Grand Theft Auto III is one of the most important video games in the medium and its relationship to popular culture. Mortal Kombat had already pushed the envelope in terms of violence content, but GTA 3 went much further by basically inventing the sandbox genre as we know it today, but filling that sandbox with depictions of criminal actions (e.g. after soliciting a hooker, you can kill her to get your money back).
Last week, we reported that Daniel Radcliffe had been cast to play GTA 3 creator Sam Houser in the BBC drama Grand Theft Auto. Today, THR reports that Bill Paxton will co-star as Jack Thompson, an attorney who campaigned against rap and movies before setting his sights on video games. He particularly zeroed in on Grand Theft Auto, and attempted to ban the video game from store shelves, which led gamers to rally against him. Thompson was eventually disbarred in 2008 for professional misconduct.
Thompson is a controversial figure, and will no doubt make for an easy antagonist. The film is based on David Kushner’s 2012 book Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto. Based on the description from the inside flap, especially sentences like “But one of America’s most notorious culture warriors, Jack Thompson, had his own mission—to ensure that GTA was banned from store shelves for corrupting youth and to bring Rockstar to their knees—even as the gamers of the world rallied against him,” it’s clear where Kushner’s sympathies lie.
I remember this battle, and Thompson is undoubtedly a nutcase. However, as I’ve seen gaming culture develop, and especially the growth of GamerGate, I can’t help but feel that somewhere in between his ranting and raving, he may have been a little bit right. I think it takes more than just media to “corrupt” people, but I’ve come to believe that the interactive nature of video games draws out aggressive behavior that movies, television, and music do not.
Hopefully director Owen Harris will find some nuance in Thompson’s character because it would be a shame to waste Bill Paxton on some cartoon villain. Also, while I’m sure it’s now tempting to have someone say, “Game over, man,” it’s probably best to resist that urge.