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The Oslo Massacre and the danger of damning a medium

Tuesday, 17 April 2012 10:01 GMT By Julie Horup

The World of Warcraft habit of Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was presented as initial evidence in his trial yesterday. Julie Horup examines the fallout amid media demonisation of games.

It was being argued that games present us with a carnival mirror of the world, where they expose us to abhorrent actions that certain individuals, such as Breivik, may emulate in reality, and this is exactly where the argument about violent games inciting violence becomes difficult. Games are not reality.

Anders Behring Breivik, who claimed to have used Modern Warfare 2 as a training aid in preparing for a bombing and killing spree of July 2011 which left 77 people dead, is currently on trial in Oslo. During an initial presentation by the prosecution on Breivik’s life prior to the shocking attacks, or Oslo Massacre, his year-long, full time World of Warcraft habit was mentioned, and an image of his character, Justicar Andersnordic, was shown.

Prosecutor Svein Holden said the character would be referred to later in the proceedings; Brievik is said to have smiled when the character was introduced.

The judge asked: “Is the game violent?”

The prosecutor took a few seconds, then answered: “It depends on how you look at it.”

In the wake of the trial’s first day, local media seized on the ever-popular “do violent games incite violence” debate. The perfect example of this was shown on national television in Denmark just ten hours after the trial began. A victim from Utøya, the small island on which most of the murders took place, said games obviously were the cause of the shooting spree, while a stereotypical gamer tried to explain to the journalist that BioShock (which, apparently, is 200-300 hours long and extremely gruesome) wasn’t going to turn him into an introverted maniac.

While this was happening, the Russian airport scene from Modern Warfare 2 was running in every frame.

Whether Breivik’s gaming habits are relevant to his later acts of violence is just new dressing on an ancient debate on whether violence in gaming can be dangerous and is therefore unacceptable, or whether it’s as artistically justified as it is in other media.

Carnival mirror

One of the older interviewees concluded that violent games aren’t good for us because of how they portray our world. He emotionally explained how his parents had been in a concentration camp during World War II, and how games needlessly remind our society about the violent horrors of war.

The TV show failed to credit gaming with one of its most promising properties as an artistic and communicative medium. While I understand the old man’s concerns, it’s normal for creative media to reflect the world in which we live. Atrocities are real – Breivik is certainly very real – and it’s inevitable that the entertainment media will talk about war. Not every depiction will please everybody.

I had family in concentration camps, too, and while I’m not exactly fond of Nazis, it wouldn’t matter to me whether or not they appear in a game. The virtual Nazis didn’t force my grandfather to push around his dead friends in wheelbarrows, dump them in mass graves and pour chlorine on their starved bodies to disguise the rotting smell when they decomposed: the real-life Nazis did.

It was being argued that games present us with a carnival mirror of the world, where they expose us to abhorrent actions that certain individuals, such as Breivik, may emulate in reality, and this is exactly where the argument about violent games inciting violence becomes difficult. Games are not reality. They can paint a picture of things we know and relate to, but, as with all media, it’s up to us to understand how the picture should be processed in our minds, and how it translates into our everyday life.

Acts of violence appear in books, films and other forms of media because they exist in the world. Games are simply another way of exploring certain inescapable themes (and like other fledgling creative forms, produce more and less successful examples).

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s easy to argue the importance of exploring themes of war and violence in creative forms. We shouldn’t be afraid of being positive about games despite their sometimes violent nature.

Violent games aren’t developed with the sole purpose of feeding minds with aggressive thoughts despite some tossers trying to convince us otherwise. At worst they’re just boring, expensive entertainment and at best gripping, memorable education. While they stand out compared to films and music because of their interactivity, they should be recognised for that, not discredited and misunderstood.

Anders Behring Breivik’s appalling acts last July should not damn an entire creative form. As the prosecutor said: it depends on how you look at it.

[Image]

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16 Comments

  1. Talkar

    I can’t find the news episode on dr.dk. Do you have a link to it? I didn’t watch the news that day.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Psychotext

    Didn’t World of Warcraft have something like twelve million subscribers at one point? Either the world is about to explode in a rash of WoW fuelled murders, or, shock horror, the game has nothing to do with anything.

    We must all pray (Related, religion has created more murderers than anything else… ever) that the world is not drawn into chaos by these twelve million ticking timebombs.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. polygem

    there is violence in the real world. we should consider those real cruelties first. eating meat is just ONE example. it is far more brutal than playing a videogame. we accept these cruelties. it does something with us though. we live in a very very brutal world. games just kind of reflect that. they are not responsible in any way for real life actions. maybe people with psychiatric, mental issues abuse this medium more or it can effect them more; makes more impact on that health issues, but to blame the games for it is just shortsighted and completely stupid. it is shortsighted just like every political action always has been. this is how the world ticks. not good.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. distraet

    @Talkar – You can find the mentioned programme here: http://www.dr.dk/DR1/horisont/#/39055 – it’s in Danish, though.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Patrick Garratt

    The debate’s becoming a cliché. It really does seem ludicrous to suggest World of Warcraft had anything to do with these actions in a real sense. I hope we’re reaching a turning point with all this.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Talkar

    @4 Thanks! I don’t mind. I live in Denmark ;)

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Mike

    Good work, Julie.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. G1GAHURTZ

    Related, religion has created more murderers than anything else… ever

    And what anatomical region did you pull that “fact” out of?

    #8 3 years ago
  9. John117

    Wow, as a Norwegian I’m kinda amazed how the media manages to mention Breivik atleast every second day… He gets all the attention he wants and the lawyers are now using WoW as an argument… What bollocks… Seeing as there is no doubt in the case I say they should just put him in custody and keep him there for the rest of his life…

    Although we dont have lifetime in Norway the police have the right to keep Breivik if they have means to think that he would be a danger if set free. I doubt anyone would feel safe if he were to be released after 20 years of prison. But I would like the prosecutor to show up some charts showing how many of the 12 million WoW gamers turned into psycopatic mass murderers, maybe that would shut him up :S

    #9 3 years ago
  10. vicheous

    ABB just held a 75min speech in court, what a crazy guy! He said if he had the oppurtunity he would do it again! And i think the link to games in this case is very overrated! (Yeah i’m Norwegian)

    #10 3 years ago
  11. DSB

    I wouldn’t say the “best” games are education. The best games are entertainment. Games aren’t a tool first and an entertainment medium second. It’s arguably the other way around.

    The idea that games would have to be educational to be “all that they can be” is kinda offensive to me. I feel like it’s an answer to the most hardcore conservative views, which don’t deserve to be taken seriously by anyone.

    People are afraid of what they don’t know. That’s always been the case, and some people try to get their names in the papers or win votes or religious followers by playing to that.

    Ultimately games aren’t going anywhere, and they don’t pose more of a threat to anyone than Catcher in the Rye. People can jump up and down and try to exploit moments like Utøya, but we’ll still be playing WoWs and CoDs 20-30 years from now.

    The only difference is that there’ll be a lot less room for scaremongering, since more people will know games first hand.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. freedoms_stain

    I think if you have a “full-time” gaming habit you probably had problems already that led to it.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. ManuOtaku

    #8 la inquisicion and perhaps the cruzades, those were brutal and the mechanical torture devices implemented in la inquisicion were the worst of the worst.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. G1GAHURTZ

    Are we talking about wars, genocides, murders or what?

    The original comment made a ludicrous claim about murderers, so I’d like to see exactly where he got his statistics from.

    If we’re talking about genocides, then the vast majority have had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with power and land.

    If we’re talking about wars, then the above reasons also apply. But let’s not forget that the statistically worst war for deaths (WWII with ~60m deaths) was based on the non-religious attempting to exterminate the religious in the first place.

    Historically speaking…

    #14 3 years ago
  15. OrbitMonkey

    ^ The inquisition was all about political power play and the crusades was about trade routes through the middle east.

    Religion as always was just the tool greedy men used to convince others they were doing the right thing. Religion doesn’t kill people, people kill people… Cuz people are scum ;-)

    #15 3 years ago
  16. DSB

    That is like, so deep.

    You can’t have a fucked up religion without fucked up people, but I think the difference between most religions and most games, is that most religions are trying to sell you an ultimate truth, or at the very least an ultimate lifestyle.

    Absolutes are extremely empowering to people who are fucked in the head. It makes them feel grand and righteous, which they probably already do, but a religion provides them with “real” justification, or at least one that’s real enough to be bought by thousands of others, some of whom may or may not be just as unstable as they are.

    It can be a social qualifier for a crazy douchebag.

    I guess the irony is that so many devouts in various communities are against videogames. Possibly because videogames contain more than one side to the coin.

    #16 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Club Nintendo shuts up shop on September 30 and members are being encouraged to spend accumulated stars before then. And what better to spend them on, than this adorable Majora’s Mask light? If you’re a member based in Europe you can nab it for 6000 stars. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, it’ll only […]

  • Unity support announced for HoloLens, will work with Windows universal apps

    Microsoft is partnering with game engine developers Unity in order to make HoloLens compatible with apps and games which use the cross-platform engine. The partnership was announced yesterday during its Build Developer Conference. Universal apps for Windows 10 systems will also be available on Xbox One later this year, suggesting possible HoloLens functionality with the […]

  • Splatoon Nintendo Direct airs Thursday, May 7

    A Nintendo Direct focused on Splatoon, the Wii U multiplayer title, on May 7. It will kick off at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm UK and it can be watched via the Nintendo Direct website. You can also have a look at the game through Nintendo’s Twitch channel. The last game-specific presentation took place last week and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]

  • Official mod tools for Total War: Attila are now available

    Official mod tools for Total War: Attila are now available and you can grab the new Assembly Kit as a beta through the tools menu via your Steam library. The Creative Assembly said the tools will be “immediately familiar” to modders of Rome 2 and Shogun 2, but the new version is the most “extensive” […]

  • How to get level 34 Ascended Raid gear in Destiny: House of Wolves

    Watch: two videos showing you how to get level 34 raid gear and a shopping list of what you need. One of the big changes that House of Wolves is bringing to Destiny is the chance to upgrade your weapons and gear to level 34. In these videos Arekkz Gaming shows you how to use […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves puts PvP back in the spotlight

    Destiny PvP players, your time has come to shine. New Crucible maps. New Crucible rewards. And the glorious wonder of Elimination mode. Destiny: House of Wolves puts PvP front and centre. When Destiny was first detailed, one of the things Bungie stressed was that there’d be something for everyone. If you wanted to play solo […]

  • Destiny: Trials of Osiris – everything you need to know in one video

    The Destiny: House of Wolves embargo has lifted, and with so much information floating around pertaining to Trials of Osiris, it can be overwhelming. Thankfully, Arekkz Gaming tells you everything you need to know in one video. In the video above you will be informed of how the 3v3 Team Deathmatch event works, how you […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves – watch a Trials of Osiris match from start to finish

    With the release of Destiny: House of Wolves looming, players will soon be able to participate in the new 3v3 Team Deathmatch event in The Crucible, Trials of Osiris. Below is a video featuring an uncut, complete match from start to finish. In the video, Arekkz Gaming gives you a breakdown of the mode and […]

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood – here’s what your PC needs in order to run it

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is out next week, and Bethesda has today released the PC specs for the standalone title. MachineGames has made some tweaks to the system requirements and have included both minimum and recommended specifications. Minimum OS: 64-bit Windows 7/Windows 8 Processor: Intel Core i5-2500 @ 3.3 GHz / AMD FX-8320 @ 3.5 […]

  • Destiny: Trials of Osiris – watch the livestream reveal right here

    Bungie will be showing off Destiny’s new 3v3 Team Deatmatch Trials of Osiris today, and you can watch the Twitch stream right here if you like. It kicks off at 11am PDT/2pm EDT and will feature community manager Deej and design leads Lars Bakken and Derek Carroll. More will be revealed on House of Wolves […]

  • May Xbox Games with Gold: Mafia 2, CastleStorm: Definitive Edition, F1 2013

    Microsoft has announced the free games Gold members will be able to pick up through Xbox Live. On Xbox One, Gold users can download CastleStorm: Definitive Edition for the month,and Pool Nation FX is being offered for an additional month. Starting May 1, Xbox 360 Gold members can download Mafia 2 through May 15, and […]