ONE OF the least surprising news items of the past week was the revelation that the Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik had spent a year cloistered in his mother’s flat immersed in an online role-playing game called World of Warcraft.
One of the defining characteristics of multiple killers is a lack of empathy with their fellow human beings. They are often loners leading isolated lives. David Gray, who shot dead 13 people at Aramoana in 1990, was a textbook example.
Online games developed too late for Gray – he had to make do with books about war – but they seem the perfect outlet for the antisocial fantasies of the brooding, sociopathic loser. What better preparation for the clinically efficient murder of 77 complete strangers than to shut yourself off and indulge in a violent, vengeful fantasy game that involves no interaction with real people? This is the dark flipside of the Net.
What we don’t know is whether it was lack of empathy with other people that attracted Breivik to the solitary life of the compulsive computer gamer in the first place, or whether he developed the trait as a result of his addiction to the virtual world.
Either way, perhaps compulsive online gaming should henceforth be regarded as a danger sign – along with a fondness for army-surplus camouflage uniforms, another worrying indicator of the potential revenge fantasist.