The makers and distributors of the popular Grand Theft Auto video game series are being sued by the victims and family impacted by a June shooting spree that left one man dead and another woman injured.
An attorney for the plaintiffs told TechNewsWorld that the Tennessee boys responsible for the shooting — being detained until age 19 after pleading guilty and admitting they shot at moving cars — are being sued along with their parents.
But Tennessee attorney Richard Talley said the “wrongful death” case is also an indictment of the video-game industry, telling TechNewsWorld that jurors in the US$246 million lawsuit will determine who is at fault.
“The jury will decide if it’s all [the boys’] fault or the parents’ fault or whether these games inspire copycat violence,” Talley said.
Gaming or Guns?
The Grand Theft Auto case involves the familiar scenario of a crime committed by youths — in this case 14-year-old Joshua Buckner and his 16-year-old stepbrother William Buckner — who played violent video games.
Although the boys admitted to obtaining the .22-caliber rifle used in the crime from their parents’ locked closet, the two also reportedly told police they wanted to shoot into traffic along Tennessee’s Interstate 40 just as they shot at moving cars while playing Grand Theft Auto III, a game that is rated mature and is recommended for ages 17 and up.
Plaintiff’s attorney Talley — representing the parents of the man shot and killed by the boys, another motorist who was wounded and two other passengers — conceded the gun access and parents were culpable in the shooting, but placed equal blame on Sony, which marketed the game, Wal-Mart, which sold the game, and Take-Two’s Rockstar Games, which made the game.
$200M Not Enough
Talley, who has teamed with longtime violent gaming opponent and attorney Jack Thompson in the case, said the $200 million the suit seeks in punitive damages is based on a lack of response from Sony and the other companies involved. Talley said the companies ignored written correspondence from Thompson, who warned before the incident that Grand Theft Auto could lead to real-world violence.
Talley also said that in light of Sony’s $11 billion in revenue generated from the single GTA title last year, $200 million in damages is far from unreasonable.
“I really am not sure it’s enough to make Sony do something,” he said.
Sony could not be reached for comment, but Grand Theft Auto game-maker Take-Two, which recently reported sales of 25 million units of the series since its launch, told TechNewsWorld in a statement that it intends to defend vigorously against the action and seek a dismissal.
“The company believes that the claims against it are without merit and are similar to lawsuits brought and uniformly dismissed by courts in other jurisdictions,” the Take-Two statement said, referring to cases such as a school shooting in Paducah, Kentucky, which Thompson unsuccessfully argued stemmed from the shooter’s video-game playing.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) called the Tennessee shooting “an unspeakable tragedy” and echoed Take-Two’s points, referring to research in the United States and elsewhere that indicates there is no evidence that violent games lead to violent behavior.
“We cannot comment on the specifics of this case, but instead of finger-pointing at a game played by millions of Americans every day, we should be asking what led to the actions of these two children,” said a statement from ESA president Douglas Lowenstein. “Given the science and given the fact that these teenagers had unsupervised access to shotguns and made the decision to fire them on innocent motorists, blaming video games is misguided and counterproductive.”