Violence in Video Games
By Shaun McCormack
Player hater Jack Thompson's crusade would be validated if the gaming scene branded its own Charlton Heston, so here's to hoping nobody takes his shtick with any seriousness.
Jack Thompson renewed his crusade against violent video games last week with a $600 million lawsuit in Tuscaloosa, Ala. that claims Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City led a teenager to shoot two police officers and a dispatcher to death in 2003. Thompson is representing the relatives of two victims in the shooting spree and seeking to collect on their behalf from publisher Take Two, retailers Wal-Mart and Gamestop, and Sony Computer Entertainment, maker of the PlayStation 2 console the games were played on.
The suit alleges that the retailers sold copies of the M-rated games to then 17-year old Devin Thompson, who allegedly killed the three men in June 2003 after he was brought in for questioning about driving a stolen car.
Authorities accused Devin Thompson of grabbing an officer's gun, shooting that officer and two others, and then fleeing in a police car.
Jack Thompson told The Tuscaloosa News, "What has happened in Alabama is that four companies participated in the training of Devin ... to kill three men."
According to the Associated Press, Devin Thompson said, "Life is a video game. You've got to die sometime," when authorities captured him.
Well, violence begets violence, no doubt. And you've got to admit that Devin Thompson's alleged shooting spree reeks of a Grand Theft Auto mission. But Jack Thompson has spent a career building bank on this kind of bible thumping, book burning logic. According to Newsmax.com, in 1989 he was responsible for the first decency fines ever levied by the Federal Communications Commission. He led the 2 Live Crew federal obscenity trial, which resulted in the first verdict in United States history to find a sound recording to be obscene. Along with buddy Charlton Heston (of NRA fame), Thompson persuaded Time Warner to pull "Cop Killer" from Ice T's 1992 Bodycount album.
So where exactly is this guy coming from? On one hand he's trying to place blame where it doesn't belong. He's blaming a game for some disturbed individual's shooting spree. Whether or not the game gave him the idea to do this is meaningless. People who can't resist acting out violent fantasies are going to have problems with or without video games. And to say GTA trained him is ridiculous.
Blaming the developer is far fetched, and suing the retailers is a stretch. The retailers ought to be fined for selling M-rated titles to a minor. The gaming industry's rating system does no good if retailers don't abide by it. But if you want to find the retailers, keep it in line with fines imposed on retailers that sell alcohol or cigarettes to minors. These fines normally range from a few thousand to several thousand dollars, but Thompson is seeking $600 million for his clients.
And what about blaming the suspect? If Devin Thompson is found guilty, he'll probably spend the rest of his life in jail. If he really killed these three men, he deserves life in prison, the death penalty and worse. But don't blame outside influences that don't even exist in the real world. Blame your gun-toting buddy Charlton Heston. Take his advice, with a twist. "Games don't kill people, people do."
I emailed Thompson several questions in an attempt to understand his position in all of this. I asked him if he really believes Devin Thompson would not have committed these alleged murders had he not played Grand Theft Auto. I asked him if he had a problem with less realistic violence in games from the 1980s. I asked him about Dungeons and Dragons, which was demonized in the 80s and blamed for several youth murders and suicides. I asked him about violent sports game simulations; hockey, football, boxing and wrestling. I asked him how much consideration he'd given to the idea that the responsibility for shielding kids from violence should lie with the parents instead of game developers, retailers and the courts.
His only response, emailed to me, was, "Kiss the game industry good-bye."
Another question was "Why do you have a web site urging people to contact you if you don't want to talk about this stuff?" Thompson's answer was: "Read again whom I want to have contact me. Have the games so disabled your frontal lobes that you can't understand the site?"
Lofty as Jack Thompson thinks his intentions are, he would almost be excusing the alleged murderer of wrongdoing if he wins this case. By placing blame on the game, its developers, the retailers, and for chrissakes, the console that enabled him to play it, you're excusing an alleged murderer from some of that wrongdoing, and that's more immoral than any video game could ever hope to be.