How the press is distorting the Breivik trial to make video games central to the narrative


75 Responses to “How the press is distorting the Breivik trial to make video games central to the narrative”

  1. Christopher says:

    I’ve seen a headline that blamed video games and Wikipedia. So let’s make sure we hold the Wikipedia industry accountable as well. Who do they think they are, anyway, with all their frequently updated and fact-checked information about a staggeringly broad range of topics?

  2. Jim Saul says:

    One of the few times when it’s pretty goddamned accurate to drop “Nazi” into the conversation, and they’re talking about games?

    Did he also play with a white supremacist manifesto-writing simulator?

    • Brainspore says:

      If you recall, in the immediate aftermath of the massacre Glenn Beck made a point of comparing Breivik’s victims to Nazis. Which is further evidence that the part of his brain which would normally recognize Nazi-like traits was installed backwards.

      • Jim Saul says:

        I’ve read that glue-sniffing carnival barker’s private network has more than 300k paid subscribers, so there are a lot of wanna-be McVeighs out there lubing up their pistols while watching his show. They’re going to freak right the fuck out when the price of gold crashes this summer, at the height of the election season.

  3. SpaceBeers says:

    Imagine an atrocity properly based on Modern Warfare multiplayer. The person carrying it out would either be constantly twirling round and jumping or crouched behind a barrel calling everyone within earshot names.

  4. danegeld says:

    From the BBC: 

    He said he reloaded after running out of ammunition. “People were begging for their lives. I just shot them in the head.” The stunned silence in the courtroom was replaced with tears, our correspondent adds.

    In fact there is no mention of video games in the report today. One problem raised by this killing is really that the Norwegian legal system is not designed to handle a crime of his magnitude. Do they need to prove him insane to keep him locked up indefinitely? I understand that he can only get 21 years maximum, if he is deemed sane and tried as a criminal.

    • desperado says:

      If, after 21 years, he is deemed a danger to the public, they can still hold him.

      • starfish and coffee says:

        Exactly. 21 years is the maximum sentence, or punishment if you like. But that does not mean you walk free after that, you are freed once you are no longer a danger to society. There is a broad misunderstanding in international media that one walks free once the sentence is complete, which I think is an idea lazily derived from the image of Norway as a fairly soft nation.

        But rest assured there are people currently locked up in institutions in Norway who finished their sentences many years ago.  Whether they find him sane or not, he is not coming out again ever.

        • danegeld says:

          Thanks for that clarification; maybe I accidentally read a copy of the Daily Mail..

        • Brainspore says:

          A lot of people on my side of the Atlantic pointed to that “21 years maximum sentence” as evidence that we need draconian tough-on-crime measures, including capital punishment, to keep us safe from violent people like Breivik.

          Of course those people fail to acknowledge that Norway has one of the lowest murder rates of any society in recorded history, or that the death penalty is no deterrent for someone who has no fear of death.

          • Kimmo says:

            You know what might make us safer from the likes of Breivik?

            Abolishing the MPAA. Why don’t we put a bit of attention back on older forms of media…? Combine the MPAA’s horrific preference for violence over sex (or anything odd that might promote empathy with weird people) with the ability of video to affect a far younger audience than gaming, and IMO you have a pretty juicy target for genuine reform.

    •  Is it not just similar to the UK system?  I believe (but may be wrong, IANAL) that ‘live imprisonment’ in the UK is actually 21 years, but there are other systems in place to ensure that you end up in prison forever.  Primarily I think through assigning multiple life sentences.

      It would seem oddly civilised to have a system that doesn’t allow life imprisonment.  I say civilised as if someone needs to be incarcerated for more than 21 years due to their behavior they should really be in a psychiatric institute.

  5. MB44 says:

    I have also been playing (studying) NHL 2012 for the beginning of my professional hockey career. I have never skated before but a few hours of this game everyday and I should be ready in no time right? This is only if I have time given that I will be launching my agricultural empire this summer. Farmville has me primed and ready and if there are other ways to learn about the realities of farming (should be easy and entertaining) then they are lost on me!

  6. puppybeard says:

    To be fair to the Irish Times, they apparently have a gamer on staff who puts it all in context and pours cold water on the idea of games as a cause of violence:

  7. Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

    Hey Boingboing. As a survivor of the massacre, frequently quoted interviewee and daily follower of the trial, I’d just like to fill in a little.

    Of course this is going to be something the press will have a field day with. It’s a narrative so simple they probably have text templates for it. Youth culture is trivial to present as ominous, however innocent it is.  But the prosecution is not a part of this moral panic, which is an impression which might easily be left by this summary:

    The prosecution has called attention to his one-year sabbatical World of Warcraft gaming spree. This is for multiple reasons. First, it is a data point in terms of his ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Secondly, it is a data point in terms of informing about his social reclusion process. His sanity is a crucial matter of the trial.

    (It is a fact completely absent in the coverage of this, that at least one of the survivors used gaming metaphors he learned in the same computer game in order to plan his escape, wondering whether to “camp” or “rush”. Despite that I’m a computer geek, I don’t do too much gaming myself.)

    • RedShirt77 says:

       It’s great to have you commenting here.  Sorry you had to go through that and the loss you have suffered.

      Do you know if they used his bizarre religious beliefs more prominently then WOW playing?

    • Brainspore says:

      That makes sense, it doesn’t surprise me a bit that the press is distorting or simplifying the court arguments.

      So sorry for your tragic experience and loss.

    • Kimmo says:

      It is a fact completely absent in the coverage of this, that at least one of the survivors used gaming metaphors he learned in the same computer game in order to plan his escape, wondering whether to “camp” or “rush”.

      So while we have obviously trumped-up bullshit being spouted in order to condemn gaming, here we have a concrete example of a positive aspect. Colour me unsurprised at the injustice of it all…

      Thanks for speaking up.

    • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

      (By the way, I was really amused to find one of the journalists sitting behind Breivik wearing an Activision Grand Prix T-shirt. I sure hope they checked him thoroughly for weapons.)

  8. RedShirt77 says:

    I love how traditional media can’t ever drop the narrative that youth culture is the source of evil. Particularly when religion and racism, very old ideas, were so central to fueling the actions of this disturbed individual.

    I will wait patiently for the news stories about the dangers of religious belief.

    • msbpodcast says:

      You’d think so, but its always somebody elses’ religious beliefs. (Despite the noxious nature of all religions.)

      • Religions are no more or less noxious than most large scale, powerful institutions composed of human beings (see political parties, corporations, ect.)

        • desperado says:

          I would beg to differ.  Religion is the business of peddling “Truth” (note the big T), where those others peddle different things.

          There is a big difference, because True Believers lose the ability to back out.  Doing so proves to all around that they are not True Believers.
          I can always get rid of a car and still keep my world view.

          • bcsizemo says:

            Being one of the few conservatives who openly posts so on BB I have to agree.  I also will throw in any group that believes so blindly in their organization that they can do no wrong, be it conservative/republican, democrat/liberal, religious, and just about anything else.

            When you can’t see the forest for all the trees you have lost your sense of perspective and logic.

          • “I would beg to differ.  Religion is the business of peddling “Truth” (note the big T), where those others peddle different things.”

            My point is not so much with regard to what they’re peddling, but the effects they have on society.  I don’t believe any religion is noxious – I believe human beings have deeply ingrained propensities for doing things which we regard as noxious, and these propensities will express themselves in all human institutions, regardless of their being secular or religious.  People have lost the ability to back out from various things – the idea of nation states, political ideologies – the true believers in certain types of economic theories are currently wreaking havoc on all our lives.  Religion is complex phenomenon that produces a variety of effects, positive and negative, just as science does.  Once human beings on mass use these things, they tend to be either as good or bad as the individuals involved, and don’t have some kind of simple Platonic essence, where one is intrinsically good, and the other intrinsically bad.

        • Kimmo says:

          General human tendencies toward noxiousness notwithstanding, I too feel Religion is a special case (I’ll use the capitalised term to distinguish the specific from the general).

          Perhaps we can reach a bit more consensus by employing a broader definition; if we use the term to denote any belief system that depends on its members refraining from questioning its precepts, this gives us a template to legitimately condemn all manner of institutions (under this definition, a ‘Religion’ like Zen Buddhism doesn’t qualify as actual religion, since it’s a proper philosophy that doesn’t seek to escape evolution; faith is not required – it’s just lumped in with Religion because of all the other flavours of Buddhism).

          However, when it comes to the major faiths, I can’t help but see them as distinct from other widespread ideas that people fail to question, due to some major features unique to Religion. The first thing that comes to mind is the sheer intellectual bankruptcy on display; so much of it is obviously just garbage of little more than anthropological value, and the vast majority of these ideas have long been superceded by more evolved concepts. This is mostly not true of other forms of religion; in many cases we’re still waiting for a better idea to come along (at least something that seems remotely feasible).

          Then there’s how deep it runs: it has the capacity to preclude the development of anything approaching a scientific perspective on all reality. Anyone so affected (depending on how much cognitive dissonance they can manage) may well be able to contribute to the arts, but as far as the sciences are concerned, they can never be more than mere subjects, excluded from contributing to humanity’s growing understanding of reality, and worse, often actively working against such progress.

          To what extent the scope of various forms of religion extends or is limited, and how vast the associated opportunity cost may be compared to Religion, is left as an exercise for the reader.

          • Wreckrob8 says:

            But maybe we are each at times guilty of thinking philosophically, religiously, Religously or scientifically as you define them. It is the conflict within us which leads to meaningful change and progress, even if it leads to the loss of meaning for some and violent or sexual extremes. How much of what we do and say results from evolutionary/creative processes and is conscious and how much is unconscious? What is the relation between nature and culture?

  9. Mattias Orre says:

    nobody in court is blaming games whatsoever. What is interesting to them is the mystical world of secret guilds, knights, dragons, honor and missions that he lives in; also, whether these other templars he met were similar nutty gamers, complete fiction, or something more serious. He talks about everything in mission accomplished terms. Sociology/psychology doesnt blame games at all; however, theres no doubt that people can take refuge in them, violent people can enjoy games for the violence, just as they may gravitate towards violent films etc.

    •  Well put.

      The role I’ve always seen violent games and films playing in these scenarios is an outlet.  I think that the media gets the cause and effect the wrong way round.  Violent people are more likely to gravitate toward violent media.  Violent games don’t make people violent.

      They definitely play a role in desensitising violence, but I’m not convinced that this translates to a shift in morals or violent tendencies; and any sane person puts fictional violence in a very different category to real violence.  I could run people over all day on GTA, but I see a small incision on a medical documentary and I’m covering my eyes.

      • Kimmo says:

         Yeah, my feeling is that such desensitisation won’t do a damn thing to affect your decisions, but may well make it easier to cope if you’re ever faced with what you’ve been practising for.

  10. SomeGuyNamedMark says:

    I can understand why the press mentioned Modern Warfare (he shot people just like in the game!) but I don’t really see the point of mentioning World of Warcraft.  Maybe he was imagining that he was killing trash mobs on the island to level up?

    •  I wondered what relevance WoW could have in this context.  A couple of comments above mention how the courts are using this information, which makes a lot more sense; but suggesting that it could be used as a tool to practice… well, anything, is misguided lunacy.

    • vette says:

      The way I see it they are trying to find out if moving back home with his mother to play WoW in ’06 truly was a martyr’s gift to himself (e.g. he’d already decided to become a mass murderer) or if he was just a WoW addict now lying to make himself look better. He’s already been caught lying about the Knight Templars, his business deals and his role in the right wing community both online and offline.

      Now the focus on Modern Warfare instead of the fact that he legally got a semi-automatic is what baffles me. Norway is a country where most police officers don’t use weapons. I hadn’t seen an armed policeman until 23rd of July last year, and I’m almost thirty!

    • First Last says:

      The local newspaper’s article last week focused almost entirely on World of Warcraft and only mentioned MW in passing (which I found odd) – they pretty much fixated on it being a fantasy world where he would escape to, but also – and this was weird as an old WoW player – the PvP related title of “Justicar”, which they had a lot of incorrect beliefs on how to obtain, but said that it was “crucial” to him as part of his self-image as a “Holy Knight”.

  11. msbpodcast says:

    The press is quite clueless as concerns anything not related to their own agenda, deliberately so… They’re in business to make money and the name Anders Behring Breivik is the current whip they use to flog their noise makers.

    They attack video games, despite the total absence of any empirical evidence of any media effect, because its easy and they can sell their audiences eyeballs and fleeting attention to advertisers.

    I really don’t expect that to change as long as the name Hitler resonates with something not quite forgotten in the northern-hemispheric psyche and people have all become ignorant. (Some people under the age of 20 really don’t know who Hitler was. I once knew a girl who didn’t know what the pyramids are. Ignorance is universal and evenly distributed.)

    The elite 1%ers actually have a problem with the level of ignorance of history, while they approve of it since that means they can keep on pulling the wool over our eyes, they keep having to create new demons, hence Anders Behring Breivik.

    While they are willing to cannibalize sales for the purposes of propaganda and the kids are buying the games anyway and they aren’t buying the line of BS.

    • desperado says:

      “Some people under the age of 20 really don’t know who Hitler was. I once knew a girl who didn’t know what the pyramids are.”

      I once knew a girl that did not know Texas bordered Mexico.  She believed that below Texas was more ocean, since , you know, maps of the U.S.A. don’t include Mexico.

      The problem:  we lived in Midland, Texas.  Less than 200 miles from Mexico.  And she was raised there (Midland, not Mexico).

      • buddy66 says:

         A 16-year-old boy from San Diego visiting Newport, Oregon once asked me, while standing on the deck of my beach house, which ocean it was we were looking at.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Things have decayed since halfway through my high school Latin class, one of the other students asked if the teacher could point out Lat on a map.

    • “I really don’t expect that to change as long as the name Hitler resonates with something not quite forgotten in the northern-hemispheric psyche and people have all become ignorant. (Some people under the age of 20 really don’t know who Hitler was. I once knew a girl who didn’t know what the pyramids are. Ignorance is universal and evenly distributed.)”

      Like how some folks only discovered that the Titanic was a real ship during the recent commemoration.  Quite frankly these revelations explain why our modern connected world is so fucked up, because it’s riddled with these half-people.

      • digi_owl says:

        That, or the modern world is so full of historical data than to process it all takes a whole life. Hell, only reason i feel i can really dive beyond the news media soundbites on various topics is because i have essentially stepped away from local social life.

        • penguinchris says:

          This is something I find interesting in Star Trek. Particularly in TNG, historical (and contemporary-to-them sociology) references are made all the time, extending into the 24th century.

          I know Picard and the rest are extraordinary humans, but their staggering depth of knowledge on seemingly every relevant topic is the one thing that strikes me as being really unbelievable in Star Trek. They simply don’t have the time to be so knowledgable on things not directly related to their job (other than Data).

          In the late 80′s and early 90′s, of course, the world wasn’t like today where we have all that information at our fingertips. Even though the Enterprise computer contains way more information than Wikipedia, the writers couldn’t have known what it would actually be like to live in that world, and they got it wrong.

          As you say: there’s just too much information to process, even if you do dedicate your life to it (heck I’m unemployed and all I do most days is read the internet, and I’m two days behind on reading Boing Boing alone right now).

          • digi_owl says:

            The TNG crew is something of a throwback to the Napoleonic era, where officers were supposed to be learned gentlemen as well as soldiers. Hell, it was the Napoleonic campaign to Egypt that uncovered the Rosetta stone. This because they brought along archeologists as well as soldiers. Still, TNG and later is a post-scarcity society. As such, many can dedicate their lives to study that today spend most of they day doing some kind of service job for minimum pay just to cover basic needs.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            They do say about a dozen times in the series that the Enterprise is not a military vessel.

      • bkad says:

        To play devil’s advocate, it what sense could it possibly matter whether people know the Titanic was a real ship? Of all the billions of things to know about the world, how is that an important thing?


        • Kimmo says:

          Well, you pick up such details when you’re interested in the world.

          It’s fairly hard to miss given even just a cursory glance at history, and thus indicative of someone’s level of historical understanding. How many folks in the world know a useful amount of history without being aware of the Titanic, for crying out loud.

          Such a person may not even know who Hitler was, and then you’re talking some pretty major intellectual impoverishment. Knowing about that shit is compulsory for a fully-fledged modern human.

        • It’s symbolic.

          Nobody knows everything, but some things, everyone should know.

    • Wreckrob8 says:

      I think this northern hemispheric psyche shifted to South America at one point. Maybe it is caused by global warming.

  12. Paul Renault says:

    If you took the time to read all of Brevik’s diary in the period leading to the bombing and shooting, you’d know that he played the games for relaxation not training.

    Besides, why not mention his Catholicism?

    • vette says:

      Because we have, like, five Catholics in all of Norway, so that would be bullying.

      (Exaggurating on purpose. About 1.5% of the population are Catholic, compared to 79.4% protestant, 1.7% humanists and 2.1% Muslims.)

      • digi_owl says:

        And i suspect a big portion of the protestants are so in “name” only. They show up in church for various events concerning their extended family and friends, but otherwise can’t be bothered with religion unless it gets shouted in their face.

      • FrodeSvendsen says:

        Also.. atheists. More than 50% of the population are atheists.. 

  13. Mattias Orre says:

    notice how mspodcast made up a load of untruths about the liberal 1% elite. First of all, conservatism is elitist, liberalism is about egalitarianism. Secondly, no academics are claiming games caused this at all. Learn to distinguish between what ever garbage tabloids you like to read, and academia and science. Thirdly, studying sociology, Ive experienced several ”liberal, elitist’ professors who have in fact made the opposite claim, that nothing proves games cause violence, that the overwhelming statistical majority who play games do not go out and kill people is a very strong indicator of this; lastly, the sad, sad, sad comment – on the same page as one of the survivors – that they, the liberal elite created ABB…thats just disgusting, blaming his filth on those he wants to kill

    • desperado says:

      I don’t…. I may be stupid, I fully admit, but I can’t see where msbpodcast ranted against liberals in any way, or liberal elites, or any other such thing.

      Before you accuse someone of unloading untruths, you might want to check that your accusations themselves are uh… true.

      • Mattias Orre says:

        because I recognize the rhetoric very well. I may be wrong, but I bet he meant ‘liberals’ (scary music), as all the righties, including breivik, like to brand ‘media as  ‘elitist liberal’ indoctrination

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          I’m afraid that you’ve screwed the pooch on this one.  Neither that comment nor his history suggest that he’s some sort of right wing agitator.

  14. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    Q: “Why are you going into journalism?”
    A: “To make a difference.”
    You hear it all the time. That’s right, people by their nature, go into journalism to amplify and further their agenda. Sometimes their agenda is politics, sometimes the agenda is themselves. It’s humanity, and if we really want to have an effective press we have to first acknowledge that this is what has, is, and will always be right under the table waiting to rise to the fore. It’s just human nature. Look for it in a news source near you. Watch a Bill Moyers PBS news program like his old “Journal” vs Bill O’Reiley’s self  named show. They both reflect the natural inclinations of the content providers. Bill Moyer’s show is thoughtful, subdued, analytical, and humanitarian. Bill O’Reiley’s offerings are angry, accusatory, loud, burlesque, and his general approach to humanity is punitive and judgemental.  Both try to act as a vanguard for the views of the journalist. Bill Moyers forwards his model of bettering humanity via investment and betterment of the individual. And O’Reiley attempts to better humanity via judging and punishing those who he views as not pulling their weight and thus stealing from those who do. What ever their successes or failures, the point is they come to the anchor desk with an agenda and they select their information to serve that agenda. It’s human nature, you can”t turn off the dynamics of Bill  Moyers or O’Reily no matter what you do. They are a play that will always be with humanity. The question is, how do we make new sources when the people who are trusted with the news cannot stop themselves from trying to make history instead of reporting it?

    So long as we cannot, and I offer no real solutions. We’re just going to have to be observant individuals and learn how to parse the difference between opinion, information, selective information, and raw data. One good thing will come of the revolution in surveillance. Ready access to raw data. Well so long as we maintain some access to what is collected. But that’s another story.

  15. Mattias Orre says:

    because I recognize the rhetoric very well. I may be wrong, but I bet he meant ‘liberals’ (scary music), as all the righties, including breivik, like to brand ‘media as ‘liberal’ indoctrination

  16. Ryan Lenethen says:

    Crazy people to crazy things, for crazy reasons. That’s because, you know, they are crazy. Attributing truth or logic to their ravings only calls into question your own sanity.

  17. Graysmith says:

    Media is always looking for the easy sell to peddle their papers. It’ll be video games that caused him to do it one day, and the next it’ll be something completely different (but equally sensationalist to get people to buy their paper each day). Few try to dig into the heart of the matter because it’s just so much easier to go for the flashy and sensationalist.

    Nothing new under the sun here, really.

  18. Shinkuhadoken says:

    It’s easy to blame video games, but what about the news media itself?

    Isn’t it interesting how much attention someone who commits horrible acts get? No one paid attention to those people before, but now the news media makes sure everyone knows their name, their habits, their beliefs, as well as what they were willing to do to get in as much trouble as they did. The more outrageous the better.

    Clearly, you should hide your kids from watching the news media, lest they be tempted to become their next segment.

  19. johnyaya says:

    Games are not the cause of violence.

    However, violence is the cause of games.

    Take from that what you will.

  20. bcsizemo says:

    I’ve played Half Life for several years and I am amazing with a crow bar.

  21. buddy66 says:

    I once walked through a mock village with a machine gun, firing short bursts at pop-up targets, and found it to be about as useful for the real thing as watching a John Wayne movie. One of my grandsons plays shooter games, but he knows they’re bullshit as much as I do. I’ll have to ask him if the guns ever jam; the real ones often do.

  22. EggyToast says:

    I also noticed a headline stating that Breivik studied Al Qaeda, but the first paragraph stated that he studied Al Qaeda and Tim McVeigh. And then, of course, stuck with the Al Qaeda quotes through the rest of the article.

    Nevermind that McVeigh is essentially identical to this guy — Al Qaeda is much sexier.

  23. holgerbolger says:

    i agree that the media coverage of the video games is not correct. i play video games a lot,
    including the CoD series.

    but is the biggest problem coming of the breivik trial the wrong articles about video games?!
    i don’t think so, this is just the normal reflex of newspaper/media.. i’m used to it.

    and, in my opinion, the “infamous airport level” IS in fact disgusting.. and completely unnecessary. activision did it just for PR and controversies like this.

  24. podopolog says:

    hmm, i can certainly see the usual idiotic tact of the media to attach all sorts of erroneus associations to this spectacular monster and the unsavory details of his racist-pickled brain on trial. But really i think jumping to the defense of the game indu$try is also a little ludicrous. It’s overflowing with abundantly cheap, dim-witted, sexist , steroidal hollywood-flash and mean-spirited content to gum up and stick hard to adolescent + adult brains alike. Honestly not so familiar with WOW, but for a recent presentation in Berlin, the XLterrestrials analyzed Jane McGonigal’s evangelical Ted talk ( alongside EA Game designer interviews ) and find her silicon-induced sales-pitch blabber for the industry, mostly laughable… when it is not fairly disturbing. I.e., she goes as far as to state she finds her online relationships more valuable, more rewarding, more exciting than her physical world relationships. I tend not to believe her personalized carny-bark bits much, but we are all deep inside a very alienated mass mediated culture, and the product-players do a bang-up job of leeching onto the market within that, and it ain’t a pretty sight! Can someone point to a more serious analysis of violent games’ effects on behavior?? I’d be far more interested to read that, than Cory’s heroic pose to defend the gamer’s territory.

  25. It should be noted that here in Norway the media coverage described in this article is very much NOT the case. ABB’s claims of using video games for weapons training has been treated equally to other obvious lies and daydreams.

    Forum commenters who have always been against violent video games however, are continuing to say “I told you so”.

  26. morningtime says:

    Cause and consequence. Breivik wanted to kill and then used simulation games for target practice. Not the other way around! 

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