Lowenstein Offers an Outsider's View on Industry

November 24, 2009 -

For a man who spent more than 13 years making video game advocacy his life, Doug Lowenstein now rarely gives them a second thought.

Gamasutra caught up with Lowenstein for an interesting interview, tied to the fact that he will be recognized at D.I.C.E. in Febraury by the Academy for Interactive Arts and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his years with the Entertainment Software Association (founded in 1994 as the Interactive Digital Software Association).

A former journalist that loved to argue First Amendment issues, Lowenstein said the video game needs to continue to be vigilant in standing up for itself on those grounds:

"I personally feel that any industry that is dependent on creative expression -- which at the core, are what games are all about -- should allow for unfettered opportunity to pursue whatever artistic vision one may have. This industry and any sort of entertainment industry must defend this to the fullest extent possible. If there's any erosion of that, it's a classic slippery slope. The First Amendment needs to stand tall. The industry can never get lazy about defending those rights."

Lowenstein admits that he doesn't keep up with the industry that much any more, but he said it seems that it is starting to get a foothold of acceptance as a form of expression:

"It seems … that there is more acceptance and tolerance, if you will, across the political spectrum for the game community in terms of the content it creates. It doesn't appear that there's the same level of effort to regulate games and game sales. It doesn't appear that politicians are routinely announcing games and game violence and its allegedly corrosive effect on young people and other users."

It doesn't appear that the gadflies and the critics of the industry have the same traction that they did three years ago. It doesn't seem that the media is as obsessed with the industry in terms of the negative bias that it brought to theses issues."

Despite the fact that the industry does not seem to be taking as many slings and arrows it once did, Lowenstein said that associations such as the ESA can't afford to be complacent:

"Even when you're not in the midst of some intense controversy that goes to the core of what the industry is, the absence of that doesn't make the association any less relevant. When people start thinking that, that's a very dangerous and myopic point of view."

Overall, a pretty good interview from a guy that used to eat, sleep and breathe video games for a living.

5 comments

Former ESA Boss Couldn't Be More Wrong about Jack Thompson Coverage

September 27, 2008 -

Hey, Doug Lowenstein. Don't shoot the messengers.

While I've got a lot of respect for Lowenstein, the former ESA president sent a letter to Kotaku yesterday that simply blew my mind.

Commenting on Thursday's Florida Supreme Court order disbarring Jack Thomspon for life, Lowenstein blamed the gaming press for "making Thompson what he became."

Bull.

On this issue Doug Lowenstein should look in the mirror. It was Lowenstein's own unwillingness to stand up to Thompson years ago which emboldened the game-hatin', soon to be ex-attorney. It is a remarkable piece of spin to blame Thompson on the gaming media, but that's exactly what Lowenstein has done:

Time and again, the game press... would ask ESA to engage with, or respond to Thompson's latest excess. The media knew well that he was a charlatan who wholly lacked credibility. But hey, they said, he was news and could not be ignored. That was a cop out. It gave Thompson a platform... 

 

Mainstream outlets... were worse but the game press knew better. But he was the game press' crack. And even as they said privately he was a kook, they treated him as if he was a credible, fair minded critic. That represented an abdication of the critical filtering role the media should play.

 

...for the game press it was all Jack all the time... You help set the tone for mainstream media coverage and if you validate extremists you give license to the less informed to follow your lead.

To be fair, Doug is no stranger to Thompson's tirades. During his days at the helm of the ESA he was a frequent target of the disgraced attorney's most outrageous vitriol.

But, by refusing to respond, Doug dropped the ball. Thompson, finding no resistance from the top of the video game industry, was empowered to push harder. In retrospect, it's important to understand that bullying is the essence of Thompson's strategy. In fact, one of the tips he offers in his forgettable 2005 book, Out of Harm's Way, is "be mean." And, since caveman days, bullies have pushed and pushed until someone got up the nerve to push back.

Doug never pushed back.

Instead, Lowenstein's ESA operated in a sort of la-la land in which Jack Thompson did not exist. As a journalist, I soon learned not to waste time asking the ESA to comment on anything Thompson said or did because, ostrich-like, they pretended that there was no Jack Thompson.

The gaming press, on the other hand, deserves kudos for helping reveal to the larger world the kind of vicious tactics Thompson employed in his culture crusade. And isn't that the function of a free press? You'd think that Doug Lowenstein, a former journalist, would understand that.

Given the nature of what we cover at GamePolitics, Jack Thompson was undoubtedly written about here more than anywhere else. Did the Thompson coverage draw traffic? Yes, as much from the Miami activist's eagerness to mix it up with GP readers in the comments section as from the actual stories. Through his publicity-seeking, over the top antics Thompson came to symbolize anti-game prejudice. Gamers - unlike Doug Lowenstein - invariably wanted a word with him and they often had that opportunity here at GamePolitics.

Was there a price to pay for GP's coverage? Yes. Without going into detail, Thompson threatened me with lawsuits on an almost continual basis. While some might write off such threats as bluster, that's easy to say when you're not the one being threatened. He actually did add my name to one of his million dollar lawsuits until a federal judge ruled that he couldn't. But he didn't stop there. He vilified me to the newspaper that I write for and to the company that formerly hosted GamePolitics. He reported me to the FBI at least a half-dozen times. For a guy with a mortgage and kids and (back then) a day job, this was more than a little stressful. Frankly, I'm incensed at Doug Lowenstein's implication that GP did it for the traffic. I can't speak for other sites, but GamePolitics covered Thompson because there was a story there, a story that needed to be told.

In the end, it was Thompson who carved out his own record. The things that he did and said eventually told the world all it needed to know about Jack Thompson and where he was coming from. It was Thompson, for example, who told a Louisiana newspaper that nobody shoots anybody in the face unless you're a hit man or a video gamer.

It was Thompson who appeared on Fox News while the bodies were still warm at Virginia Tech to claim that video games were responsible for the tragedy. And it was Thompson who carried out the vicious and unprofessional conduct outlined in his 2007 Florida Bar trial, behavior that one victim compared to the emotional equivalent of stalking.

In fact, if there is one thing in GamePolitics' four-year history of which I am most proud, it was our exclusive coverage of those transcripts containing witness testimony from Thompson's Florida Bar trial. If you think Thompson - who can turn on the charm when he wants to - is not such a bad sort, read the transcripts and then decide.

To be sure, GamePolitics wasn't the only game site in Thompson's crosshairs. He filed a lawsuit against Kotaku in 2007. He threatened My Extra Life over a Jack Thompson Photoshop contest. He tried to get the Seattle Police to bust Penny Arcade, and when he found out PA isn't actually in Seattle (doh!), he called the FBI, instead.

As for Doug Lowenstein, he's way out of line to suggest a "critical filtering role" for the gaming press. He is essentially saying that game sites should censor news that the video game industry doesn't like - in this case, news about Jack Thompson. Doug seems to be laboring under the impression that the gaming press works for the benefit of big money game publishers instead of readers.

Doug Lowenstein, of course, left the video game industry in 2007 for a new gig lobbying on behalf of the hedge fund crowd. Come to think of it, isn't there enough for Doug to worry about on Wall Street these days? Perhaps he should leave the gaming issues to the gaming press.

We can handle it. We always have.

 

UPDATE: Destructoid has weighed in on the issue:

Can the coverage of Thompson be defended from a journalistic standpoint? Perhaps. JT was a loudmouth with more words than common sense, but in a world where reality TV stars can become credible icons, ignoring Thompson could have been a bad idea. It was thanks to us that Thompson was exposed for the duplicitous, vulgar and disrespectful man that he is. His personal attacks on industry figures and his many documented online flame wars with youngsters helped to damage whatever credibility he may have been able to forge. 

UPDATE 2: Simon Carless of Gamasutra offers his thoughts:

Probably one of [Thompson's] closest reports, and therefore subjects of his harassment was GamePolitics' Dennis McCauley, and he has a passionate, angry editorial on the subject up on GamePolitics. His view? "By refusing to respond, Doug dropped the ball. Thompson, finding no resistance from the top of the video game industry, was empowered to push harder."

 

I'm not sure I completely agree. There's an argument that you empower trolls by acknowledging them, and then nobody comes out of the situation looking good. Lowenstein realized that preventing state-based legislation against violent games was more important in practical terms than debating Thompson regularly ad infinitum.

UPDATE 3: Aaron Ruby, editor of our sister-site GameCulture adds:

...what the discussion so far has lacked, including Lowenstein's inciting letter, is that it doesn't matter who "created" Jack Thompson. The real issue is that the entire gaming community — journalists, developers, lobbyists and gamers alike — let a hack lawyer with a stunningly unsuccessful track record as a videogame vigilante become its most prized bogeyman...

 

Jack Thompson was a perfect storm, a confluence of circumstance, political climate and the maturation of a medium that now dominates entertainment...  we were allowed to knock down straw man after straw man, irrational argument after unsubstantiated claim, and poorly written law after spurious legal theory. We went after him because he was an easy target. Someone who made us feel smug, superior and ritually oppressed. And in our self-righteousness, we all had a hand in keeping the bogey man alive.

 

In the end, Jack Thompson was the Wicked Witch of Gaming, that evil wretch who always seems ready to poison the world, until, finally, one day she's dowsed with water and melts. And after we're done singing "ding dong, ding dong" from every hill and rooftop, we stop and wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. And as we catch our breath, we realize the power was ours all along.

102 comments

ESA Raises $800,000 in "Nite to Unite"

October 31, 2006 -

Sure, they're a bunch of suits, but when game publishers do good things, honor is due.

Such is the case with the industry's successful "Nite to Unite" dinner/auction which took place last Wednesday. The event raised more than $800,000 for various charities. ESA honcho Doug Lowenstein commented:
 

The annual Nite to Unite dinner is about competitors joining in a common cause on behalf of children, and for me it is truly the most gratifying night of the year on the industry calendar. Each year, as a result of the unwavering support throughout the industry, we are able to make a real difference in the future of thousands of young people.


Proceeds will benefit Web Wise Kids, HopeLab, Working Achievement Values Education, and PAX. The ESA Foundation will also used funds to create a scholarship program designed to support minorities and women who are pursuing academic opportunities in gaming.

An ESA press release on the event can be found here.

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Matthew Wilson@AE they better not try to force reviewers to jion, if they do they will be in violation of fair use laws.01/28/2015 - 11:59pm
Andrew EisenNintendo has launched its YouTube Creators program. https://r.ncp.nintendo.net/01/28/2015 - 10:58pm
ZippyDSMleeand a book on ninjustu....really..... it made more sense to be a pet a rat of a great master ><01/28/2015 - 9:13pm
ZippyDSMleeI seen the new one they tried to take to many liberties with the foot clan of which the frist movie evuantly overcame. /drunken no spell sheck post01/28/2015 - 9:12pm
WymorenceTMNT talk? In my Game Politics? *goes off to don his classic TMNT cartoon shirt*01/28/2015 - 8:43pm
Goth_Skunk... This is relevant to my interests...01/28/2015 - 8:19pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.pcgamer.com//cd-projekt-explains-why-the-witcher-3-has-16-hours-of-sex-scene-mo-cap-data/ I do not mind that they have it, but 16 hours of it?! what is this Game of Thrones.01/28/2015 - 8:04pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.polygon.com/2015/1/27/7921837/grim-fandango-remastered-interview-double-fine-disney-lucasfilm-sony a interesting read, or listen.01/28/2015 - 5:28pm
Wonderkarpyep. but they werent bebop and rocksteady yet. so technically i'm right :P01/28/2015 - 5:00pm
E. Zachary KnightBebop and Rocksteady have already been introduced in the human forms. They were the duo after Shredder's helmet.01/28/2015 - 4:55pm
Wonderkarpmy only complaint is no bluray boxed season sets yet. WTF Nickelodian!01/28/2015 - 4:42pm
Wonderkarpthe voice acting and story telling quality are awesome. Its like they took everything that was great about the original show, and Batman Animated Series'd it but kept it funny too01/28/2015 - 4:41pm
WonderkarpIts Awesome. Bebop and Rocksteady are going to debut this weekend. The new take is Bebop is a thief while Rocksteady is an arms dealer. took 3 seasons to get them on the show.01/28/2015 - 4:41pm
Goth_SkunkAhh! I see. I'm afraid I'm too invested in Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, and Hemlock Grove to notice the new TMNT on TV. :(01/28/2015 - 4:40pm
E. Zachary KnightMy kids love watching the 90's TMNT movies. They love the new TMNT cartoon on Nick. Yet, none of them really enjoyed the the new one.01/28/2015 - 4:39pm
Wonderkarpexecution and if there is a real wanting for something new on the big screen. There is somewhat of a wanting for new Ghostbusters on the big screen, but most people seem to agree that the new film shares little with ghostbusters beyond its original premis01/28/2015 - 4:38pm
Wonderkarpadding homages to classic via good storytelling. The new TMNT movie was just a crappy Bayformers affair that did nothing to develop character, with a mishmash of a story. Nerd Culture can accept new takes on older franchises. It just depends on the01/28/2015 - 4:37pm
Wonderkarpactually, Goth_Skunk, TMNT is a thriving TV show on Nickelodian which has enough old and new storytelling to create a thriving new product. its in its 3rd season and it just gets better as a show. The CGI Show is universally praised for being new yet01/28/2015 - 4:36pm
Goth_SkunkI propose that the new TMNT movie was not about making nostalgic adult nerds smile, but introducing the franchise to a new generation of younger fans. And some of those fans may even be kids of the nerds that grew up with the original TMNT.01/28/2015 - 3:55pm
Goth_Skunk...disservice to the franchise. But when I look at it, I see a franchise fanbase that, the last time anything major happened in the franchise, all its fans were kids. Those kids have now all grown up and are adults.01/28/2015 - 3:54pm
 

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