Grand Theft Auto 4 has been pulled from the shelves in an unprecedented move in Thailand – after a teenager confessed to the murder of a taxi driver that was allegedly spurred in by him playing the game. The 18 year old is accused of stabbing the taxi driver to death and attempting to drive away his cab, with the body in the back.
In what appears to be a voluntary reaction, the biggest video games publisher in the country – New Era Interactive – has told retailers to stop selling the game. It is apparently due to be replaced by another title, though what this is remains to be seen.
Thai newspapers say that the teenager (who has not at this time been named) was arrested whilst trying to steer the cab backwards out of a Bangkok street. Police claim that the 18 year old confessed to the crime and murdered the taxi driver after he fought back to remain in control of his cab. The crime carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty.
Bangkok police Captain Veerarit Pipatanasak said: “He wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game”. There are actually conflicting reports at this point, with some papers quoting the police officer as saying that the teenager wanted more money to play the game (illogical as a console game requires a one-off purchase), whilst others have reported that the parents of the accused stated that he is a “good quiet boy”.
Either way, it is yet another bad news day for video games, but more to the point a tragic murder that could have been avoided. I’d be wary of putting any labels on the case as the reporting has been less than clear, but what I will offer is that surely, surely the accused, if guilty of the crime, is legally insane?
By this I mean that anything could have acted as a trigger to his actions – but in this case his particular obsession proved to be Grand Theft Auto 4 – a game with a sense of self-parody, that does, however, feature a significant aspect of violence to it. This case doesn’t have the hallmarks of the tragic Stefan Pakeerah murder (whereby at the time many newspaper reports incorrectly reported that the killer owned the game, when in fact it was the victim who owned it), but it does have the same air of people searching for reason.
Sometimes, in cases like this, perhaps there isn’t a reason that can be found, beyond the fact that on very rare occasions something can trigger in the minds of certain people. Something that allows such people to transcend acceptable societal norms and go so far beyond them that there isn’t any recovery – that they can’t be simply put back into society after 10 years. When you blame a game, a film or even some music for your actions then something is already terribly wrong.
In searching for answers, I’ve no doubt that Thailand’s Culture Ministry will get their wish and push through tougher regulation on games like GTA 4. This will include stricter age ratings and limits on the amount of time that users can spend in arcade game centres.
Is game related violence on the rise? Is it getting worse? I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question. What I will say though that is if more people are playing games, more will cite them both in popular culture and as a rationale for their actions. Whereas at one point it was commonplace for the office to consist of chatter about last night’s soap opera, now people are just as likely to mention World of Warcraft.
For the majority of people, this won’t cause a problem. For the few, however, with chemical or hormonal imbalances in their brains and who are prone to suggestibility it just may. Does that mean that I think videogames can spur people on to horrific acts? No, and this Thai teenager, if guilty, should be punished. What I do think however is that we don’t appreciate how someone with an addictive personality (or any other kind of disorder) can become attached to an entertainment form and what it may give them.