Scoring the Thompson-Lanning Debate at VGXPO …now with Audio Clips!

Controversial Miami attorney Jack Thompson and game developer Lorne Lanning (Oddworld series) engaged in debate yesterday at the VXGPO in Philadelphia. 

The event followed the screening of Spencer Halpin’s Moral Kombat, an as-yet unreleased documentary which chronicles the video game violence debate. Both Thompson and Lanning appear in the film. Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal served as moderator.

Chris Grant has an excellent blow-by-blow at Joystiq. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the debate we were informed there would be no filming or photography permitted. Apparently the official video of debate is to appear on the DVD of Moral Kombat as an extra feature. However, prior to that announcement being made I managed to capture a little bit of the pre-debate: 

I’ll defer to Joystiq’s excellent reportage on the who-said-what and instead offer my overall impressions…

It’s clear that Thompson can turn on the charm when he wants to. During the debate he was at times witty, self-deprecating, and not at all like the combative Thompson who frequents the GamePolitics comments area. In some ways he connected with the crowd better than did Lanning. (mp3: Thompson makes a funny)

In retrospect, the Oddworld developer could have done better. He missed some obvious openings left by Thompson and at several points in the debate drifted off into far-ranging tangents about things like global warming and nutrition.

Lanning did manage to score some broad points against Thompson, asserting that Jack is in it for the money vis-a-vis his involvement in a pair of wrongful death lawsuits against the deep-pocketed video game industry. Perhaps. It’s hard to know what motivates Thompson. (mp3: Lanning’s lawsuit rant)

All in all, however, I found myself wishing Lanning would call Thompson on the attorney’s schtick, which wasn’t much different from what we see on his frequent TV appearances. Thompson, for example, launched into his oft-repeated line about how violent video games could not be considered art because they don’t fit the ancient Greek definition of art. Perhaps that sounds authoritative – oh, the ancient Greeks! – but how is it even relevant? Since when do the ancient Greeks get to define what today’s art is?

Regarding school shootings, Thompson repeated his mantra about kids going to school with guns for 200 years in this country in order to shoot their dinner on the way home. This was by way of saying school shootings cannot be traced to easy gun availablity. Cite a reference, please, Jack. Which kids? Which 200 years? It sounds apocryphal from here.

Thompson trotted out the 1997 Paducah, Kentucky school shooting as evidence that violent games (Doom, in this case) cause school shootings. It would have been nice for Lanning to have pointed out that the Paducah lawsuit against video games utterly failed to convince the court.

N’Gai played the role of the neutral moderator well, although he actually put Thompson on the spot at one point. As he often does, Thompson was complaining that the video game industry had targeted him because of his Christian activism. As Chris Grant blogged about the exchange on Joystiq:

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.

Thompson also got into a rant about an old nemesis, former ESA president Doug Lowenstein (mp3: Thompson and Lanning argue about Doug)

The audience was afforded some Q&A time as well, with the best question coming from a guy who designs simulation games. He wondered how Thompson could call various titles “murder simulators” and such, since they didn’t fit the criteria for simulation modeling. No real answer…

And as to GP’s interaction with Thompson?

There wasn’t any. I didn’t approach him and he didn’t approach me.

UPDATE: Wired’s Susan Arendt has more on the debate. Mashed Buttons has its own view. Over at Bits, Bytes, Pixels & Sprites Dan Zuccarelli offers his impressions…

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