Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Grand Theft Auto inspires killing and a backlash

A taxi driver was fatally stabbed over the weekend in Bangkok by a 19-year-old man who was emulating his favorite videogame, Grand Theft Auto. The maker of the game says it will remove it from store shelves in the Kingdom, and the case has prompted calls for tougher regulations on other violent games and Internet gaming.

The victim was 54-year-old Khuan Phokaeng from Maha Sarakham Province. He had been stabbed about 10 times, the Bangkok Post reported (also at Bangkok Pundit). The body was found on the back seat of the pink taxi. Two sharp knives were found nearby.

Polwat Chino, a 12th-grade schoolboy, admits to the killing. He said he was trying to score some cash in order to play the online-version of Grand Theft Auto in a computer gaming parlour. He made the following statement:

I needed money to play the game every day. My parents give me only 100 baht a day, which is not enough. I am also fed up with them fighting. They are civil servants and do not make good money."

"My mother gave me 500 baht, so in the evening I went to the Tesco Lotus superstore and bought two knives."

Polwat said he chose Khuan's taxi because it didn't look like the man would put up a struggle. But the driver reached for a metal bar, and Polwat stabbed him. The driver sounded his horn and then tried to escape on foot, but collapsed nearby. Polwat dragged the wounded man back to the cab and put him in the backseat. The boy then tried unsuccessfully to drive off, but couldn't because he didn't know how, according to the Daily Xpress. When police arrived, Polwat was trying to steer the taxi backwards on a dead-end street.

I remember everything from the game. It's an easy game and easy to get money."

In the aftermath of the grisly, videogame-inspired killing, Grand Theft Auto's distributor, New Era Interactive Media, said it would pull the game from the shelves, according to reports from BBC and Reuters.

A flood of criticism has arisen from police and government officials.

This time-bomb has already exploded and the situation could get worse,” Ladda Thangsupachai, director of the [Culture] Ministry’s Cultural Surveillance Centre, told Reuters. “Today it is a cab driver, but tomorrow it could be a video game shop owner.”

The ministry has been pushing for tougher regulation of video games such as Grand Theft Auto, including the imposition of a rating system on sales and restriction on hours that youngsters can play the games in public arcades.

Social advocates say creators of the games should be held liable for copycat crimes. A lawsuit filed in Alabama in 2005 has been cited as an example. Here's more from today's Daily Xpress:

When a player copycats a crime he or she sees in the game, the game maker should be prosecuted,” says Somchai Jaroen-amnuaysuk, the deputy director of the Welfare Promotion, Protection and Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups Office.

"Prosecutions will automatically force game makers to act more responsibly."

Dr Somprot Sarakosas, a former spokesman of the Human Security and Social Development Ministry, agrees the government should explore legal avenues against parties responsible for such violence.

"At the same time, everyone, especially the Education Ministry, should make children aware that games and real life are two different things."

National Culture Commission chief Preecha Gunteeya says the government has to do something to control violence-packed games, including imposing a rating system.

"We must regulate gaming cafes, too" he says.

The boy’s mother told the Daily Xpress she’s sorry for her son’s actions:

From now on I will take better care of him. I want to encourage other parents to do likewise.”

But Polwat faces death by lethal injection if convicted.

The taxi driver was a family breadwinner, working to pay off loans from a bank and loan sharks, the Bangkok Post said. The man's son, 25-year-old Manon Pohkang, was quoted:

He was a nice man, who harmed no one."


  1. Personally, I don't think Ladda, from the Orwellian "Surveillance Centre", has any credibility left.

    The 'media violence causes real violence' argument has never been effectively proved, despite all the knee-jerk commentary. Violence has been a aprt of human nature for thousands of years. Violence in the media reflects real-life violence, but doesn't influence it.

    Just because a murderer cites GTA as an excuse doesn't mean that the game is in any way responsible. The man is 19, so he's old enough to recognise the difference between fantasy and reality, and old enough to take responsibility for his own actions.

    It's not necessary to withdraw the game - because it's just a game. Maybe the real problem is this man's background - he says his parents are always fighting, and don't have much money.

    But the fact is that games don't make people kill people. Playing a game can't alter someone's moral compass, unless that person is either very young or mentally unbalanced. If this man had not played GTA, he may not have killed a taxi driver (as in the game), but he would eventually have killed someone.

    I have played Manhunt, arguably the most violent computer game, and have seen many, many notoriously violent films (Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, etc.) and I haven't murdered anyone.

  2. I'm definitely with Mat on this one.

    GTA in particular gets blamed for a lot of things. And it's all overblown.

    Remember the furor over the 'Hot Coffee' mod? It was a game patch that could be applied to unlock "sexually explicit" cartoon depictions of --gasp-- consensual sex. It resulted in a class action lawsuit against Rockstar games, in which the lawyers got their cool million and any claimant could get $5 who had been damaged by the act of willingly downloading an unofficial game modification and installing it on this adult game they had purchased.

    Anyway, a court has finally come to its senses after it turned out nobody was actually damaged by this, and of the millions of copies of the game sold, only 2,676 people joined the class action settlement to claim their $5. And some portion of those certainly saw it as just free $5. The lawyer for the plaintiffs said he was "disappointed".

    Maybe that's off topic, but it's all part of the same load of nonsense: Blame the media for all of society's mistakes.

    The rapper Nas' interview on The Colbert Report last week was interesting. He defended violence in rap lyrics, saying that rap isn't the cause of the violence. Rather, the violence exists because of easy access to guns, and rap is an unavoidable expression of the violent culture; it's a way of coping with the violent reality of the neighborhoods they have grown up in. I tend to agree.

    Grand Theft Auto is an adult game meant to entertain adults and marketed to adults, and even though this kid was a legal adult (19, right?), he was in grade 12, for pete's sake. Clearly he's not a functioning adult.

    If he's 19 in grade 12, doesn't that mean he's been held back at least a year? Hasn't anyone bothered to ask what the real underlying cause is?

    Honestly.. why are we taking the murderer's word for it that the game "made him do it"? How is that any different form "the devil made me do it"? He's disturbed. He's not credible. The game is just a scapegoat.

    The makers of this video game aren't liable, and certainly not more than his parents, who may well be absentee parents who have little clue about what's going on in their son's life. He readily admits they're always fighting. Doesn't sound like he has had a very good upbringing. Did they make any effort to instill a moral compass in him before turning him loose to play GTA all day long? Do they even know what he does in his free time?

    Sure, this kid shouldn't have been allowed to play the game, because he is disturbed. Kids in general shouldn't be allowed to play the game. It's violent. But this crime is a reflection of the kid and his mental state. Not on the game.

    I'm not a gamer. I just think it's too easy to blame the game.

  3. This sort of thing always makes me shake my head. The kid is nothing more than a sociopath.... plain and simple.... no game did it to him.

    The same sort of stupidity happens right here in the US too where young people have been known to assault and kill people on the street for nothing more than a pair of overpriced sneakers or a fashionable jacket.

    Much of the blame rests squarely with the parents who fail to raise their children to adulthood with even the amount of time or effort one might expend on the care and maintainence of a pet dog.

    I fully agree with Matthew. Human beings forget that we are all just animals after all, and some of us are less well socialized than others. Media is a like mirror.... it reflects nothing more than it first sees. It's not the fault of Media if people don't like the view reflected back at them.


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