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.
I think it is easy for people of our, shall we say "mature" generation, to jump to a judgmental position on this. Although never a computer "gamer" myself, I had a brief sojourn working in the industry myself. I met many warm, kind and decent young people who did love World of Warcraft and similar games. It's madness to associate the average young person with Breivik.
They're taking advantage of amazing technological advances in entertainment. That's all. Remember that the gaming industry is bigger than music and film combined these days.
The definition of mass murder is four people, and there were 4 episodes prior to 1990, 6 between 1991-97 and none since.. I think I've got that right.
Its difficult to see the internet as a problem in the 90s killings as few people had it, the games were more like Mah Jong than WoW and the broadband needed for such games was years away for most people.
The abrupt cessation of mass murder after about 1997 when fast broadband and realistic violent games came in looks more like the reality after porn became legalised, ie, in the worst cases it dulls the senses but also provides a solitary outlet.
Which brings us back to Brevik et al.. clearly the internet provided him, the Jihadis and others the means to hone their pre-existing murderous impulses, but the internet maybe more likely influenced the number of deaths than provided the impulse.
I've played World of Warcraft for 3 years now, and I don't suddenly have the urge to go on a shooting spree. For me it's a way to unwind after the working day, not to act out twisted fantasies.
Blaming video games for Breivik's trigger-happy episode is attacking the symptom. If anything, games such as the Grand Theft Auto series are a reflection of societal malaise, rather than a cause of it. Breivik himself was screwed up from the start - people like him have an inferiority complex cranked up to 11, especially the "thwarted social climber" types.
If you want a real glimpse of Breivik's pathological narcissism, then Google "2083: A Declaration of European Independence". Also, more attention needs focusing on the counter-jihad echo chambers that he name-checked in his "manifesto". If you substitute every one of their mentions of "Muslim" with "Jew" or "Gypsy", don't be too surprised if the end result resembles something out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
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