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.