Inside the psychotic world of Grand Theft Auto

A brief article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2001 reported the case of a young man who suffered delusions that he was a player inside a computer game.

The game isn’t mentioned by name, but it seems to be Grand Theft Auto.

The authors of the case study point out that they’re not suggesting that computer games cause psychosis, but they comment on how it’s a somewhat unusual illustration of how ideas from a person’s life get incorporated into the themes of psychosis.

A young man was admitted from prison to a psychiatric facility after reports that he had been acting in a bizarre manner. He had been arrested for stealing motor vehicles and assaults with weapons. At interview he was found to be experiencing the delusion that he was a player inside a computer game (adult-certificate game, widely available) in which points are scored for stealing cars, killing assailants and avoiding police vehicles.

Psychotic symptoms had emerged slowly over two years. His family had noticed him becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated from social activities. He developed delusions that strangers were planning to kill him and also experienced auditory hallucinations, constantly hearing an abusive and derogatory voice. Previously a computer enthusiast, he began to play computer games incessantly. He felt that the games were communicating with him via the headphones.

In a complex delusional system he came to believe he was inside one of these games and had to steal a car to start scoring points. He broke into a car and drove off at speed, believing he had `invulnerable’ fuel and so could not run out of petrol. To gain points he chose to steal increasingly powerful vehicles, threatening and assaulting the owners with weapons. Later he said he would have had no regrets if he had killed someone, since this would have increased his score.

After arrest and while in prison he continued to believe he was in the game, despite initial medication. When he was admitted to hospital six weeks later, part of ward management was to deny him access to computer games. Nothing abnormal was found on physical examination, blood investigations, drug screen, electroencephalography or a computed tomographic brain scan. Paranoid schizophrenia was diagnosed and he responded well to further treatment with antipsychotic medication.

Similarly, ‘rock and roll delusions’ have occasionally been reported in the medical literature (David Bowie seems to be a favourite).

Link to JRSM full-text article ‘Computer Game Delusions’.

4 thoughts on “Inside the psychotic world of Grand Theft Auto”

  1. I wonder if the game designers and publishers upon reading news like this , consider themselves responsible in any way. Like the scientists who invented and made the first nuclear bomb work.

  2. Well, the “Bible designers and publishers” seem not to feel responsible for making some ill people beleive that they are possessed or that they are Jesus Christ or act as God messengers; why the game designers should?

  3. Wow, that’s a fascinating take on things. Unfortunately, the game’s creators have gotten a bad rap for things that are beyond their control. There are psychotic people who are obsessed with Star Trek and now only speak Klingon, but that’s not the fault of the Star Trek producers. It’s a sad situation, indeed.

  4. Comparing an addictive video game to religion wow.
    Is alcohol intended for children? are children allowed to consume alcohol or gamble? No.
    No one takes the power of video games into consideration, what they can do to young minds.
    If there is a good supply, an addict has no problem with their drug, so asking any child if they are having a problems with video games is like asking a meth head is he/she having any problems with using meth.
    There should be serious enforcement of adult only video/computer games.

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