Griefer Nation

Griefer Nation
You Don't Know Jack

Dave Thomas | 15 Nov 2005 07:00
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My studied conclusion about games and violence is that games make us wild and crazy and bloodthirsty, but just for a controlled period of time in front of the screen. And from what I can gather, unless you are already in desperate need of a daily Halloween bucket of meds, this exposure to violent material doesn't leave you with any lingering urge to harm your fellow man.

Still, like Jack, I'm not a social scientist, a cognitive scientist or even a doctor of love. So I assume that Jack does what I do - scrape around for facts and opinions, try to figure out what is true and bother people with your opinions at cocktail parties. Only I suspect that Jack looks at the entire internet as his cocktail party.

What fascinates me the most about Jack is that the power relationships are all screwed up, sort of the way they are in a Quentin Tarantino movie. In most real life situations, someone is in charge and someone else has to go along with things. Cops pull you over and you say, "Yes officer, no officer." And even if you go to court, you say, "Yes your honor, no your honor." Tarantino's films always seem to end up in some sort of a Mexican Standoff between people that love each other, and want the same things, but don't trust each other and might be too criminally insane to know the difference. This sort of sums up the Russian and U.S. Cold War policy of "mutually assured destruction," and how just about anyone feels about their mother-in-law.

And so it is with Jack. Because his dirty secret is out there for everyone to see. Jack Thompson needs the videogame industry. Without Rockstar and nutty child assassins, what would Jack do? Personal injury law? Bankruptcy? Divorce mediation?

Nope. Everyone who likes to stir things up needs something to stir. And Jack needs the videogame industry to rise to the occasion. Don't you have to wonder what it's like being Jack? He brought legal action against Howard "I used to be the king of media," Stern and 2 "Didn't they use a naughty word in a rap song 20 years ago?" Live Crew? Jack needs games and, strangely enough, games need Jack.

No celebrity has really made it until they either been Punk'd or get a restraining order against some crazed fan. That's the standard of having attained the top in pop culture. And Jack is a reminder that the videogame industry is big enough and important enough and cool enough for someone to hate.

Just as Bowser had to rise to the challenge of foil and villain for Mario once Donkey Kong was co-opted into a big, furry good guy, gaming needs an ever present bad guy boss. Through confrontation, we can see what matters, what it all means, where it all ends up.

The difference between Bowser and Jack is more than a spiked turtle shell and a malevolent laugh. Bowser exists for the game; Jack exists in spite of the game. Like the online griefer, the contradiction is that when someone makes ending fun the focus of their fun, then it's only a matter of time until there is no fun for anyone. And that's no fun at all.

David Thomas is the founder of the International Game Journalists Association. He also provides commentary and criticism at

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