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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Because I can't keep waiting forever, Dangit!

This is just the beginning, from Penny Arcade

I'm writing this post because Eric Burns hasn't yet. I really shouldn't be writing this because I'll never do it the justice it deserves. Burns even mentioned that he was going to write about it, but I guess sickness has gotten the better of him.

Well, I just can't wait any longer.

For those of you that have been keeping up, this story has got quite a bit of history to it. I don't really have the wherewithal right now to give it to you completely, but that's what the Wikipedia is for. A short summary would be: Jack Thompson is an extremely vocal, extremely angry, and extremely driven man who wants to put an end to all violent video games. The Penny Arcade guys are a couple of level-headed but arrogant jerks. Their paths happened to cross. Hijinks ensued. Now, feelings seem to be hurt on both sides, and neither one of them if going to let up. And I'm pretty sure this isn't going to end pretty.

To see Penny Arcade's spin on what's been going on, check out their newsposts here and here. I'll get to the details of the goings-on in a moment, but first I want to comment on how torn this whole situation makes me feel. It really bugs me that all this grandstanding and one-upping seems to be obscuring the actual problem, which is violence (and to a lesser extent, sexual content) in video games. I'm reminded of an old Calvin and Hobbes comic in which Calvin is talking about violence on T.V. in the form of the following soliloquy: "Graphic violence in the media. Does it glamorize violence? Sure. Does it desensitize us to violence? Of course. Does it help us tolerate violence? You bet. Does it stunt our empathy for fellow beings? Heck yes. Does it cause violence? Well... that's hard to prove. The trick is to ask the right question." And I think Watterson pretty much hit it right on the head there. Video game companies have been hiding behind the "there's no causal link between video games and violence" argument for far too long. And someone needs to call them on that.

Except... someone already has. It's called the National Institute on Media and the Family. They're pretty much the people responsible for the current video game rating system (or so I understand... I know they don't make the ratings themselves, but they're the ones who lobbied to get them in place, right? right?), and they have a wealth of information available on their website for parents who are concerned about what sort of content their children take in. And I think it's very telling that in recent weeks they've actually withdrawn from their relationship with Jack Thompson and pretty much condemned his tactics. It shows some common sense.

Which seems to be exactly the thing Jack Thompson lacks. If there's one good thing I can say about the guy, it's that he's absolutely devoted to his cause. No one can doubt him on that. But the problem is, he only sees things as black or white. You're either 100% in agreement with him or you're an enemy of the public, a defamer, or a crack-head. There's no middle ground with this man. And the problem with being a hard-liner is that eventually you set the line so far that no one could conceivably live up to your standards, and that's where Jack Thompson has put himself now. He's become so obsessed with finding every possible link between video games and violence that he's begun making wild accusations without checking the facts. He's started attacking games that haven't even been released yet, which means they haven't even fully defined their content yet (see Bully). And that's alienated him from his former supporters. Without any support, there's really only one way to continue a crusade, and that's to start doing things that are so crazy, people have to pay attention to you just because you're a spectacle. I believe it was the great evangelist John Wesley who put it so eloquently: "If you light yourself on fire, the world will come to watch you burn." (This quote has also been attributed to several other sources, but you get the idea).

And that's where Penny Arcade comes in. They recognized that Jack Thompson had essentially degraded himself to the level of a sensationalist, and they decided to call him on it. And boy, did they ever call him on it. It started out relatively innocuous, with a simple email letting him know that a $10,000 to charity is really not a whole heck of a lot. Well, Jack took offense at this, but we'll cut him a little slack because I'm sure he's been receiving tons of hate mail recently and if I were him I'd be darned sick of it myself. Still, instead of responding with a curt "Shut up, I really could care less how much you give to charity," which would have been appropriate, he decides to call up the PA guys and vent on them for a few minutes. Now, Gabe and Tycho being the guys they are (arrogant jerks, remember?) decide they simply can't let this go, and decide to tweak the guy a bit more. Of course, you've got to remember here that they aren't just thorwing out wild accusations, even though that is what Thompson is accusing them of. They are systematically tearing down everything that he has said and coming out looking like the better men, which is significantly more irritating. I've got to hand it to Penny Arcade, they know how to irritate the heck out of people without ever actually getting in trouble for it. Donating $10,000 dollars themselves, in Jack's name, was a masterwork stroke that I'm sure has driven Thompson to the brink of insanity, prompting his call for their arrest because THEY ARE MAKING HIM LOOK LIKE A FOOL.

But you know what? They have taken it a step too far. It was not a crazy statement on his part to say that Penny Arcade was selling t-shirts against him, it's the truth. And while he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on (people have been making shirts declaring hatred for Bill Gates, or George Bush, for year and no one's shut them down), that is a personal attack on Jack Thompson himself, as opposed to his beliefs or his tactics, and that's just uncalled for. So no one's completely innocent in this case.

So here's the scorecard. Points to Jack Thompson for bringing more attention to the problem of violence in video games. Because it IS a problem. But severe demerits for basically making it look like everyone who is concerned with violence in video games is a nutjob, and really doing much more to hinder progress in this area than help it. Points to Penny Arcade for exposing Jack Thompson for what he really is and eloquently rebutting his flimsy arguments. But demerits for being willing to stoop to his level and try to make a little money off the contreversy.

As I've been writing this post, a very excellent and lucid opinion by Tim Buckley has been posted over on Ctrl+Alt+Del. Go read Tim's article. He points out the inherent foolishness of Jack Thompson, but he also makes a few points about Penny Arcade's reponse as well. The points directed at Penny Arcade are much more subtle (I'm sure he doesn't want to alienate his readership, which has primarily come from Penny Arcade), but they're there. I agree with Tim Buckley here. Let's focus on what is important, not on petty squabbles.

That being said, I'm sure the feud between Thompson and Penny Arcade is far from over. And I'm sure that some more VERY interesting things are going to happen before it is over. so stay tuned.


At 2:30 PM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

Whoops, looks like I accidentally posted this twice last night. That happens sometimes because I forget to update the posting time (which is always set to when you start writing the post, which is often far different from when I end), then try to correct it last second while the post is on it's way. Anyways, I deleted the duplicate copy, so there ya go.

At 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

T'was a good article

At 2:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your posts. They are always amusing and insightful :) Keep it up!

At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Blue said...

ACTUALLY, the order of events was more like this:

1. Jack Thompson makes stupid statement: "make this extremely violent game I propose, and I'll donate $10,000 to the charity of Paul Eibeler's (president of Take Two Interactive) choice".

2. Gabe emails him to make a point about Child's Play, i.e "if you're going to try and impress us with $10,000 to someone to make this game as a way for us to 'help society,' it seems pretty weak compared to the fact that gamers* have helped raise about half-a-million dollars for charity."

(* gamers IN GENERAL, not "oh lookit me and Tycho done raised that 500K all by ourselfs")

3. Jack Thompson CALLS Gabe and shrieks at him for a few minutes (which is a pretty effective way to insure you're going to be in the next comic, actually).

4. OUTSIDE of PA, a bunch of people actually stand up to Jack and make the game (here is an example, that one made by Old Grandma Hardcore)

5. Jack continues to be a dick, and says he's not going to pay because "they don't fit the criteria I mentioned**" and "oh also, it's satire, hahaha you are TEH STUPID." Essentially, he weaseled out of it, which is low.
(** despite the fact that he never actually mentioned any.)

6. Tycho and Gabe also thought it was low, and cruel of the man to promise $10,000 to people in need and then just pull it away in a sad attempt to save face. They donate money in his place.

7. For donating this money, Jack tries to get them arrested - or rather, lets everyone KNOW he's trying to get them arrested by faxing his "OMG ARREST THEMS!" letter everywhere except to the Seattle PD.

Tycho and Gabe were trying to show up Thompson a bit, sure. But these guys aren't independently wealthy, they're not millionaires, and for shit's sake, they don't PUNCH BABIES. They're not evil people who shed a pittance of $10K to attempt to absolve themselves of some crime. They're just a pair of guys who you may not like, but who thought a promise to people in need - albeit by a lying crazy person - was important enough to sacrifice $10K to keep. Tycho and his wife are about to have a baby, and Gabe and his wife already have one - you think that money was so easy to give away?

Think what you want about PA as a comic: I certainly can't stop you, and your opinion is as valid as the next person's. Just - demonizing the pair or making like they did this to look awesome is misguided and rather foolish.


At 7:56 PM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

I'd hardly say that I'm "demonizing" the PA guys, I just don't think it's right to vote them in as saints, necessarily. I mean, obviously they've got their own agendas just like Jack Thompson has his. And so far, we've really only heard the story from their side. They're obviously going to cast themselves in a more favorable light when they tell the story.

That being said, I do think that of the two parties, they are the more applaudable one. I mean, they're not the ones randomly threatening arrest, right? Certainly their the more sane ones.

But that doesn't make them 100% right. That email they initially sent Jack Thompson was a bit of a bait, obviously meant to get him angry. Gabe and Tycho will always be Gabe and Tycho, and they do enjoy tweaking people from time to time.

At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just don't think it's right to vote them in as saints

I wish more of their fans would get this sort of shit figured out.


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