Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:
Doug Lowenstein took his leave of the video game industry last week with a stirring "I'm outta here" speech delivered at the D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas. By all accounts, Doug's comments were blunt and from the heart. But, hey, Doug's the guy who started the ESA and he toiled in its fields for a dozen years. Why shouldn't he get a chance to vent on his way out the door?
Among other targets, Lowenstein laid out unnamed developers – cough, Rockstar, cough – who "make controversial content and then cut and run when it comes time to defending their creative decisions."
"Nothing annoys me more," Lowenstein said "If you want the right to make what you want, if you want to push the envelope, I'm out there defending your right to do it. But damn it - get out there and support the creative decisions you make."
Good point, Doug. But Hell, it's your last day. You could have named names. It's not like they're going to escort you out of the building or take away your key to the executive men's room. And while I will generally look back on Doug's watch with admiration, I've just got to say that the ESA boss got it all wrong when he took shots at the gaming press over, of all things, Jack Thompson:
"It drives me crazy. You know who gives Jack Thompson more attention than anyone else? The games press ... I just ... I just think it's nuts."
Doug couldn't be more wrong. The truth here is that Doug Lowenstein completely blew it with Thompson. For whatever reason, Doug tried to pretend Thompson didn't exist. Instead of making sure he was there to provide counter-point when Thompson was gleefully ripping the game industry on national T.V., Doug did... nothing. Instead of taking action when Thompson compared Doug himself to Saddam Hussein, Doug did... nothing. As a result, politicians and the non-gaming public often heard only Thompson's shrill, skewed perspective on games, a view that is full of cranial murder menus and Columbine simulators and Pixelantes and assorted other yada-yada ...
As Hal Halpin, my fearless leader at the Entertainment Consumers Association, said in a recent interview with Game Informer:
"Jack is certainly a force to be reckoned with... By being silent, we had thought that he would go away eventually, or that if we engaged him that it would only give him more of a spotlight, but by saying nothing we allowed him to be the only voice in the room..."
The fact is, the gaming press provides a valuable service to gamers and the general public by shining a light on the things Thompson says and does. And, let's face it: like him or not, Jack Thompson is a newsmaker. Why shouldn't the gaming press report on him?
When Thompson recently called for the impeachment of Utah's respected Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, GamePolitics broke the story long before any of the mainstream media. It was a bizarre thing for the Miami lawyer to do. It surely contributed to the failure of his legislative agenda when Attorney General Shurtleff called Thompson out before a committee of the Utah House. By that time the assembled legislators – like their brethren last year in Louisiana - must have been wondering what they'd gotten themselves into. Bottom line: Thompson's Utah video game bill went bye-bye, replaced by a face-saving, non-binding resolution.
There are many other examples. When Kotaku recently published documents relating to Thompson's history with the Florida Bar, that was genuine news about a public figure with a national profile. Why shouldn't editor Brian Crecente have written about it?
The odd thing about Doug's remarks is that, in the same speech in which he ripped the gaming press for not toeing his party line in regard to Thompson, he chastised them for being too close to the companies they cover. Not that it matters now, Doug, since you're gone, but wouldn't you rather see real game journalists as opposed to lapdogs with laptops?
In any case, I wish Doug well in his new gig. He'll be heading up a lobbying organization for some ultra-wealthy investment types. Sounds nice: limo rides, power lunches and no one comparing him to Middle Eastern dictators. Just one piece of advice, Doug:
When it comes to the press, remember not to shoot the messenger.
Dennis McCauley is the Political Editor for the Entertainment Consumers Association (www.theeca.com), tracks the political side of video games at GamePolitics.com and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at