Has Jack Thompson finally crossed the line?
Florida attorney Jack Thompson, the self-styled enemy of videogames, has been accused of ambulance chasing before - but never let it be said that he's a man who rests on his laurels. When the deadly, tragic and as yet inexplicable events unfolded at Virginia Tech earlier this week, Thompson went a step further than mere chasing. Within hours, he was once again attempting to further his own agenda in the American mass media.
Thompson's appearance on various news broadcasts isn't surprising, but his apparent willingness to exploit Monday's dreadful events is genuinely shocking. It shows not only a low regard for facts and research but arguably for decency in the wake of tragedy.
Of course, stating this on a videogames website - especially one based in Europe - is preaching to the choir, to a very large extent. We're aware how Thompson operates, how transparent his arguments are and how unsuccessful he has been at actually bringing any of them to bear in courts of law. However, it's worth considering that he remains the most shrill of a worrying band of anti-games campaigners - a band which numbers politicians and TV personalities among its numbers.
Thompson's main claim on Monday afternoon was that it was inevitable that details of the killer's game playing habits would emerge from classmates, friends and authorities as the investigation proceeded. He considered it a fait accompli that videogames would have been used to "train" for the massacre, even before knowing anything about the identity of the killer. In an email to the excellent GamePolitics.com, Thompson opined that the Virginia Tech shooter would be "a gamer, obviously".
His reasoning for this, which sadly the American news networks gave airtime to on Monday, was what we have come to expect from Jack Thompson. The anchors interviewing him - who had undoubtedly been told to expect a bona fide expert on school shootings - had no material with which to rebut his arguments.
As the true horror and scale of the events unfolded on television, Jack Thompson used the platform he had been given to push his own agenda and smear the entire medium of videogames. At any time, Thompson is annoying, albeit extreme enough to be dismissed by most right-thinking people. At a time of tragedy like this, however, he is both vastly more distasteful, and significantly more dangerous.
But there is one key area in which we - gamers and game creators alike - can actually find common ground with Jack Thompson. On one matter, we probably agree.
Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 33 people including himself in Virginia Tech this week, most likely was a gamer. As Thompson would say, this conclusion is obvious - albeit for a simple reason which is far from the one which opponents of videogames prefer. Cho Seung-Hui was probably a gamer because he was 23, male, and living in a first world country. For people in that demographic, saying that you are a "gamer" is as obvious as saying that you watch films or television, read books, or listen to music.
So yes, there is a certain weary inevitability about the fact that Cho will likely be found to have owned videogames, and Thompson and his ilk will undoubtedly leap upon this as they have done in the past. In fact, a more rational perspective would say that it would be extraordinary and perhaps informative if he did not own any videogames; that alone would suggest a young man entirely out of touch with his peers and with society.
Videogames are a normal, everyday part of life for a vast swathe of the population; a form of media as fully integrated into society as TV, movies, books and the Internet for almost anyone under 30, and many people far older. Sooner or later, other sectors of society will figure this out; indeed, research published by the British Board of Film Classification this week effectively dismisses concerns about the immersive or addictive nature of games. This could not be more timely given the smears made simultaneously against the gaming in the media.
In the meantime, let us hope that at least, in this terrible, harrowing time for the families and friends of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, Jack Thompson will remember the decency he abandoned on Monday - and leave these people to grieve in peace.