This past weekend, digital games service Steam had a 30% discount on all titles from Rockstar Games. In my article about the discount, I remarked that the discount was a slap in the face for anti-video game activist Jack Thompson, who has been a vocal opponent of the company for years. My exact words were: "It's 'Fuck Jack Thompson Weekend' at digital games platform Steam."
Well, Mr. Thompson saw the article (maybe he Googles "fuck Jack Thompson" periodically) and decided to drop me a line on Saturday. The following is a transcript of the e-mail conversation that took place over the past four days:
Jack Thompson: Pete, actually it's called "Help Fuel a Murder Weekend." Glad to clear up your confusion.
Blend Games: Thanks for the clarification. I imagine the Rockstar Games PR department will stake out some sort of middle ground between our two suggestions. I may meet up with one of their reps next week and if so I'll be sure to give them your regards.
Thompson: Tell them I hope they all either repent or die immediately.
Blend: Not sure how regularly you read our site, but video games did help Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) with his dysplaxia.
Thompson:Pete, you've obviously swallowed the Big Lie about Jack Thompson. Nothing wrong with video games. All technology is always neutral. Depends what you do with it. You can electrify or incinerate a city with nuclear fission. My issue has always been the illicit sale of Mature games to kids with their parents nowhere in sight. "Fuck Jack Thompson" then, right? A recent AOL poll of nearly a quarter of a million respondents says that 80% of the American people are concerned about the violence in video games, with 56% saying they are "very concerned." It looks to me like the ESRB, which continues to facilitate the sale of Mature games to kids is saying "Fuck Parents." So I continue to push on, as the good guys continue to win this fight. Cheers.
Blend:Fair enough. I was being partly (okay, mostly) facetious about the Harry Potter thing. As I even state in the article, "Seeing as Radcliffe uses his new-found coordination to horseback ride in the nude, this revelation probably won't appease the cultural puritans who object to violence and sex in video games."
In all seriousness, statements you've made calling video games "masturbatory" and likening them to drug use didn't seem like a "technology is neutral" attitude. It's not that I've been fed a Big Lie; it's that your own statements make it hard to pin down your beliefs.
Thompson:Pete, you have no idea what I have said about these things. You actually believe everything you read on the Internet?
Blend:I'm going by direct quotes from your interview with play.tm, dated January 2007. This is from the answer to the first question:
"Cocaine is a popular 'past time,' too. That doesn't make its consumption, certainly by kids, something we ought to look away from. I don't gauge what I do based upon polls, and certainly not polls of gamers. I couldn't care less what some 14-year-old thinks is good or not good for him. I listen to scientists, health care providers, public safety officials, and I base what I do based upon their findings, not what some readers of Game Informer magazine wish was true because of how they waste their time."
And from the second page...
Interviewer: "Are there any games you have personally enjoyed playing?"
You: "No. I have so little time on this earth that I choose not to waste it in what amounts to mental masturbation."
Thompson:That's precisely what it would be for me.
And don't you have someone else to hector? I told you that the only policy issue I have is sale of Mature games to underage kids. Are you, like so many other gamers that you are intolerant of others' personal opinions about gaming? You seem to be. The vast majority of all video games are nothing but time wasters, mental stimulation for no reason other than stimlation. My generation actually thinks we ought to spend our time helping people or building something. Your generation likes to waste its time doing nothing. How sad.
Blend:Wasn't my intention to hector you - you did email me first. I was just trying to clarify this contradiction between your assertion that science is neutral (implying that video games could be good or bad) and your earlier statements in that play.tm interview that gaming was a waste of time and could be likened to drug use (presumably in terms of harmfulness or addictiveness). Your last email has clarified this point, though - you mean the vast majority of games are an addictive, waste of time but that a small amount do have merit. I am curious what games you do find productive uses of one's time but I also understand if you don't feel like continuing the dialogue.
Thompson:Technology is neutral, not science. Games are largely a waste of time. The manners of gamers that threaten to kill me indicate they need to get a life. I didn't like your Fuck Jack Thompson reference. I'm done trying to make a point that the vast majority of humans, other than gamers get-- that games waste time and the violence in mature games warps kids. Pretty simple.
Blend:I don't doubt some of the emails you get from gamers are obscene but that's not because gamers are particularly obscene - it's because that's how people behave on the Internet. To paraphrase a Penny Arcade comic: normal person + anonymity + audience = jerk. Visit any unmoderated discussion forum on politics or sports or whatever - it's as petty and mean-spirited as any forum about gaming. To give you an indication of my own lack of faith in the Internet, I actually confirmed your email address with another games site editor. I would not be altogether surprised if someone was actually going around pretending to be you. Though it's a great means of communication and a great research tool, the Internet is just plain weird at times.
Are you really surprised that you'd get emails like that, after attacking gaming (both a hobby and a vocation for millions of people) so viciously? You told me a couple days ago that Rockstar Games should "repent or die immediately." Oh, and then there was this gem: "My generation actually thinks we ought to spend our time helping people or building something. Your generation likes to waste its time doing nothing." You're not doing much to raise the level of discourse, here.
Thompson:[Sends me the link to an editorial he wrote that debuted this morning]
Blend: (responding to an excerpt from the article) Do you actually think the fact that kids can buy violent video games at Gamestop is the result of some conspiracy perpetrated by the gaming industry? Isn't it possible that the clerks who get paid $6 an hour (I assume) or their managers (who probably don't get paid much more) just don't give a crap about the rule? It's a lot easier, from their standpoint, to just sell a possibly underage kid the game they want than to argue with them while a line of customers wait.
Thompson: Conspiracy? dunno. you've heard the word negligence, right, dude? or are you so impaired by gaming drugs that you can't grasp the concept?
Blend:You state in the article that the ESA is spending "lobby" politicians, the bunny ears on the word "lobby" presumably implying that it's more than mere lobbying. You mention in the same paragraph that the ESA wants to ensure video game stores can keep going behind parents' backs to get at kids. The reason that you're putting both thoughts in the same paragraph is that you're saying the ESA is "lobbying" to get politicians to look the other way on retailers selling to underage kids. Which sounds more like an accusation of negligence, dude.
I'd ask for more information on these "gaming drugs" you speak of - they do sound delicious - but I have a faint suspicion that you were being sarcastic.
Thompson:No, the recent finding is that gamers ingest more drugs than others, and it appears you prove the point.
Blend:I think I see where this is going: no, I don't know a guy who can sell you drugs. I'd suggest checking the boardwalk or the food court of your local mall.
I'm guessing that drug use correlates with age and that young people are more likely to consume them than old people. Seeing as young people are also more likely to play video games, this recent finding you tout isn't that surprising. I imagine drug use was higher among young people during your day too. Baby Boomers probably kicked the Greatest Generation's ass in terms of drug consumption. I assume you blame rock music for that.
Thompson:Get a life, gamer dude. Seriously. You need to get into the real, not the virtual world.
Blend:We don't say the word "dude" anymore. "Bro" is now the preferred slang term. As in: "Hey bro, let's snort grandpa's meds and then play violent video games so as to improve our killing acumen."
Thompson:You can say whatever you want, and I'll say what I want. What are you, the language Nazi? Actually, "asshole" fits you perfectly. I'll use that.
Blend: Just want to make sure you're using the most up-to-date slang. Otherwise, you might just end up looking like an uninformed jackass.
The point where we decided to curse at each other seemed like an effective end to the conversation. I may end up writing a longer reaction piece once I've had some time to chew over the exchange but my initial takeaway is that me and Jack are both kind of pricks.
Update: And yes, I do realize many people still use the word "dude," myself included. It was an awkward attempt to shoehorn another joke into the conversation.