Hot on the heels of US Senator Hillary Clinton's call for federal game legislation came a very public and very unlikely thank you. Miami lawyer and ardent game-industry critic Jack Thompson, who has vocally blasted games on 60 Minutes, CNN, and other media outlets for over a decade, publicly praised the Democratic senator from New York in an open letter. "I, as a lifelong Republican, am going to thank Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton," he said.
However, Thompson's letter, which was sent via e-mail to game publishers and press outlets (including GameSpot), had far less kind words for Doug Lowenstein. As president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the country's main game-industry lobby, Lowenstein helps oversee the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), which voluntarily stamps games with familiar ratings such as E for Everyone and T for Teen.
However, it's the current kerfuffle over an M-for-Mature-rated game that spurred Thompson's letter. Addressed to an assortment of developers and publishers ranging from Electronic Arts to id Software, the latter of which Thompson partly blames for the Columbine massacre, the letter blasts "the inept fashion in which ESA has 'managed' the 'Hot Coffee' mod scandal... Doug Lowenstein could have prevented what is going to happen today, but he preferred to shoot the messengers."
Thompson had similarly sharp words on the ESA's defense that the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which says "congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech," prohibits game censorship. Said Thompson, "Doug Lowenstein embarrasses each and every one of you when he holds forth about what the 'Founders' intended when they drafted the Bill of Rights [the first 10 amendments to the Constitution]. For Doug, the Founders are GTA's Tommy Vercetti and Carl Johnson. Doug never met a pixilated prostitute he didn't like, and I'm sure James Madison would be impressed."
At one point, Thompson tries to win ESA members over to his side. "If the ESA wants as its president a thug who demonizes critics of your industry's criminal, frauduelnt [sic] excesses, thereby earning their wrath and their determination, then by all means keep Mr. Lowenstein at the helm." Later, he took a blunter approach. "[Lowenstein's] extremism has painted a bullseye on your industry. Doug Lowenstein has the brush and [GTA publisher] Take-Two has provided the blood red paint...get rid of this highly-paid thug and replace him with someone with sense."
As has been his practice in the past, Lowenstein has chosen not to address Thompson's attacks directly. Instead, he issued a lengthy statement addressing Senator Clinton. "Retailers should not sell Mature games to minors, parents should watch what their kids watch, and parents should and can rely on the ESRB ratings to make the right choices for their families," he said. "We hope that after further reflection and dialogue, Senator Clinton will abandon the bill and work cooperatively with industry and others to ensure that parents take advantage of the effective tools on the market to regulate the games their kids play."