Video games that inspired real-life crimes

Ask any gamer—from indie platform lovers to super competitive MMO players and everyone in between—a few of their favorite things about video games, and they'll likely state the medium's ability to incite emotion in them. Whether it's unbridled joy at finally smashing the thought-to-be-unbeatable level in an insanely difficult title or sadness when wrapping up a narrative-driven action-adventure, sentiment is at the center of it all. But sometimes, the good feelings turn dark—and fans take their playing preoccupation too far, committing crimes in the name of the game.

Grand Theft Auto series: Theft, kidnapping, hit and runs

With its weapon-wielding characters, rampant normalization of deviant activity, and a title that literally means stealing a motor vehicle, the Grand Theft Auto game series isn't exactly squeaky clean. But it certainly isn't risque enough to transform a seemingly all-American boy-next-door into a full-fledged criminal. Or is it? Such appears the case for 20-year-old Zachary Burgess, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana resident and former Auburn University lacrosse player. During a round of Grand Theft Auto in September 2013, Burgess became dissatisfied with the lack of immersion and interactivity in the game and took it upon himself to remedy that. Instead of grabbing hold of the proverbial wheel to steer away from the action-adventure title he found so unappealing, Burgess got his hands on something much more realistic.

In an attempt to "feel like a character in Grand Theft Auto," Burgess stole a pickup truck, with female passenger Monique Jiarusso still inside, and crashed into nine parked cars as he tried to flee the scene. Burgess rationalized his crimes by stating that he simply "wanted to see what it was to be a Grand Theft Auto individual… to take a car and strike several vehicles at a high rate of speed." Thankfully, Jiarusso made it out of the mixed-up situation relatively unscathed, but only after Burgess held her captive for an indeterminate amount of time. Burgess was released on a steep $80,000 bond.

World of Warcraft: Stabbing

This massively multiplayer online RPG is also massively addictive, dangerously so for one gamer. In 2012, Canadian World of Warcraft lover Justin Williams got into a heated verbal altercation with a fellow player. The argument escalated so loudly and violently that Williams' neighbor, Jordan Osborne, attempted to intervene. Osborne approached Williams and told him that there was no need to lose any marbles over World of Warcraft, as it's "just a game." 

That comment was the tipping point for Williams, who shouted, "It's not just a game, it's my life," before grabbing Osborne by the throat, punching him in the face, and driving a knife directly into his sternum. We fully understand and appreciate the appeal of World of Warcraft, and why its user base is millions strong, but this act of violence is unfathomable—and gives a whole new meaning to "crazed fan." Rightfully, Williams was charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. Osborne luckily emerged alive; we just hope he moved to a new apartment as fast as humanly possible.

Lineage II: Murder

Lineage II sadly lives up to its name, repeating a similar series of events as the preceding World of Warcraft stabbing. The NCSOFT-developed MMORPG was launched into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons back in 2008, when two rival teams brought their digital beef to the streets. 

After one Russian player's in-game guild killed an adversary (also in-game, of course), a deal was struck to duke it out AFK. This was no civil meeting of the minds, however; rather, it was a convocation of sucker-punches and kicks that left one man mortally injured. An unnamed 22-year-old man beat a man from the opposing team so intensely that he died on his way to a nearby hospital. Reports didn't indicate whether the Lineage II devotee turned killer was indicted on any charges, but we do know that he 'fessed up to his disturbing act.

Grand Theft Auto IV: Murder

In yet another attempted Grand Theft Auto reenactment, 19-year-old high-school student Polwat Chino stabbed and killed a taxi driver in Bangkok, Thailand. Thai law enforcement stated that Chino wanted to discover if robbery and theft was as simple in reality as it's presented in Grand Theft Auto IV

The twisted compare-and-contrast experiment started when Chino bought a knife at a local grocery retailer and ventured out to the Bang Phlad district in the heart of Bangkok. Chino happened upon an unnamed 54-year-old driver and stabbed him ten times while attempting to steal the car. Driving both without license and without remorse, Chino was eventually caught trying to steer the car backwards—with the deceased man in the backseat. Chino was charged with robbery, murder, possession of an offensive weapon, and could face death by lethal injection. 

While Chino admitted his underlying motive was financial in nature (he was strapped for cash and needed more funds to continue playing the game), he truly did what he did "in an effort to recreate a scene." Chino's crime was once eerily dubbed "The Grand Theft Auto Copycat Killing," but heartbreakingly enough, this murder wasn't the first or last one motivated by GTA.  

Mortal Kombat: Murder

The long-running martial arts series Mortal Kombat has gained a notorious, if not slightly stomach-churning, reputation for death sequences savage enough to make players lose their lunch. Brutal and blood-soaked as they may be—like ripping a character's spine out of their body by their skull or steaming the skin off their skeleton—the many Mortal Kombat fatalities are simply make-believe, too over-the-top to be true. But for one teen couple, the line between fantasy and reality was blurred as they attempted to act out the game's sinister scenes.

Apparently not wanting to injure one another, 16-year-old Heather Trujillo and 17-year-old Lamar Roberts began "practicing their Mortal Kombat moves" on Trujillo's 7-year-old sister Zoe Garcia in December 2007. Prosecutors indicated that Trujillo admitted to hitting and kicking Garcia, breaking her wrist by dropping her on her side, tearing off her skin, and causing internal bleeding in the muscles of her neck. Garcia died from blunt force trauma to her brain and central nervous system, abuse that Roberts reportedly refused to stop inflicting because he was intoxicated. The teens were arrested and charged with child abuse resulting in death.

Grand Theft Auto III: Assault, murder

The Grand Theft Auto series' hold on the mainstream consumer market hasn't yet let up, pulling in new generations of gamers with each additional release. Unfortunately, its influence continues to span into illicit behavior, with one early instance setting precedence for crimes that followed. 

Inspired by 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, two step-brothers (aged 14 and 16 in 2003, when the incident occurred) retrieved assault rifles from a sectioned-off room in their Newport, Tennessee home and began shooting at vehicles driving on Interstate 40 in the Great Smoky Mountains. Two individuals were hit: 45-year-old Aaron Hamel, who was killed by the gunshot, and 19-year-old Kimberly Bede, who was severely wounded. 

The unnamed boys pled guilty to reckless assault, endangerment, and homicide, and were were sentenced to an indefinite term in state custody. The Hamel and Bede families filed a $246 million lawsuit ($200 million in punitive damages and $46 million in compensatory damages) against Sony, Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar Games, and Wal-Mart, where the step-brothers purchased the game.

Halo 3: Murder, attempted murder

Even with Halo 3's guns-a-blazing mentality, it's a stretch to say the game warrants such a hellish act as the one committed by 16-year-old Daniel Petric. After a snowboarding accident left him bedridden with a staph infection, the teen gamer spent his days fostering an unstable obsession with Halo 3. When his father forbade him from playing the iconic FPS title, Petric planned to exact revenge by killing both his parents in 2007. 

Reports state that Petric gained entry into a lock box where his copy of Halo 3 was stashed then grabbed a 9mm handgun before greeting his parents with a chilling statement: "Would you close your eyes? I have a surprise for you." Petric shot his father and mother in the head, taking the Halo 3 copy with him as he fled the scene—but only after he tried (and failed) to stage his crime as a murder-suicide orchestrated without his involvement.  

Petric's father Mark, who stated he was "expecting a nice surprise," survived his injuries. However, Petric's mother, Susan, died instantly. While court officials commented that Petric's addiction to Halo 3 may have been a major factor in warping his grasp on reality, he was of sound mind when he attempted to kill his parents. Evidence indicated that Petric premeditated the crime for weeks. In 2009, at the age of 17, Petric was found guilty on one charge of aggravated murder, and another of attempted aggravated murder. He'll be eligible for parole in 2032.

Counter-Strike: Stabbing

The story of French Counter-Strike zealot Julien Barreaux is a cautionary tale with a heaping stack of warning signs. Don't get addicted to a game, do keep a level head in the face of defeat, and never attempt to bury a hatchet with a rival IRL, especially not with an actual bladed weapon on hand. 

Barreaux was in too deep to peep the red flags, only diving further down the Counter-Strike hole when his online character was killed in a virtual knife fight. The 20-year-old allegedly spent more than six months hunting down the person who perpetrated the digital delinquency, eventually locating his enemy in Cambrai outside Paris. Armed with a kitchen knife, Barreaux took the "Counter-Strike" title literally, striking back against his online foe. He entered the man's house and stabbed him in the chest in what appeared to be an attempted murder.

Only known as Mikhael, the victim pulled through the attack, but just barely. Had Barreaux struck less than an inch in any direction, the blade would have pierced Mikhael's heart. Barreaux was arrested within an hour of stabbing Mikhael. During Barraeux's sentencing, Judge Alexiane Potel called him a "menace to society," and ordered he serve two years in prison and undergo anger management therapy.

WinBack: Covert Operation: Murder

When two young boys got caught up in pretend play inspired by a game, a fatal accident occurred. An unnamed 12-year-old boy buddied up with his 8-year-old brother Jose Iniguez for a little session of WinBack: Covert Operation gameplay. As kids do, the duo drifted into the imaginary and began acting out characters and scenes from the Omega Force-developed game. 

The third-person shooter title features a ton of violence, as the main narrative focuses on taking down a horde of terrorists, and Iniguez "wanted to get more real" with their roleplaying. He grabbed a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun to continue pretending to be WinBack protagonist Jean-Luc Cougar. The older boy, realizing what could happen if his younger brother mishandled the gun, attempted to take the weapon from Iniguez. Instead of a swift transaction, the 12-year-old boy accidentally shot Iniguez in the chest, killing him on contact. Because the crime appeared a complete accident, the perpetrator wasn't arrested and hasn't faced charges.

Grand Theft Auto series: Theft, murder

The final game-inspired crime on our list is perhaps the most petrifying of the bunch: the triple homicide carried out by 18-year-old Devin Moore. The teen lived his life around hours-long sessions of Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, often going on binge sessions that lasted for days at a time. Moore took his fixation beyond the confines of his bedroom in 2003 when he attempted to simulate the sequences shown in the Grand Theft Auto games by stealing a car. But when he was brought into a Fayette, Alabama police station on suspicion of motor theft, Moore "suddenly, inexplicably… snapped," according to CBS News

The 18-year-old dove at Arnold Strickland and swiped Strickland's .40-caliber automatic handgun, which Moore used to shoot and kill 9-1-1 dispatcher Ace Mealer, police officer James Crump, and Strickland. Moore then snatched a set of car keys and drove away in a police cruiser. The bone-numbing part of this horribly true story is the "justifying" remark Moore made when he was arrested: "Life's like a video game. You've got to die sometime."

Moore pled not guilty to the multiple murder charges, citing mental defect. Contrary to Moore's argument, he was found guilty. A lawsuit was filed against Sony, SCEA, Take-Two Entertainment, and retailers Wal-Mart and GameStop on behalf of the victims' relatives. Moore was sentenced to death by lethal injection on October 9, 2005.