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October 16, 2006

Judge Gives Bully Game the Go Ahead

There is a convergence of computer game news and the law lately.  The most prominent is that of the pre-release court challenge to the game Bully by Florida attorney Jack Thompson.  The game is from Rockstar Games, the same people who brought us the Grand Theft Auto series of games.  There is no need to repeat how those games displayed some of the worst social and sexual values, or how wildly popular they were, for displaying some of the worst social and sexual values.

Thompson called this new game a "Columbine simulator" without having seen the game.  The constant bullying to the Columbine school shooting perpetrators has been identified as one of the causes that sent them over the edge.  Thompson was so upset that he sued in Florida state court over the game.  He even got a judge to force the developers to give him a pre-release copy and an employee to play the game as a demonstration.  Foul, cried Mr. Thompson.  The employee could play safe parts only, ignoring the violence.

As it turns out, there are no guns in the game, with the most powerful weapon being a slingshot and a baseball bat.  Other rules of the game enforce positive social values such as going to school and obeying curfew by offering up negative consequences to the player for ignoring them.  The judge in the case basically said, after viewing the game, that there was more violence on television than in this game.  Case dismissed.

So who are the winners and losers here?  Jack Thompson, is the nominal loser.  A favorable ruling in this case may have helped him in two other cases where he represents those aggrieved by the claimed effects of video games.  He represents several plaintiffs who are suing Rockstar. Damages in one case are for $600 million over the deaths of three individuals who were killed by a 14 year old boy who allegedly played the more violent Grand Theft Auto game.  Another suit, also for $600 million has been filed over the deaths of two rural Alabama police officers and a dispatcher. 

Thompson could have easily argued the nexus between violence and Rockstar Games if he could have gotten a Florida judge to agree that the brutal violence-weak Bully should be suppressed.  As the judge wisely remembered his law on prior restraints and the First Amendment, Thompson will now have to prove that causel connection between playing the games and the murders to show liability.  No plaintiff in similar suits involving movies, games, television, and music, coincidentally, has yet been able to do that.

The winner, Rockstar, who gets a lot of free publicity over the game, $39.99, out Tuesday for the PS2, available at finer retailers.  The general game playing public is a winner as well.  If someone was actually hoping they would be buying a Columbine simulator as Jack Thompson suggests, they will be sorely disappointed based on news reports.  They now know enough to avoid Bully.  In fact, if those people want guns, blood, and violence, they should take the judge's advice and stick with prime time viewing.  Nancy Grace could probably offer a few pointers. 

Stories are in the Washington Post, the BBC, IGN.com, and the Inquirer.

October 16, 2006 | Permalink

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