Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Grand Theft Auto... a scapegoat of social violence?

A story published recently in the Globe and Mail talks about the case of a guy in Thailand who decided to take his passion for Grand Theft Auto to the next level. The 18 year old guy, a compulsive player of the popular video game famous for its explicit violence, apparently liked a lot to steal cabs in the game and kill the cabbies, so he wondered whether doing that in the real life would be as exciting and easy as he found it to be in Grand Theft Auto.

Thus the teenager went for it. He hijacked a cab in Bangkok, severely wounded the 54 year-old driver (who died shortly after the incident) with a knife, and tried to flee the scene of his crime unharmed! Unfortunately for his case, he learned the hard way: carjacking, killing cabbies, and escaping the crime scene while hitting pedestrians is not fun, and leaving the cops behind is not as simple as he thought. This Tommy Vercetti wannabe faces now charges of manslaughter and robbery, and if found guilty he could be facing even death penalty.

As a result of this bizarre incident, the Thai distributor of Grand Theft Auto decided to stop the sales of the video game, pulling it off the retailers' shelves and game arcades. And of course, I have no doubt that more than one were happy that Grand Theft Auto was somehow censored after the incident.

Can we blame Grand Theft Auto for the actions committed by its users? Can pulling the game off the shelves and game arcades be a successful measure to prevent real-life recreations of it? My personal opinion is that it won't make a difference. Being a player of Grand Theft Auto myself, I find no real benefit on banning the game. Let's face it, violence is not only depicted in Grand Theft Auto, but virtually everywhere. If we wanted censor violence in the media, we should start by censoring numerous Hollywood movies, cartoons, TV dramas, books, magazines, etc.

There might indeed be a relation between the interest of the Thai youngster in Grand Theft Auto and the crime he committed. But it is probably (and hopefully) an isolated case. I don't believe that people who play Grand Theft Auto is prone to committing crimes that they see in the game, the same way as I don't believe that movie aficionados would go out to the streets to kill people in the same fashion they enjoyed watching on movies like The Godfather or Goodfellas. The moral of this story is that we cannot believe just anything that comes to us from the media, and of course, we have to act consistently according to our moral and social values, and not according to what the media tells us is good or bad.


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