The announcement of Grand Theft Auto IV for the PC appears to have launched a new round of GTA Madness: Idiot kids at home and abroad are blaming the game for cabbie murders and car bombings.
Following the August 4 murder of a cab driver in Thailand in which the assailant claimed he was trying to recreate a scene from Grand Theft Auto IV, Thai authorities first "urged" retailers to pull the game off their shelves before taking the entirely unsurprising step of banning it outright. "The police are empowered to immediately arrest shopkeepers if they find any GTA games on sale," said police spokesman Ruangsak Jaritake. "GTA is banned mainly because of its obscene content - under the criminal law article 287 that prohibits reproduction, distribution or possession of such material." He added that retailers could face three years in prison and fines up to $180 if caught selling the games, while online sellers face stiffer penalties, including five years in the slammer and $3000 in fines.
Closer to home, three teenagers have been arrested in connection with a series of car bombings in Georgia (the state, not the country, which is being bombed by someone else entirely) and now face 57 felony counts resulting from six vehicle fires started over July 24 and 25, including arson, criminal damage to property and possession of explosive devices. After their arrest, the trio allegedly told police they learned "how to do it" by playing "Grand Theft Auto," according to a WSBTV report. The claims are similar to those made in June by another group of teenage geniuses who claimed that a night of muggings and vandalism in Nassau County, New York, was also caused by Grand Theft Auto. In that instance, police said, "It was determined that they were emulating the character in that Grand Theft Auto game, going on a crime spree."
Jack Thompson, meanwhile, has managed to ratchet up the insanity even further by inserting himself into the mess via an email to Take-Two executives Strauss Zelnick and Ben Feder, in which he claims that his predictions of "copycat killings" by teenagers inspired by Grand Theft Auto IV has come true. "In addition to multiple written warnings, I told you of this coming mayhem in a face-to-face meeting with you, Mr. Zelnick, on Central Park West on May 15, 2007," Thompson wrote. "I am working with authorities now... as well as other remedies against Take-Two for its reckless worldwide distribution of its murder simulation training products. This is just the latest killing incident prompted by your murder simulators. I aim to make it the last." It is unknown whether Thompson cc'ed the letter to Zelnick's mom.
In this era of hand-wringing over the impact of media on society, and on children in particular, the possibility that these people may be just barely smart enough to figure out that pointing the finger at a high-profile videogame could help shift the blame away from themselves has apparently not yet occurred to anyone. As for me, I learned how to make Molotov cocktails by watching Miami Vice.