Friday, August 18, 2006

Jack Thompson: Unplugged

He puts the Jack in Jackass.

Jack Thompson, tireless self-promoter and self-proclaimed Don Quixote tilting against evil windmills of the video game industry, sent out a press release thinly disguised as a letter to Take-Two this week concerning their upcoming game Bully.

Anyone who thinks that Jack Thompson and Take-Two aren't in a co-dependent relationship are kidding themselves. It was love at first sound bite. Jack Thompson helps Take-Two sell games, and Take-Two helps Jack Thompson feed his cavernous yearnings for publicity.

I've often thought that the video game industry never really directly addresses Jack Thompson because secretly, they like him. He's the face of video game regulation, and anyone who has any common sense bursts out laughing when they read his pompous communiques. If anything, he makes the general public more leery of video game regulation, not less.

Even grandstanding politicians who have consulted with him are generally loathe to acknlowledge any relationship. Having Jack Thompson give you advice must be like getting a blowjob from a hooker--no one ever wants to admit they got one, and they live in fear of someone else finding out.

How to deal with Jack Thompson has always been very simple and straightforward: be correct. Don't yell at him, don't respond to his grandiose hyperbole with your own, don't let his theatrics affect you in any way. Relentlessly expose his misstatements, which are virtually unlimited, and continue being correct until he dries up and blows away. Above all, think, because that's the one advantage we have over him.

Here's a very simple example. This week's missive to the masses was a letter Jack sent to Rockstar Games concerning Bully. He faxed a copy of this letter to Bit-Tech, who published excerpts (I can't find a full version of the 40-point manifesto online). Here's their article. What follows are excerpts in italics, followed by my own commentary. Sections in bold were emphasized by me, not Thompson.

What I want to focus on are both his misstatements and his use of prejudicial and inflammatory langugage.

Take-Two has until five o’clock p.m., Eastern time, Monday, August 14, 2006, to inform me in writing that it will forthwith provide me with a copy of Bully so that I and others can analyze it to determine whether it still poses a threat of copycat violence in our schools...

I'll dispense with discussing the ridiculous notion that Thompson should be given a pre-release copy of the game as some kind of self-appointed arbiter. What's really interesting here is his use of the phrase "whether it still poses a threat." What he does with his phrasing is create the idea that at some point in the past, it was established that it was a threat. This in a game that hasn't been released yet and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been played from start to finish by anyone outside the company.

10. Bully is a video game that will allow the player to rehearse violence upon his classmates and teachers in retribution for their bullying. This is the unfortunate scenario known to have occurred in violent school incidents known as “Columbine,” “Paducah,” “Jonesboro,” and may others. The role of violent video game play in training the perpetrators in these and other incidents, including the school massacre in Efurt, Germany, and at Columbine is well known.

Again, notice how he says things as statements of fact that are anything but. "Known to have occurred." "The role of violent video game play in training the well known."


In a word, horseshit. Training for what? Pressing buttons? Because violent video games are excellent training for pressing buttons. I'm using a katana in Dead Rising quite frequently. Does that train me to use a sword? Are you kidding me?

I've said this before, but I'm sure my lifetime "body count" is over ten thousand kills, easily. In real life, though, I've never fired a gun. And firing virtual guns hasn't taught me how. If you handed me a real gun, I wouldn't know where to find the safety (or if that type of gun had one). I would have a very difficult time loading a gun, and I would have zero idea of what type of ammunition should be used. My chances of hitting the broadside of a barn would be low. In other words, the real process of using a real gun is conveyed very poorly and very incompletely in video games.

Take-Two embedded in its Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA: SA) game, which is actually a murder simulator in which the virtual player can kill police officers, prostitutes, and innocent bystanders...

Ah, the "murder simulator." That's the money shot for Jack Thompson. He just loves to use that phrase in every single piece of self-aggrandizing propoganda he writes.

Think about that. A murder simulator. I'm pressing buttons and turning a character to line up with a target, and that qualifies as a "simulation."

You know what's a great murder simulator, though? Hunting. It teaches you everything you need to know about handling, loading, aiming, and firing a weapon. You even get to kill real prey, and some of that prey could be human-sized.

Firing ranges are also great "murder simulators" compared to video games. Again, a firing range teaches real-world skills, and that's where school shootings happen--in the real world, with real guns.

I'm not advocating that we research the role of hunting in school shootings. I just find it ironic and foolhardy that advocates of video game legislation, particularly Thompson, obsess about the virtual world and ignore the real one.

Take-Two was selling this game to children despite the embedded adult content.

Here, Thompson is rehashing the Hot Coffee mod, and don't think I'm above using the phrase "jerking off" to refer to his entire description.

What matters, though, is the word "children." Here we come to another staple in the Thompson hyperbole machine, as well as any politician who wants to criminalize video game sales to minors. "We must protect the children!" they cry, and it's a clever device on their part to do so, because the word "children" conveniently encompasses every age from birth to eighteen.

How can anyone be against "protecting the children?" See how manipulative and misleading that phrase can be?

We're not talking about children here--at least, not in the way they want us to think. "Children" make up at least six distinct developmental stages from birth to age eighteen.

I've never seen any documentation that a ten-year old walked into a store and scored a copy of Grand Theft Auto. And if one has, are we actually having a discussion about criminalizing video game sales on the basis of a voluntary ratings system because of a handful of sales in a country of three hundred million people?

So what are they talking about, really. Isn't this really a discussion of the 13-18 age group? Try this phrase on for size: "we must protect teenagers from violent video games!"

Actually, to be totally accurate, they'd say "we must protect young teens and teenagers from violent video games!" because those are different developmental groups.

That certainly sounds limp in comparison. If they were trying to be accurate, though, that's what they'd say. And people who aren't trying to be accurate should be regarded with a high degree of suspicion for that very reason.

Take-Two is allowing fawning media favorable to it and to the video game industry’s violent products to play Bully and to pronounce it harmless and safe for kids of all ages. Many of these “reviews” are in publications that receive ad revenue from Take-Two. These orchestrated “reviews” of Bully are now being published, thereby assuring parents “not to worry.”

That's funny, because I can't find a single review anywhere. And since there aren't any reviews yet, it's hard to know if the phrase "not to worry" is in any of them. In fact, I'm anxiously waiting to see the first reviewer mention that the game is "safe for kids of all ages." I'm guessing that no one will.

That word "safe" is another inflammatory use of language. If he'd used the word "appropriate," which is clearly the proper word to use in that context, it wouldn't have sounded nearly as dangerous, would it?

There's more, but I'm bored, and at this point you probably are, too. It's not any fun, really, thoroughly responding to the man with the bullhorn who is so desperate to draw attention to himself. And this was in no way "thorough"--that would have required another several thousand words. That's another one of Thompson's tricks, to send these mammoth letters and press releases. People who can't make persuasive arguments make lengthy ones instead.

I've written many times that there is a legitimate debate to be had over the pervasiveness of violent media (film, music, and games) in our society. What is happening now, though, is not a debate--it is a witch hunt of the foulest, most opportunistic kind.

Joseph McCarthy would be delighted.

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