'Call of Duty' and Mass Murders: Are Video Games Too Violent?

Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man currently on trial for the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of 77 people on July 22, 2011, in Norway, admitted to playing violent video games like Modern Warfare to plan for the killings. Predictively, the media has overemphasized the impact violent video games had on Breivik’s behavior before his attack, using it as a scapegoat for many other issues that lead to the heinous attack.

Video games, movies, TV shows, and music are mediums used for casual entertainment. Yet, one has to wonder why video games are commonly attributed to violence, even when they are only tangentially related to a case of violence. 

One major reason why video games are commonly attributed to violence in comparison to cinema is age: Video games are one of the youngest mediums to surface in the consciousness of the modern mainstream public. New forms of artistic expression and new technological advances often come under attack from skeptics, who may attribute a perceived rise in societal ills to the new style or advance.

New music trends, just like video games, have come under attack for their perceived perversities at multiple points in their history. For example, when Elvis Presley was revolutionizing rock and roll in 1956, the way he moved caused controversy, the way he moved his hips viewed as lewd sexual gyrations.

Some went as far at to accuse him of causing young people to engage in wanton sexual acts. One letter to the FBI at the time accused him of being a natural security threat, whose "actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth." The same file also noted that there was gossip of "Presley Fan Clubs that degenerate into sex orgies." 

The accusation that Presley is responsible for instigating irresponsible sexual acts by adolescents is ridiculous by modern standards, but no less ridiculous than sensationalizing modern, relatively violent video games, and their supposed contribution to murder and violence.

In his trial on April 19 Breivik claimed that a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare "is good if you want to simulate" police response and escape strategy "for training purposes."

Breivik used video games for simulating killings, but he was mentally unstable before he played video games. They were never the cause of the murders themselves.

In addition, the assumption that games are effective tools to teach people how to conduct attacks at a large scale is highly suspect; video games like Modern Warfare have very different settings from reality. Video games do not teach people how to get access to bombs and guns. There is no better training for aiming with a gun than to have access to a real gun. The more important question is how could Breivik have relatively easy access to such weapons without raising suspicions until the attack took place?

Finally, the most offensive part of attributing murders to video games is that it sounds like a hollow excuse to the family of the victims. It is insensitive to tell the survivors that a child’s game is responsible for the death of their loved ones.

It is time we stop using violent video games as a scapegoat for serious problems that can result in criminal activities. We should address the problem of xenophobia, mental health issues, gun laws, and religious fundamentalism, which have more significant contributions to Breivik’s ideology, motivations and actions.

Normal, well-adjusted members of society who play video games do not appreciate being associated with psychopaths like Breivik. To illustrate several points previously made in the article, I will make use of a personal anecdote.

One of my favorite genres of video games is Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs). In JRPGs, including games like Pokémon, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest, it is common for characters to wield giant 7-foot swords, magic powers, and animal companions to defeat enemies with vaguely defined motives. The games show people and monsters getting cut down by swords, electrocuted, burned and poisoned by magical powers, and shot down with guns and crossbows. Each game may differ significantly in its portrayal of fighting, but there’s a violent component to them that can range from child-friendly to slightly more appropriate for adolescents.

I admire the creativity of JRPGs, but I would never use these games to simulate fighting against anyone in real life. These games have never compelled me to go to a magic shop to purchase spells or harmful chemicals to poison people, never compelled me to seek a blacksmith to craft me a sword to stab someone.

Not only is this because I believe real life does not work like JRPGs, but also because there are better ways to work out any problem I have, and better ways to communicate a viewpoint. I’m using the video game for entertainment, not a realistic simulation.

These are the major differences between an anomaly like Breivik and the majority of gamers like myself. Our intentions for playing video games are completely different before we even press a button on our controller, and we do not change as people once we turn off the console and go on with our lives.

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Sam Perez

I am interested in issues regarding First Amendment rights, particularly free speech, freedom of the press and the interactions between secularism and religion in the modern world. I approach a lot of issues from a progressive viewpoint and try to steer clear of the "political party" divides which are often inflexible regardless of context. For that reason, I don't gravitate towards articles that have Democrats vs. Republicans as one of the main points. I am a recent college graduate from Harvard University (Class of 2011) with a concentration in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. My desired profession is science research in genetics, which of course means that I'm interested in science and science policy as well.

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