Editorial: Gamers, Enthusiasm, and Disbarment: A Morality Play

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.

21 comments

  1. Easily the most studious and intelligent thing we’ve ever had here.

    Granted, the bar was never set very high, but this is really solid stuff, and has actually given me cause to think, rather than merely to laugh.

    Welcome aboard, Lane!

  2. But this also means we’ll feel guilty for any trolling. And that’s what the internet is built on!

    In real news, great post!

  3. I’m all in favor of tossing a little well deserved schadenfreud Thompson’s way.

    He tried to use the force of the government to impose his personal preferences on everyone else. Now people in the government are imposing their arbitrary will on him. And he has no right to complain about it being in favor, in principle, of such acts himself.

    He’ll have to stick to being a pompous blowhard on TV now instead of making deranged arguments before judges.

  4. @EvilPaul: I think it’s very unfair to say the government is imposing its ‘arbritrary’ will on Thompson. The laws which he fell foul of are not arbritrary, but well-thought, and there to protect people from outlandish behaviour like that which Thompson stooped to.

    If anything, this is Government justice asserting itself in the face of enthusiastic–indeed zealous–misdeeds which were done by Thompson in the name of (though not in the spirit of) the law.

  5. Indeed, Evilpaul, his desire to use the public mechanisms of law to impose his private views is problematic. But we have to mark a difference between the legitimacy of his holding those views and his attempt to employ the law for ends that are merely personal.

    The “will” that was being imposed on him, however, was a private will. While such things as law license are regulated by the state, it is largely a self-imposed duty because no one is forced to obtain or maintain a law license. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for lawyers to require of ourselves behavior that is perfectly legitimate for private citizens. Thompson as concerned citizen lobbyist is entitled to spout certain views in certain ways that Thompson as officer of the court is not.

    Case in point: I struggled with how to approach this post to avoid exactly what I am saying Thompson did wrong. I have no particular attachment to violent video games. If I started acting like the video games I play, I would spend my weekends running around with swords entirely too large for their use attacking all manner of strange beasts and stealing their clothing. I agree, to a certain extent, that young kids should not be playing games that feature graphic violence until they’re mature enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. But I think adults are discerning enough to know the difference between the two, and I find Thompson’s assertions that one could “train” to be violent on a video game to be laughable. However, I am not so sure that Thompson really believes what he says. I think it entirely possible that his style is a misguided attempt at effective persuasion, and to that end, I support his disbarment, even though I realize the gravity of such a punishment. By being unable to keep his rhetoric in check, he often says things that are so over-the-top they are unbecoming of the profession of being a lawyer.

  6. I for one can’t say as I feel particularly sorry for Thompson, it has been apparent for years now that his career was on a downward trajectory to this point it is not like he wasn’t forewarned, I would as soon feel sorry for a lemming casting itself from a cliff or an Emo cutting themselves (which I don’t). Nor is it as though his crusade against games was the only black mark against his name, there was also his crusade against rap music, his crusade against radio and his crusade against Janet Reno (where he claimed she was gay, and accused her of battery after she touched his shoulder).

    How could anyone expect to continue their practice, when they show such flagrant disdain for the letter of the law? Thompson was the worst kind of ambulance chasing parasite who used his qualifications in order to file nuisance suits full of easily falsifiable claims, thereby wasteing the time of the courts. And then let us not forget of Thompson’s ammusing habbit of burning all the bridges he can find whenever things don’t go his way. I’m sure the Bar absolutely loved all the personal attacks that he was wont to direct their way.

    No, I do not believe that Thompson is a character that one can feel genuinely sorry for. He’s an awful little weasel of a man, entirely unfit to be a practicioner of the law.

    At least now he has more time to devote to being a Fox “News” “expert”.

  7. Personally I think he should have gone into show business, not law, as that is clearly what his manifold talents lend themselves to. He’s far more entertaining as a ‘Fox News Expert’ anyways.

  8. He should have been one of those evangelical demogogues that speak in tongues, pretend to cure cancer and have thier flock bankroll their private yacht and the occaisional male escort.

    You know at this point I think JT’s entire concept of self-worth is inextricably linked to the recognition and negative attention he receives from the videogaming community (Oliver Motok on a grand scale if you will). Seriously we’re all he has left, and if we ever stop listening I have little doubt that he’ll have topped himself inside of six months.

  9. @SN: There’s something in that. I was actually thinking about that myself. His comments, his ‘press releases’, and the way in which he (in a sense) choreographed his own downfall were all staged for gamers. There’s an irony in that. The man who would censor games set about playing his final act to the group whose wrath he most incited.

    The language, the wryness, the sarcasm, even the cliches; all of Thompson’s commentary was written with the bitter sharpness of a jaded gamer. To pull an example episode from Wikipedia:

    He later filed for an emergency stay of the Florida Supreme Court’s order with the U.S. District Court. This was denied. In an e-mail to media outlets, Thompson responded to the court’s decision by stating, “The timing of this disbarment transparently reveals its motivation: This past Friday Thompson filed a federal civil rights action against The Bar, the Supreme Court, and all seven of its Justices. This rush to disbarment is in retribution for the filing of that federal suit. With enemies this foolish, Thompson needs only the loyal friends he has.” He closed the email – in which he included the court ruling – with, “…this should be fun, starting now.”

    These are not the studious, professional words of a legal practitioner. Rather, they are the wry and bitter retorts of an internet denizen–the sort of thing which might be read on any common or garden gaming blog. And that’s whom this was directed at; whom it was sent to; and whom it was for.

    We are keeping J. Bruce Thompson on Life Support, but I don’t regret that. For all the entertainment he has provided, it seems the least we can do.

  10. Thompson is king troll :D

    He certainly knows how to play the game, as he doesn’t do anything these days without first notifying Game Politics by way of email. Also no other one figure in the gaming scene has done so much to discredit the enemies of video games; first bringing would be political allies into the fold, and then exhibiting bizare outlandish behaviour, publicly embaressing them to the extent that they completely drop the issue. Is Thompson a friend of gaming?

  11. @SN: I’d have to say yes, although it is certainly unintentional. For the reasons you list, we owe a bizarre debt of gratitude to Thompson for discrediting by association the causes he was associated with.

  12. I think Ferchu is implying that JT is either stuffed, carved up or done like dinner.

  13. well , isnt tofu turkey the worst possible menu ever for thanksgiving?.Will you like to have that to eat in that day after traveling many, many hours?.Thats why jack thompson = tofu turkey for thanksgiving , I rest my case you honor and await your veredict.

  14. Well I hate Turkey and don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so I’m not best placed to judge. Anything Tofu is an automatic fail though, so it seems apt enough.

  15. I really like turkey when it is cooked properly and not dry and tasteless as an old boot. One can get excellent turkey sandwiches at delis in the area.

    Tofu on the other hand; vile stuff. Only mad people eat it, in the misguided belief that they are somehow improving the lot of Andalusian Cattle or something.

  16. I can’t abide Turkey it’s all dry and tastes of nothing.

    Nor can I abide Tofu, it’s what vegetarians eat, and I can’t abide vegetarians.

  17. @SN: With regard to Turkey, that’s not true at all. If you ever come to America, go to a place where they do decent turkey. It’s probably rather hard to find outside of the US though. I think we’re good at it mainly because we eat so much of it.

    A good turkey is very, very juicy, and has an EXCELLENT flavour. Sadly, it is easy to overcook a Turkey, and the result then is dry, tasteless, and sticks in one’s throat.

    Also if you buy deli turkey here, for instance pepper-encrusted Sara Lee roast turkey, which I usually buy, it is not dry in the least, but moist and very flavourful.

  18. I’m affraid it’s just one of those things I hate, my father and brother love the stuff.

Comments are closed.