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The Oslo Massacre and the danger of damning a medium

Tuesday, 17th 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.

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16 Comments

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  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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 years ago
  6. Talkar

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

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Mike

    Good work, Julie.

    #7 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 years ago