What Happened to Jack Thompson?

Image via BBC

There was a time when the biggest enemy of gaming was not the industry itself, but a single man. Before the days of microtransactions, lootboxes and corner cutting conglomerates, the gaming industry was at the mercy of politicians and lawyers who wanted nothing but to gut it entirely. It started in the early 90s, with games like Doom, Night Trap and Mortal Kombat. Horrified parents took to the picket lines and wrote their congressmen to air their growing concerns over the violent media that they were letting their children be exposed to. In the aftermath of one Senate Committee Hearing in 1993, the threat of government imposed censorship and regulations brought the gaming industry together, and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) was established to implement a rating system. This was not the end of the debate, however. For years to come, an endless stream of politicians and social activists would come out of the woodwork to protest the violence depicted in video games. The most prominent of them was one Jack Thompson. To go up against an entire industry time and time again like Jack Thompson has done throughout the years definitely took guts, and it earned him more than his fair share of infamy. So what ever happened to Jack Thompson?

His story begins in Cleveland, Ohio with him graduating from Cuyahoga Falls High School. He soon after attended Denison University, and later on Vanderbilt University Law School. In 1976, he and his wife moved to Florida, where he spent the next two decades practicing law. His notoriety began during his formative years, well before the video game violence controversy picked up steam in Washington DC. It began in 1988, when he sued Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno for battery for touching him on the shoulder (in response to a question of her sexual orientation). The charge was later dropped, as it was considered a political move on Thompson’s part given that he was running for Prosecutor at the time. Reeling from the loss of that election, Thompson would go on to pursue legal action against various Rap artists for obscenity, including 2 Live Crew, N.W.A., Ice-T and even MTV.

Image via Gamasutra

His first suits against the video game industry began in 1999; during the aftermath of the Heath High School shooting that occurred in West Paducah, Kentucky on December 1st, 1997. 14-year old Michael Carneal had opened fire on a group of students, killing three and injuring five.  In the subsequent investigation, it was learned that Michael played games like Doom, Quake and Resident Evil, and he frequented numerous Adult websites. Thompsons suit alleged that Carneal had become desensitized to the violence depicted, and that the games themselves could be considered defective due to the psychological damage inflicted on Carneal. Ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that Thompson was unable to present any hard evidence to support these claims.

This was not the last time that Thompson would pursue legal action against the developers as a result of violence. It was the beginning of a very long legal career and activism. Over the years, Thompson would file suits against Sony, Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar and even Nintendo, in a legal campaign of what many would describe as very vocal and very public ambulance chases. It should come as no surprise to anyone that anytime any wide-scale forms of violence happened, Jack would be there to speak out against violent entertainment, mostly video games. He even wrote a book on the subject, “Out of Harm’s Way,” an autobiography that chronicles many of his legal exploits throughout the years.

His crusade against the gaming industry reached a boiling point in 2005 when he submitted his open letter to the gaming community titled “A Modest Video Game Proposal.” In it, he made a proposal: if a game developer were to program a game following a character killing game developers, then he would donate $10,000 to a charity of Take-Two Chairman Paul Eibeler’s choosing. A small group of developers known as Thompsonsoft took him up on his offer and released “I’m O.K, a Murder Simulator” in 2006. In it, the protagonist Osaki Kim (“O.K”) goes on a murderous rampage across the country to avenge his son, who was killed by a gamer. To the surprise of nobody, Thompson did not fulfill his end of the deal outlined in the proposal, citing that the game didn’t meet the requirements of his proposal. Realizing that his end of the bargain wouldn’t be met, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade fame decided to donate the money in his name. Jack Thompson subsequently attempted to file a police report against them for harassment, though nothing ever came of it. His feud with the industry continued into the latter half of the 2000s with him taking on the gaming community as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, his endeavors had garnered the negative reactions of everyone from average gamers to hardened internet trolls. Because many of his public appearances were televised during the aftermath of many shootings, Thompson had garnered a reputation as a nemesis of the gaming community, oftentimes being compared to an ambulance chaser. The backlash was palpable, though not all gamers were completely at war with him. In 2006, a project dubbed “Flowers for Jack” took donations to send flowers to Thompson’s office, along with an open-letter attempting to open peaceful talks between Jack and the gaming community. Thompson rejected the gesture and even sent the flowers to his perceived rivals in the gaming industry. His activism continued until 2007, when his frequent lawsuits finally caught up with him.

In February of that year, the Florida bar moved to disbar him over actions of professional misconduct, as a result of many grievances filed against him throughout his career. According to the Florida Supreme Court, Thompson “demonstrated a pattern of conduct to strike out harshly, extensively, repeatedly and willfully to simply try to bring as much difficulty, distraction and anguish to those he considers in opposition to his causes.” At the end of a lengthy trial, Thompson was disbarred on September 25th, 2008 and ordered to pay a lengthy fine of $43,675.25.

Image via Wikipedia

Today, Thompson makes his living by teaching civics classes to inmates in Florida, including American History and Constitutional Law classes. While this may sound like a personal defeat to anyone else, to Thompson, his current career path is a victory.  In an interview with Inverse, Thompson stated that “Watching (mostly poorly educated men) invest themselves in engaging and respectful debates about Constitutional issues—that’s the kind of thing that leaves me on the verge of tears.”




  1. what happens if guns are banned in the us Fantasy question? Okay, I’ll play along. Let’s give even the most rabid anti-gunners their wish – tomorrow, they will wake up and all guns will be illegal to manufacture, buy, sell, trade or possess in the USA. There are a few problems, though, let’s review them:

    Guns will still be manufactured, elsewhere. Currently, and off the top of my head, firearms are made in Australia, Russia, Sweden, Japan, Israel, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, The Philippines, Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, China, Austria, Germany, and Finland. Do you think that because the US has banned guns that these folks will simply close up shop? Not a chance. With the exception of a very limited customer base in Japan, they will still have consumers available on their home soil and other foreign markets – legally. They will still have US citizens obtaining their firearms, although now illegally on the black market. Guns will be available the same way street drugs, kiddie porn, and import banned foods are. This country can’t even stop Steven Seagal from making crappy direct-to-video movies! How will we control the flow of now illegal guns into the country?

    Here’s another deal. Some guns are very easy to manufacture. Remember the term “back alley abortion”? Well, “back alley guns” will be built here in the States. Every mom & pop machine shop which had been on the verge of shutting down, will be doing more business…complete with lookouts for police and BATF visits. Meanwhile, in basements and garages, those same kids and adults who build homemade bombs from instructions and designs found on the internet will turn to zip gun building. An act some people do, already. Remember the Ghost guns, of the new 3D printing? Those will become plentiful, too.

    On the subject of the police, and I speak with over 40 years in the biz…I’ve worked alongside cops who tend not to enforce the rules they don’t agree with. “I hate dope arrests, it’s a waste of time. I don’t like handing traffic accidents! I don’t write tickets”, etc. etc. Many times cops will base these decisions on their own personal behaviors. They once used, or want to use drugs. They either drive recklessly, or worse, they may dislike the potential conflict they might have with a driver who needs a ticket. So, let’s think about how many cops are pro Second Amendment and gun enthusiasts. Think they might just look the other way? How about the ones who always try to avoid conflict. What will their performance be when coming up against someone who previously enjoyed a constitutionally guaranteed right, until the nanny state got their way?

    It hurts me to say this, and I’d really like to be shown wrong. But I believe that those same cops will not hesitate to grab the guns of people they don’t like, and leave behind the guns of people they do.

    Or, what about this? The cops arrive at Mr. Jones’ door to confiscate his rifle, shotgun, and pistol. Jones greets them, stating, “I’m so glad you guys are here. I need to report the theft of my guns. Can you take the report?” Of course, Jones buried them all in a waterproof container with boxes of ammo a few months prior, knowing this day was coming.

    Not every gun is “registered” in this country. In California every gun sold, and the identity of its purchaser, is added to a database. In Colorado, not so. The rules for registration vary, state by state. Additionally, those states with registration are slow to update their data. I once sold a handgun in a private party sale. I sent the required form to California saying so. I ended up sending the form, twice. As many as five years later, they still ID’ed me as the owner. Additionally, not every gun in circulation is marked with a serial number. Serial numbers on EVERY new firearm only took place in the last half of the last century. Unless submitted to the BATF, they will never have a number to be tracked by.

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