On Rock, Paper, Shotgun, John Walker tears into the mainstream press's treatment of mass-murderer Anders Breivik's video-game habits. Breivik's gaming has been prominently mentioned in press accounts, and the Norwegian prosecutor also called attention to it. Breivik himself described his World of Warcraft sessions as a "martyrdom gift," a "sabbatical year," and stated that he played to unwind after a difficult stretch of work in planning his atrocities and writing his 800,000 word manifesto.
Later, Breivik talks about using Modern Warfare to prepare for his massacre, calling it "a simple war simulator." But as Walker points out, Breivik's description of what he did with the game in order to train for his assault doesn't actually jibe with the way that the game works -- Breivik describes doing things that the game doesn't do. Walker points out that most of Breivik's statements about his motives and inspiration are treated skeptically by the press and prosecutors, but where Breivik describes using games to prepare for slaughter, his statements aren't just taken at face value, they are enthusiastically amplified and elaborated.
Walker shows that this reporting slant is widespread, across different news entities with different audiences, from CNN to The Irish Times to Al Arabia News. It seems like the press has already made up its mind about what role games play in social violence, and will cherry pick and even distort facts to support that narrative.
That’s not what Modern Warfare is, or lets you do. The scripted corridors, nor the multiplayer, offer no useful practice for any such actions, and don’t allow you to simulate practising killing policemen in the manner Breivik describes. There is of course the infamous No Russian airport level, in which you play as an undercover agent with terrorists, and are able to shoot (or not shoot) civilians and policemen, but I think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it offers what Breivik claims. Of course there are many other shooters out that that would let you create your own specific scenarios, attempt to rehearse escaping from armed forces, and so on. But Breivik, in keeping with much else of his rhetoric, doesn’t make much sense here. It is very unfortunate that while a sceptical press has been enjoying picking over his comments about being a member of the Knights Templar, and disproving them, they see no need to question his remarks on using Call Of Duty as a simulator for combating armed police in real life. Instead here it’s assumed he’s being honest and clear-headed. It’s also important to note that Breivik’s memoir makes it clear that he only played MW2 after he had entirely planned the attacks, and it was in no way influential on his decision to kill anyone.
The same Times report then explains how Breivik named all his guns, citing El Cid for having done the same for his favourite sword, but oddly doesn’t then condemn the learning of history. Instead, astonishingly, it just reports the names for all the weapons, and doesn’t even mention the possible concern that he was in possession of them. They also don’t mention the enormous detail written in the manifesto about how these guns were legally and illegally acquired, and the enormous amount of time he spent at shooting ranges, practising firing them. Factors that, you would imagine a journalist reporting on how he had trained for his attacks, would think relevant to bring up. But no, instead, only Modern Warfare and World Of Warcraft are mentioned.
Yet again I feel compelled to repeat the refrain: were gaming genuinely a dangerous factor, something that could cause someone to become a murderer, we would want to know about it, and you can damn well believe we’d be reporting on it. What more serious matter could there be for gamers than to be aware of this? This is not about defending gaming, but about defending truth, and truth in reporting. And it is woefully lacking in the so-called respectable papers over this matter. The headline in the Times bears no relation to what is actually said by Breivik. It obfuscates the year he spent playing WoW to give himself a rest with the couple of months he spent with Modern Warfare, and it ignores the huge amount of time he spent actually practising firing real weapons. While taking massive amounts of steroids.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.