Jack Thompson Invades My Home

Massachusetts residents! Jack Thompson is drafting video game sales legislation at Mayor Menino’s request. This would be pretty much identical to the law that was just blocked in a Louisiana court for unconstitutionality. The general legal approach taken by the bill has already failed in other states, and each state has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees to the Entertainment Software Association. It is time to write to your local representatives and tell them that you don’t want the state wasting your tax dollars on legislation that simply will not pass.

Here’s some more info if that’s not enough for you:

Who’s this Jack Thompson fellow? Thompson is an attorney who has styled himself as the enemy of video game players who haven’t killed people and the would-be defense attorney of video game players who have killed people, claiming that video games made the kids do it. (Update: He didn’t get to be the defense attorney in such a case when he tried, according to his Wikipedia entry. I guess he tries to sue video game companies too.) This is the same fellow who promised to donate $10,000 to the charity of ESA President Douglas Lowenstein’s choice if developers made a game according to Thompson’s specifications (about a father who loses a son to video games and then goes on a killing rampage against gamers and the games industry). When several amateur developers went on and made the game within a matter of days, Thompson said it was a satire and he had no intention to donate the money, so Penny Arcade went ahead and made the donation. I believe this shirt may have even preceded that event. Also, Jack Thompson is just a big meanie when intelligent supporters of video games attempt to engage him in polite conversation or debate. He also wrote a bill for Utah, which has yet to pass both the house and the senate. (Updated from my previously mistaken claim that it was passed and challenged in court. I should be checking my spreadsheet before I mouth off on this kind of thing…)

What would this bill do, if passed? Basically, it would include video games under an existing “obscenity” law—and if that were all, it would pass unchallenged. Courts have long held that sexual content may be held to different standards from other types of media content, and thus restricted from minors. This bill, however, would explicitly include games with violent content, which no judge has ever accepted as “obscene.” Sexual content in media is often meant to titillate, whereas violent content has a history of literary value and certainly no intent to encourage real-life violence.

I haven’t looked at the Louisiana bill in awhile, but my guess is that it also includes wording that suggests that the state has a vested interest in protecting children, social scientific research demonstrates that violent games cause kids to be violent, and restricting minors’ ability to buy violent games would directly affect the problem. That won’t hold up in court for three major reasons:

  1. The defense will get credible people to testify that the video game violence research does not convincingly prove that games cause real-life violence any more than any other media or emotionally arousing situation. Even if the research produced more recently does seem persuasive than in previous years, though….
  2. The definition of violence will be ruled unconstitutionally vague, as it always has been. Video games contain fantasy situations, and it’s hard to define what “violence” or “humans” are in such situations. Not to mention that the amount and degree of violence changes depending on who’s playing. And finally….
  3. The defense will cite FTC reports demonstrating that over 80% of M-rated games are purchased by adults or with an adult present, meaning that kids will probably still have access to these games anyway, so the law won’t really be doing its job.

If signed to law, the bill would definitely be blocked or overturned in court. Not only has that been the only result we’ve seen for such bills so far, we’re talking about the same state court here that said it’s okay for same-sex couples to get married; I do not expect a conservative 180 from them. If somehow the law actually managed to stand, however, it would have an adverse effect on adults’ access to many games, not necessarily even the goriest ones. It would cause retailers to fear that certain games won’t sell because they are now effectively “rated X,” and so some retailers (e.g., Walmart, a huge game seller) won’t buy those games at all. Publishers will not develop games that won’t sell, and there will be major questions about what would even be seemingly benign games about whether the content could be considered “violent.” This is known as “a chilling effect on free speech.”

The bill won’t be signed to law, though, because to get that far, it has to be passed by the state house and senate first. And it won’t be passed by the state house and senate because you and all your free-speech-loving friends are going to call and complain to your elected representatives that you don’t want your money wasted on frivolous crap meant to secure votes from conservatives.

In case you are still curious about Mr. Thompson’s character, here were three questions sent to him by Game Politics and his responses:

GP: What has (bill sponsor) Rep. Wyatt had to say about your attacks on A.G. Shurtleff?
GP: How do you see demonizing the state’s A.G. as an effective strategy?
GP: Do you fear that the ugliness (surrounding your legislative efforts) in Louisiana and now Utah will dissuade people in other jurisdictions from working with you, going forward?

JT: Listen, goofball. Wyatt today endorsed everything I said. Secondly, morons like Shurtleff need to be called out as morons. The bill has no chance of surviving as a law if Shurtleff scuttles it. Finally, if you weren’t such a coward and would allow me access to your site, you’d know even more of what is going on. You are absurd.

He’s got my vote. Wait, whaa?

[…] January 29, 2007 at 5:51 pm · Filed under Video Games Incredible. This whole thing is simply amazing. Have you been following all this? Because I’m happy to recapitulate. First, Jack Thompson pens a bill regarding violence in videogames, and he submits this little masterpiece to Utah’s legislators (the bill is similar to legislation he presented to lawmakers in Louisiana and, more recently, Massachusetts). Utah’s Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, worries that the bill might be unconstitutional, so he bars the bill from the committee’s agenda–why waste time and money on so much as discussing it, right? Thompson gets mad, so he starts doing what he does best: writing letters with tremendous red-faced bluster and CC’ing every media outlet he can find. In an excerpt from one such letter, as reprinted by GamePolitics, he calls Shurtleff a "video game enthusiast," one who has "locked arms with the video game industry." Never mind the fact that Shurtleff has a political history of denouncing some violent games! It’s like Thompson’s pissing on the choir. And what’s this? Oh ho! Now Thompson calls for Shurtleff’s impeachment. I can understand those critics who recommend that we simply ignore Jack Thompson, even when he’s busy attempting to damage professional and political careers. Some of Thompson’s critics shrug, asserting that so much as glancing in Thompson’s direction lends a credibility to his lame fire-and-brimstone posturing. I think that’s exactly what Shurtleff was doing, actually. I think Utah’s Attorney General honestly thought he was doing the right thing by ignoring Thompson and his little bill. Which of course resulted instead in Thompson yelling for Shurtleff’s blood, but also in further discussion among Utah’s legislators of violence in games. And then suddenly Utah’s Legislators Discuss Bully as "the Columbine Game", and… what? I don’t know if you’ve ever wanted to drive yourself batshit with an mp3 or partial transcript of legislators discussing a bill, but yeah, hey, if you ever wanted a reason to drive sticks through your eyes, here’s the mp3 for you. GamePolitics writes:When anti-game activist Jack Thompson accused Rockstar’s Bully of being a "Columbine simulator," the game community tended to dismiss the criticism based on its source. But in political circles, the Columbine simulator label has apparently gained some traction. Consider an exchange from Friday’s hearing before a Utah House committee considering video game legislation drafted by Thompson. GamePolitics attributes this completely incredible misconstruction to the viral spread of anti-game propaganda as led by Thompson himself. How did we even get to this point? In lighter macabre news, the Wii News Channel has finally gone live and… well, a couple of us noticed this… uh, are most of the Wii news articles uniformly grim and bleak? Am I right about this? I don’t know, maybe it’s just the sudden surge in pedophilia or something, but there are just, consistently, articles about accidental deaths and children gone missing and war, with the Wii’s persistently-groovy mood music in the background. And the cognitive dissonance–the existential weirdness of it all–is really upsetting. I mean, it’s not like I expected the Channel’s news articles to be delivered straight out of Gumdrop Castle in Lollipop County, but it seems as if a disproportionate number of their selection of AP articles are really, really grisly! I honestly suspect that someone at Nintendo, hell-bent on establishing the Wii Channel as serious, legitimate news, is deliberately putting only articles about dead puppies and weeping families into the feed. […]