Oh for God’s sake.
Mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway last July, apparently played Modern Warfare to learn (according to his testimony) “how to use rifle sights.”
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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From what I’ve been able to dig up, Breivik apparently used some kind of “holographic aiming device” with Call of Duty to train. Which leads me to believe that there’s ever so slightly more validity to the idea that he learned to use sights with it…though not much. And that’s on the assumption (because I can’t find anything confirming what the product actually was) that it’s reasonably rifle-shaped and stuff, because you sure as heck don’t put a weapon dead center in your vision like the games do. A prop could at least show you that much.
Still – no recoil, none of the mechanics. Clearly he’d have to learn that somewhere else. Having fired a gun once (well, several times in a single instance on a shooting range) it was nothing at all like the dozens of weapons I’ve mastered in virtual environments. I couldn’t hit a blasted thing (granted, this was skeet shooting, when the little clay pigeons are far away and moving) even though I’m often a pretty good shoot in FPS games, even with thumbsticks. The recoil isn’t like you’d expect: not as significant but certainly not negligible. Which reminds me: if you want to learn how to shoot, at least in the US, there are plenty of places you can go to rent and fire weapons on a range. Even assault weapons in some cases. (Also according to Wikipedia, gun ownership in Norway sounds pretty comparable to the US: restrictions on assault weapons and high-caliber handguns, but shotguns, sporting rifles, and other handguns are legal with documentation because of the popularity of hunting.)
Besides which, according to Wikipedia, Breivik called people to gather around him and then started firing indescriminately. This guy wasn’t sniping from a bell tower. He was spraying bullets, close range, into a crowd of people. You can be the worst shot on the face of the planet and you are still going to hit something in that situation.
On another note, I read an article recently (which I can now not find for the life of me, dammit) that revealed that a study recently found that firing range scores for police officers had NO CORRELATION to their success in the field if they found themselves in an actual firefight. Real life situations are just DIFFERENT from shooting targets, even moving ones.
That games and game-likes are increasingly being used as training tools for military and law enforcement purposes is true. But these are not Modern Warfare, or even available to the public. And I’m fairly certain they aren’t used to teach marksmanship so much as tactics and other less-physical skills.
I’ve done consulting on some of those games and game-likes. And you’re absolutely right, none of them “teach you how to kill,” or “teach you to be a soldier,” or even try to reduce your sensitivity to violence. They teach communication, squad tactics, teamwork, that sort of thing.
My Dad took us to a shooting range one time when I was a kid. He had a .38 revolver that he’d bought for some reason years before. It was like 1980-something so I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to “train” on first person shooters, but I was definitely not a crack shot.
I do appreciate that so far no one’s tried to tie Breivik’s crime to video games, though that might change now that we know Modern Warfare was involved. There is a human need to ask the question “why” when something horrible happens, whether it was instigated by another person or pure happenstance. But “why” is actually rarely useful. Who cares “why” Breivik did this, other than in an academic sense? The important questions are “how can we prevent it from happening again,” and “what should we do to this son of a bitch?”
And even if the “why” was of the utmost importance, nothing is simple or clear. But in the wake of tragedies people want simplicity and clarity. WHY did a massacre take place? Video games! Three syllables! Very easy. Very clear. A much more simple “why” than the truth, which is typically complex and redolent with shades of gray.
There is one fact that is hugely important and that we should keep in mind : Breivik has actually practised shooting … in a shooting club.
“An Oslo shooting club has revealed that Breivik was an active member between 2005 and 2007, and since 2010.
He “took part in 13 organised training sessions and one competition since June 2010.”
The club said Breivik “did not stand out” with neither “political positions nor any other feature” that would set off any warning signals.”
That’s why the whole “practising shooting in COD” conundrum is just utter nonsense.
“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.”
In Breivik’s world, Muslisms are “invading” Europe easily thanks to multiculturalism.
And multiculturalism is heavily fostered by the liberals (in Brevik’s words, “marxists”). That is why Breivik shot all these young activists in this summer camp, organized by the main leftist party in Norway.
That is some kind of twisted logic (because of the assumed Islamic “threat”), but that is logical nevertheless.
According to me, Breivik is not mad : like a lot of killers or mass murderers in recent history and in the 20th century, he’s just applying his own deadly logic, with a huge dose of plot theory and isolation in it.
77 people killed. Justice will be done, I hope so !
I don’t know if there’s a huge debate to be had here about the role of videogames in situations like this. I suspect we will get one whether it’s relevant or not.
I just find it staggering that the actions of a man who shows absolutely no remorse, who is calmness personified in the face of such atrocious actions, who makes far-right salutes in court, who openly regrets nothing of his crime and tells the court of how he planned to kill more, who claims that killing 77 people was an act of self defence, are currently being pinned on the involvement of a videogame.
I worry that we will never truly get to the bottom of cases like Breivik whilever this tendency to easily attribute blame to videogames exists.
@Tom – welcome to Tap! I’ve seen from various news sources that Breivik’s choice of targets was based on the assumption that those people were liberal and in favor of cross-culturalization. That’s especially awful. While it would have been just as unspeakable to target what his tiny mind considers “outsiders,” what he was actually doing was killing political foes. Don’t kill the “enemy,” kill the people who might dare to support the “enemy.”
There are times when I think people as a whole are broken, and we might be better off leaving the planet to some creature that isn’t. Domestic cats, for instance. My cat is not a racist at all; she hates everyone and everything equally.
@Mat – agreed. There is no place for discussion of video games in this. It would dilute the ramifications for the victims and pointlessly sway public opinion. And yet, as you say, we may just get that debate no matter what. Games did not do this. Games had nothing to do with this. And of course I’m preaching to the choir in a community like ours, but in a way I feel we still have a responsibility to make our voices heard when accusations are made.
Breivik’s sheer coldness is upsetting. No remorse, not even pride exactly, just… “yeah, I did it.” He knows he killed people. The thing that’s most frightening about him is that he doesn’t seem to care – or if he cares, he cares in the wrong direction.
Regrettably, the sheer amount of no-room-for-actual-discussion in this makes me think that someone or another will decide to really discuss it. Because that’s what media tends to do. I just hope they don’t find out about the airport level…*groans at the thought of putting up with ridiculous reactionary shit from people who have at most read a Wikipedia article on the subject*
“Breivik’s sheer coldness is upsetting. No remorse, not even pride exactly, just… “yeah, I did it.” He knows he killed people. The thing that’s most frightening about him is that he doesn’t seem to care – or if he cares, he cares in the wrong direction.”
You’d have to be a sociopath to do this. That’s certainly not learned from a game. It’s scary what some people are capable of, but this is clearly not normal.
I was part of one of the groups at Michigan State that did a game violence study, though the actual study was conducted in Germany. For the study, a small group – I think about 15 – gamers, were put under an MRI. Their brain waves were monitored for ‘activation’ (a loose term, if you know anything about neuroscience) in the areas related to violence.
As you might predict, all the gamers had very small, temporary activation – things lighting up on the MRI – in those areas when shooting the virtual gun.
…Except for one guy. One guy had no activation there. He was flatline.
I have no idea who he is, but that’s the guy I worry about.
Just one clarification on the whole “sane or insane” topic:
I very much hope that he is found to be insane, simply for the security of society. A common misunderstanding is that people who the court was not able to find guilty since they were insane would go free. It is true that they do not go to jail. Where the maximum time for him would be 30 years, multiple murders don’t add up their time in Norway. Now consider “good behaviour” and, god beware, “jail holliday” in some years, i’d not like to see that.
If he on the other hand is found insane, he’ll go straight to the mental ward. A new “home”, which he’ll leave for only one time: when being brought to the grave. For the sake of society, i consider this the preferable option. (For him and anybody at court, jail definitely is the more attractive option. You at least have hope to go free again and at least are not surrounded with people with a plethora of mental diseases, so jail is actually the more convenient place to spend your time, too… )
Great article Steerpike.
I have been working in mental health for 10 years now and during that time have worked with people with all sorts of histories, Ranging from drugs to sex offending and even murder.
That by no means makes me an expert as every case is so different.
I have to say that I also do not think that he is mad.
His actions were too calculated over a long period of time. He has documented everything and does have many political ideas that many people would agree with. He is a extremist with very warped views on the world but not mad.
My bigger concern is that if he is found to be mad he will not go to prison. Instead he will go to a mental institute and could be living back in the public within 10 years.
On a much worse note however….. Norway has a maximum prison sentence of 17 years. This means that even if found guilty and not mad he would still be out in 17 years.
Breivik made reference to this on his second day in court but it did not make it into many paper.
In his own words he said that the only outcome of this case could be declaring him mad or introducing the death penalty.
I think one of the many reasons that arguments against video games are baseless is that really anything could be a final motivator for some atrocity. If, for example, a person is already unbalanced, could a video game “push them over the edge,” as it were? Probably. But of course so could a movie, or a book, or a conversation, or an idea, or even a dream. Meanwhile, healthy people – and even those with myriad mental illnesses, because most mentally ill are not psychotic killers – can experience those same things and never have a problem. So you can’t just say “games did it,” or even “games influenced it,” and close the case.
Like Amanda’s study, where there was that one guy who didn’t seem to react at all when shooting the virtual gun, it’s the calculators that tend to be the most frightening. I don’t know if Breivik is crazy or not, but as I understand it, should he be found insane, he will be committed and not released until his doctors deem him fit, something that I’m guessing will never happen.
A psychopath doesn’t know what they’re doing is wrong; a sociopath doesn’t care. Breivik strikes me more as the latter, but then I’m not a psychiatrist. And while in this instance Norway’s justice system seems awfully lenient, I can’t imagine anyone in authority has any plans to ever let Breivik be free again, regardless of what the law says.
Legal definitions of madness vary, and the word “mad” covers a lot of ground by dictionary definition, but essentially the question comes down to whether we regard his mental processes as normal (whatever that means!) and/or whether he can reasonably (whatever that means…) be held accountable for his actions.
A parallel question is how society can/should deal with someone like Breivik, both to try to prevent something like this and in its aftermath. He is obviously sufficiently demented (unhinged, deluded, aberrant, crazy or just plain out to lunch) never to be allowed out in the community unsupervised, and I shudder at the idea that he can be seen as legally sane.
And BTW, I am glad to see that someone else has trouble aiming with thumbsticks: console manufacturers (especially Microsoft, as I am an Xbox user) please note, and offer an option with the precise control of a good optical mouse!
This is for Dix:
Probably not exactly what he was looking for, or talking about, but in the same vein nonetheless about how firefights have a life of their own even for trained officers. I found it while reading up on this whole Breivik affair. I also hope he’s declared insane even though I don’t believe he is for the same reasons as Steerpike. Then I hope he gets life in prison, the punishment he wishes for the least. On topic, videogames have also not taught me vital functions of weapon handling such as how to clean it, how to reload it etc. so I’d make a terrible mass murderer if I was relying on my virtual training to get me through a real life situation (not that I’d want to, I like living in relative freedom and peace).
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