BANGKOK A Thai video game distributor halted sales of "Grand Theft Auto" on Monday after a teenager confessed to robbing and murdering a taxi driver while trying to recreate a scene from the controversial game.
"We are sending out requests today to outlets and shops to pull the games off their shelves and we will replace them with other games," Sakchai Chotikachinda, sales and marketing director of New Era Interactive Media, told Reuters.
"We are also urging video game arcades to pull the games from service," Sakchai said. An 18-year-old high school student, now in custody pending further investigations and a trial, faces death by lethal injection if found guilty of robbing and killing a 54-year-old taxi driver with a knife at the weekend.
Police said the youth, an obsessive player of "Grand Theft Auto", showed no sign of mental problems during questioning and had confessed to committing the crime because of the game.
"He said he wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game," chief police investigator Veeravit Pipattanasak told Reuters.
The youth, described by his parents as polite and diligent, was arrested late on Saturday after he was found trying to steer a cab backwards out of a Bangkok street with the severely wounded driver in the back seat, newspapers reported.
The suspect told police he did not mean to kill the driver, whom he had chosen as a possible victim because of his age, but that he stabbed him to death when he fought back, newspapers reported.
"Grand Theft Auto", now available in its fourth edition, has been criticized for depicting violence including beatings, carjackings, drive-by shootings, drunk driving and prostitution.
A senior official at Thailand's Culture Ministry said the murder was a wake-up call for authorities to tackle the issue of violent video games, and urged parents to pay closer attention to what their children played.
"This time-bomb has already exploded and the situation could get worse," Ladda Thangsupachai, director of the 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.
A multi-million dollar lawsuit was filed in the U.S. state of Alabama against the makers and marketers of Grand Theft Auto in 2005, claiming that months of playing the game led a teenager to kill two police officers and a 911 dispatcher.
The blockbuster Grand Theft Auto games are published by Nasdaq-listed Take-Two Interactive Software.
(Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Ed Cropley)