Pouring Hot Coffee On The Videogame Industry While It’s Down
It seems that whenever controversy hits the gaming industry, Miami attorney Jack Thompson is either leading it, or not too far behind. The man is infamous for his scathing attacks on the gaming industry, both in the media and the court room, not to mention his personal attacks on those who disagree with his positions.
During his career, he has been asked to submit to psychiatric testing by the Florida Supreme Court, while undergoing a bizarre First Amendment campaign. He made some accusations against Janet Reno after losing his bid to become Dade County State Attorney. But let’s not get into that.
In recent years, however, Mr. Thompson’s work has mainly been in the area of the videogame industry. He has tried pinning events such as the 1997 Paducah and 1999 Columbine school shootings on videogames. (The 1997 shootings were dismissed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.)
He has also launched a series of personal attacks aimed at the head of the Entertainment Software Association, Doug Lowenstein, comparing him first to Joseph Goebbels and then Adolf Hitler over the years. During the Hot Coffeegate scandal of this year, he sent an open letter praising Sen. Hillary Clinton’s condemnations of the videogame industry. He used it as a chance to jump on the bandwagon once again to attack Mr. Lowenstein and demand his resignation.
Most recently, he released a statement claiming that The Sims 2 is "worse than Hot Coffee." He stated in a release that "Sims 2, the latest version of the Sims video game franchise ... contains, according to video game news sites, full frontal nudity, including nipples, penises, labia, and pubic hair."
The Sims 2, for anyone who has been living under a rock, is a life simulator from Maxis which is the sequel to the best selling videogame franchise of them all, The Sims. The last time I looked at the "nudity" in this game, it was well blurred. Certainly, I couldn’t find any of the anatomical items he mentions.
However Mr. Thompson is calling foul, in a claim similar to that of the recent GTA debacle. He claims "the nudity placed there by the publisher/maker, Electronic Arts, is accessed by the use of a simple code that removes what is called ’the blur’ which obscures the genital areas. In other words, the game was released to the public by the manufacturer knowing that the full frontal nudity was resident on the game and would be accessed by use of a simple code widely provided on the Internet."
In other words, he’s going after the mod squads and claiming that EA Games specifically left exposed body parts underneath the blur that comes with the game. He also claims, more sinisterly, that the models of children in the game can be un-blurred, "much to the delight, one can be sure, of pedophiles around the globe who can rehearse, in virtual reality, for their abuse."
Jeff Brown, vice president of corporate communications at EA, in response to the accusations, told GameSpot news, "this is nonsense. We’ve reviewed 100 percent of the content. There is no content inappropriate for a teen audience. Players never see a nude sim. If someone with an extreme amount of expertise and time were to remove the pixels, they would see that the sims have no genitals. They appear like Ken and Barbie."
Thompson replied, "the sex and the nudity are in the game. That’s the point. The blur is an admission that even the ’Ken and Barbie’ features should not be displayed. The blur can be disarmed. This is no different than what is in San Andreas, although worse."
Thompson then updated his earlier statement, saying he is aware certain mods only remove "the blur," but added that "Electronic Arts has done nothing about this." Thompson’s new conclusion : EA is "cooperating, gleefully, with the mod community to turn Sims 2 into a porn offering."
Apart from moving the goalposts somewhat there, this is an attack now not only on EA but on modders as a whole. Do bear in mind, however, that this is the guy who once said that Grand Theft Auto allows players to rape and kill pregnant women and/or children.
Thompson’s attacks are disturbing. If he gets his way, then publishers will be forced to ban all mod making, stifling creative expression. This will also take away a big cornerstone of the long-term strategies that many companies have built, which includes fostering their mod communities. After all, modding managed to keep Half-Life alone going well after its sell-by date. Mods have literally become as big a part of many games as the original release itself. The existence of a thriving mod community is now being seen as essential to the long-term survival of a game franchise.
GTA and Sims mods aren’t the first, nor are the last. A lot of extra content has been found buried in the final releases of many games. Take the role-playing game Star Wars : Knights of the Old Republic II - there were hours of dialogue, sub-quests, plot fillers and gameplay buried beneath the "full" game, which was subsequently discovered by modders and restored into the game proper.
The videogames industry may be on its heels, but should realize that the attacks will probably only get worse. If it wants to survive this recent onslaught, it needs to stand up to opportunists such as Thompson and tell them to go back into the holes from which they came. Otherwise the gaming industry is on a course to face censorship - and potential ruin.