John Bruce "Jack" Thompson (born July 25, 1951) is an American attorney and campaigner against obscenity and violence in the media. He currently lives in Coral Gables, Florida.
Thompson has campaigned against rap music, radio presenter Howard Stern and video games including the Grand Theft Auto series, Bully and Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance.
Video games and juveniles
More recently, Thompson has heavily criticized a number of video games and campaigned against their producers and distributors. His basic argument is that violent video games have repeatedly been used by teenagers as “murder simulators” to rehearse violent plans. He has pointed to alleged connections between such games and a number of school massacres. According to Thompson, “In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.” Also, he claims that scientific studies show teenagers process the game environment differently from adults, leading to increased violence and copycat behavior. According to Thompson, “If some wacked-out adult wants to spend his time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one has to wonder why he doesn’t get a life, but when it comes to kids, it has a demonstrable impact on their behavior and the development of the frontal lobes of their brain.” Thompson has described the proliferation of games by Sony, a Japanese company, as “Attack on Pearl Harbor 2.” According to Thompson, “Many parents think that stores won’t sell an M-rated game to someone under 17. We know that’s not true, and, in fact, kids roughly 50 percent of that time, all the studies show, are able to walk into any store and get any game regardless of the rating, no questions asked.”
Thompson has rejected arguments that such video games are protected by freedom of expression, saying, “Murder simulators are not constitutionally protected speech. They’re not even speech. They’re dangerous physical appliances that teach a kid how to kill efficiently and to love it.” In addition, he has attributed part of the impetus for violent games to the military, saying that it was looking “for a way to disconnect in the soldier’s mind the physical act of pulling the trigger from the awful reality that a life may end.” Thompson further claims that some of these games are based on military training and simulation technologies, such as those being developed at the Institute for Creative Technologies, which, he suggests, were created by the United States Department of Defense to help overcome soldiers’ inhibition to kill. He also claims that the PlayStation 2's DualShock controller "gives you a pleasurable buzz back into your hands with each kill. This is operant conditioning, behavior modification right out of B.F. Skinner's laboratory."
Thompson filed a lawsuit on behalf of the parents of three children killed in the Heath High School shooting in 1997. Investigations showed that the perpetrator, 14-year-old Michael Carneal, had regularly played various computer games (including Doom, Quake]], Castle Wolfenstein, Redneck Rampage, Nightmare Creatures, Mechwarrior, Resident Evil, and Final Fantasy) and accessed some pornographic websites. Carneal had also owned a videotape of The Basketball Diaries, which includes a high school student dreaming about killing his teacher and some classmates. The suit sought $33 million in damages, alleging that the producers of the games, the movie, and the operators of the internet sites were negligent in distributing this material to a minor because it would desensitize him and make him more prone to violence. Additional claims included product liability for making defective products (the defects alleged were violent features and lack of warnings) and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for distributing this material to minors. Said Thompson, “We intend to hurt Hollywood. We intend to hurt the video game industry. We intend to hurt the sex porn sites.”
The suit was filed in federal district court and was dismissed for failing to present a legally recognizable claim. The court concluded that Carneal’s actions were not reasonably foreseeable by the defendants and that in any case, his actions superseded those of the defendants, so that the latter could not be the proximate cause of the harm. In addition, the judge determined that “thoughts, ideas and images” in the defendants’ materials did not constitute “products” that could be considered defective. The ruling was upheld on appeal.
Thompson vs Grand Theft Auto series
In February 2003, Thompson asked permission to file an amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) brief in the Ohio case of Dustin Lynch, 16, who was charged with aggravated murder in the slaying of JoLynn Mishne; Lynch was "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto III. When Judge John Lohn ruled that Lynch would be tried as an adult, Thompson passed a message from Mishne’s father to the judge, asserting that “the attorneys had better tell the jury about the violent video game that trained this kid [and] showed him how to kill our daughter, JoLynn. If they don’t, I will.” In a motion sent to the prosecutor, the boy’s court-appointed lawyer, and to reporters, Thompson asked to be recognized as the boy’s lawyer in the case. However, Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman said Thompson would be faced with deeply conflicting interests if he were to represent Dustin Lynch because he also advised Mishne’s parents. Claiming that delays had weakened his case, Jack Thompson asked Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Collier to disqualify himself from presiding over the case because the judge had not ruled on Thompson’s request for two months. Lynch himself eventually rejected Thompson’s offer, withdrawing his insanity plea. Lynch’s mother, Jerrilyn Thomas, who previously demanded that Judge Christopher Collier appoint Thompson to defend her son, said she changed her mind after visiting with her boy in jail, saying, “It has nothing to do with video games or Paxil, and my son’s no murderer.”
Thompson returned to file a lawsuit in Tennessee state court in October 2003 on behalf of the victims of two teenage stepbrothers who had pled guilty to reckless homicide, endangerment, and assault. Since the boys told investigators they were inspired by Grand Theft Auto III, Thompson sought $246 million in damages from the publisher, Take-Two Interactive, along with PlayStation 2 maker Sony Computer Entertainment America and retailer Wal-Mart. The suit charged that the defendants knew or should have known that the game would cause copycat violence. On October 22, 2003, the case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Two days later, the plaintiffs filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, and the case was closed.
Thompson was involved in another similar suit in Alabama in 2005 on behalf of the families of police personnel killed by Devin Moore, a teenager who was reportedly a compulsive Grand Theft Auto player. However, his participation in the case ran into a dispute over his pro hac vice admission to practice law in that state. The opposing attorneys sought removal of this privilege by arguing that his conduct was unethical and claiming he had threatened and harassed them in letters and emails. The judge added that Thompson had violated his gag order during Moore’s criminal trial. Thompson tried to withdraw from the case, but his request was denied by the judge, who went ahead and revoked Thompson’s temporary admission to the state bar. For his part, Thompson said he thought the judge was trying to protect Moore’s criminal conviction at any cost. He also complained about the judge’s ethics, saying a local attorney who claimed to have influence on the judge had assured him the case would be dismissed unless the attorney was on Thompson’s team, and also claimed that Rockstar Entertainment and Take Two Interactive posted slanderous comments about him on their website.
In the aftermath of this lawsuit, Thompson lobbied Alabama attorney general Troy King to file a civil suit and call on retailers not to sell “cop-killing games.” After the slaying of another police officer in Gassville, Arkansas by Jacob D. Robida, an 18-year-old fugitive, Thompson again raised the possibility of a connection to Grand Theft Auto, but investigators found no evidence that video games were involved.
Thompson once reported that he had videotaped a Miami Best Buy selling a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to a 10-year-old. In a letter to Best Buy, he wrote, “Prosecutions and public relations consequences should fall on your Minneapolis headquarters like snowflakes.” He eventually sued the company in Florida, arguing that it had violated a law against sale of sexual materials deemed harmful to minors. In January 2005, Best Buy agreed that it would enforce an existing policy to check the identification of anyone who appeared to be 21 or under and tried to purchase games rated “M” (for mature audiences). No law in effect at the time prohibited selling "M" rated video games to juveniles.
In September 2006, Thompson filed a suit in Albuquerque, New Mexico against Sony, Take-Two, Rockstar Games, and Cody Posey, for the wrongful death of three members of Posey's family. The 69-page complaint filed by Thompson and Albuquerque attorney Steven Sanders argued that "obsessively" playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City made violence "pleasurable and attractive," disconnected violence from consequences, and caused Posey to "act out, copycat, replicate and emulate the violence" when he shot and killed his father, stepmother, and stepsister, and then buried them under a manure pile at a ranch owned by former ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson in July, 2004. Thompson and Sanders filed the lawsuit on behalf of the surviving family members of Posey's father. According to Thompson, "Posey essentially practiced how to kill on this game. If it wasn't for Grand Theft Auto, three people might not now be dead." The lawsuit claims that Thompson was told by a sheriff's deputy that the game and a Sony Playstation 2 were found at the ranch. The suit also claims that the game taught Posey "how to point and shoot a gun in a fashion making him an extraordinarily effective killer without teaching him any of the constraints or responsibilities needed to inhibit such a killing capacity." Gary Mitchell, Posey's criminal defense attorney, said Thompson contacted him "numerous times" before the trial, urging Mitchell to highlight the game in Posey's defense, but Mitchell said he "just didn't find it had any merit whatsoever."
Campaign Against "Bully" video game
Beginning in 2005, Thompson supported a campaign to discourage Take-Two’s subsidiary, Rockstar Games, from releasing a game called Bully, in which, according to Thompson, “what you are in effect doing is rehearsing your physical revenge and violence against those whom you have been victimized by. And then you, like Klebold and Harris in Columbine, become the ultimate bully.” According to Thompson, the game "shows you how to — by bullying — take over your school. You punch people; you hit them with sling shots; you dunk their heads in dirty toilets. There's white-on-black crime in the game. You bludgeon teachers and classmates with bats. It's absolutely nuts." Thompson sued Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target Corporation, Circuit City, GameStop and Toys ‘R’ Us, seeking an order to bar the game’s release. He also participated in a protest at Rockstar’s office that also included students from Peaceaholics, a Washington, D.C. mentoring organization.  Thompson said he hoped that the pressure would get retailers to refuse to carry the game. In March 2006, a Florida school board he had lobbied passed a resolution criticizing the game, but only urged retailers not to sell the game to minors.
Thompson also criticized Bill Gates and Microsoft for contracting with Rockstar Games to release the game on the Xbox, TVG, August 12, 2006.</ref> In August 2006, Thompson requested a congressional subpoena for an early copy, threatening to file suit in Miami if he did not gain help from U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns. Once the game is out, according to Thompson, "the horse will be out of the barn and it will be too late to do anything about it." Thompson argued that it violated Florida's public nuisance laws, which prohibit activities that can injure the health of the community.
Rockstar Games co-founder Terry Donavan responded, saying "I would prefer it if we could simply make great games and not have to deal with misunderstanding and misperception of what we do." After receiving no response from Rockstar regarding an advance copy, Thompson filed the public nuisance complaint against Walmart, Take Two Interactive, and GameStop, demanding that he be allowed to preview the game before it's October 17 release date. Take Two offered to bring in a copy and let both the judge and Thompson view the game in the judge's chambers on October 12, 2006.  The judge ultimately saw no reason to restrict sales and dismissed the complaint the next day.
Thompson was critical of the judge's decision, telling the judge "You did not see the game... You don't even know what it was you saw," as well as accusing the Take Two employee who demonstrated the game of avoiding the most violent parts.  Blank Rome subsequently filed a motion to have Thompson's behavior declared "contempt for the court". Rather than rule on the merit of the motion, Judge Friedman reclused himself from ruling, and instead filed a complaint against Thompson with the Florida Bar, calling Thompson's behavior "inappropriate by a member of the bar, unprofessional and contemptible". 
Thompson then drew attention to the game's main character, a 15-year old male, being able to kiss other boys. Thompson wrote to ESRB president Patricia Vance, "We just found gay sexual content in Bully as Jimmy Hopkins makes out with another male student. Good luck with your 'Teen' rating now." The ESRB indicated that they knew the content was in the game when they rated the game. 
In October, 2006, Thompson sent a letter to Midway Games, demanding they cease and desist selling the latest game in the Mortal Kombat series, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, claiming that the game was illegally profiting on his likeness, because gamers could use the Kreate a Fighter option to make a character who looked like Jack Thompson. 
Activism and lobbying
In addition to filing lawsuits, Thompson has pushed for measures against similar games in a variety of public settings. He wrote a joint article in the Christian Science Monitor with Eugene F. Provenzo, a University of Miami professor who studies the effects of video games on children. Originally brought together to provide opposing viewpoints on 60 Minutes in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre]], they said they had become friends and were collaborating on a book. They described themselves as having “a shared belief that first-person shooter video games are bad for our children, teaching them to act aggressively and providing them with efficient killing skills and romanticized and trivialized scenarios for killing in the real world”.
Thompson has supported legislation in a number of states that would ban sales of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. In response to First Amendment to the United States Constitution concerns, he argued that the games were a “public safety hazard.” However, he rejected as “completely unconstitutional” Hillary Clinton’s proposed legislation to ban sales to minors of games rated “M” for Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Thompson contended that the government could not enforce a private-sector standard but had to depend on a Miller obscenity test. He charged that Clinton was simply positioning herself politically, with the support of the gaming industry, by proposing a bill which he felt she knew would be unconstitutional.
In July 2005, Thompson sent a letter to several politicians urging them to investigate The Sims 2, alleging that the game contained nudity accessible by entering special codes. Thompson called the nudity inappropriate for a game rated “T” for Teen, a rating which indicates suitability for anyone 13 and older. Manufacturer Electronic Arts dismissed the allegations, with vice president Jeff Brown explaining that game characters have “no anatomical detail” under their clothes, effectively resembling Barbie dolls. Although the game does display blurred-out patches over body regions when characters are naked, such as when taking a shower, Brown said that was for “humorous effect” and denied there was anything improper about the game.
In Louisiana, Thompson helped draft a 2006 bill sponsored by state representative Roy Burrell to ban the sale of violent video games to buyers under 18 (Louisiana House Bill 1381). In an effort to avoid constitutional problems, it avoided trying to define "violent" and instead adopted a variation of the Miller obscenity test: Sales to minors would be illegal based on community standards if the game appealed to "the minor’s morbid interest in violence", was patently offensive based on adult standards of suitability for minors, and lacked serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors. The bill was passed unanimously by the state House and approved by the Senate Judiciary A Committee, despite industry opposition and predictions that it too would be unconstitutional. The Shreveport Times editorialized that Thompson's support of the bill "should immediately set off alarms" and described Thompson as someone who "thrives on chasing cultural ambulances". In defense of the bill, Thompson said that it was needed for public safety, and that it was a "miracle" that a Columbine-type event hadn't happened yet in Louisiana. However, the ESA filed suit under Entertainment Software Association v. Foti, and U.S. District Judge James Brady issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking the law from taking effect until full judicial review can be done..
At one point, Thompson was asked by the National Institute on Media and the Family to stop invoking the organization’s name in his campaigns. NIMF president David Walsh felt Thompson cast the organization in a bad light whenever he brought up their name. “Your commentary has included extreme hyperbole and your tactics have included personally attacking individuals for whom I have a great deal of respect,” Walsh said in an open letter to Thompson.
Thompson has additionally worked to influence police investigations concerning violent acts which he views as being connected to violence in video games media. On June 2nd, 2006, Thompson suggested that West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana police detectives, investigating the murder of 55-year-old Michael Gore by 17-year-old Kurt Edward Neher, should look into the video games played by Neher. According to Sheriff J. Austin Daniel, an autopsy showed Gore was beaten to death as well as shot in the face. Concerning this, Thompson stated that “nobody shoots anybody in the face unless you’re a hit man or a video gamer.”
Relationship with industry and gamers
Thompson's "high-profile crusades" have made him an enemy of video game aficionados. On occasion, Thompson has sparred directly with the gaming industry and its fans. In 2005, he wrote an open letter to Entertainment Software Association president Douglas Lowenstein, making what he described as a “a modest video game proposal” (an allusion to the title of Jonathan Swift's satirical essay, A Modest Proposal) to the video game industry: Thompson said he would donate $10,000 to a charity designated by Take-Two CEO Paul Eibeler if any video game company would create a game including the scenario he described in the letter. The scenario called for the main character to murder a number of industry executives (including one modeled on Eibeler) and go on a killing spree at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. When video game fans promptly began working to take Thompson up on his offer, he claimed that it was satire. However, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the creators of gaming webcomic Penny Arcade and of the children's charity Child's Play, stepped in to make the donation instead, writing in the memo field of their check, “For Jack Thompson, Because Jack Thompson Won't.” Afterwards, Thompson tried to get Seattle police and the FBI to investigate Holkins and Krahulik for orchestrating "criminal harassment" of him through articles on their site. Other webcomics have regularly incorporated references to Thompson, alluding to this incident as well as others.
In 2006, two Michigan gamers began a project dubbed "Flowers for Jack", soliciting donations to deliver a massive floral arrangement to Thompson’s office. The flowers were delivered in February along with a letter aimed at opening a dialogue between Thompson and the video gaming community. Thompson rejected this overture and forwarded the flowers to some of his industry foes, with such comments as “Discard them along with the decency you discarded long ago. I really don’t care. Grind them up and smoke them if you like.”
- Out of Harm's Way. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-4143-0442-0.
- “Excerpt from ‘20/20’ on the Debate Whether Violent Video Games Desensitize Children.” World News Now, ABC, March 23, 2000.
- Thompson, Jack. “Violent video games feed unhealthy ideas to young kids.” Tacoma News Tribune, January 8, 2006.
- Drew, James. “Ohio sniper case may put video games on trial.” Toledo Blade, November 21, 2004.
- Lasker, John. “MURDER SIMULATORS? Railing against video game violence isn’t just for Jack Thompson anymore.” Dayton City Paper, January 4, 2006.
- Cooper, Anderson. Anderson Cooper 360. CNN, October 8, 2005.
- Thompson, Jack. “Bloodlust video games put kids in the crosshairs.” Denver Post, May 30, 1999.
- Worthy, Kym. “Why violent video games may be worse than other media violence.” Michigan Chronicle, October 5, 2005.
- Thompson, Jack. “Jack Thompson: Proposal is needed to prevent a Louisiana 'Columbine'.” Shreveport Times, May 24, 2006.
- James v. Meow Media, 90 F. Supp. 2d 798 (W.D. Ky. 2000).
- Prichard, James. “Parents of slain students sue entertainment industry companies.” The Associated Press State & Local Wire, April 12, 1999.
- James v. Meow Media, 300 F.3d 683 (6th Cir. 2002)
- Hudak, Stephen. “Should video game share blame? Father of slain Medina girl says manufacturer is accomplice.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 21, 2003.
- Hudak, Stephen. “State gets; OK to try teenager as adult 16-year-old accused of killing Medina girl.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 13, 2003.
- Hudak, Stephen. “Lawyer’s motive in teen murder trial debated.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 7, 2003.
- Hudak, Stephen. “Lawyer wants in, wants judge out in murder case of Medina teen.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 19, 2003.
- Hudak, Stephen. “Teen can stand trial in girl’s murder; Father of slain Medina High pupil upset that video game critic won’t be in court.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 16, 2003.
- Hamel, et al. v. Sony Computer Ent., et al, No. 28,613-III (Cocke County Cir. Court of Tenn. 2003).
- Yi, Matthew. “Gamemaker sued over highway shootings.” San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2003.
- Hamel, et al. v. Sony Computer Ent., et al, No. 2:03cv00375 (E.D. Tenn. October 24, 2003).
- DeWitt, Robert. “Attorney in Fayette case bows out.” Tuscaloosa News, November 8, 2005.
- DeWitt, Robert. “Judge denies attorney’s request to withdraw from Devin Moore case.” Tuscaloosa News, November 19, 2005.
- DeWitt, Robert. “Judge stands by Fayette decision.” Tuscaloosa News, November 22, 2005.
- Station 7 WVU. Birmingham, Alabama. Noon News, November 3, 2005.
- Linn, Mike. “‘Grand Theft Auto’ comes under fire.” Montgomery Advertiser, March 13, 2006.
- Rotermund, Maggie. “Investigators: Video games not linked to shooting.” The Baxter Bulletin, February 8, 2006.
- Morris, Chris. “Crackpot or crusader?” CNN/Money, January 31, 2003.
- Baldas, Tresa (2005-01-11). Video Game Industry Explodes With Legal, Regulatory Issues. The National Law Journal. Law.com.
- Gutierrez Krueger, Joline. “Video-game maker blamed in '04 killing.” The Albuquerque Tribune, September 25, 2006.
- “Lawsuit blames 'Grand Theft Auto' video game for teen shooting family at N.M. ranch.” The Associated Press State & Local Wire, September 26, 2006.
- Romo, Rene. “Relatives of Posey's Victims Say Video Game Helped Turn Teenager Into a Killer.” Albuquerque Journal, September 26, 2006.
- Dobbs, Lou. Lou Dobbs Tonight. CNN, August 24, 2005.
- Sledge, Kaffie. “Violent video games not reality.” Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, April 30, 2006.
- Hoag, Christina. “Activist bullies video game sellers”. Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, August 18, 2005.
- Moult, Julie. “Slam at Vid Jerks. ”New York Post, August 3, 2005.
- Pinzur, Matthew I. “Secretive new video game might inspire school bullies.” Miami Herald, March 13, 2006.
- Pinzur, Matthew I. “Video game targeted by Miami-Dade School Board.” Miami Herald, March 15, 2006.
- Jones, K.C. Lawyer Fighting To Ban 'Columbine Simulator', TechWeb Technology News, August 14, 2006
- Kesten, Lou. "The week in video-game news", The Associated Press, August 16, 2006
- Slagle, Matt. “Judge to Weigh in on 'Bully' Video Game.” Associated Press, October 12, 2006.
- Slagle, Matt. “New Game Renews Criticism of Violence.” Associated Press, October 13, 2006.
- Carey, Bridget. “Judge doesn't object to video game 'Bully'.” Miami Herald, October 14, 2006.
- Tilley, Steve. “Bullying Justice.” Calgary Sun, November 1, 2006.
- “Game roundup: Wait for 'Burning Crusade'; 'Mansfield' a 96-hour keeper.” USA Today, November 3, 2006.
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- Snyder, David. “Md. House Panel Hesitant on Video Game Restrictions”. Washington Post, March 9, 2005.
- Thompson, Jack. “What kind of game is Hillary Clinton playing?” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 11, 2005.
- Wingfield, Nick. “Guess What’s Hiding in Your Videogame.” The Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2005.
- Hasten, Mike. "Video game sales ban advances to La. Senate". Shreveport Times, May 31, 2006.
- “Video game ban misses target.” Shreveport Times, May 16, 2006.
- Thompson, John Bruce. “La. needs video game sales restrictions” WBRZ News 2, June 8, 2006.
- "La. Ban of Some Video Games Blocked." Wilmington Star, August 25, 2006.
- Tilley, Steve. “Spielberg Grabs the Controller.” Toronto Sun, October 23, 2005.
- Minton, James (2006-06-03). Video games seized from teen’s home. The Advocate. Retrieved on 2006-06-03.
- Kohler, Chris. “Jack Thompson Versus Gamers.” Wired News, 2005-11-04.
- Gillett, Nick (2005-10-22). Gaming news. The Guardian.
- For examples, see Ctrl+Alt+Del by Tim Buckley, "Bathing Suit Area" (2005-08-08) and "An Open Letter to Jack Thompson" (2005-10-12); GU Comics by Woody Hearn, August 16 and October 18, 2005; VG Cats by Scott Ramsoomair, "Coco Beans in Warm Water"; Bunny by Lem, "different reasons, same fun" (2005-10-17); Punks and Nerds by Josh Mirman, October 21, 2005; PvP by Scott Kurtz, parody of complaint on October 21st, 2005 news post; Shortpacked! by David Willis, October 24, 2005.
- Tilley, Steve. “New Windows Will Be Open to Halo 2.” Toronto Sun, February 12, 2006.
- The Florida Bar's Member page of John Bruce Thompson
- Jack Thompson versus Adam Sessler on G4's Attack of the Show!