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Grand Theft Auto in the dock over US road killing

'Videogames made me do it!'

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Videogames are on trial yet again in the US, as the family of a man killed by teenagers who shot at passing cars on a freeway file a lawsuit against Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two.

The two teenagers - William and Joshua Buckner, 16 and 14 years old, respectively - opened fire on vehicles on the Interstate 40 highway in Tennessee with a .22 calibre rifle, killing one person and injuring another severely.

They told the police who arrested them that they were bored, and decided to mimick their favourite videogame, Grand Theft Auto. The family of the victim, 45-year-old nurse Aaron Hamel, have now filed suit against Take-Two Interactive, claiming that the company should take responsibility for his death.

"The industry needs to cough up money so victims and their families can be compensated for their pain," the family's attorney, Jack Thompson, told ABC News. "The shareholders need to know what their games are doing to kids and their families. They need to stop pushing adult rated products to kids. These products are deadly."

This isn't the first time that videogames have been in the dock over youth violence in the US. Following the tragic school shootings in Littleton several years ago, the parents of several of the victims attempted to sue a host of games companies - including id Software, creators of Doom, and Nintendo - creators of such blood filled orgies of violence as Mario and Pokemon.

In fact, it's not even the first time that Grand Theft Auto has been connected with a crime - the game, whose first incarnation was launched into the UK with a finely tuned campaign of media outrage orchestrated by relentless publicist Max Clifford, was named as a key influence on a group of teenagers who plotted carjackings and murder in California, and also on another group who are facing charges for dozens of robberies and five killings.

Of course, in the rush to blame GTA for the killing and sue a cash-rich media company, certain aspects of this case seem to have been forgotten. For a start, Grand Theft Auto games are rated M (similar to our 18 rating here) in the United States, and while the country has no legislation to prevent M-rated games from being sold to children (in fact, legislation attempting to do just this was recently overturned in Washington state), the assumption is that parents will control access to content unsuitable for their children.

In this case, this clearly not did not happen. Perhaps even more worryingly, the parents of these teenagers not only failed to control their children's access to violent, adult media, they also failed to control their access to firearms - enabling them to take a fully loaded rifle on the night of June 25, and end an innocent man's life for no other reason than that they were "bored". Naturally, though, nobody seems prepared to question the access to a rifle in this case - this being something of a touchy subject in American politics - but instead the blame is being laid at the door of the games industry.

Compare and contrast with the situation here in the UK, where despite massive sales of Grand Theft Auto and Vice City (over a million copies each in a country of only 60 million people), we've yet to see a single case like this emerge. With games on trial for causing juvenile violence in the US, and the family of Mr Hamel calling for Grand Theft Auto to be removed from sale, that's something to consider very seriously.

Or perhaps the answer to the perennial problem of delinquent teenagers dropping bricks from motorway and railway bridges is to sue the creators of Tetris.

Copyright © 2003 gamesindustry.biz

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