Grand Theft Auto IV
Image by Silvio Sousa Cabral via Flickr

Among Jim Sterling of Destructoid‘s reports on the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention this weekend is a curious piece on a debate on video games, violence, and their influence on players (especially children) that involved the controversial Jack Thompson. Those of you not in the know would do well to see that Jack Thompson has probably been one of the more polarizing forces of the debate on video game violence, leaning extremely anti-video game at times. Thompson’s fiery, at times vitriolic attacks on the gaming industry for games such as Grand Theft Auto IV have been the subject of much debate, discussion, and outright ridicule by those who play games. A while back, Thompson was disbarred as a lawyer for the acidic comments he gave on 60 Minutes on this subject, and as such, he’s been a favorite chewtoy and burning effigy for game players outraged at Thompson’s highly conservative, stereotypical attacks.

One would think that at a gaming convention of all places, Jack Thompson would, under normal circumstances, be eaten alive by the audience or his debate opponent, going down in a blaze of glory and ardor as video gaming’s greatest enemy. But surprisingly, all reports from this debate show Thompson as rational and calm, rarely interrupting, making points respectfully and in a knowledgeable manner, and taking questions from a crowd that was equally as tame, perhaps even taken aback by Thompson’s pleasant candor.

Even as someone who might hate Thompson for his comments of the past, the points he makes during the debate aren’t really that worthy of the zealotry of his previous diatribes. He argues for more stringent enforcement of ESRB, or to have it abolished altogether if it can’t be. He thinks that parents are ultimately responsible for putting a game in a kid’s hands that isn’t appropriate for them. He wants vendors to take more responsibility by screening for age in better ways. He asks for organizations and developers to see that studies show causation, not correlation of video games to violence, and that while video games don’t share the whole blame (amazing considering previous commentary) that they are ultimately part of an outlet of violent entertainment that needs to be dealt with as a whole, to educate children against being desensitized to it.

There are many other points Thompson makes that are more controversial – for example, the frequent use of Columbine as the “9/11″ of the games industry and taking partial credit for ESRB improvements because they were “afraid” of him. But it seems the audience left the presentation and Q&A with at least a small amount of respect for Jack Thompson, not just for making his points in a rational manner, but for showing up at all. It seems that even if this is to some cynics a desperate grab for relevance, that Thompson honestly believes that presenting his side of the video games violence debate is worthwhile.

Honestly, this is great to hear for many reasons, but most of all, for the fact that the debate can be had at all without flaming, hate-filled ranting, and comments that would make your grandmother blush. The fact that Thompson performed well under fire, argued with calm, even joking demeanor, and that he and his debate opponent shook hands to respectful applause, means that there’s hope for not just Thompson but a meaningful approach to violence in video games. Regardless of the motivation or the means that led to this outcome, if a firebrand like Jack Thompson can be cooled off, then there’s not just hope for video games, but for us humans as well.

Check the link in the first paragraph for the full details. Thanks Jim!

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