Jack Thompson: Dissecting one attorney’s take on video games and violence

Just hours after the shooting on the Virginia Tech campus, Jack Thompson worked his way onto national television to attempt to tie the tragedy to video games – hours before authorities had released any information about the suspect or his motive.

Watching the video (the video has since been removed), I found more than a half-dozen points which were either grossly misleading or out-right lies. Hit the jump for the analysis of his comments from the video.

1. The FBI and Secret Service found that the most common denominator for shootings prior to Columbine was that the perpetrator was immersed in “incredibly violent entertainment, most notable video games.”

Time: 30 seconds

Verdict: Not exactly True

Evidence: In 2000, the FBI published an analysis of 18 schools, 14 of which had actual shootings. In the other four, students planned shootings but were thwarted.

The analysis broke down the assessment model of a shooter into four prongs.

While “The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective” found that a “fascination with violence-filled entertainment” was one personality traits and behavior common among shooters, in one of the four prongs,it lists another 27 traits as well. It also does not single out video games as being most notable among the “violence-filled entertainment” shooters were fascinated with.

The student demonstrates an unusual fascination with movies, TV shows, computer games, music videos or printed material that focus intensively on themes of violence, hatred, control, power, death, and destruction. He may incessantly watch one movie or read and reread one book with violent content, perhaps involving school violence. Themes of hatred, violence, weapons, and mass destruction recur in virtually all his activities, hobbies, and pastimes.

The student spends inordinate amounts of time playing video games with violent themes, and seems more interested in the violent images than in the game itself.

On the Internet, the student regularly searches for web sites involving violence, weapons, and other disturbing subjects. There is evidence the student has downloaded and kept material from these sites.

In the lengthy study’s proposals the FBI recommends training parents to track their child’s use of the Internet and viewing of violent videos. No reference is made to tracking video game playing.

2. The FBI found that Red Lake school shooter Jeffrey Weise had “basically rehearsed for the massacre” by playing Grand Theft Auto Vice City in order to get his heart rate down and be able to kill.

Time: 49 seconds

Verdict: Cannot prove or disprove

Evidence: The only references I could find on the Internet, with the FBI, in the newspaper coverage, with the police department of Weise training for the Red Lake School shooting come from Thompson himself. On several occasions he both predicts that police will find this to be the case and then goes on to say it is the case, but never provides any sort of proof or source.

3. Prior to going on a shooting spree at Dawson College in Montreal, Kimveer Gill “trained on Super Columbine Massacre.”

Time: 1 minute 10 seconds

Verdict: False

Evidence: While one could argue endlessly about the merits of Super Columbine Massacre RPG and whether it crosses a moral boundary, there is no argument about it’s use as a tactics trainer. The game was created using RPG Maker and requires zero tactics or marksmanship to complete. Instead you roam endlessly through a generic school setting killing students in an abbreviated turn-based attack system similar to Final Fantasy.

Gunman Kimveer Gill did play the game, including it among a long list of games he liked to play. It was not his “favorite game” according to his profile on his blog.

4. Michael Carneal was spurred to go on a spree shooting in Paducah, Kentucky by computer games and trained on Doom before the shooting.

Time: 2 minutes 12 seconds

Verdict: False

Evidence: That song and dance is certainly what Jack Thompson tried to prove in the $130 million lawsuit he filed in April, 1999 against two Internet pornography sites, several game developers and the makers and distributors of The Basketball Diaries.

Fortunately, Thompson lost that little bid. In 2002 the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was “simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen to shooting people in a classroom.”

A psychiatrist who interviewed Carneal also rebuked Thompson’s claim that Carneal had never fired a gun, saying that the teen admitted to stealing a .22-caliber pistol and practicing with it and other handguns.

Thompson continues to spread this particular lie despite a court of law saying it isn’t true.

5. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold used Doom to train for “what they did at Columbine.”

Time: Two minutes and 32 seconds

Verdict: False

Evidence: Again, a lawyer tried to show a connection between games, including Doom, and the shootings and again that lawsuit was tossed out by a federal judge.

In dismissing the suit, the U.S. District judge said there was no way the makers of violent games including “Doom” and “Redneck Rampage,” and violent movies such as “The Basketball Diaries,” could have reasonably foreseen that their products would cause the Columbine shooting or any other violent acts.

But perhaps Thompson is talking about the wide-spread myth that Harris created a level for Doom so he could practice the deadly shooting. Again, not true. While Harris did create four levels for the game, none of them resembled the school.

6. Jeffery Weise uploaded a “flash game version” of Grand Theft Auto Vice City in which he was predicting what he was going to do.

Time: Three minutes and 15 seconds

Verdict: False

Evidence: While Jack Thompson certainly tried to liken Jeffery Weise’s animation to both a video game and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, it is clear neither are true.

The animated short, entitled Target Practice, shows an animated character shooting four people and blowing up a police car before committing suicide. Shortly after the Red Lake school shooting Thompson also tried to tie another short, entitled Clown, to a Rockstar game, saying it was a”replication” of Manhunt. Also, obviously not true.

7. After Robert Steinhauser’s deadly shooting at a school in Erfurt, Germany, police found “52 shooter games, most notably Counterstrike Half-Life which was his game of choice.” Steinhauser “dressed up like the hero in that game for his assault.” The involvement of video games in that shooting changed the law in Germany.

Time: Three minutes and 55 seconds

Verdict: Not exactly true

Evidence: Police did find violent comics, movies and video games in Steinhauser’s home after the shooting, but according to Erfurt Police Chief Rainer Grube there were “several computer games featuring “intensive weapons usage” not 52.

While Steinhauser did dress in black “ninja-like” garb, it would be a stretch to say he was “dressed up like the hero” in Counterstrike.

His last point, about it changing the law, was a bit tricky to prove or disprove. I finally tracked down an update at EurActiv, which tracks political actions in the EU. According to the site, while there was a lot of initial political grandstanding, no law was ever passed. Instead the Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini called on ministers meeting in Dresden to agree “to share best practices” on curbing the sale of violent video games to minors.

Conclusion: What do we learn from this assessment of Thompson’s babble on national television? That you can say anything on TV and not have it fact-checked as long as you say it quickly, when TV needs someone to fill time and it’s a good sound bite.

This story originally appeared on Kotaku on April 17, 2007. Shortly thereafter Thompson reported me to the FBI and Denver police, they dismissed his concerns.

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