Concerned about game addiction among the young, Culture Ministry officials in Thailand have proposed a revised curfew for online game shops.
The Bangkok Post reports that, under the new guidelines, youth under 15 could only remain in gaming establishments until 8pm. Those from 15-18 could stay until 10pm. Shops which allow minors to remain past the curfew could have their operating license suspended or revoked.
Some, however, believe that even more stringent measures are needed. Anya-orn Panitpuengrat, who heads Thailand's Family Network, called for a three-hour time limit on gaming for children.
The Thai cabinet will consider the proposed curfew change next week.
Swine Flu remains a concern in Thailand, where government officials are considering a shutdown of game centers in an effort to control the spread of the illness.
GameCulture reports that Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will decide today whether such a step is warranted. Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai recently named game parlors as hotspots for the spread of Swine Flu. From the GC report:
Thailand, which has recorded more than 2200 H1N1 infections since the virus started spreading globally earlier this year, saw a spike in cases over the past weekend... Interviews with patients pointed to Bangkok's popular gaming cafes as a hub for transmission. On weekends, and particularly during holidays, Thai teenagers crowd into the cafes, where they chat and play games until the wee hours...
Following the suicide of a 12-year-old boy on Thursday, Thailand's Criminal Court has ordered the closure of 72 websites.
The Bangkok Post reports that Pongsathorn Wattanabenjasopha leaped to his death from the sixth floor of his school building, after being banned from playing video games by his father.
Oddly enough, the 72 sites shuttered by the Thai government include both online game and gambling venues. The Post reports comments by a government official who said that game-addicted children were more likely to commit suicide:
Bundit Sornpaisarn, director of the Rajanagarindra Child and Adolescent Mental Health Institute, said the boy's suicide reflected that children who were addicted to games and had an aggressive mentality were more likely to commit suicide than others.
Parents need to instil a sense of discipline in children from a young age if such tragedies are to be prevented, he said.
Dr Bundit said people whose children were in their teens should use positive communications to deal with their child's addiction to online games. They should control their emotions and listen to their children's views, as that would bring positive responses, he said.
GP: It's impossible to know from a distance what was troubling young Pongsathorn Wattanabenjasopha, but it would seem reasonable for the Thai government to at least conduct some sort of investigation before closing down online game websites.
And, while GP neither supports nor covers online gambling sites, their inclusion in the crackdown seems odd, since there is no report to date indicating that the boy was involved in any way with gambling.
But, as GamePolitics documented in 2008, Thailand has something of a repressive history in regard to games and the Internet.
A new online game serves as both a parody and a protest of a notorious free speech case in Thailand.
You Have To Defecate Upon King Bhumibol calls attention to the Thai government's imprisonment of Harry Nicolaides. As reported by the BBC, the Australian novelist was given a three-year sentence for defaming the monarchy.
Thai prosecutors charged that a passage detailing a fictional prince in a 2005 novel defamed King Bhumibol as well as the nation's Crown Prince. Only seven copies of the novel were sold.
The Australian government has asked Thailand to pardon Nicolaides.
Via: Water Cooler Games
In Thailand, video games have been under government attack ever since the August slaying of a taxi driver by a 19-year-old man who reportedly told police he was re-enacting a scene from Grand Theft Auto.
In today's edition of Bangkok newspaper The Nation, an editorial terms games "a menace":
A number of Thai children have become addicted to computer games, which can be destructive not only to their social behaviour but also their studies.
There have been a series of cases of some children unknowingly committing violent acts because they were imitating scenes they have seen on computer games, some of which contain graphic images...
A survey from the Culture Ministry revealed that Thai children spent around 2 hours a day playing computer games. About 80 per cent of them choose the combat-style, action-packed games, some of which come with graphic and violent images. The addiction can affect their personality as they become more prone to bursts of anger and violence. Without proper guidance, some are unable to distinguish between fantasy and the real world.
GP: As GamePolitics reported last month, the Thai Ministry of Culture banned five games.
In recent weeks GamePolitics has been tracking a campaign of video game repression waged by the government of Thailand.
The Bangkok Post now reports that the Thai government is cracking down on the Internet as well:
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry has detected more than 1,200 websites that violated the Computer Crime Act... The ministry said that between March and August this year, it detected more than 1,200 sites disturbing the peaceful social order and morality of the people, and/or which were considered detrimental to national security.
ICT Minister Mun Patanotai [seen at left] said the ministry has advised internet service providers to block these websites immediately and had sought court actions against them under article 20 of the law. He said the court issued three orders shutting down about 400 sites, 344 of which carried material that was contemptuous of the royal family.
GP: 344 websites shut down for being "contemptuous of the royal family? Amazing. And very disturbing...
Jesada Chandraprasert (left), who pens Cnet's Technology Thailand blog, reports this morning that five games have been officially banned by the Ministry of Culture:
In a story broken by GamePolitics, Thailand stole its list of "dangerous" games from an outdated list offered by Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy during the 2007 holiday season. The five banned games constitute half of the list.
To say that Thailand's ministries are conservative is like saying the Pacific Ocean is a puddle. In their efforts to maintain a level of control and conformity... they issue laws and regulations faster than a geek can whip out his credit card at a Pantip going-out-of-business sale. Such is the case with video games and Internet cafes...
Their official press release at the Government's Web site clearly states that they see gaming as "a problem which is obsessive and has an (adverse) effect on the behavior of children and teens...".
Chandraprasert also reports on a recent government and law enforcement conference which was held to discuss the video game issue - with ominous overtones:
The conference, held at the Queen Sirikit Convention Center on August 21, had an audience of over 1,500 people, mostly public officials and the police. The main focus of this conference was to find solutions to unregistered gaming stores (basically an Internet cafe like a setup where people can go in and game all day long on computers, not the traditional arcade) and "dangerous games". Their aim is to eliminate the "dangers" associated with said problem within 90 days of the conference.
A leading Thai newspaper takes the government of Thailand to task for basing a video game crackdown on the recent murder of a cabbie by an alleged Grand Theft Auto player.
An editorial in today's Bangkok Post is unsparing in its criticism of the official response to Polwat Chinno's claim that GTA prompting his stabbing of 54-year-old victim.
Far from showing concern, this [government] reaction [to the murder] emphasised the huge gap between the real technology revolution and what the country's leaders appear to know about it.
First of all, it is most troubling that authorities and the media latched on so quickly and conveniently to the alibi of a confessed, vicious killer... He is an adult who told police he planned and carried out a reprehensible killing for a small amount of money. His claim that the video game Grand Theft Auto made him commit the crime sounds more like a novel legal defence than a credible motive. Tens of millions of people around the world play that game - tens of thousands in Bangkok...
The Post also outs the Thai government's laughable list of Top 10 Violent Games, a story broken here on GamePolitics (see: Thailand's 10 Violent Games to Avoid List Stolen From Detroit):
The Public Health Ministry quickly assembled a list of Top 10 Violent Games - not by research or reason, but by a quick Googling in which bureaucrats accepted the first hit, an obscure list from a local US politician trying successfully to get his name in the newspapers and his face on the TV news in an election cycle.
Such a ban is also self-defeating, since new games come on the market regularly. In any case, a police ban is only another business hitch to the video pirates and shop owners involved in underground distribution...
The problem is most parents and few politicians have a clue about such things. Many are technologically illiterate...
Could executves of Take-Two and Rockstar Games be prosecuted for an alleged copycat killing in Thailand?
Following local police assertions that the murder of a Bangkok cab driver was prompted by the killer's play of Grand Theft Auto, a Thai government official has called for prosecution of game publishers for instances of copycat violence.
AsiaOne Digtal quotes Somchai Jaroen-amnuaysuk of the Welfare Promotion, Protection and Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups Office:
When a player copycats a crime he or she sees in the game, the game maker should be prosecuted. Prosecutions will automatically force game makers to act more responsibly.
Over the past week there has been much written about accused Thai killer Polwat Chinno (at left, supposedly re-enacting his crime for investigators).
Police in Bangkok claim Chinno's alleged murder of a taxi driver was sparked by his playing of Grand Theft Auto.
On that score our attention was caught by this excerpt from yesterday's edition of The Telegraph:
After the stabbing, [Chinno] tried to steal the taxi with the dead driver in the back seat, but did not know how to drive. Neighbours in Soi Jaran Sanitwong in central Bangkok called police after Polwat constantly pressed on the horn as he reversed into a dead end. When police arrived Polwat had locked himself in the car.
...all of which begs the question:
If Grand Theft Auto supposedly trained this 19-year-old man to kill so effectively, how could it be that it didn't train him to drive very effectively? After all, we'd estimate (conservatively) that GTA players spend at least 25% of their game time cruising around the series' open environments in a wide array of vehicles.
Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia reports that an association of taxi drivers has called for a ban on Grand Theft Auto.
We're working from an imprecise Google translation, but the basics of the story are that Josep Maria Goñi, secretary general of the Catalan Taxi Federation, has requested that the Spanish government pull GTA titles off the market.
Goñi makes it clear that the Taxi Federation's request is based on the Thailand murder case. The cabbie spokesman didn't stop at GTA, however, calling for a ban on all games with a high level of violence or which "celebrate" drug trafficking or prostitution.
GP: We've always found the GTA series to be fairly sympathetic to cabbies. After all, they get mega-tips if you warp to your destination. You can even play as a driver, racing fares around town to earn some in-game cash. And, as GameSpot points out:
There are no actual missions in GTAIV which require players to rob, stab, or kill a taxi driver...
Singapore may have banned Mass Effect last year (and later un-banned it), but gamers there do not want to see a Grand Theft Auto ban.
As reported by the Electric New Paper, gamers in Singapore are concerned that last week's cabdriver murder in Thailand may prompt a video game backlash:
'It's a game, it's just for fun,' said student Julius Wong, 20, who completed [GTA IV]... 'What makes the game popular is that you get to do things you don't normally get to do in real life.' Playing the game was 'stress relief'.
Student Poh Koon Kiat, 23, was also against a ban, saying it would be a knee-jerk reaction. 'I don't think games affect how I act in real life,' he said.
ENP reports that GTA IV was a huge seller in Singapore, with 20,000 copies sold during its first week at retail. Local distributor IAHGames said it was unaware of any move to ban the game.
The situation in Thailand involving a cabbie murder with an alleged GTA connection grows increasingly bizarre...
Yesterday we mentioned a Cnet Asia report that the Thai Ministry of Health (left) had issued a list of 10 violent video games to avoid. You can see it here, in Thai.
Can't read Thai? Me neither. Here's the list in English, as translated by Cnet's Jesada Chandraprasert:
2- Man Hunt
4- 50 Cent - Bullet Proof
6- The Godfather
7- Killer 7
8- Resident Evil 4
9- God of War
Back in December GamePolitics criticized Detroit Prosecutor Kym Worthy for a.) blaming her city's crime on video games, and b.) issuing an outdated list of violent games to avoid. Here's Worthy's unworthy list:
1. Grand Theft Auto
4. 50 Cent Bulletproof
6. The Godfather
8. Resident Evil 4
9. God of War
10. Hitman Blood Money
They're the same list. The only difference is that Worthy's Hitman Blood Money morphs to Hitman on the Thai Ministry list, while Grand Theft Auto is simply written as GTA. That could be a result of imprecise translation by Chandraprasert.
So, is Thailand turning to Detroit to help solve its crime problem?
The more likely answer is that Thai bureaucrats are simply grabbing material from the Web in order to support a video game crackdown by the government.
Jesada Chandraprasert (left), who pens the Technology Thailand blog for Cnet Asia, wasted no time in disputing media reports that the murder of a Bangkok cab driver was prompted by his alleged killer's play of Grand Theft Auto:
the gist of the story is that a "good boy" up and kills a taxi driver for his money... Anyway, it turns out that this kid likes to play GTA and his parents... have concluded that it must be the game's influence...
I know, you must be thinking "same poopoo, different country". I couldn't agree more! People tend to find different things to blame for things that go wrong in their lives. This country is no exception... anyone who walks past a newsstand can tell you what you see on the front page of the Thai Rath [daily newspaper] is much more graphical than the worst of these games and movies.
Since [the Thai Ministry of Health is] bothering to make a list [of games to avoid], don't forget to include Temple Fair favorites like Whack a Mole that promotes animal cruelty, bumper cars for encouraging bad driving habits, shooting the water gun into the clown's mouth which teaches you to use guns, an a plethora of other "violent" carnival games.
Media accounts of Saturday's murder of a Bangkok cab driver have caught the attention of a Filipino blogger who fears GTA-inspired violence.
Perhaps more interesting,however, is a brief glimpse into the Filipino game piracy scene offered by the Pinoy Biscuits blog:
Did you know that Grand Theft Auto pirated discs are selling like hot cakes in the Philippines? Go to Greenhills, San Juan you'll be able to buy a bootleg/pirated copy of the whole Grand Theft Auto series.
A time bomb is just waiting to explode in the Philippines. Lawmakers in the Philippines aren't that serious yet when it comes to video games, it's always too late as in the case of almost all other cases here in the Philippines.
The Gawker Media Network has gaming super-blog Kotaku in its stable, presumably to handle the video game coverage chores.
And, judging from this poorly-reasoned post by blogger Hamilton Nolan, it's clear that Gawker itself ought to stick to celebrity gossip and let Kotaku do the heavy lifting when it comes to game issues. From Nolan:
This is an absolute nightmare scenario for video game manufacturers, who must now be thanking their Pagan gods that it didn't happen in the US: a teenager in Bangkok murdered a taxi cab driver in an attempt to reenact a scene from Grand Theft Auto.
Where has Nolan been?
First, in recent years there have been high profile wrongful death suits filed against teen killers who played GTA in both Alabama and New Mexico. The Alabama case is still going on, the New Mexico case was tossed. Further back there have been unsuccessful video game suits based on the Columbine and Paducah school shootings.
Second, Nolan has apparently taken the initial newspaper and Thai government accounts at face value. Even a little scrutiny indictates that a standard-issue taxi robbery gone bad is the far more likely scenario.
The details of the crime seem to confirm the worst fears of all anti-video game crusaders: a good kid led astray, and willing to do anything to get his fix of violence...
The incident makes GTA look like a mix of the worst elements of trashy media and crack cocaine. Rockstar, which makes the game, hasn't commented, but they'll have to do something serious. The day this happens in America is the day video game content regulation becomes a reality.
Good kid? That's hard to know from a distance, but as GamePolitics reported earlier today, there are some indications that Polwat Chinno was a troubled kid. Wait, at 19, a troubled man.
Moreover, Rockstar will just ride this out as they always do. Finally, claims that games have sparked horrific crimes have already been made in the U.S. several times, as we've pointed out. Video game content legislation has failed and games remain protected speech under the Constitution.
Absent speculation that Grand Theft Auto somehow played a role, the murder of a Bangkok cab driver by a 19-year-old-man in some ways appears similar to the typical murder of a cab driver in the United States.
In the U.S., cabbie killings appear to have very little to do with violent video games, given that they peaked in 1990-1993, when crude first-person shooters like Doom were the bloodiest games available and the first Grand Theft Auto was years away.
Statistics on cab driver killings are maintained by Taxi-Library, which also profiles the typical cabbie murder.
Frustrated by sketchy and somewhat conflicting English language news accounts of Bangkok's GTA Cabbie murder, GP went looking for local Thai sources and found Asian Sweetheart. The site is mostly pictures of "gorgeous Thai ladies," but the cabbie murder apparently got the owner's attention away from posting glam shots:
The English language news stories left out much of the detail about the victim and the accused murderer. The Thai news had interviews of the families and other people involved.
The story is very sad for many reasons. On the victim's side, they are a poor family and the man was the only person making any income, and not much because driving a taxi does not pay very well. He became the chosen victim because he was older and smaller than the first taxi driver the killer approached.
GP: Based on the fact that the victim was selected by the killer in the belief that he would be an easy mark, this looks like just another premeditated robbery, not some random violent act. Taxi cab robberies have been going on as long as there have been taxi cabs (more on that later).
The killer's family is also poor but the teen had always been known as polite and very nice, even getting the dek dee (good child) award at school. The mother was a house maid and the father a security guard. The kid was alone a lot and the parents never really knew what he was doing all that time he was playing violent video games.
The 18 year old confessed to the killing, which means he won't face the death penalty as some western media incorrectly reported. He gave a detailed account of how he planned for the robbery and chose the victim, although he said the killing was not originally part of the plan but he did it when the victim fought back.
You knew it was only a matter of time.
In the wake of reports that a 19-year-old Thai man murdered a cab driver after playing Grand Theft Auto, embattled Miami attorney Jack Thompson has written a menacing e-mail to the top executives of Take-Two Interactive, publisher of the controversial series.
In the e-mail to T2 chairman Strauss Zelnick and CEO Ben Feder (and copied to dozens of other people, including GamePolitics), Thompson writes:
I warned you both that copycat killings by teens would occur upon the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. Now my prediction 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... 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...
PS: The above latest copycat killing will help fuel federal legislation in the United States because of your company’s chronic marketing and sale of its mature-rated video games to minors. You are selling GTA IV, for example, to anyone of any age via the Internet.
AFP reports that Thai government officials have now banned the Grand Theft Auto series following the recent arrest of 19-year-old GTA player Polwat Chinno on murder charges.
"The police are empowered to immediately arrest shopkeepers if they find any GTA (Grand Theft Auto) games on sale," Ruangsak Jaritake, a police spokesman, told AFP.
"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 said...
Any game seller found stocking the game could be sentenced to three years in prison and a fine up to 6,000 baht (180 dollars). Stricter penalties are in place for online sellers who could receive five years imprisonment and a 100,000 baht (3,000 dollars) fine.
It would appear that Chinno was playing an unspecified earlier version of Gran Theft Auto - not GTA IV, given the local Thai distributor's announcement that it will not import the recently-released game:
The New Era Interactive Media company, the only legal distributor of the games, said earlier Tuesday it would remove the game from sale in Thailand.
"We have stopped selling Grand Theft Auto and inform all legal vendors to withdraw the game from their shelves," the company said in an online statement.
"The company will not import GTA 4 (the next in the series) to distribute in Thailand," it added.
A few more details have emerged on the alleged killing of a Bangkok cab driver by 19-year-old Polwat Chinno (left), said by Thai authorities to be "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto.
The Bangkok Post reports:
The Family Network yesterday called on the Culture Ministry to ban the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) video game franchise after incidences of copycat violence by players.
In its statement, the network blamed GTA for at least two violent incidents, including the fatal stabbing of taxi driver Kuan Phokang on Sunday by Polwat Chinno, a 19-year-old student known to be an obsessive player of the game.
GP: It's unclear at this point exactly what type of organization the Family Network is. The group is mentioned at this site.
According to the Family Network manager Wanchai Boonpracha, a shooting at Talad Thai wholesale market in Pathum Thani last year was also copied from one of the games.
He said the granting of a licence to the online version of the game by the Office of National Cultural Commission in August last year made it readily available at internet cafes and games arcades, increasing the likelihood of copycat crimes by teenagers.
"The Family Network demands the Culture Ministry revokes the licence of GTA and other games with inappropriate violent and sexual content" Mr Wanchai said in the statement.
He said that GTA was banned in several countries, including Australia and England.
GP: The GamePolitics coverage of the Pathum Thani market shooting is here. Wanchai Boonpracha is incorrect regarding Australia and England. The game was never banned in the U.K. (perhaps he is thinking of Manhunt 2) and the Australian market received GTA IV with the hooker animations removed.
Amporn Benjapolpitak of the Mental Health Department, doubted that the video game was entirely to blame for Mr Polwat's behaviour.Ms Amporn yesterday interviewed Mr Polwat's friends and teachers at school and found that he had suffered from heightened anxiety.
"I don't think excessive playing of the game is the sole cause. There must be other causes too," she said. "His friends told me that [his personality] had changed."
GP: So, perhaps initial reports of a totally together teen made homicidal by GTA were not totally accurate? A second Bangkok Post article contains additional misinformation under the headline Games of Subversion:
The Public Health Ministry, which has monitored the impact of thse games on the mental and physical health of young Thais, yesterday released a list of 10 online games which have been banned in the United States since last year because of their inappropriate content...
They are: Manhunt; Scarface; 50 Cent: Bulletproof; 300: The Video Game; The Godfather; Killer; Resident Evil 4; God of War; Hitman: Blood Money; and Grand Theft Auto.
GP: There has never been a video game banned in the United States.
A story receiving widespread media play this morning details the arrest of a 19-year-old Thai man who allegedly robbed and murdered a Bangkok cab driver. According to police sources, Polwat Chino told investigators he was re-enacting a scene from Grand Theft Auto IV.
Reuters reports that GTA IV has been removed from retail shelves and arcades (we're assuming that in Thailand players can play console games for a fee). From the article:
Police in Bangkok said that the youth "had wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game."
...Chino, described by his parents as polite and diligent... had paid to play the game at a local shop in Bangkok, and said he had needed more cash to continue playing it and that the taxi driver looked like an easy target.
GP: So, was he re-enacting a scene from the game or just looking for someone to rob? Reuters continues:
A senior official at Thailand's Culture Ministry, which has been pursuing tougher regulation of violent games such as Grand Theft Auto, said the murder was a wake-up call for authorities, and urged parents to take note of what their children were playing.
"This time-bomb has already exploded and the situation could get worse," the official was quoted as saying. "Today it is a cab driver but tomorrow it could be a video game shop owner." Thai authorities have been pushing for a rating system on video games, as well as restrictions on how long youths can spend playing games in video arcades.
GP: Given the Thai government's history of censorship, this case will likely not receive the type of media scrutiny and follow-up that it deserves. Not to rush to judgment, but the situation as described in the news report (including the very convenient photo at left of the suspect re-enacting his crime for police) couldn't be more perfect for a government seeking a justification for a video game crackdown.
We also note that the suspect, who reportedly stabbed the victim 10 times, is wearing what appears to be a very clean white shirt (i.e., no blood). Stab someone ten times from arm's length and closer and you're going to get blood on your clothing. And yes, he could have changed clothes, but we don't really know.
Violent video games came in for a mention in published reports of a wild shooting spree in Pathum Thani, Thailand earlier this week.
One publication went so far as to draw parallels between Virginia Tech rampage killer Cho Seung Hui and Kiartipong Meksawat, 21, who killed three and wounded nine before being killed by police. The Nation wrote:
The most striking [thing] is that both [Cho and Kiartipong] were loners who were fascinated by weapons and firearms... Kiartipong had a collection of weapons that included several AK47 automatic rifles, ninja-style throwing stars and a samurai sword. [Police] also found a number of violent computer games and information on firearms and explosives that had been downloaded from the Internet.
...Neither young man had received much warmth or comfort from their families. They were spiritual minded. They liked violent computer games. They did not like to socialise. Most notably, they showed icy cool during their killing sprees...
For a young man with no experience of gun battles other than in video games, Kiartipong's gunfight with the police was methodical and calculated.
The incident, which was apparently not pre-planned, began when a police officer attempted to search Kiartipong after his motor scooter was confiscated. A story posted on The Teak Door indicates that the young man may have been part of a gang of motorcycle thieves.