John Bruce “Jack” Thompson is not a popular figure in the world of video games.
Those that call for censorship rarely are.
Thompson suffered a very harsh punishment for a lawyer: disbarment. The gravity of this word is not easily conveyed to those that have not had the misfortune to attend law school, study for and a pass a bar exam, and complete the myriad annual requirements to maintain a law license. It is more than a simple forfeiture of the right to one’s livelihood. It is a negation of the pain that one endured to earn the dubious right to such a livelihood.
This author actually feels sorry for Thompson.
There is a morality tale at play here, one that both gamers and lawyers can appreciate. The problem here is enthusiasm.
Gamers, particularly those involved enough with the games they enjoy to read about them online, attend conventions, or stand in line on a cold night for a midnight release, tend to have attachments to those games that go beyond mere like. Gamers are enthusiasts for the medium of storytelling they love.
And well they should be. Video games have evolved from a simple medium of passing leisure time to a vehicle for telling complex, interesting and interactive stories, the same as music, literature and film before them.
However, all of these other forms of art have had their Jack Thompsons: those noble crusaders bravely standing against the form of moral corruption that new art presents. The rise of a Thompson-like figure onto the gaming scene is neither novel nor unexpected.
But, like gamers, Thompson is an enthusiast for his cause. This is not of itself improper: lawyers ought to be enthusiasts for their clients. But Thompson’s hubris was in accepting a cause as client, rather than a group or individual. Thompson’s rhetoric and personal style aside, his downfall came as a result of something which this author will not engage in: personal attacks aimed at other lawyers and jurists, laced with hyperbole and fiery bombast.
Thompson let his desire to achieve a goal cloud his professional judgment. He let his passion for his beliefs, often very personal beliefs, shade his public comment on matters before lawmaking and judicial bodies.
Of itself, having passionate beliefs, even ones that lead one on moral crusades against new and exciting forms of art, are not bad things. Jack Thompson should not be derided for his personal beliefs. Jack Thompson has every right to denounce video game content as “bad” in light of his own personal views.
The problem happened when he attempted to use his position as an officer of the court to advocate for positions of questionable Constitutional legitimacy, and in the course of such advocacy, made disparaging statements about other lawyers. He let his enthusiasm outpace his reason.
Gamers should take this lesson to heart, and remember to temper enthusiasm with humanity. Rather than be contemptuous of Thompson and those like him that would stifle the creativity and wonderfulness of video games, let us remember that it was their pride that brought them low. Let us appreciate our beloved art forms in a manner more mature and befitting their artistic value.