Interview

Jack Thompson

The firebrand lawyer answers our questions

I'm sure that many people in the gaming community don't disagree with most your views on selling violent games to minors. Given this, don't you think you would get more support for your cause by being less overtly threatening towards what remains a popular past time?

I'm not out to make friends. I have enough of those. I'm out to accomplish something to protect children and the innocent victims who are sometimes harmed by kids made more aggressive and more violent by the murder simulators on which they practice that violence.

The world has enough folks who identify a problem, speak out, wring their hands and move on. In fact, it was your country's Winston Churchill who said: "Most people when they stumble across the truth, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on as if nothing had happened." I have sat in rooms with families whose loved ones are gone because some kid trained on a game to kill them. Gamers can scoff at that, they can say it didn't happen, but all the science coming out of Harvard and from the American Psychological Association, and now out of the US Supreme Court in the Roper vs. Simmons case draws the causal link between these games, the violent ones, and teen violence.

Cocaine is a popular "past time," too. That doesn't make its consumption, certainly by kids, something we ought to look away from. I don't gauge what I do based upon polls, and certainly not polls of gamers. I couldn't care less what some 14-year-old thinks is good or not good for him. I listen to scientists, health care providers, public safety officials, and I base what I do based upon their findings, not what some readers of Game Informer magazine wish was true because of how they waste their time.

Previously you've campaigned against obscenity in rap music and broadcast media (the constant stream of 'real-life' violence from news programmes, especially the ongoing conflict in Iraq seems pertinent here). Do you believe videogames to be more or less of a threat than these other 'influencing' mediums?

Well, first off, war is not a "medium." It is a real Hell. There is, however, no question that war brutalizes both the people maimed and those who do the maiming. One of the leading experts on that is Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former Army Ranger whose book, On Killing, was nominated for a Pulitzer. Dave, who has become a dear friend and who is one of our experts in the Alabama wrongful death case against Take-Two, which will financially destroy Take-Two, has written extensively about the scientific proof that violent video games are murder simulators that train soldiers and civilians to kill. Grossman writes of the devastating psychological cost of getting a human being into that mindset. It is a matter of training, conditioning, and desensitization. That is why British and American military establishments use violent virtual reality simulators to get new recruits to kill.

Beyond that, video games are the most dangerous of all violent media, because they are interactive. You actually enter into doing the violence. Psychologists explain that interactive violence is a far more effective and quick means of behavior modification. But video games are a neutral technology. You can electrify or incinerate a city with nuclear fission. The fission is not the problem. The problem is what you do with it. Likewise, video games are tremendous teaching tools, because of their powerful nature, but what we do with them is what is problematic. Evil can find its way into any technology, because evil is in every heart. Certainly mine. But the difference is that I know that. I think most teen gamers have no freaking idea what evil is, and thus they are more easily preyed upon by it. I'm a Christian. The Bible explains all this. Kids would do well to read it as well as their cheat code manuals.

Are you aware of the free online game entitled 'America's Army'? It is a free online 'shooter' game that pits two teams against each other to fight to the death. The game was developed and is continually subsidised by the United States Army with the open intent to recruit young people into the armed forces. The guns are realistic, the sounds are excellent, and the tactical attention to detail is superb - this is all because it has been developed by actual soldiers. Upon being shot, the player will simply disappear without any suggestion of bodily trauma. Is this perhaps not significantly more obscene than representing any amount of fictitious gore, by misrepresenting the results of actual violence?

It is not, obscene, in the legal sense of the term, but it is outrageous. Gamers need to do their homework on me. I was on ABC's World News Tonight three years ago explaining how outrageous it is that taxpayers are subsidizing a violent video game distributed free to teens when this same government found the link between violent video games (Doom) and what happened at Columbine. The creation of the America's Army game is a scandal. By the way, there is classified information in the game, which is an illegal act, and our government's contracting with a Japanese company, Sony, to create the game violates a treaty the US entered into after WWII not to use Japanese companies to create military products of any kind, including training simulators. So our government has broken the law in a number of ways to make this game. I wrote the arrogant Don Rumsfeld ten times telling him that America's Army was a big mistake. I said that on ABC News at the time. Probably why I was profiled for a ten-minute piece last month on ABC's Nightline.

As you can see, by God's grace, I've been on this issue quite some time. I'm not as dumb and ineffectual as I look. The industry fears me because they know I don't quit.

Is it fair that certain games should be banned from the whole gaming populace, despite the argument that only a tiny minority of gamers are easily influenced?

No, of course not. In a free society, adults can pretty much get what they want and should. You gamers need to get off the "Jack Thompson wants to ban video games" nonsense. I had a kid in New York call me the other day screaming at me because of that. I said please, listen to my real position. He listened. He was a nice and polite guy. When I was done, he said "Hey, I agree with everything you have to say on this. This was very cool." I asked him what prompted him to call. He said, "Our eighth grade social studies class was talking about you, and I though I would call you." I said, "Tell your teacher I will be happy to address the entire class by speaker phone so they can hear what my real views are as the industry's chief critic," and he said that was very cool. Facts are very, very cool. Caricatures of critics are stupid.

In the past you have directed criticism towards games such as The Sims 2 for alluding to areas of inappropriateness. The instance of Sims 2 it was in the blur that covered the characters nudity, which could only be removed using a user created and unlicensed alteration of the game. Your qualm was that the blur itself suggested nudity. This is, in effect, the suggestion of nudity, in a visual medium (the game), which is itself a suggestion, this is reality twice removed, such as a painting of a photogragh of an apple. Do you worry that there might be some overspill from more zealous censorship groups that will outlaw even allusions to suggestions of inappropriateness?

Once again, you have totally mischaracterized my position. I think it would be nice if people would actually ask me what I think or at least read what I have actually written. The problem was not that the blur suggested nudity. The problem was and is that the brilliant but reckless person who created the Sims (I forget his name) has openly and actively encouraged mods of his figures. That has led to all sorts of porn available on the web to kids. This is not surmise. Go Google the sites. To underscore the legitimacy of my concern, the ESRB's Patricia Vance, picking up on my lead, shortly after the Sims flap informed the entire industry that developers' failures to protect their own copyrighted images and codes and so force was unacceptable and would lead to a gutting of the whole copyright concept. She noted that a failure of companies to go after modders who modded a teen product into adult product was a huge problem for which the developers were responsible by virtue of their laxity.

When she did that, I felt like Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park, when the t-rex comes through the de-electrified fence. He mutters, "Damn, I hate being right all the time." I'm not right all the time, but Vance got it, and I was right, and to the extent that the Sims folks or anyone else allow copyright infringers to modify their figures into porn, then they too are responsible for the consequences, to their copyright's dilution and the harm to kids that flows from it.

You once described 'The Sims' as a paedophiles paradise. Can you explain why?

For the same reason that MySpace has been called by law enforcement here "a buffet for paedophiles." The Sims folks (see above) are allowing their product to be used by paedophiles on the web. Again, Google the sites.

How do you suggest videogames actually 'train to kill'? In the instance of the murder of two Fayette, Alabama officers, you suggested that the murderer was trained to shoot quickly and expertly by the console game Grand Theft Auto. Whilst it is arguable that the emotional state to kill could, in theory, have been encouraged by watching violent representations, how is it possible to train a person in the expert use of lethal firearms in a 'simulation' that uses only ones thumbs?

Killing is, of course, a two-part phenomenon. You need to be willing to kill and you need to know how to kill. Google "can a video game lead to murder" and you will see the CBS 60 Minutes piece, and the full transcript which explains it all. The GTA games broke down Devin Moore's inhibition to kill and it gave him killing scenarios on how to kill the cops. He replicated the bizarre scenario right in the game. Ed Bradley proved it. I convinced an entire news organization. That's why Bradley had me back for the second piece I did on video games and their murder simulation, 6 years after I did it the first time on 60 Minutes re: Columbine. We gave the court four experts, all of whom testified before the US Congress on this copycat phenomenon re video games, and they all said, in sworn affidavits, that Moore would not have killed if he had not had the video game training, as to both appetite to kill and means to kill.

I'm happy to see an affidavit from someone that says the opposite. Until then, the position is unrefuted, gamers' biases notwithstanding.

Are there any games you have personally enjoyed playing?

No. I have so little time on this earth that I choose not to waste it in what amounts to mental masturbation. I have played the violent games I have targeted to know what I am talking about. The stomping of women in GTA, in light of my representation of women who have been battered and raped made me nauseous. Anyone who "enjoys" a game like that is off his rocker.

Do you believe that a parent or guardian should ultimately be held responsible for censoring games, clearly marked for adults, from children and the easily influenced?

Parents are part of the plan, but the retailers who sell games to kids with no parent in sight are not exactly including parents in the equation, now are they? See, this is the great lie of the industry and its retailer lapdogs. They put a warning label on the game, admitting thereby that GTA, for example, is harmful to a 12-year-old, and yet they market the crap out of these games to kids. Our Federal Trade Commission has found that 40% of the time (and this was recently) the major retailers will sell Mature-rated games to kids of any age, no questions asked and no parents in sight. All I am trying to do is get the US to the UK (and elsewhere) system that stops the sale of adult games to kids. Very simple. If some idiot parent wants to buy a 9-year-old GTA and give it to him, then that's okay, but if the kid then goes next door and batters some neighbour's kid, then I would love the lawsuit against the moron parent who ignored the warning and gave his kid a violence simulator that the American Psychological Association has proven results in those types of events. But any policy to stop the sale of adult games to adults? No way.

With the continued failure of what has been labelled the 'Video Games made me Do it' defence to convince any judges of a mitigated or lesser sentence, is your continued stance on the harm games can have on young minds perhaps diminishing the value of that defence? The Insanity plea has been significantly narrowed in scope, with its requirements for Mens Rea and Actus Reus continually made more stringent, meaning that today many individuals mentally unfit are not properly processed in the legal system. If video games are indeed 'scapegoated' by lawyers less scrupulous than yourself, is the danger of abuse not significant?

Once again, your facts are wrong. A kid used a video game defence in Dallas in the late 1990s. Shot his friend twice. He was acquitted of murder because of the video game influence. People in the states have been fully acquitted of murder - adults - who have successfully invoked the "Matrix defence." They proved to the jury that they were put into a mental state in which they did not know what they were fully doing. I'm a law and order guy, a conservative - not the liberal the gamers like to paint me out to be - and that is a legitimate defence, as murder is a "state of mind" crime. That's the law. So, far from your characterization, what I am talking about as a defence is increasing, not decreasing. In fact, one of the most important Supreme Court cases in years, decided nearly two years ago in Roper v. Simmons, struck down the juvenile death penalty across the country. Justice Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, cited the same brain scan studies on which we are relying in Alabama and now in our New Mexico case to prove that juveniles process violent material differently - in a different sector of the brain - and this neurobiological difference and deficit, the court said, must take first-degree murder and its punishment off the table. As a result of Roper vs. Simmons, you are going to see brain scans of teen defendants and video game defence explode into a hugely significant development in criminal law. NBC's Law and Order SVU actually did a show on it called "Game." I was portrayed as the defence attorney in the case. They put my client in an MRI tube. Art imitating life imitating art. Very cool.

If people don't like the fact that this is going to be a defence increasingly in criminal cases, then stop selling adult and violent games to kids. Very simple.

You once said: "We intend to hurt Hollywood. We intend to hurt the video game industry. We intend to hurt the sex porn sites." Do you think rhetoric of this kind is provocative, and could dissuade potential supporters of your views?

Of course it is provocative and is intended to be. People who do evil things need to be identified, called out, and what they do destroyed. Your Winston Churchill was very provocative when it came to Hitler. Thank God he was. When Churchill was made an honorary citizen of the US by President Kennedy in a joint session of Congress, JFK said, "When the entire world, save Britons, feared for the survival of Britain, Winston Churchill mobilized the English language and sent it into battle." Words have meaning. Language is powerful. Gee, maybe Aragorn should not have "incited" or "provoked" his troops so in the LoTR trilogy. Most mean of him. I intend to destroy the evil that certain men do. I have a son. They have targeted him and his peers. I intend to stop them, by God's grace, if that be His will.

You're now infamous video game concept based around the revenge killing of the CEO of a video game company caused a lot of fuss due in part to the fact that it appeared to be aimed squarely at Take Two CEO Paul Eibeler. While no doubt aimed to prove your point that if games, as the industry claim, are merely fantasy and fiction and do no harm then what harm could come from such a game, do you feel that by making that point in such an overtly personal way, thereby removing the fictional element, you over-stepped the mark?

Oh, it's very personal. I wish it were more personal. I wish Mr. Eibeler had the stones to come out of his office and meet his critics as I do, like right here. I am going to be on college campuses this winter doing just that. You won't see Eibeler do that. I promised to pay the $10,000, and still will, if Eibeler has the testicular fortitude to name the charity. That is the condition that the morons at Penny Arcade and elsewhere chose to ignore.

Listen, I have sat with families, as I say above, whose loved ones are dead because of Paul Eibeler. They take it VERY personally. I do, too. The Golden Rule is this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This sociopath uses his games to target cops, women, innocent people, and he counts his money, maybe backdates his stock options (the SEC is investigating that), and knowingly sells Hot Coffee material to other peoples' kids. That is a crime. I wish he had the courage to meet me in a public forum. Then he would see just how personal it is. But he won't, because he is a coward. Other than that, I like him.

Would the US age rating system on games work in principle if all retailers could be relied upon to perform their side of the bargain? If not how could it be improved and does the film industry and its retailers have it right or do your arguments apply to them as well?

Yes, it would work great, but that's the point. It is a charade. Law must be used to enforce what they have admitted is right and just but will not do. Only naive anarchists/libertarians think that laws are unnecessary. Your Edmund Burke, the father of modern political thought said it quite well: "Government is there to point people to the good." As a last resort. The video game industry's scofflaws like Paul Eibeler have brought us to this point, not I.

At what point does personal responsibility kick in? As much as we may be subjected to negative role models and ideas from a variety of media surely at some point we have to let individuals take responsibility for their actions and not look to blame them on third parties.

All people are responsible for their actions, including Paul Eibeler. Are kids somehow responsible and he is not?

Which do you regard yourself as first and foremost, a lawyer or a politician?

I am not a politician. Too honest. I am first a Christian, then a husband and father, and last a lawyer. I try to keep it in that order.

We appreciate your time.

I appreciate your time. Let's do this often. You are one of the few folks who have let me speak for myself.

I want to say one more thing, and this is very serious. I have been saying this now before large and small assemblages for seven years now, and it is this:

I am the guy who is trying to maximize freedom here, not diminish it, and here is why. There is coming a massacre at the hands of a gamer or gamers that makes Columbine and Erfurt, Germany, look like skirmishes in a pub. When that happens, or if the number of gamer-authored incidents like the one at Dawon College in Montreal or Red Lake, Minnesota, etc. continue to mount, then what you are going to see is a call for a total BAN on these violent games, even for adult consumption, because the industry has been saying, in our country, that it cannot keep these games out of the hands of kids, despite the neurobiological processing differential, and that it WILL not abide laws to do that.

When the public pressure explodes all over the video game industry because of the mounting body count, which may occur on one morning in a school in the heartland of America, then parents will put their desire for "freedom" second to the safety of their children, and the pressure on our Congress to ban the games altogether will be enormous and irresistible. You are seeing this in Germany right now with the latest school shooting. It is coming to America.

So I am the pro-liberty voice here. Anarchy leads to a contraction of liberty, not an expansion of it. Talk to the folks, the ones still alive, who suffered through 75 years of totalitarianism because of the anarchy that descended upon Russia in 1917. As long as the video game industry in our country markets and sells to kids games that are adult-rated, that feature gun play as a fun thing to do in a country that has more guns than people, then this industry is putting a match to gasoline.

I am trying to get this industry to stop the sale and marketing of adult games to kids. That is my ONLY issue. Are you with me, now that you know what I really stand for, which explains why the industry and uninformed gamers demonize me? I knew you would be, just like the eighth-grader in New York.

I am sane. Paul Eibeler is a sociopath. Choose which one cares about you more? The corporate predator who is giving the entire industry a bad name and who will take the money of a 12-year-old, or Jack Thompson, a flawed individual who is just trying to do right given the light that God has given him and offers all of us. Thank you again. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ.

I particularly appreciate the fact that you have let me speak for myself and address what may be my critics directly. By contrast, the US video game enthusiast site GamePolitics has denied me posting privileges and has even gone so far as to prevent me, technologically, from even viewing this site at which I am nearly daily attacked.

How's that for consistency by a gaming site that proclaims the joys of freedom of expression? A game critic can't speak, all in defence of that site's view of the First Amendment.

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