Anders Breivik and the Attack on Games
Simon Rowbotham argues against the tabloid viewpoint that violent video games were responsible for the serial killer’s actions…
Anders Breivik, Norwegian serial killer, currently standing on trial for his crimes recently purported that he trained for his attacks using combat simulation game Call of Duty. What he failed to admit was that he also trained for the attacks by cutting up his breakfast daily to develop his murderous hand-eye co-ordination, practised his devastating aiming skills by systematically pointing at far away objects for hours on end and visited his local gun club to practise firing real life hand-guns extensively. I’m not quite sure that last one is as significant however.
The tabloid news coverage of Anders Breivik and its venomous fixation on video games as the locus of societal breakdown in light of one mad man’s testimony unsurprisingly makes a bedfellow of ignorance in order to sell newspapers. Whilst The Daily Mail never stated that we should ban video games, it did systematically beat the “facts” about video games over the head with a crowbar in order to heavily imply it to death with a plastic bag. In a section entitled “the very real dangers” of video-games The Daily Mail explained that laboratory tests find that video games increase aggression, reduce brain activity and 18+ video games were played by squidgy blobs of mass as young as four. These of course are the “very real dangers” of all video games from Call of Duty up to, and including, Barbie Horse Adventure. They aren’t compellingly argued dangers of course. Laboratory experiments have proven that laboratory experiments inherently increase aggression in subjects due to their clinical and stress inducing situation. Regarding minors acquiring 18 rated games this is of course against the law, so why blame the object as opposed to the criminal? (In this case negligent care givers or unenthused shop staff). And as for the reduced brain activity finding, well that never stopped The Daily Mail being sold did it?
If we are to believe these “very real dangers of video games” how do they apply to a game like Flower where you control the breeze with a goal of collecting petals? Games, like any other artistic medium, have the ability to portray vast amounts of subject matter. If you dislike cans of orange juice I’d imagine this is the fault of the content and not the container. You dislike orange juice, not tin. Yet when it comes to video games the container is far too often the focus of the criticism as opposed to the content. One specific game may be called into question, but video games in general are broadly attacked. This is not to say that Call of Duty “trained” Anders Breivik or made him violent, but rather that criticism of the game quickly shifted to the nature of video games themselves.
When the criminally insane (or otherwise) cite a certain “violent” video-game, film, book or piece of fruit as a modus operandi then why is it so tempting for us to blame the object named as opposed to the perpetrator of the crime, or other far more significant social, economical or behavioural causal factors? Thousands upon thousands of people play video games such as Call of Duty every day, and many of those manage to not shoot somebody as they go about their day-to-day business. Put simply it is because the large majority of us can distinguish between reality and fiction. So what now? Ban fiction? You’ll have to ban The Daily Mail.