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Live at the Jack Thompson debate in Philadelphia

We're live at the Philadelphia Convention Center, waiting for the panel discussion between Jack Thompson and Oddworld's Lorne Lanning – and moderated by Newsweek's N'Gai Croal – to begin. After watching Spencer Halpin's Moral Kombat (more on that later), we returned to the same theater eager to hear the debate.

3:55pm - N'Gai lays out the rules (no cameras, sorry folks) and introduces himself and the participants. N'Gai asks Jack how he came to be involved with the film. Jack delivers what appears to be a sincere appreciation for the film and the opportunity to be involved with it. He commends both N'Gai and Lorne, as well as director Halpin, for being will-intentioned, and that's a major reason he was in the film and he's here tonight.

4:00pm - How does Jack feel about Lorne's point in the film saying that it's easier for games to contain violence – canceling something out? Since Lorne's games aren't known for being the most violent on the market (Oddworld, Stranger's Wrath), how does he see himself in the debate? He wanted his games to be more "substantive" in their content, address socio-political issues he saw on the news, for example global warming. He points to the control over science regarding global warming, and how what used to be fact is now a grey area.

Does what Lorne said resonate with Jack at all? "We've lost the idea of the public space, public square, whatever you want to call it." He argues for the common good, and encourages people to see things beyond money. He said a gamer thanked him for uniting gamers the world over (in opposition to him, obviously) and got a hearty laugh. He says the first time he saw the documentary, he wept. He's audibly choked up as he says that the film clearly shows both sides of this issue care about people.

4:10pm - Lorne points out that Jack chooses to go on network media, "permeate those sound bites" and can disseminate his argument uncontested for free, while the industry pays $300k per 30 second ad. He says if it's not Jack on the air, it's "Ms. Nazi with the blonde hair." Jack says that he's almost always contested, whether it's by a guest or a host. On a recent show, Take-Two was invited and they turned it down. Lorne points out that he can be on the news within hours of a school shooting.

Jack says, "They called me." Lorne argues they've called because these networks pursue sensationalism and he's built up the brand of Jack Thompson as the defender of violence in video games. Jack says, "And I thought this was going to be friendly." The audience claps and laughs. Alright folks, Mr. Thompson has taken the gloves off. He brings up Paducah and argues that the shooter there was trained on Doom – his behavior was not commensurate with a first-time shooter. Lorne says Jack's not qualified to make those claims.

4:17pm - Jack says he was concerned about this before video games. He got the first FCC decency fine and "there were no video games in that." He says he's proud to represent people whose families are ruined by people from Lorne's industry who don't have the ethics that he does.

Lorne chastizes N'Gai for not calling out something that's untrue. N'Gai says, "Stop. Stop. I'm the moderator." Ouch, it's getting awkward up there. N'Gai addresses Jack's claim that the killer was trained on Doom, and says that the mechanics of Doom don't line up with the reality of this particular shooting. Jack says the individual played other games as well as citing The Basketball Diaries as a major influence.

"No one in their right mind would say that a video game by itself would turn an angel into a demon."
"The incredible extent that adult and adult-rated products are sold to people in other age groups." He says the only issue for him is the industry's failure to properly label their products, and enforce those ratings. N'Gai notes that the failure rating is roughly analagous to that of the movie theater industry allowing underage people into movies.

4:23pm - Lorne points out that there are two different issues here: the violent content in games and selling those games. He talks about consumer deception – big food company applying the label 'organic' on food that isn't to deceive consumers – and how that is uncontested. Meanwhile, he feels the ESRB has been doing a phenomenal job and, if anything, there's a problem at retail.

Jack mentions GamePolitics (hey Dennis, wave!), and says that he's proposed that developers and publishers threaten retailers by withholding products to those outlets that break their self-imposed rules. The retailers aren't serious because the industry does not enforce the rules. He agrees with Doug Lowenstein saying if it's supposed to be a parent's decision, "then don't sell them to my kids." Lorne points out, "He didn't."

Jack says a Harvard PhD revealed that there are T-rated games with more violent content than M-rated games. Lorne quips, "PhDs said there were WMDs and those weren't there either." The crowd likes that one.

4:30pm - N'Gai asks Lorne why people like Tipper Gore – a product of the 60s – is one of the most outspoken voices against things like media issues. Will gamers grow up to replace those politicians and render the debate moot? Lorne doesn't think so. Jack brings up religion and says that our founding fathers built a Christian nation. Lorne asks the Christians in the room to raise their hands (about half do, including Lorne) trying to point out the "neocon" belief that we're a Christian nation.

Jack mentions the Bar complaints raised against him by the video game industry. Says that speaking publicly about faith isn't tolerated. N'Gai points out that the major political candidates have all spoken publicly about their faith. Lorne points out the boom in religious radio by Clearwater and the growth in tax-free churches. Jack says, "I don't hear the Christian line on the news?" Lorne says, "Well, you watch Fox, don't you?"

4:37pm - Jack says that Rupert Murdoch is "certainly not an honest person." Lorne responds, "We agree." The audience laughs and the two stand up and shake hands. N'Gai says, "Rupert Murdoch is the new Jack Thompson."

Lorne addresses Henry Jenkin's comments in the film about how our media is always violent. He points out the violence of the Old Testament, and Jack jokes, "How about Grand Theft Ark?" Hey, we'd buy that! Lorne discusses the permeation of violence in the media, like the evening news, and says he doesn't feel video games are explicitly different. Gives an example of people watching 12 hours of violent films, like video games, versus 12 hours of violent multiplayer games. Which activity is more antisocial? He says that neuro-scientists would admit they know nothing about the human mind.

4:43pm - Lorne points out one of video game defender's favorite stats: that violent crime has gone down as video games have become more popular (marked by the introduction of the PlayStation). He relays an anecdote about a prison warden he rides motorcycles with saying that violence in younger people isn't as bad as it used to be (anecdotal evidence FTW!). Jack rebuts that FBI crime statistics show that teenage violent crime is way up in the last two years (including here in Philadelphia, where violent crime is way up).

Thompson addresses the propensity of criminals to shoot police officers (this raises the eyebrow of this Philadelphian who's been inundated with news of three police officers shot in the last week or so). After a brief chat about the errors in Jack's Wikipedia entry, Lorne asks how much money Jack's seeking in his cases? "A lot."

Lorne thinks of himself as a craftsman, creating things by hands, working hard for his money. The industry has exploded with virtually no support from the government, built on the creativity of its creators. He says that Jack's business model is "to convince grieving families" that the video game industry is responsible for their loved one's deaths all in pursuit of huge settlements, like $600m huge (wow, that is big).

4:52pm - Jack defends himself, says he's willing to continue to pursue this case, in the face of disbarment in Florida, against Blank/Rome, one of the largest law firms in the world. (He knows his audience, and points out that Blank/Rome is one of the largest contributors to Bush and Cheney).

N'Gai asks the audience to raise their hands if they've played a GTA game. The entire audience raises their hands. He says to keep your hand raised if you think the primary goal of a GTA game is to "kill as many cops as you can," which Jack had just claimed. No hands. Jack retorts, "What about prostitutes?" Again, no hands.

Lorne says, Jack has faith that video games teach kids to kill, but the facts don't bare it out. Jack makes some humble cracks about his intelligence, and says that he still understands that violent video games cause increased aggression and points to several studies. He says that corporations can only be punished financially and says they pose a great threat to our liberties. The crowd applauds the sentiment.

5:01pm - We're onto the Q&A session. Amber from PMS Clan asks the first question: "I know you've come into a den of wolves here, so I wanted to thank you."

"Well, you're a very attractive wolf, so ...". Hehe, good one, Jack. The crowd giggles. Lorne and Jack tussle for a moment. Next questions is basically, "Do you think Pac-Man is a violent game?" Remember this one? Jack says he doesn't recall that game being included in the study.

5:12pm - A dude rocking a Power Glove asks if Jack is a gamer and manages to completely blunder his point by forgetting David Walsh's name, asking generic questions about agreeing with him or not, and then wanting to continue to follow up the same line of ineffective questioning. Jack is exasperated and, for once, we totally agree! Next guy introduces himself as a developer at Multisoft (?), says he's surprised at how much he agrees with Jack (Jack replies, "God bless you.") and wants to know how Jack sees the difference between 'simulators' and entertainment software as simulator tools.

5:17pm - Jack says the questioner is using the definition more narrowly than he has in the past, so he attempts to clarify. N'Gai points out that Full Spectrum Warrior is really about squad tactics (as opposed to just killing). Next question is about the link between video games and killing. Jack says that in this country you only need to prove 'causation' from one event to the other, not direct link. Last question of the evening is from a lawyer (insert lawyer joke here). He asks about Jack's comments in the film about the differences in violence in art or video games. Jack says, "I draw a distinction between Beowulf and Grand Theft Auto." Lorne says, "Yeah, I think the distinction is six-hundred million dollars." Asks why Jack doesn't go after the gun companies or any of the other companies that could be held responsible; argues that Jack exploits the uncertainty and fear Americans have about video games "so that he doesn't have to work for a living like I do, as a hard-working American." Whoa, whoa, whoa Lorne. Let's leave the blue-collar rhetoric out of this one, k?

5:23pm - Wow, alright, N'Gai calls it. The debate is over with one last gripe over Jack's "business model" and the two stand up, shake, and Jack takes a bow. The audience claps enthusiastically, we grimace over not being able to snap a photo, and wrap up the liveblog. All right, folks. More on VGXPO and Moral Kombat, the movie this time, later.

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