Interviews// Jack Thompson - The SPOnG Exclusive Interview

I'm Alright Jack, How Are You?

Posted 18 Oct 2005 12:27 by
We?ve not been very nice about Jack Thompson in the past few years. That?s because a lot of the time he appears to be totally insane. According to Thompson, he doesn?t want to ban all videogames. He just wants tighter control on their sale. He clearly isn?t a fan of interactive entertainment, though he can put together a pretty good rant.

He also has some conspiracy theories which are totally believable and the published goal of setting legal age restrictions of adult games. Maybe not quite the devil incarnate, then? Read on?

Hi Jack, thanks for agreeing to sit down with us and share a few thoughts. In brief, can you outline who you are and what it is you do?

Got a week? In a narrow sense, however, I am a lawyer who for 18 years has had some success in stopping the distribution of adult entertainment material to kids. Gamers don't want to hear about the successes. They want to think they haven't occurred. They want to make them go away as if they were mere pixelation. My book coming out in November explains fully what I do and have done, warts and all.

Well plugged. Tell us more about the book. What's it about?

It's called Out of Harm's Way. It is about my 18 years of effort against the marketing of adult entertainment to kids, and the people and the things I have learned along the way. The publisher is Tyndale House, which is a very large Christian publisher, but they are hoping it will be a secular crossover book, because it is. It is my spiritual journey as a Christian who became one in 1976, but also my journey through these battles in the larger culture war. My takes on Charlton Heston and Ollie North, with whom I worked are especially fun, I think.

What games have you played for leisure yourself? Are there any favourites in the past?

I play Take-Two for leisure, and I'm winning. I've played the key games I have attacked.

You must have played the classics from back in the day. Also, you say you've played the games you've commented on - How far into GTA3/Vice City/San Andreas did you get? Any high-points?

No, I am not in any sense a 'gamer'. I've been too busy to do that. If that response is taken to be a criticism of how gamers spend their time, it is because it is intended to be. The "do violent games spawn violence?" debate is one thing people disagree on, even though all the evidence is on my side. But I'm not sure how any human being with a life and a conscience can justify spending any considerable time playing games in what amounts to useless mental masturbation that helps absolutely no-one. Seriously, my generation had left still the residue of the notion that your life (the substance of which is time) doing something for others. How does playing GTA 20 hours a week help anyone other than Take-Two CEO and sociopath Paul Eibeler? Games are largely a waste of time, in other words. People need to be 'stewards' of their time - again, a concept (stewardship) that is largely foreign to the gaming community and to the younger generations generally.

As to how far I got into the GTA games: far enough to be revulsed. I have seen others more expert get way into the games. It is not necessary to do heroin to know it is bad for you. I have a working understanding of how the games work and the content of the various games. I don't have to have the addiction to know addictions are unhealthy. If some game addict wants to argue with me about that, that would be rather funny to hear.

How did you get involved in videogames and associated cases?

I got the first decency fines levied by the FCC in 1989. I was asked, with a lot of successes in between, by God's grace, to be counsel for the Paducah families whose daughters were killed by Doom-head Michael Carneal. What has happened in the interim makes it more likely that we will win this case in Alabama, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that Columbine happened, and everybody who is above room temperature knows that the FBI, the Secret Service, now the American Psychological Association, and dozens of medical studies have found that violent games played by kids spawn violence. Gamers don't like the facts, so they ignore them. They believe the crap that Doug Lowenstein is being paid to say.

We think that it's something of a given that over-exposure to violent entertainment can impact the user. But don't you think using the Columbine tragedy as a political tool is somewhat distasteful?

A political tool? I'm not a politician. It is rather interesting that that word is so misused. I'm a lawyer and a social commentator. The fact that politicians weigh in on these issues does not make me also a politician or my criticism political, anymore than the fact that you agree with Doug Lowenstein, a scum-sucking lying lobbyist, right? As to Columbine itself, Klebold and Harris tied what they did directly to Doom, as did the FBI and the Secret Service. I was on 60 Minutes the Sunday after Columbine because of the role of Doom. I didn't make that up. 'Columbine' means something, just as 'Pearl Harbor' means something. '9-11' means something. Read Peggy Noonan's brilliant stuff in the Wall Street Journal as to what 'Columbine' means. I'd be an idiot, or more of one, not to use the symbolic (and actual) significance of a huge event like Columbine to make my point. Columbine was the Pearl Harbor of the culture wars, because it was the moment at which pop culture contributed to the worst school killing in American history. Red Lake was the newest Columbine, whose perp, Weiss, played and trained on GTA.

The Michael Carneal case was widely criticised at the time. It seemed to most observers from inside and outside the industry, that Doom had been transparently used as a scapegoat for a lot of very upset people to blame.

Huh? We filed our Paducah case in early April, and I explained on NBC's Today the day after we filed it that other kids in other American high schools would play that game and do what Carneal had done, which was proven at his criminal trial earlier as to the role of Doom. I predicted Columbine and its link to Doom before it happened. Who are these people who "criticized" Paducah? Were they people who actually knew the facts of the case? No, they were gamers and their fellow travellers who have a religious conviction to games. Videogamer opinions are like noses. Everybody has one. Videogamers are the only people I know who think that using a product makes you an expert in law cases about which you know nothing and about psychology even though they have no degrees. The US Supreme Court in Roper vs. Simmons and in Rice vs. Paladin has affirmed the legitimacy of our lawsuit in Alabama. We'll see what happens there.

To what extent do you truly believe playing videogames resulted in murder? We have a huge appetite for violent videogames in the UK but rarely do we see bloodthirsty rampages. We also have a zero guns law here. Do you think that there's more of connection between the violence you outline above with prolific firearm sales or videogames?

Of course. I have said that repeatedly. Namely that countries that sell these games that don't have armed populaces are less likely to see copycat shootings. Kind of obvious, right? Did you know knifing murders are up in Japan? Bill Clinton was very much anti-gun, but he ordered a crackdown on the videogame industry with the FTC study because he understood that in a country with more guns than people you do something to reduce the stimuli to use them.
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marmaduke 18 Oct 2005 12:20
Lovely interview.

His eventual goal of regulation I agree with- he's not after banning things, just stopping kids playing them. That's fair enough. As yr man David Walsh says...

It's just a shame he's such a belligerent dickhead.
YenRug 18 Oct 2005 14:09
It still leaves me gobsmacked that Jack Thompson refuses to see that the people, who are influenced by videogames, are almost certainly mentally disturbed already. Most gamers recognise that there are some people who will be affected by what they experience, whether it be violent films or violent videogames, but there is an underlying problem there already and the question should then be one of: did it cause them to commit violence, or was it a symptom? There are millions of gamers around the world who never commit a crime, let alone a violent one, and yet those who commit murder that could be contributed to videogames can be counted in their hundreds at the very worst, in the tens being more realistic. So, because a few disturbed individuals have been exposed to videogames, every other gamer has to be painted as a raving lunatic, who is ready to go on a murder spree at the drop of a hat?

I noticed he dodged the question of limiting firearms, too. Anything to do with being buddies with Charlton Heston, aka President of the National Rifle Association? The wide availability of firearms in the USA obviously has nothing to do with people being able to go on mass murder sprees, oh no, not at all. I mean, whilst the USA is happy to allow its citizens possess assault rilfes and machine guns, there are more people being murdered with knives in Japan than ever before. Quick, let's ban knives!

What was his comment about Clinton? Something about restricting sales of videogames, recognising the fact that it might prompt someone to pick up a gun and go kill people? Hmmm, would make sense for people not to have the gun to pick up, too. But, of course, that's not going to happen because the right to shoot someone is protected by the Bill of Rights, whoops, the right to bear arms. Silly me...
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jonno394 18 Oct 2005 14:14
That made for an excellent read tbh, and my opposition towards Jack has lowered quite a bit. His aim, which is to stop kids playing these games, not to outright ban them, but to make it impossible to sell them to minors is an honorable one, and something I would like to see happen. These games weren't made for kids though, and in the end, it is the parents fault that they play them, not Rockstars or Take-Two.

However, that does not justify his attacks on gamers and the industry alike, which in the most instances are uncalled for.
Greg2k 18 Oct 2005 15:29
I must say that I firmly agree with Thompson's goal of banning sales of games to age groups for which those games weren't made for; that's just really common sense.

The thing is he could achieve so much more if he toned down his voice, and really fought to solve the problem. I think he's way too obsessed with Take-Two and Eibeler to see the real problem. All you need to do is rally a bunch of people and say "We don't want people under the age of 17 to be able to buy games made for people 17 and older". That's a message everyone understands, since it relates to pornography and R-rated movied pretty easily. In all fairness, it should have been that way since the beggining. And no company, no matter how dirty it is, will want to oppose this.

At the same time, I think there are irrensponsible companies out there. I think that while Take-Two and Rockstar have the right to produce what they feel fit, they're not at all concerned about the problem the industry faces with the age regulation. So the system isn't working; don't make it even worse by making games like Bully, which are frankly of bad taste, but could be perfectly legitimate if the system was working properly. By making games like GTA and Bully before the age regulation system is fixed, there's a very high chance that most of the buyers of those games will be under the recommended age.
tyrion 18 Oct 2005 16:22
Greg2k wrote:
By making games like GTA and Bully before the age regulation system is fixed, there's a very high chance that most of the buyers of those games will be under the recommended age.

What is "broken" about the age rating system? Both the PEGI and ESRB systems are voluntary systems. In the UK games can be rated by the BBFC (who rate films and DVDs) at the option of the publisher.

The rating systems mostly work - the GTA:SA Hot Coffee content being the only notable exception I can think of where a "not quite correct" rating was given.

The problem is that the systems are not enforceable by law in either case. Only BBFC rated products are in the UK, not PEGI. So in the main, age ratings can only be guides to parents. If the parents don't care, or don't understand, then there needs to be education.

I have seen stories that many people take the age ratings on games to be an indicator of the difficulty of the game, like a jigsaw puzzle or something. Maybe ELSPA and the ESA needs to put adverts in newspapers and during Corrie or Lost to educate parents on what the age ratings actually mean?
Pilot13 18 Oct 2005 18:40
I actually know what you mean about age ratings being related to difficulty. My mum got me Rainbow Six when I was twelve (I thinki) even though it was 15. I think it was 15 because it was pretty violent in the sense you can shoot hostages and bash guns around. But my mum just thought it was meant to be too hard for my age group. It was, but only because I couldn't be arsed to see what the controls were.

But I think there's a problem. Like here in the UK, it's illegal to sell a kid GTA unless an 'adult' gets it for you. That's all swell, but parents will cave in almost all the time, and kids will still pick it up. This is because physically the games are rarely sorted by age rating on the shelves so you have Manhunt next to Monkey Ball. Then they have posters and fancy tag lines all over the box appealing to any easily impressionable kid.
lavalant 19 Oct 2005 01:06
Never thought I would say it but; pretty much agree with Jack.

I just think he goes about it the wrong way, he should be working with the gaming community instead of against them.

video games are now the no1 form of entertainment, did jack not play with action man when he was a kid? if he continues to degrade gamers then he degrades the majority of young adults, and whats that going to achieve.

I dont consider myself sad becuase i play games, i find it more stimulating than sitting like a potato watchin TV, at least you are engaged, challenged and can interact. some of jacks comments have pissed me off (not enough to kill him mind you ;)

so come on jack, your going to achieve nothing if you dont change your approach.
LR 19 Oct 2005 03:06
You think games are largely a waste of time, Jack? They?re dangerous?

I guess Christianity is one big, fluffy ball of kittens and Bibles then, huh? The Spanish Inquistion, the Crusades, slavery, Pope Pius XII and the Nazi Holocaust, sexual molestation by priests ? ringing any bells?

And you think our hobby is a dangerous waste of time?
xerox 19 Oct 2005 06:05
[QUOTE]All I have tried to do is stop the distribution of mature and adult games to minors. That is how it works in Japan, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, other countries.[/QUOTE]

New Zealand does not stop the distribution of adult games. Games are rated and treated like movies. Selling it to someone under 18 carries the same offense as videos and movies. If you are 18 you can buy it, simple. They are rated by the national censor as well, so parents see the exact same label on a game as they do on a dvd! Simple and effective.

We accuse him, he accuses us - vicious circle continues
Mattyd242 19 Oct 2005 13:34
It's all well and good him saying that "knife murders are up in Japan", but that statement hardly tells the full story. It's common knowldge that Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

I did a little digging for the figures and found that Japan's murder rate in total is about 0.63 per 100,000 of the population. By comparison, the United States' figure is 6.38 murders per 100,000. this despite Japan being the world's foremost producer of games and also home to an extremely violent media.

Perhaps I'm splitting hairs over this but this kind of generalised sweeping statement is what makes Our Friend Jack look like such an apoplectic loon. He reminds me of the Reverend in GTA: Vice City :)
config 20 Oct 2005 09:48
xerox wrote:
All I have tried to do is stop the distribution of mature and adult games to minors. That is how it works in Japan, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, other countries.

New Zealand does not stop the distribution of adult games. Games are rated and treated like movies. Selling it to someone under 18 carries the same offense as videos and movies.

That's what he said; "stop the distribution of mature and adult games to minors"

Making it an offence is the most effective way of doing this short of banning them outright.

In the US it is not illegal to sell an M-rated game to a minor, except for California and it's fresh new laws on the very subject.
DoctorDee 21 Oct 2005 18:27
Jack Tool wrote:
any human being with a life and a conscience can justify spending any considerable time playing games in what amounts to useless mental masturbation that helps absolutely no-one.

But whether his aims are noble or defendable or whatever. This guy is a f**king dickwad. A s**tty f**king pile of puke.

How can he f**king write off the hobby of MILLIONS of people so off hand, and so f**king indefensibly. By his definition, reading Shakespeare, going to the opera, reading the classics - all the things I'm sure he and his republican WASP friends do - are useless mental masturbation. Art, literature, cinema, theatre - why should anyone with a life and a conscience waste time on these things.

What a fooking tool.
Silver Bull3t 31 Oct 2005 20:28
Try spending more time criticizing the RETAILERS and less time insulting the CONSUMER.

Yes, kids shouldn't be able to buy or rent the violent games...great idea no doubt.

Yes, kids are influenced by what they see and participate in.

No, videogames aren't a determining factor(probably even .01%) for violent behavior in kids. They learn that crap from HOME, TV, and especially the "NEWS". Your rant about Columbine is OFF-BASE!.. REMEMBER ALL THE COPY-CAT SCARES AFTER THAT?.. THINK IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE ROUND THE CLOCK SENSATIONALISM on TV and radio news?.. maybe just a tad? (Seems like you're very familiar with sensationalism Mr. Thompson).

I'm sorry but I can't even understand why there is such hoopla over this issue... The answer is DON'T SELL THESE GAMES TO KIDS, PERIOD. There, I just saved millions of dollars in litigation.. Whoops! NO WONDER A LAWYER IS STIRRING THIS POT!!!

I guarantee that even if they outlawed ALL VIDEOGAMES there would be NO statistically significant difference in these kind of tragic crimes/violent behavior.

Remember kids, LAWYERS are trained LIERS. All they want is someone to blame so they can prosecute and make $$$.
jacks_rage 3 Nov 2005 02:14
And God says, "Hey, leave Me out of this. I've never seen this douche before in my life."

Well, there you have it, even God thinks that this guy is a douche. I'd like to take this time to nominate him for biggest douche on the planet. Will anyone second the nomination?
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