Jack Thompson Talks Video Game Violence, Censorship & Anita Sarkeesian

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Video game activist Jack Thompson is a well-known figure among the gaming community. He’s taken aim at a slew of violent video game titles, as well as Howard Stern, the Florida Bar and Facebook.

Now, the BBC has officially announced Game Changer – an upcoming drama that takes a look at the development of Rockstar’s mega-hit franchise Grand Theft Auto. The 90-minute film will also provide a glimpse of Thompson’s role in campaigning against the NYC-based video game developer.

“At the vanguard of this crusade is the formidable campaigning lawyer Jack Thompson, a man determined to do whatever he can to stop the relentless rise of Grand Theft Auto,” states a BBC press release. “Game Changer (w/t) tells the story of an extraordinary chapter in the history of this iconic game, and reveals the major impact it has had on our cultural landscape.”

Bill Paxton is set to play former attorney Jack Thompson, while Daniel Radcliffe will fill the boots of Rockstar CEO Sam Houser.

After we penned a previous article about Thompson, he sent us an email to clarify a few points. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions, on topics ranging from video game violence and censorship to his opinion of Anita Sarkeesian.

So, without further ado…

VGN: Do you play video games? If so, any favorites?

Jack Thompson: No.

VGN: In your own opinion, what censorship restrictions would be suitable for the U.S.?

Jack Thompson: I’m opposed to censorship, which is prior restraint, which is unconstitutional in our country. All I have ever tried to do regarding GTA or any other age-rated game is get the industry to abide by the age ratings. That is the way it works in the UK. That is all I have tried to do here.

VGN: Do you think violent TV and movies contribute towards real world violence? What about violent imagery presented in the news and broadcast on social networks (e.g. ISIS beheadings)?

Jack Thompson: I believe consumption of violent entertainment numbs one to it and thus desensitizes and thus makes it more acceptable. The first time you drink Scotch, it takes horrible, then you get used to it, and like the high as well. The problem with violence in entertainment these days is that it is promoted as normal and in fact desirable. Thus, there is a school of thought to which the entertainment industry subscribes that violence sells, and it does. Just ask Tarantino. His violence is often violence for violence’s sake. That I object to. Video games are not just consumption of violence. The player is the virtual reality perpetrator of it, which breaks down the inhibition to do it in real life much more quickly than passive consumption of a movie. This is why so many of the school shooters are gamers.

VGN: Video games, in general, are becoming more accessible. Games can be purchased in-store, digitally downloaded (legally or otherwise) and streamed; they can also be purchased from big e-commerce sites like Amazon; free-to-play games are readily available from a variety of sources; and there’s an uptick in mobile gaming.

With information so readily available, and communication technologies becoming increasingly advanced, is it even possible to stop individuals from accessing violent video games?

Jack Thompson: If the industry wanted to abide by the age ratings it could, even as to games bought via the Internet, just as e-commerce in alcohol and tobacco and firearms is regulated as to the age of buyers. But the industry does not want to, and so it does not. Maybe it will take Strauss Zelnick’s grandchildren being gunned down by a gamer to get something done. Talk about somebody who has blood on his hands for the sake of financial gain. Shameful.

VGN: What role should parents play in policing the forms of media their children consume?

Jack Thompson: Parents are the most important line of defense, but what I showed when my war with this industry began is that Best Buy, and all other big box stores, were not age verifying. The US government confirmed I was right. It is better now because of my efforts, but it is still woeful, especially as to the utter refusal of BestBuy, Target, etc., to verify the age of Internet buyers. They ask the age, but don’t verify. Ridiculous.

VGN: Do you think children have the upper hand over their parents when it comes to sidestepping censorship measures? If there exists a generational divide in society’s understanding of technology, how do parents combat this?

Jack Thompson: They tell their kids that they want to see everything they are consuming. Everything. If the kid gets caught not showing them, he loses his digital entertainment privileges.

VGN: You’ve previously stated the following:

In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.

Couldn’t similar logic be used to frame movies in the same light (i.e. every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger watch movies)?

Jack Thompson: Every kid who kills in schools also wears socks. Socks don’t cause the shootings. Movies in this country are age-rated like games. Why? Because our democracy has decided that adult entertainment is harmful to kids. I didn’t come up with this. This has been the settled societal conclusion for about 400 years.

VGN: As previously reported, there appears to be no overwhelming consensus in support of a “cause-and-effect” relationship between video game violence and the real world violence of kids who play them. Looking specifically at juveniles, some studies show this link, while other studies do not.

In your view, what is the most compelling piece of evidence that proves this relationship?

Jack Thompson: The brain scan studies at Indiana University and Harvard that show violent entertainment is consumed in a different part of the brain in young people than in adults–the party that leads to copycatting. It’s simple neuroscience. Nobody has refuted that. Nobody. It is the same brain scan science that led the US Supreme Court to strike down the juvenile death penalty. They’re a bunch of rightwing morons, right? The gay marriage decision would indicate not.

VGN: The methodologies of some of the afore-mentioned studies have come under fire. This is especially true of laboratory-based experiments.

To paraphrase Al Gore, do you think the “science is settled,” or do we need to consider different research models before drawing conclusions?

Jack Thompson: The science is settled. See above.

VGN: What do you think to the contention that already violent people are attracted to violent video games? If violent video games didn’t exist, is it possible that something else would inspire this type of person (e.g. books, TV, movies)?

Jack Thompson: Violent entertainment is one of many causes. When they combine in one person, you get a massacre. Those who are at risk are out there, and the game industry knows it, knows that copycatting is occurring, especially in young people, and they couldn’t care less.

VGN: There have been reports that suggest video game violence might actually reduce the incidence of real world crime. What do you think to the hypothesis that some violent video games provide a primitive outlet for “blowing off steam” – a catharsis of sorts?

Jack Thompson: Bull crap.

VGN: Back in 2006, a Florida judge ruled against banning Rockstar video game Bully – a game you once described as a “Columbine simulator.” In a separate interview with 1UP , you said the military was using games to make “killing simulators,” and al Qaeda was training troops using Full Spectrum Warrior.

What are the primary similarities and differences between violent video games and military training sims?

Jack Thompson: Not much. The Institute for Creative Technologies at USC is a collaboration between the DOD and the game industry to design military simulators and commercial games. Frightening. The games a) suppress the inhibition to kill, and b) make the killing in real reality more efficient. You can leave the “appetite to kill” issue aside and focus only on how games make one a more efficient killer, and that is reason enough to do something about their availability, especially to kids. Forget the incitement to violence issue altogether if you like. Is anyone seriously willing to say that the military is using virtual reality training video games because it had no effect on their skills in a real life killing setting?

VGN: In 2011, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. How do you feel about this form of entertainment being protected by the First Amendment?

Jack Thompson: Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion, has been a libertarian whacko. He said there is no evidence that games have any harmful effects on young people. I think he must have consumed the evidence in a medical marijuana case before he wrote that opinion. He is out of his mind on that issue.

VGN: Some people argue that violent video games have led to an “epidemic” in youth violence, despite juvenile violent crime in the U.S. being at a 30-year low. How do you interpret this trend?

Jack Thompson: Youth violence is up. Look at the most recent statistics. If you don’t believe them, then here is a question: How much lower would it be without games? There are multiple factors at work here.  Society is not static as to all of those factors. And by the way, ask the parents of those killed at Columbine if they particularly care what the macro-statistics are on youth crime. All they know is that Klebold and Harris trained on Doom. Their kids are dead because of that, and the crime stats are not particularly interesting to them.

VGN: In 2001, after blocking Indianapolis laws that sought to regulate public arcade games, Federal Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner offered the following appraisal:

To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.

What do you think of the notion that kids need violent depictions to “cope” with society when they grow up?

Jack Thompson: I think I need a stiff drink to cope with idiot judges like Posner, that’s what I think. Let’s show kids video of bestiality, so they can better “cope” with it. What a jerk. What is he doing now, writing Donald Trump’s speeches?

VGN: I previously penned an article comparing you to Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian. In an email, you told me you “couldn’t possibly disagree with her more about certain things.” What are those disagreements?

Jack Thompson: She’s liberal politically. I am a conservative. She also is all bent out of shape about female stereotyping. Not a big problem when it comes to the more grotesque consequences of kids consuming games. She also tries to curry favor from the industry, as if she were some kind of flirt, speaking of stereotypes. If you are fighting with an industry, you don’t accept their awards and try to be some sort of heroine to that industry. Pathetic, really.

She’s not a warrior on the issue. She’s a self-promoter, and I think everyone has pretty much figured that out.

Also, she needs to stop whining about how badly treated she has been by the industry. I got disbarred and my life threatened repeatedly. When she gets the front window of her house shot at like I did, then I’ll listen to her whining a bit more. The pioneers take the arrows, honey. Deal with it.

VGN: What is the one misconception you frequently see about yourself in the media that you want clearing up?

Jack Thompson: I am not for censorship. I am not for banning games. I am for enforcing the age restrictions. That’s it. Because teen brains are neurobiologically different than adult games. It explains the copycatting.

This reasonable stance is why Bill Paxton recently told the Wall Street Journal about his portrayal of me that “Thompson has a point.”  By the way, finally, when I address games, many wind up agreeing with me. That’s why they loved me at the Screw Attack convention in Dallas a number of years ago. Once gamers understand what I really want, they get it.