Norway mass-shooting trial reopens debate on violent video games
Norway’s alleged mass killer testified on Thursday that he played video games as a way to train for a shooting spree that killed 77 people last summer. In particular, Anders Behring Breivik said at his trial that he played “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” as a means of shooting practice, according to CNN’s report.
The confessed shooter also said he once played the online game “World of Warcraft,” a role-playing adventure with multiple players from around the world, for as many as 16 hours a day.
For people who have long suspected that there is some link between violent video games and real-world violence, the statement offered frightening new evidence for why the video-game industry should be more strictly regulated.
Many gamers and columnists, however, rolled their eyes and collectively muttered “here we go again.”
“How many times are we going to do this?” Paul Tassi wrote in a Forbes story, “The idiocy of blaming video games for the Norway massacre.” “Really now, it’s getting absurd.”
“Norway Killer Played World of Warcraft, Which Probably Means Nothing At All,” declared a headline on Time.com, which shares a parent company with CNN.
Whether shoot-‘em-up video games can incite violence has been a long-running debate among the public as well as in clinical psychology. This type of discussion tends to come up every time it’s revealed that a high-profile killer also played video games.
Perhaps the most memorable case study was the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, during which experts speculated about the influence of the game “Doom” on the teenagers who carried out that crime.
And for years, the controversial “Grand Theft Auto” series, in which players can kill police officers, was targeted by critics who said it glamorizes criminals and promotes violence. The makers of the game were even sued by the attorney for a convicted cop killer in Alabama, who argued the game inspired his client.
Ultimately, it seems like science should judge whether playing violent video games can lead to a propensity for violence in the real world. A number of recent studies have cast doubts about the link between video games and violence, but there’s no definitive answer.
Confusingly, a 2004 U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education report studied 24 cases of school violence and found: “Over half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence, through movies, video games, books and other media. However, there was no one common type of interest in violence indicated. Instead, the attackers’ interest in violent themes took various forms.”
The always-vocal jury of the Internet, meanwhile, rushed on Thursday to the defense of the video game industry. Here’s a breakdown of the general argument, in case you want to be supercontrarian and appropriate these points for cocktail-party conversation this weekend.
Point 1: Lots of people play video games and don’t kill people.
“How many subscribers do those two games have? Several million? And yet several million of us managed not to go bonkers with a gun,” a commenter on my Google+ page. “Ridiculous argument.”
Point 1.5: Lots of people who play “FarmVille” don’t actually farm.
Here’s a related point: People who play other kinds of video games don’t usually (or ever) act out the things they do in the games. “Shooters do not create real-life killers. Neither does “FarmVille” create real-life farmers,” another Google+ commenter said.
Point 2: The confessed Norway killer had other apparent influences.
“If we’re looking for Breivik’s influences and motivations, we’d better start with xenophobia, fundamentalist Christianity and right-wing ideology before even mentioning what was in his Xbox,” a commenter wrote on CNN’s story about the trial.
And from Lisa Smith on Google+: “If there were no violent video games or movies, would Breivek have shrugged off writing his manifesto [on] his irrational fear of Islam? No, then perhaps then if he’d been unable to watch the news? Oops, now we have to keep him from using the Internet, was that enough?”
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Video games being blamed for violence in real life. . .yet again.