Paul Sakuma/AP
A Best Buy customer purchases the game Grand Theft Auto IV in Mountain View, Calif. (AP)

Murder Reignites Grand Theft Auto Controversy

August 05, 2008 02:10 PM
by Denis Cummings
Grand Theft Auto IV has been pulled from stores in Thailand after a teenager murdered a taxi driver while imitating the game.

30-Second Summary

Polwat Chino, a 19-year-old high school student, told police he had been playing Grand Theft Auto IV in a Bangkok shop before running out of money. He saw a taxi driver and thought that he would be an easy target to rob.

According to Bangkok police, Chino “had wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game.” He stabbed the taxi driver multiple times and threw him into the back of the cab. He attempted to drive away, but was unable to control the car and was arrested.

An official from Thailand’s Cultural Ministry blamed the game. “This time-bomb has already exploded and the situation could get worse,” he said. “Today it is a cab driver but tomorrow it could be a video game shop owner.”

The Grand Theft Auto series has been accused of promoting violence since the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. Attorney Jack Thompson has been particularly critical of GTA and has filed many lawsuits.

The most prominent of these lawsuits was filed in 2005, after teenager Devin Moore stole a car and killed two police officers. The story was featured on “60 Minutes,” on which Ed Bradley asked, “Can a video game train someone to kill?”

There have been many studies on whether violent video games encourage violent behavior, but the results have been mixed. Though many studies have found some correlation, the American Academy of Family Physicians writes that “no consistent theories have emerged to explain a causative relationship between violent video games and antisocial behavior.”

Thai teenager murders taxi driver

Chino told police that his parents do not give him enough money to play the same, so bought two knives to carry out a robbery. He faces charges of robbery, causing death and possessing offensive weapons. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Background: Grand Theft Auto controversy

Grand Theft Auto IV is the third GTA game since the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. Since then, it has been the target of criticism for its violent and sexually-explicit content. Attorney Jack Thompson has led the crusade against GTA, filing several lawsuits accusing the game of influencing its players to murder others.
The first such lawsuit was filed in 2003 by the families of two victims shot by teenage stepbrothers William and Josh Buckner. The Buckners had said that, after playing GTA III, they decided to randomly shoot their rifles at passing cars. Thompson targeted Sony, Wal-Mart and the GTA publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc, filing a $246 million lawsuit. The defendants claimed that they were protected by the First Amendment and announced their intentions to fight the lawsuit. Two days later, the case was dropped.
Thompson returned two years later with a lawsuit concerning the 2003 murders carried out by Alabama teenager Devin Moore. While being booked for car theft, Moore grabbed a policeman’s gun and shot him, his partner and an emergency dispatcher. After he was recaptured, he reportedly said, “Life is like a video game. Everybody’s got to die sometime.” His story was featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” which gave Thompson’s suit a national platform.
“The video game industry gave him a cranial menu that popped up in the blink of an eye, in that police station,” said Thompson. “And that menu offered him the split-second decision to kill the officers, shoot them in the head, flee in a police car, just as the game itself trained them to do.”
That case has yet to be decided. Thompson later took one more shot at GTA, but the $600 million lawsuit would be thrown out a year later. He is currently facing disbarment for various allegations of professional misconduct.
GTA IV was released this past April amid protests from Thompson and many parents groups. It was immediate hit, grossing over $500 million in the first week.
It soon became the subject of more controversy for a feature that allows the user to drive drunk. Mothers Against Drunk Driving called for the game makers to pull the game “out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving.”
In June, six Long Island teens went on a GTA IV-inspired crime spree, beating and robbing whoever they saw. “These teens have difficulty separating fact from fiction, fantasy from reality,” said a Nassau County police detective. “It was quite alarming.”

Opinion & Analysis: Do violent video games cause violent behavior?

The cases against Grand Theft Auto revolve around the theory that playing the game makes users more likely to act violently in real life, whether it’s because they’re imitating the game, because they have become desensitized by the game or because the game has trained them to act violently. However, the science on the subject is mixed and most studies cannot show causality between violent video games and violent behavior.
Many studies have found links, such as a 2004 study in the Journal of Adolescence. Though it found a correlation between violent video games and violent children, it could not find causation. It asked, “Are young adolescents more hostile and aggressive because they expose themselves to media violence, or do previously hostile adolescents prefer violent media?”
The American Academy of Family Physicians examined 29 studies and found a consensus that there is little evidence to show a link. In fact, the studies found that “calming and arousal effects” were found about as often as increases in violent behavior.
A recent study in the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry argues that many studies on the issue have been biased toward proving a link. If there were, it argues, crime would have increased as video games became more popular. “With millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence,” it says. “Instead, violence has declined.”
In 2008, two Harvard psychiatry professors released the results of a study on violent video games in a book called “Grand Theft Childhood”. It found that middle schools boys and girls who played M-rated games or played video games frequently were more likely to get into fights, damage property, skip class or get into other trouble. However, it also found that boys who did not play any video games were even more likely to engage in violent and antisocial behavior.
“We may be asking the wrong questions, and making the wrong assumptions,” it says. “For example, instead of looking for a simple, direct relationship between video game violence and violent behavior in all children, we should be asking how we might identify those children who are at greatest risk for being influenced by these games.”

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