Sponsored By

Opinion: Fall Of The House Of Thompson

Just after Jack Thompson's disbarment, ESA lynchpin Doug Lowenstein accused the gaming press of creating the Thompson juggernaut, while GamePolitics asserts that Lowenstein was the one who 'dropped the ball' by refusing to defend the industry. Is either o

Simon Carless, Blogger

September 29, 2008

4 Min Read

[Just after Jack Thompson's disbarment, ESA lynchpin Doug Lowenstein accused the gaming press of creating the Thompson juggernaut, while GamePolitics asserts that Lowenstein was the one who 'dropped the ball' by refusing to defend the industry. Is either of them correct? Gamasutra publisher Simon Carless investigates.] It's perhaps a little surprising to see former ESA lynchpin Doug Lowenstein popping his head back into the game industry, following his escape to the just-as-tricky Private Equity Council. Though the credit crunch must be almost as painful to Lowenstein as state legislation was in his stint forcefully leading the Entertainment Software Association, he still took time to contact Kotaku with a statement that's a reaction to Jack Thompson's permanent disbarment. The particularly salient extract from Lowenstein's open letter? "Time and again, the game press — and mainstream press — would ask ESA to engage with, or respond to Thompson's latest excess. The media knew well that he was a charlatan who wholly lacked credibility. But hey, they said, he was news and could not be ignored. That was a cop out. It gave Thompson a platform he might not have had for as long as he did." So really, the claim is that we -- the press -- 'made' Jack Thompson the potent force for criticism of games as a medium, and that if we just pretended he wasn't there, he would have gone away. Don't acknowledge the Boogeyman, and he loses his power. This isn't a new complaint - about 18 months ago, we ran a story about Paris Hilton (!) on GameSetWatch, in which we asked whether Thompson was 'gaming's Paris Hilton'. At the time, the Associated Press had tried a week-long 'experimental blackout' on Hilton news, just because they thought, well, that they shouldn't be talking about her, because she wasn't important, or newsworthy. Answering Lowenstein's comments at that time -- and indirectly answering the Paris Hilton comparison -- I suggested: "I'm not sure I totally agree [with Lowenstein] - when Gamasutra runs stories on Thompson, it's generally because of a specific lawsuit against a game company, something that's probably in the public interest to report." So Thompson is -- or rather, was -- a practicing lawyer who actually had game companies suing him as well as vice versa, and represented murder victim families in suits. And let's not forget that Thompson played a major part in arguably objectionable -- but nonetheless successful -- rap music censorship in the early '90s. That's newsworthy, Doug. Now, I agree that there's no need to report every email and missive received. But one of Jack Thompson's tricks was to involve himself with the story -- following up with frantic emails, faxes, and lawsuits -- making himself such a nuisance that the subjects of his media harangues would keep up the dialogue, perpetuating the trolling. Probably one of his closest reports, and therefore subjects of his harassment was GamePolitics' Dennis McCauley, and he has a passionate, angry editorial on the subject up on GamePolitics. His view? "By refusing to respond, Doug dropped the ball. Thompson, finding no resistance from the top of the video game industry, was empowered to push harder." I'm not sure I completely agree. There's an argument that you empower trolls by acknowledging them, and then nobody comes out of the situation looking good. Lowenstein realized that preventing state-based legislation against violent games was more important in practical terms than debating Thompson regularly ad infinitum. Having said that, when Electronic Arts actually told Thompson to go away in regard to the Take-Two takeover attempts, it was satisfying. But that was a glancing blow -- anyone arrayed directly against Thompson is unlikely to get much out of the conversation. In the end, who were the only people who could actually take away Thompson's efficacy? The authorities that gave him some degree of official power in the first place, by allowing him to be a lawyer. McCauley's documenting of Thompson's slide from power was and is essential reading along the way, but it didn't make or break Thompson's power. His actions did that all by themselves. [Picture courtesy of satirical Thompson-inspired web game I'm OK.]

About the Author(s)

Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like