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Comment: Media ignorance adds fuel to Thompson's fire

The videogames industry's most persistent bogeyman, Jack Thompson, is back in his favoured position as the number one topic of conversation among game creators and fans this week. Admittedly, Thompson might prefer if they were discussing something other than the finely orchestrated drubbing he has received at the hands of the creators of satirical webcomic Penny-Arcade, who went so far as to donate $10,000 to charity on his behalf when he refused to stump up the cash he had offered if anyone would create a violent game which he proposed.

The proposal, he claimed, was satirical; so too, presumably, was his offer to donate money to charity. Mike Krauhulik and Jerry Holkins at Penny-Arcade, long-term supporters of charity efforts (and tireless promoters of Child's Play, the videogames charity which they founded and which has donated $500,000 worth of toys, books and games to children's hospitals around the United States in the past year), didn't quite see the joke, and donated $10,000 in Thompson's name - to the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, a games industry children's charity in the USA.

Thompson unquestionably has egg on his face over the whole affair, and having recently lost the support of the National Institute on Media and the Family, it might look like this tireless crusader for censorship is taking a tumble. However, Thompson seems to be a strong believer in the idea that no publicity is bad publicity - and even in the thick of these latest disputes, he's found time to go onto CNN and spout outright misinformation about Midway's new sports game, Blitz: The League.

This is why Thompson is dangerous; not because he's accurate, well-researched, logical or clever, or because any of his legal threats hold the slightest amount of water, but because no matter how many times he's proven wrong or outfoxed by the legions of gamers and game companies who dispute his every move, he will still be an ideal soundbite provider for the mainstream media.

He is angry, controversial and media-savvy enough to know that the facts are less important than the hyperbole when it comes to America's rapid-fire news coverage. A reasoned argument about videogame censorship will always be less popular with the news channels than someone who can shout this week's version of "ban this sick filth" as loudly as possible, and having the assumed respectability of an attorney - however unsuccessful he may be in reality - is an added bonus.

Ultimately, though, however much Jack Thompson's diatribes may serve to poison public opinion in America's right-wing against the videogames industry, he poses remarkably little real danger to the industry. Empty vessels make most noise, and Thompson's hollow threats and misinformed ranting will gradually run out of wind as the mainstream media inevitably finds a new whipping boy and stops trotting out violent videogames to fill column inches. Entire generations have now grown up with videogames, and see right through the posturing of people like Thompson; as those generations age, videogames will become more and more acceptable to the public, just as rock and roll music and movies did before them.

Voltaire is often quoted as saying that he made "but one prayer to God, a very short one - 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous'; and God granted it." The games industry might well have made the same prayer, for Thompson is unquestionably a pantomime character, a figure who verges on self-parody and whose ill-informed ranting makes him unpalatable even to those who also support tighter controls on videogames. As long as he continues to be approached by the mainstream media for comment, however, he will remain on the radar. By now, we all know that Thompson is wrong; the task ahead of the videogames industry and community is ensuring that the media now also learns that he is not an expert, is not an educated commentator and is not the kind of person to whom they should be giving airtime or column inches. Only then will this bogeyman stop visiting.

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.