Violent video games are topic of debate at California U. of Pa.

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Jack Thompson has been point man on several very public crusades.

His latest one against the sale of violent video games to underage kids may be his biggest.

And he's taking his fight to one of the places where his efforts are most reviled: college campuses.

He will debate culture critic Gerard Jones tomorrow on the California University of Pennsylvania campus.

The $13.5 billion video and PC game industry shows no signs of slowing down, and neither does Mr. Thompson, a Florida attorney who first gained notoriety with his 1990 effort to ban sales of 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" album.

In 2004, his complaint to the Federal Communications Commission got shock jock Howard Stern's radio show pulled from an Orlando station. He's also been involved in numerous legal cases where he has argued that violent video games have been used by teens as a way to rehearse violent acts.

For his efforts, Mr. Thompson is regularly drawn and quartered on video gaming blogs and forums ("I don't hate Jack Thompson," says one writer on Mobygames.com. "I just believe that ... if his mother had drowned him in a toilet when he was a baby the world would be a better place.")

"I'd be disappointed if video gamers as a group of people didn't despise me," Mr. Thompson said in a phone interview from his Miami home. "You can't do this work and hope people like you."

He doesn't want to ban video games like the "Grand Theft Auto" series developed by Rockstar Games; he just doesn't want them sold to underage children.

A 2005 undercover study by the Federal Trade Commission found that 42 percent of unaccompanied underage children who tried to buy "M-rated, or mature," video games, were successful. That was down from the 69 percent success rate in 2003. Sales of games rated "M" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for graphic violence, blood, gore, sexual content or strong language are limited to those age 17 and older.

Mr. Thompson said he will argue in tomorrow's debate that First Amendment laws governing free speech "do not protect the sale of adult video games to kids and minors."

But "if some knucklehead parent wants to buy 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' and give it to his 10-year-old," there's nothing anyone can do about that, he said.

He originally was scheduled to debate Bob Guccione Jr., but the former owner and publisher of Spin magazine and current owner of the science magazine Discover had a family illness and was forced to cancel.

Instead, Mr. Jones, a comic book writer and author of "Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make-Believe Violence," will share the stage at the Performance Center in the university's Natali Student Center.

The free 7 p.m. debate was arranged through Wolfman Productions of Connecticut, which offers a dozen other debates on topics such as marijuana legalization, pornography, gay marriage, gun control and stem cell research. Each debate costs between $6,000 and $13,000.


Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.


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