We all know who Jack Thompson is. His crusade against violent video games and the multi-million dollar lawsuits that ensue have earned him the reputation of being public enemy number one to video gamers. Lorne Lanning, on the other hand, is not as well known. However, the games that he has designed and developed have been fan favorites for a decade, ever since Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was released in 1997. His games aren’t known for being especially violent, but he still has a lot of things to say about the issue of violence in video games and how it affects the youth of America.
Both Jack Thompson and Lorne Lanning appeared in the Spencer Halpin documentary Moral Kombat, which is about that very subject. After a screening of the film at this weekend’s VGXPO, the two faced off in a debate at the convention center.
The debate came with a very strong Code of Conduct, given to all attendees. In addition to banning talking, coming and going during the debate, and generally behaving inappropriately, all photography was strictly prohibited (although Sean managed to snap a few photos before putting the camera away).
Jack Thompson, I must admit, knows how to present himself. From his history, he seems like some kind of raving lunatic, but in person, he states his ideas in a well-worded manner. This doesn’t mean that he’s right about anything; he still likes to rehash the same bogus “facts” about how Doom teaches players how to shoot a gun in real life and the main purpose of Grand Theft Auto is to kill as many police officers as possible. He just loves to play the role of the misunderstood victim.
Lorne Lanning, however, could not have been more prepared for this verbal battle. He stated that the video game industry has exploded with almost no help from the government, with developers and designers like him working very hard for their craft. Jack, on the other hand, has made a career out of baseless lawsuits, knowing that people in this country are always looking for someone to blame when something goes wrong. Jack has chosen to blame video games for most acts of senseless violence. Lorne pointed out that Jack can go on the air for free and discuss his so-called facts while the rest of the industry would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a few minutes of airtime. The media loves sensationalism, and Jack knows exactly how to give them what they want, much like he knows how to go to grieving families of murder victims and say “I know how to make this right for you. Let’s sue video games.”
Lorne broke it down simply: this was a case of faith versus facts. Jack, although claiming to have factual evidence for all of his statements, was really just clinging to his faith that violent video games cause violence in reality. His religion was brought up as well, since it is a well-known fact that Thompson, as well as about half of the people who were in the room for the debate, is Christian.
What Lorne had were facts. He pointed out that gaming is a social activity, not a solitary training session for gun use and cop killing; that as video games have exploded over the last decade, crime rates have declined; and finally, that for all of Jack’s studies and evidence given in the past, neuro-scientists will be the first to admit that they know next to nothing about the human brain, especially when it comes to how it is affected by video games.
Though the majority of the time was spent in a heated debate, there were a few unexpected and entertaining moments as well. About forty minutes in, Jack and Lorne stopped their arguing and shook hands in agreement over the fact that neither of them thinks that Rupert Murdoch is a good person. N’Gai Croal, the moderator, observed, “Rupert Murdoch is the new Jack Thompson.”
The topic of game ratings and the ESRB was inevitably discussed, and although Lorne feels that the ESRB is doing a great job, Jack thinks that the system is failing and it would be better to do away with it altogether, since retailers are not following through. He mentioned several companies who sell video games to minors, including GameStop among them, and as a former employee of GameStop, I was a little offended. Not once in my two and a half years working for that company did I sell a Mature title to a minor, nor did I ever witness someone else doing it. I don’t doubt that it happens, but what I wish Jack Thompson had kept in mind that imposing an age limit on video games is still a fairly new concept, and it’s going to take some time before it works perfectly. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to say that because the audience Q&A session after the debate was kept brief.
I wish I had gotten to speak with either Jack or Lorne, but the room was cleared immediately after the debate. I don’t think that Jack Thompson convinced anyone that Grand Theft Auto causes teens to go on killing sprees, but he probably didn’t expect to. After all, it’s a lot easier for him to play the victim when no one understands him. However, he was nice enough to sign a young gamer’s copy of the Grand Theft Auto III cover art, a bold move that I wish I’d thought of myself. As for Lorne Lanning, he’s kind of my new hero. I was completely blown away by how intelligent and articulate he was, and his preparation and dedication totally paid off. All in all, it was a fascinating experience, and I’m glad that I was there for it.