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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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    The Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is now available for PlayStation 3 and PS4. Havoc contains the four multiplayer maps Core, Drift, Sideshow, and Urban along with the AE4 directed energy assault rifle, its custom variant, and the Exo Zombies cooperative mode. You can purchase the DLC separately or pick up the […]

  • Here’s a teaser for Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 2

    A teaser video for the second episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is available, so if you’ve yet to play the first episode, you may want to skip this. Resident Evil Revelations 2′s first episode is out now. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • North American eShop update is full of Donkey Kong games

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with Titan Attacks, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong Country and more. eShop on 3DS Ironfall Invasion Titan Attacks! Donkey Kong Land – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 2 – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 3 – Virtual Console Luv Me Buddies Wonderland Around the World […]

  • Venture into the Valley of the Yetis next week in Far Cry 4

    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]

  • Darksiders creator teases Battle Chasers game

    Joe Madureira, creator of Darksiders, has released art that strongly suggests a Battle Chasers game is in the works. Battle Chasers was a comic book from the late 1990s that suffered notorious production problems between issues and was never finished. Madureira formed Airship Syndicate after the collapse of THQ, where he co-created Darksiders. His latest […]

  • Infamous video nasty Axe recreated in GTA 5

    The trailer for notorious horror movie Axe has been recreated in GTA 5. The shot for shot remake is the work of gigerbrick who has previously recreated exploitation flicks like Machete and Hostel using Lego. The original Axe movie was banned in 1984 in the UK but passed with cuts in the late 1990s. Movie […]

  • Payday 2 for PS4 and Xbox One includes “a year’s worth of paid DLC” for free

    Payday 2: Crimewave Edition will include a year’s worth of paid DLC from the PC version of the game for free. The new-gen version of the game will be available June 2015, and includes almost all of the paid and free DLC released so far for Overkill’s popular first-person shooter. That DLC includes The Big […]

  • Yes, Mortal Kombat X will require Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

    Mortal Kombat X won’t bypass Microsoft and Sony’s premium online play requirements. Reports that Mortal Kombat X wouldn’t require PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold started circling earlier this week thanks to a communications error. Answering fan questions on Twitter, producer Shaun Himmerick accidentally gave the impression that premium console subs would not be required […]

  • This is what Destiny players most want next

    Destiny patch 1.1.1 has resolved or at least addressed a number of complaints voiced by the community, but there are plenty more. des Destiny community manage David “Deej” Dague has put out a call for Guardians to share their concerns – or rather, what they think the community is most concerned about. “Set aside your […]

  • Google AI can play games now, so we’re probably all going to die

    Google has brought us one step closer to our inevitable slaughter or enslavement by machine overlords. Google has developed an AI that can learn to play video games and devise brand new strategies. Let me just rephrase that: Google has created an AI that can teach itself new skills, including how to play video games. […]

  • First footage of Renowned Explorers: International Society surfaces

    Renowned Explorers: International Society is a turn-based strategy game from the team behind Reus, and it looks great. Renowned Explorers was announced almost a full year ago, but has been pretty quiet since then. Developer Abbey games has now announced that the game has hit alpha, and will be open to select testers soon. You […]

  • Cities: Skylines developer commits to mod support

    Cities: Skylines will fully support the modding community. Hailing from famously mod-friendly publisher Paradox, Cities: Skylines is a no-brainer for mod support – especially as a lack of mod support is one of the things SimCity was so heavily criticised for when it firts launched. In the developer diary below, Paradox’s Jakob Munthe is joined […]

  • Nosgoth update adds Vanguard, many fixes

    Nosgoth, the free-to-play multiplayer brawler set in the Legacy of Kain universe, has been given a significant makeover. The major feature of the latest Nosogth game update is a new playable human character called the Vanguard. “Equipped with mighty throwing axes and a shield, the Vanguard can take more punishment than any human class that […]

  • Xbox Live Gold 12 month sub $40 on Microsoft store

    Microsoft is offering $20 off 12 month Xbox Live Gold subscriptions at the moment. An Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription will normally set you back $60, but a Microsoft Store promotion has it on offer for $40. The offer is restricted to the US store. Although you can opt to grab your sub as […]

  • Tomb Raider movie script to be penned by TMNT writer

    Tomb Raider will be Evan Daugherty’s second reboot of an established universe. The Tomb Raider movie reboot has signed on a writer and a distributor. Deadline reports Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent, Snow White And The Huntsman and G.I. Joe 3 writer Daugherty will write the film. Additionally, Warner Bros. has signed on to distribute, […]

  • Shelter 2 pre-orders open, launch trailer debuts early

    Shelter 2 is a game in which you are a mother lynx and must protect a den of kittens. Yes, it’s delightful. Shelter 2 is coming to Mac and PC on March 9. Pre-orders are now available on Steam at 10% off or on GOG.com with a free skin and soundtrack, or 20% off if […]

  • That Batman: Arkham Knight trailer is full of codes

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s trailer is like a Transformer – there’s more than meets the eye. The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer contains a number of codes. Eagle-eyed users have spotted four so far, and work on cracking their meaning is progressing. According to an /r/games thread rounding up results so far, the codes pertain to […]

  • Assassin’s Creed haystacks won’t save you from a fall

    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]