Oh for God’s sake.
I’m reminded of a roundtable I once attended on violence in games. California Cassandra Leland Yee had just argued that military games teach kids how to kill. Professor James Paul Gee replied, in a perfect sarcastic deadpan, “the only thing any war game has ever taught me is that I don’t want to be a soldier.”
Breivik also played World of Warcraft, but that was probably just for fun.
If you’re like me you’ve shot a lot of people. Virtually I mean. I probably shoot several dozen people a week, depending on what I’m playing. Shooting’s not my only option, obv. I stab people too. I’ve set my share on fire. But I can say with pretty good certainty that video games have not taught me much about using rifle sights.
You know what they’ve taught me? They’ve taught me that first-person games have a key deficiency in that they don’t offer peripheral vision. You don’t really think about how important peripheral vision is until you stare down the iron sights of a weapon in some game and lose your target because the gun takes up the whole screen. They can’t be bothered to give you feet in most first person games, but man, when you’re trying to aim that gun is all up in your business.
To be honest I’m not certain how well I’d shoot if someone gave me a real rifle and a paper target. A paper target is definitely where to start because paper targets rarely move. If someone gave me a real rifle and, say, a bunny, I’d never hit the thing. Meanwhile I could probably hit the broad side of a barn, though I have limited access to barns where I live and to be honest I’ve never understood why anyone would shoot a barn in the first place.
I’m sure Jack Thompson (yeah, he’s still out there, just irrelevant) would say that Breivik’s training in Modern Warfare is what allowed him to successfully shoot so many people. You can picture old Jack saying something like, “if he hadn’t been able to train, he’d never have hit that many victims.”
Wouldn’t it make more sense for Breivik to have trained with, say, paintball guns? Those actually shoot a projectile. Or BB guns! I don’t know what the laws are for guns in Norway, but I’d bet it wouldn’t be too hard to get a BB gun. And with all those lonely fjords it’d be easy to find a nice private place to practice with your BB gun’s sight.
Don’t take my jokes as an attempt to trivialize Breivik’s crime. I’ve been following the news dispatches from the trial curiously, not out of any morbid sensibility but because I’m trying to decide for myself if Breivik is crazy or not. Right now I’m leaning towards not, though I kind of hope they decide he is crazy since he’s already said that an insanity verdict would be “worse than death.” In the United States, a person can be declared not guilty by reason of insanity if they demonstrate beyond a certain doubt that the individual was unable to control their behavior or unaware that their action was “wrong.” I assume it’s similar in Norway, but to be honest Breivik seems like he was very much in control of his actions, and while he’s implied that what he did wasn’t “wrong,” his logic for that argument is pretty fallible.
Breivik is of the opinion that Europe’s multiculturalization is soiling its… I don’t know, its purity I guess… and that interlopers, particularly Muslims, are a Very Big Problem. Rather incongruously he decided to address his concerns by killing 77 white, largely Christian Scandinavians. That makes about as much sense as using Modern Warfare to train on rifle sights.
Now, in fairness, the AP just mentioned the Modern Warfare thing in passing, and it was Breivik’s own testimony that he’d “trained” with the game. So far no one’s tried to say it was all video games. To be honest video games go out of their way to avoid cultural issues with who you shoot. That’s why we spend so much time shooting Nazis; it’s always okay to shoot a Nazi. But there are comparatively few games where you shoot Muslims, and even in games where you do there’s an effort to make it clear that you’re not shooting the religion, you’re shooting a terrorist who happens to practice that religion. In Modern Warfare you’re shooting…
…who are you shooting in the first Modern Warfare? Is it Russians? I think it’s Russians. I forget why though.
Anyway, the wrongheadedness of using a video game to learn about rifle sights has, so far, been the limit to which games have been indicted in this tragic event. But it does play somewhat to the equally wrongheaded claim by anti-gaming advocates that the medium “trains” people in violence. I mean, if Breivik really did play Modern Warfare to learn how to use rifle sights, that means he believed that Modern Warfare was in fact a good tutor on the subject. This in turn suggests that the “games are trainers for violence” argument is being bought into, and by the community least likely to buy into it: gamers themselves.
It’s especially ridiculous when you consider that in Modern Warfare, a double squeeze of the left trigger will actually lock your weapon on the nearest enemy, so you don’t even have to aim that carefully if you don’t want to. I was a big fan of that move because I can’t hit shit when I’m trying to aim with thumbsticks.
The insinuation that video games can train people on the practicalities of firearm use is even more absurd than the suggestion that games “teach” people to be violent. Like I said, I’ve shot plenty of people and I have no idea how to even eject the magazine on an assault rifle (well, I mean, hit “R”, but you know), let alone disassemble it, clean it, or compensate for its recoil. The reloading thing I could probably figure out, but it seems like I’d want to know that stuff before my rampage since it’s always harder to learn new skills when you’re in the middle of a stressful activity. Not one game in history has taught me that.
As for teaching me violence, my counter to that claim has been pretty much the same: while I doubt I’d be violent under any circumstances, the knowledge that I can go home and slice someone apart with a chainsaw is actually cathartic; it makes me less likely to chainsaw someone in real life.
Though unqualified to render this opinion, I don’t think Anders Breivik is crazy. I think he’s a terrible person who did a terrible thing and should be denied any access to society for the rest of his life, because I think he’d do it again if given the chance. But crazy? Not from what I’ve seen so far. In fact, the craziest thing I’ve heard from Breivik is that he thought Modern Warfare would make him a more efficient killer. Now that’s a sign that someone has no grasp on reality.
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