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Special Comment - The ideas of Jack Thompson are alive and well (Audio)


Good evening from County Durham in England, I’m Jodis Welch for and as promised, a special comment following the statements made by some in the gaming press in relation to the horrific massacre that took place in Orlando, Florida on Sunday 12th June.

I have held off for a week to do this first because of constant re-writing but also because I am of the depleting number of people that say that people should avoid politicising tragedies and that care should be used before speaking as shock that inevitably comes with terrible moments in our lives can make us do or say things that are out of character, or ill timed, or just flat out wrong.

However the decision on whether or not to respond had in the end been made for me because in the majority of cases we do not live in a world where people are able to contain themselves in times of crisis and do not have the mindfulness, or the empathy, to think before they blurt out nonsense either because their lives are shaped by their ideology and their ideology demands everything and everyone change to suit that specific ideology, or worse still, just doing it for the sake of getting as many damned clicks for that damned ad-sense revenue.

While I hope that I respond aware of the trappings of shock which I experienced not only in the shootings in Orlando but here in the UK later that week with the murder of Member of Parliament Jo Cox and a personal shock with news of the passing of a former work colleague in what appears to be a suicide, I trust myself that I am responding in good conscious since I can’t trust anyone else to respond, especially without injecting their own political leanings in order to try score points against their opposite number and I am certainly not doing this for financial incentives.

I’ve never been interested in betting on any horse in the ridiculous contests between Left and Right and I currently do not get paid for what is a side activity on Novogamer. If you happen to see an ad on Novogamer or hear one on Soundcloud, I have no control or say over that and I do not receive any money from them.

I respond this evening because the ideas of Jack Thompson, that we thought ceased following his disbarment in 2007, that not only threatened to remove harmless material from law abiding citizens but threatened the livelihood of game development staff is very much alive and well.

Mr. Thompson of course was not the first to demonise an entertainment medium as being responsible for evil perpetrated in the world. You can go back far in human history to find Puritans lamenting the mass public reading certain books. It is common knowledge that before he could entertain the audience with performances at The Globe Theater, the writings of William Shakespeare had to be vetted by authorities lest it contained content that could damage or disparage The Crown or more ridiculously, The Faith.

However it was the crusading antics of Fredric Wertham that started the trend of decades being associated with entertainment mediums being used as evidence of corrupting the populace, in particular, its youth. With Wertham and others in the 1950’s the blame was on comic books. In the 70’s music was attacked. The 80’s saw violent movies labeled as video nasties as well as the emerging popularity of table-top role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons erroneously touted as inspiring Satanism.

Video games however have bucked the trend as their demonisation has been rolling along for over two decades now. The claims that violent video games lead to acts of real life violence began in the early 90’s just as gaming was starting to become a mainstream hobby. This carried on until around the beginning of this current decade which then seamlessly morphed from the religious right positing that gaming causes violence to the equally zelotus left claiming gaming caused sexism and racism and as if the intention was to validate The Horseshoe Theory, they have now come full circle and have embraced the long since discredited notions of Jack Thompson and Keith Vaz here in the UK and others that violence with guns is perpetuated because shooting games exist.

It is no small irony that the gaming journalists and commentators that promote this theory have in recent years spent significant time and in one case, produced a monotone song of all things, to deny that they are anything like Mr. Thompson. Just as the irony is not lost that the same press, that did do it’s job of joining game developers and players in the debate against Mr. Thompson and Mr. Vaz and Joe Lieberman and Leland Yee are now attacking developers for creating such content and players enjoying said content.

The pearl clutching on Monday was first noticed with an indie developer. The creator of Braid, Jonathan Blow tweeted saying “The lesson from E3: Game studios are working very hard to build fantasies about how cool it is to be a mass murderer“. He would then invoke what I jokingly refer as Welch’s Law, complaining that after espousing his questionable statement on a public forum that the public responded using said platform to highlight that his statement was questionable.

To you Mr. Blow my question is, what are you credentials in psychology or sociology? Your academic history shows studies in Computer Science and Creative Writing which is more than relevant and suitable for your profession as a game developer. But where, sir, can you show superiority over the likes of Dr. Cheryl Olson or Dr. Lawrence Kutner or Professor Tanya Byron? Academics and researchers who have said, with the validation of their peers that there is no plausible, scientific link between violent video games and real life violence, that correlation still does not equate causation, 100% guaranteed every time.

And why should these same academics and other educators or just the public at large take you seriously when you act online, like a wailing child flailing their arms about because they aren’t getting their own way, because the majority are not interested in contemplating your quote, unquote question? It is true that academia and scientists are always open for questions being asked, for theories to be challenged on the premise that there could be a mistake in their interpretation or that new data needs to be tested and possibly integrated into a theory. However you would think there would be some level of understanding that the same academics and scientists find it annoying and tiresome that time and energy is wasted by ideologues drugging up old theories and notions that have long since been debunked.

Then came the headline editorials and the tweeting from the news arm of the industry. “It’s uncomfortable to be at E3 with all this gun championing following Orlando“

“How can EA and E3 sell violence after this tragedy?“ as if E3 organisers, game publishers or developers were directly profiting from or were responsible for anything that happened in Orlando, or responsible for the attacks at Charlie Hebdo and wider Paris in 2015, or the Virginia Tech massacre, or the Columbine Shootings which saw Mr. Thompson’s rhetoric reach it’s peak in the early 2000’s..

Rather than repeat the previous question, as it is also relevant to these alleged journalists my next question is, Where in any product released by game companies give suggestions to players that being LBGT is a sin worthy of execution? Or that random people should be killed because of race, religion or sexual orientation? Can you really, with a straight face, point to a specific game or games that influence explicitly the exact insane justification multiple shooters come up with for carrying out their atrocities?

It is as if I really need to point it out, is a rhetorical question because no game exists that suggests to players that they should, for any reason kill, maim or rape other people in real life. Violent characters and situations have been created in all works of fiction for centries. It can be poorly written just as much as it could be brilliantly executed but in either case the vast majority of people that buy these stories know that it is merely fiction and that fiction is a completely different entity to reality.

You are aware of the difference between fiction and reality are you not? As I said the majority of people do and that is why to us the concept that by engaging in fiction we will act out the same in reality is ridiculous. I do know that some actually say with great certainty that you can not possibly separate fiction from reality and frankly it goes against any notion of sanity to the point where I have to suggest, without cynicism but sincerity seek professional help.

For some reason mental health is never brought up by the left or the right in these debates, save for a few exceptions. Maybe that is where the focus should be. Forget the scapegoating and forget trying to change the world and instead to use the effort to help the individual out of empathy, not fear. Help before harm. I accept that you cannot fully eradicate these event from ever happening but surely focusing on troubled individuals before their mind is too far gone to save them and others, is more productive than banning nasty material from the world around them.

Next question, why are you ignoring the obvious fact that gaming culture is not contained within a vacuum that covers the United States? Ignorantly the same shooters that you lament for apparently fueling gun culture in the US are also very popular internationally, because video games have been a global hobby for quite some time now, even in countries that have the gun laws that you wish the US would copy.

I can’t possibly speak for every gamer in the UK, let alone Europe but I can say with all likelihood of being accurate that European gamers are not en masse demanding legislators change our laws to match the US Constitution's second amendment because we just love Doom, Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War so much!

And please resist the urge to find a handful of gamers that do identify as right wing and do say that Europe should copy US gun laws and then claim they speak for all gamers. It’s a flawed method of argument that you have been guilty of for the last few years now and it only serves to highlight your incredulity and hubris as well as your hypocrisy since you, correctly have highlighted your opponents doing this in the past.

My next question is this, what were you expecting E3 and EA and everyone else to do exactly?

Were you expecting E3 to cancel Monday and demand everyone else in the country cancel other events planned and join in an impromptu national day of mourning and apologise for having events even planned? The truth is E3 organisers and publishers had obviously no way of foreseeing the massacre in Orlando occurring. EA didn’t intentionally pick out their shooters to display on Monday because “Well a shooting happened yesterday so seems like an ideal time to promote them!“ The games in question are already in development and are due out within the next year so they would have planned to show these games months in advance of E3 happening.

And really, no one would have canceled for two reasons. First doing so would only give credence to this asinine suggestion that game publishers are culpable in all these shootings or that it was somehow bad taste to show shooting games following Sunday. If EA was showing a game like Hatred, which specifically puts you in the role of a psychopathic killer committing mass murder on as many innocents as possible, then arguably the outrage would be justified and I think enough of us would agree in saying, “We don’t need to see this right now“, but that wasn’t the case of course. The games EA showed off involving guns was in battle situations where two sides were able to shoot back at each other. The situation in Orlando, horrifyingly, can’t be anywhere close to being equated the same.

Secondly, E3, EA and everyone else carried on as planned on Monday because it was the right thing to do! It’s not like the events of Orlando were ignored, the flags around E3 were flown at half mast and presenters on stages and on streams acknowledge the tragedy and paid tribute and then carried on, not out of cold hearted malice and not to pretend that the shooting didn’t happen but because getting on with the daily routine helps coping with one’s own shock and sadness along with with everyone else around you that very likely needs that help to cope too.

There is also the reason of not letting the perpetrators of these crimes achieve their goals. It is well established nowadays that acts of violence is only part of the sickening plans of those that enact terror, attempting to shock the rest of the populous enough that they stop doing what they do everyday to exacerbate that terror. Whether it is to hold everyone in fear of possible follow up attacks or to hurt the country economically or simply just out of the self centeredness of keeping the focus on the killer and what they have done. It is only a small victory by not allowing these killers the satisfaction of crawling into balls of fear but in terrible moments like this where there is very little in the way of victory to be found, you take what you can get.

The only acceptable reason to shut down E3 on Monday was if authorities claimed that they had enough credible intelligence that a similar or worse attack was likely to happen at the convention. No one would care about time, money or energy lost, making sure that they and their fellow humans were safe would be the only thing on anyone’s mind.

I suspect in the case of these supposed journalists however that they would be only thinking about saving their own skin because what should be considered from the comedy of errors articles last week is that the only reason these people are doing this, is to quench the thirst of their narcissism, their own ego. They couldn’t give a damn about about the victims in Florida, or those directly affected, or everyone trying to deal with the shock, it’s all about them.

“I don’t feel right about this, I demand this stops, why aren't you doing what I say? You disagree with me? How dare you, show some empathy, I’m right and you're wrong, can’t you see I’m trying to help you?“

I am grateful that E3 organisers and publishers did not give a moment’s thought to this megalomaniacal noise. As I’m sure many of you know even if you foolishly give in to the demands of these wailing children, it is never enough. You can imagine what the follow up editorials would be even if the industry had caved in and canceled all events on Monday.

“E3 have canceled today’s events but let me tell why they should still hang their heads in shame for even thinking of going ahead with this. Forget panels and talks about upcoming games and how to get into the industry, put me and my friends on the panels and let us lecture you all on how removing all themes of violence will cause all real world violence to disappear and how you can financially contribute to my program which allows me to tell you how you can be a better person like I am!“

There would have been much bragging how they managed to stick it to those nasty capitalist board of directors and investors and sure, a cancellation of E3 on that Monday would have likely caused some stock values to drop noticeably but I doubt it would have been enough to really make those at the top feel it.

What about those that aren't at the top board or investor level? Did you ever think about how this might have affected the developers, writers and artists. We are in an era where the assumption is developers are underpaid for the amount of time they give in order to meet deadlines and to meet bonus pay which may go someway to compensate the overtime given in a games development. Sure the big publishers could probably re-arrange an event to promote their new catalogue of games but the developers, already worried about reaching the targets set to obtain those bonuses wouldn’t want that worry to be amplified.

However that’s developers involved with major publishers. What about the indie developers? Those who might have only scraped enough capital to be seen on one day at E3, desperate to get the level of exposure E3 can offer and gain enough sales just to break even. Unable to reschedule for another day and missing that potential coverage could be fatal to a small company.

Then there are the fellow journalists, at least the ones that want to be at E3, who have a passion for gaming and wish to share that with readers or viewers but perhaps work on one of the smaller sites. Those that only got to E3 though the kind donations of the supporters of their website even if compared to big publishing backed organisations, are small in number. The need to get viewership, especially given how volatile and precarious online news media is in the current climate, that could obtained from the biggest show in the gaming calendar, hindered if they have nothing to talk about.

Then there are those at E3 that aren’t part of the industry and take whatever minimum wage job they can get that is on offer for a few days. Those handing out leaflets, pointing out directions. Whatever that role may be for a few days and then hoping they can get another few days elsewhere in Los Angeles because they need to earn whatever they can to pay this month’s bills.

If you had the chance to ask any of these phony moral crusaders if they for a moment gave a thought to those who could potentially lose out on E3 not running for a day over an argument and charge that is obviously a non sequitur. In all likelihood most would not and probably would say that they are irrelevant to the quote unquote real world saving cause. Afterall reality is very different from the tiny narrow world they usually occupy by themselves. To them, that’s a problem.

Which takes us back to how they are no different to Jack Thompson, because it is not just simply due to those in the gaming press using the same arguments as Mr. Thompson. It is the fact that they, like Mr. Thompson delusionally think they are saving people.

When Mr Thompson ran against video games in his mind he was saving children from the horrors of mass shootings or becoming the mass shooter. Even though the data from academic research or scientific testing, or just observable common sense in reality, proved him wrong that those argued against him were, in his mind, morally repugnant. Afterall why would anyone prevent him from saving children?

After losing what would turn out to be the last suit against a game publisher he brought to court, Mr. Thompson would give the judge a letter about how they had potential child’s blood on their hands for allowing violent games to continue to made available and possibly played by children. The Florida Bar decided they were going to nip that nonsense in the bud and with his disbarment, we thought we saw the end of this crusade against gaming.

We haven’t of course and we now see it within gaming itself which to some, they might find perplexing but given that most of these Thompson-like crusaders have in recent years shown utter disdain for games and gaming culture it really should not be surprising at all. Just as Mr. Thompson did they crow about how they are just trying to save people and anyone that disagrees with them is, if not morally repugnant, at least morally questionable.

Yet again for failing to understand that gaming is an escapist medium, not for people to bury their heads in the sand and ignore all the problems in the world but just a chance to step away from the troubles for a few fleeting hours, not to mention ignoring the old adage of “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it“ these puritans, who are already quickly becoming irrelevant with the rise of new media alternatives, will make that irrelevancy become absolute.

Which leads to my final question. How many more times are we going to go through this? It is as pointless as it is monotonous but people still insist in raising this debate. Whether you look at the 20 years gaming has been attacked for spurious reasons or entertainment in general from the 50’s onwards being smacked around as the cause for the ills of the world, gamers, academics and commentators are tired of this claptrap.

If it isn’t the existing studies that have already said that there is no link in violent games to real life violence then the sheer numbers of gamers who continue to pay for and play violent games will ultimately win the argument. I know that has me entering Argumentum Ad Populum however the numbers don’t lie. If somehow these moral crusaders convinced a company that violence or fun should not feature in future titles, gamers will simply take their money to another company that won’t cave in to puritan demands, so all that would be achieved is a significant number of developers will be out of a job and the gaming websites responsible fading into the abyss.

Don’t believe me? What happened with developer Tale of Tales? Or how about the “megaphone“ who claimed to be the epitome of Games Journalism?

So why continue to go down this road? History shows that this is a fool's errand with the only outcome being academics and scientists refusing to take you seriously, becoming the laughing stock and meme fodder for gamers and eventually being almost forced to fade into obscurity.

If you don’t want that to happen, rethink this debate. Leave gaming out of it and instead concentrate on something that is more relevant to the problem. If you do not want to be likend to Jack Thompson and all the trapping that entails, I cannot put this any more succinctly.

Stop being Jack Thompson!

Good night, and good luck.

Edited by Blanky on Thursday 23rd of June 2016 10:18:47 AM : 
Swapped 'those that who' to 'that those who'.


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