Call of Duty and World of Warcraft: Did Video Games Play a Role in Norway Massacre?

It has been nine months since Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in cold blood in Oslo and the nearby Utoya Island, and as his trial begins, it re-opens the mystery on why he carried out the massacre. A slew of assumptions have been made since the attack to explain his actions, including religious extremism, right-wing extremism, and mental illness, most of which were debatably validated by his 1,500 page manifesto that was posted online hours before the attacks. Further fueling claims that Breivik is a deeply perturbed individual is the defensive and unremorseful testimony that he has provided since his trial began, where he persistently maintains that he is the commander of an anti-Islam militant group named the Knights Templar, adding that he acted to prevent a civil war in Europe, and would do it again if he had to.

As Breivik’s trial continues, another possible explanation for the mass shooting of last year has been provided: a history of excessive violent video game playing. Breivik has recently revealed that he played 16 hours of video games a day for a year, citing specific video games as “training tools.” In his manifesto, Breivik makes mention of the popular violent video games Dragon Age: Origins, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare , which he described as "training-simulations.”  

I do not believe that the implications of playing violent video games should be the focus of Breivik’s trial. Despite the real-life simulation of violent battle grounds that video games make readily available to its users, there are millions of video game fanatics who enjoy the fantasy realm but who would never translate the enjoyment into violence in real life. There will always be the un-well users who will use these mediums as a format of expanding their violent inclinations.

Breivik murdered 69 people at a Labor Party youth camp in Utoya Island, explaining that his attack was an act of self-defense geared to prevent the multiculturalism that the party supports that will serve to “deconstruct” Norway’s identity. It is these xenophobic and racist ideologies that require our attention and scrutinization as Breivik’s testimonies and ideas continue to be exposed throughout the trial. 

A lot of evidence uncovered in the past year points to the fact that Breivik is a perturbed and disillusioned individual. It is implausible that his extremist disillusions and violent murder spree last summer stemmed from an enjoyment of video games, but the constant exposure to the violent fantasy world that video games present likely played a large role in perpetuating his ill-conceived violent ideologies.  

The question that should be asked in this situation is where to attribute the blame and focus in cases where visibly perturbed individuals cite video games as an aid or a trigger for their violent behavior; do we focus on the video games; or do we focus on the susceptible individuals themselves, whose problematic tendencies should’ve been addressed and dealt with prior to reaching the stage where they can be triggered by a video game?  

Several other mediums have been widely debated as
triggering violent behavior, one of which is movies. The two senior students who were responsible for the Columbine High School massacre in Columbine, Colorado, cited the movie Natural Born Killers in their videos and journals prior to their attacks. One of the most infamous cases that expose the potential vulnerability of younger viewers to horror movies is when two 10-year olds tortured and killed a 2-year-old in Merseyside, England, in February of 1993, re-enacting a murder scene from the popular horror movie, Child’s Play 3. Even books, that are not quite as desensitizing as movies and video games due to the lack of graphic imagery, have been widely debated as eliciting violent motives, as is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye, which is banned in many school boards across North America due to the fact that it was heavily read and mentioned by John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman. In all of these cases, the murderers have displayed notorious evidence that they led unstable, violent and troubled lives that led to their crimes.

However, research does exist that demonstrates some causality between video game playing and aggressive behavior. In 2010, a team of psychologists at the Iowa State University concluded that exposure to violent video games, regardless of gender or age, increases aggressive behavior in long-term and short-term contexts. Teachers in the UK recently informed the attendees at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference that students as young as the ages of four and five are reenacting violent deaths and injuries that they have been exposed to through excessive video game playing.

The problem with discussing the implications of playing violent video games is that it is a fairly new activity, and studies have been fairly inconclusive so far in demonstrating a causal relationship between excessive video game playing and violent behavior in their users. Even horror movies and books with troubled protagonists don’t serve as valid comparisons to video games because neither provides a simulation of direct control and power as that of a video game, and as genres, they present characters and storylines that expand past just the violent killer and the bloodshed. Exposure to video games should be moderate, as is the case with any other entertainment medium, and should be kept to a minimum with young children who are particularly susceptible to the graphic imagery presented in video games. 

Just because Breivik used the medium to hone and perpetuate his violent and warped fantasies does not mean that it should become the focus of his trial. Rather, the focus should lie on what we can do as a society to understand and possibly prevent such violent massacres, by looking into the motives of the crimes and questioning the fundamental societal aspects affected such as our judicial systems, our freedom of speech and the expanding multiculturalism.