music, videogames, bad parenting, talking dogs, religion et al. But human beings have been ****ed up since the beginning. Let's face it, we have a violent history on this planet. We may be the most intelligent beings on Earth, but that doesn't mean we're necessarily smart. That's like being the smartest guy in a room full of complete morons. Not something to aspire to. We've been killing each other in the name of religion for thousands of years and not once has one of these superior beings poked their heads through the clouds and said "Come on, stop it already. Idiots." No one is lobbying to outlaw religion and more people have died in the name of God than those who have died in the name of Grand Theft Auto. People are blowing themselves up in Iraq on a daily basis in the name of religion and they haven't been playing Halo or Metal Gear Solid where you could strap the C4 to some poor bastards back. So what's their excuse? Anyone who murdered anyone pre-1975 and downward to the beginning of time can't rely on the videogame defense, so what's the excuse? I already told you already: We're human beings and some of us just don't work right.

My point is, we have to stop looking for a physical scapegoat to blame our behavior on. As humans, we're not very smart, we're ruled by ego, emotions, chemical imbalances and pride and we do things that we regret constantly because of these factors. Various forms of media might provide a colorful activity for our murderous impulses (for those with no imagination), but they don't provide the actual murderous impulse.

Does that mean games are murder simulators? No, not on your life. Is Dance Dance Revolution a dance simulator? No. People who play that game extremely well can't usually dance worth crap. They just know how to put their feet on the right places at that right time. That doesn't mean they're ready to become a Solid Gold Dancer. Does playing enough Madden make, you, some overweight drunken college goofball a contender for the NFL? No. Try it and you'll get it yourself crippled for life. Does Tetris help you pack a car better when going on a long trip? Yes, that one's true. However pressing a button on the PS2 to fire a rifle or AK-47 in a game is slightly different (sarcasm alert) than holding one in your hands and feeling the recoil of the weapon almost dislodge your shoulder. I shot a rifle once in my life and the recoil made me cry - and I was a teenager. If someone ever invents a gun that is shaped like a Dual Shock 2 which rumbles slightly when you shoot it, then maybe we'll nation full of crack shots running around. Until then, I think we're pretty safe. Playing Halo is not going to make you a gun expert.

There will always be Jack Thompson's in the public eye. Those looking for attention to further their selfish goals on the backs of flimsy cardboard morals that aren't deep enough to hide the dollar signs lurking just beneath the surface of their arguments. That was almost Pithy....Anyway, people like Jack aren't going to go away anytime soon. The next one that comes along might not be so darned entertaining and colorful. Which means he or she could be a lot more dangerous in terms of your first amendment rights. Get what I'm saying here? Jack Thompson is the calm before the storm and the least of your worries. If the government wants to say that stores can't sell violent games to kids, I'm 100% for that. But if the government wants to censor content that is going into a violent game that I, as an adult, don't mind playing, I'm definitely going to try and fight that. Parents are responsible for what their children watch or play - the government has enough problems.

But what do we do with those people out there who will take someone's life and blame it on something as trivial as a game? Here are some ideas: If you are genetically predisposed to murdering someone, for God's sake, get some help and whatever you do if you do actually go through with it, DO NOT blame it on videogames once your case goes to trial.

Please blame your murderous rampage on one of the following:

  • Being forced to attend poorly acted plays at your kids school
  • Having to buy your wife feminine hygiene products at the store
  • Inlaws staying over at your house for extended periods longer than 2 hours
  • The fact that Desperate Housewives is on the air but Dave Chapelle is not
  • Women aren't allowed to go topless in public
  • McDonald's refusal to sell hotdogs
  • All other movie and game rental outlets besides Blockbuster still charging late fees

See? These are things that would actually make life better if people like Jack Thompson fought to change them and succeeded.

Now go on from here - and remember what you've learned: 1) Not all people who pretend to fight for what is right are doing it for the right reasons . 2) Don't slug women in the gut. 3) Get outside once in awhile instead of sitting in front of the TV playing vid all day long. 4) Games don't kill people, people with problems in their brains kill people for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. 5) Something about late fees...can't remember.

Class dismissed!

Vaughn Smith

Oct. 19, 2005

By Vaughn