Pretty much every single game-related blog I read has mentioned Mr. Jack Thompson.
I cruised on over to Mr. Thompson's website, stopkill.com* just to soak in a little crazy-ambiance.
This little tidbit caught my attention:
"The incredibly violent Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, made by Take-Two Interactive of New York City, has caused multiple copyist killings across the country. A recent Gallup Poll found that any American teen who has played this one game is twice as likely to be engaged in an act of violence than those who have not played this one game."
Naturally, I was immediately concerned. Not only did the game cause copycat killings (no doubt much like Son of Sam's talking dog), but it's making teens more violent. Horror of horrors.
I was disappointed that Mr. Thompson neglected to cite his sources. He mentions a Gallup Poll, though, so I went to their website and signed up for their gracious 30-day trial.
Searching for 'Grand Theft Auto' in the Polls section yielded two results.
The first one dealt with how children view restricting access to media. Not what I was after.
The second had the juicy title, "Grand Theft of Innocence? Teens and Video Games." Spectacular.
Opening the second one, I was struck by this immediately:
"It has come to our attention that the public is erroneously relying upon the information included in the "aggression connection" paragraph of a Sept. 16, 2003, article by Steve Crabtree titled, "Grand Theft of Innocence? Teens and Video Games," which Gallup subsequently determined cannot be supported by the properly weighted youth survey data, and thereafter removed from the original article. Gallup now expressly retracts the entire "aggression connection" paragraph that was included in Mr. Crabtree's initial Sept. 16, 2003, article because the data do not support any such conclusion. We regret any confusion that may have been caused by Mr. Crabtree's initial article."
The "aggression connection" paragraph is exactly what it sounds like. A paragraph which posits "mounting evidence of a connection to aggressive teen behavior" in regards to violent videogames. That connection is bunk. The Poll certainly doesn't lend any credence to such a claim.
Which is, naturally, why that part was retracted.
In fact, the Poll also mentions that "[t]wo thirds of teens have played sports-based games[.]" Why aren't they making a connection between sports games and violence?
What makes Mr. Thompson's position so laughable is that this Poll (which I assume is the one he is citing**) provides no data whatsoever on how many of the teens that are playing these videogames have committed any acts of violence. None whatsoever.
It mentions Grand Theft Auto only enough to say that 76% of boys and 44% of girls have played the game.
But maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe there is another Gallup Poll which makes the connection (and supports it). I sure would like it pointed out to me.
In the meantime, I'd like to refer Mr. Thompson to some other Gallup Polls (see, statistics can be fun!).
How about the January 22, 2002 article "The Blame Game: Youth and Media Violence," which states:
"Each addition to a rapidly growing list of cases of violence in American schools, which now includes a Jan. 15 school shooting at a New York City high school, intensifies the discussion about the potential impact that media violence, and media technology such as the Internet and video games, have on teens. But Gallup poll data suggest that blaming the media for teen crime and violence is not a new tendency. While the public is quick to call for the regulation of violent material at the source, it also believes that the responsibility for teen exposure to violent media rests a little closer to home."
The article then goes on to cite Poll data from 1999 and 1954. In the 1954 Poll, 70% of American adults thought blame for teen-age crime could be placed on "mystery and crime programs on TV and radio." 70% also said that reading comic books could be blamed.
Or I could also refer Mr. Thompson to an April 20, 2001 article titled, "Americans Say the Family is the Starting Point for Preventing Another Columbine."
In response to the question, "In your opinion, what is the single most important thing that could be done to prevent another incidence of school shootings by students, like the recent ones in California?" here's the number one answer in 2001: 31% said 'Parent involvement/responsibility.'
Only 5% said 'Control media violence/video games/Internet.'
The rest of the Poll should be a good read for Mr. Thompson. Yes, it does have respondents saying that media is important. And I wouldn't contest that.
But the overwhelming responses refer back to family and home life. That certainly seems to keep priorities straight.
Mr. Thompson would probably be able to twist the data in the June 23, 1999 report "Public: Current Efforts to Control Exposure of Children to Violent Entertainment Are Not Enough." There is clear data there saying that a large percentage of adults (18 years and older) believe that children's exposure to violent media is a serious problem, and that current information about the content provided by the producers is insufficient.
This actually seems like reasonable data to back up a straightforward and non-inflammatory campaign to both clarify the ratings systems to meet general parental approval and educate parents on how to ascertain the nature of a product's content.
But, of course, Mr. Thompson would never do something so reasonable. Best to misuse numbers in his pursuit of . . . well, whatever he's doing.
Then there's a May 10, 1999 article, "Media Portrayals of Violence Seen by Many as Causes of Real-Life Violence." There's lots of meat for a firebrand, if you dig a little. For example, 58% said that the federal government should do more to regulate video games. And 49% blamed TV programs, movies and music (though no videogames mention, odd) 'A great deal' for causing shootings like the one in Littleton, Colorado.
Just ignore the fact that 40% said 'Breakdown of family/Parenting/Poor parenting' caused the Columbine shooting. And that only 4% attributed the tragedy to '[the] Entertainment Industry/TV/Movies/Music'. And definitely don't point out that 51% said Parents were '[a] Great deal' to blame for causing shootings like the one in Littleton (and 33% said '[a] Moderate amount').
Of course, the only thing this Poll can actually speak to is perception. These are the connections that people are seeing themselves. This is not a scientific Poll, it's an opinion Poll. You can draw certain conclusions from responses, but they'll always be suspect. The best you can say about this data is "X percentage of our sample perceives Y issue thusly --" and then give the data.
On to something funny.
Mr. Thompson's site (and this makes me wonder whether the site is legit) has three links at the bottom.
One goes to mediafamily.org (with a link to that PSA with the kid describing what sounds like an awesome videogame). One goes to killology.net (the made up word about slanted research).
And one goes to rockstargames.com. I shit you not. Way to advertise for the enemy, Jack!
It was as if I were at an Andrea Dworkin website (no, I don't know why I would be) and they had links at the bottom to iafd.com. Jarring.
*I think it's a mistake to use what seem to be the imperative forms for the verbs in his site name. This seems to say, to me, "Stop, kill!" Though I do play videogames, so that's probably just the psychosis talking.
**And I freely admit that I'm going off of an assumption. But at least I'm citing my sources.