Articles > Playing Politics (December 2007)

Playing Politics, Part III

By Hal Halpin
EGM, December 2007

Jack Thompson, Jack Thompson, Jack Thompson. OK, so he's not Beetlejuice, but he is probably the most famous/infamous person associated with games. That's right, I said it. And it's the truth.

For the nine years that I ran the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) the retail trade body that represented sellers of games, I subscribed to the same thinking as my counterparts at the other trade associations which represent the business: ignore him and he'll go away; and don't talk about him or give him press time and no one will know who he is. Having lived that strategy and been as culpable as any of my compatriots, I can tell you definitively that it was the single biggest mistake that the industry has ever made. By walking away from countless interview opportunities, we left him as the only person at the microphone. As each incident or tragedy happened, our collective tact was to do damage control but duck-and-cover when Jack was involved. Huge mistake. Huge.

The games business has created its own worst nightmare with Jack. He is intelligent, articulate, passionate and camera-ready. You may not subscribe to his philosophies, nor appreciate his liberal interpretation of the facts, but you should respect him, as should we all.

Doug Lowenstein, the former head of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) - and in many respects, my mentor - gave a historic farewell speech this time last year at the DICE summit. In part, he blamed the enthusiast media for giving Jack time as the reason for his popularity and advised them to stop giving him coverage. Many did. Some outlets no longer covered Jack at all, others ceased mentioning his name. The result: nothing.

Well, not "nothing" exactly - What did happen was that hard-core gamers were less informed about political and legislative issues. If you're reading this column you can count yourself a part of the much-coveted top 3% of game consumers. "Much coveted" by publishers who make the games and the marketers and retailers who promote and sell them. Why, because out of the 30 million game consumers in the U.S. only the very top of that sales pyramid are the movers and shakers, the influencers, those passionate enough about their hobby that they buy, rent and read about games regularly, and would call themselves "gamers." You are the very people who we're actively trying to get involved in the ECA for those very same reasons. And you're the industry's secret weapon. Halting the information flow about Jack inadvertently stopped news coverage about issues that you need to know about, as a consumer, and that the industry needs you to know and care about for their bottom line.

During the quiet period, Jack stuck to his strategy and stayed the course. Yeah, the gaming media was largely ignoring him, but guess what? The mass media wasn't. Turns out that the ignore him and he'll go away strategy backfired. He got even more exposure, more influential and more powerful. While you may know that his version of the facts isn't the same as yours, your parents, grandparents, teachers, or even friends who are just casual gamers don't.

After launching the ECA last fall, one of the major strategic changes we undertook was to stop ignoring Jack. Yeah, we don't want to empower or enable him, so it must be measured. But we need to change the face of the issue. Mass media outlets need to have options, and they generally do seek out opposing view points from their guests. So I've been trying to lead by example, climbing out of my shell and stepping up to the mic in defense of games and gamers. And I suggest that we all do similarly. Don't avoid the discussion, engage it head-on. Don't jump on a forum thread and flame Jack; doing so demeans your argument and empowers your detractors. Instead, voice your opinion, become involved and speak out. Remember, your "much coveted" and a "secret weapon" for a reason. Time to fight back!