Tag Archives: Anders Behring Breivik

Oslo Mass Killer: ‘Prison Is Torture; Give Me Video Games Or I’ll Go On A Hunger Strike’

Anders Breivik, the man serving prison time for killing 77 people in a Norway killing spree in 2011, contacted prison authorities in November, claiming he’s being held in torturous conditions and that he will go on a hunger strike if those conditions aren’t improved.

Among his demands are better conditions for his daily walk, the right to communicate more freely with people outside the prison, and for the prison to upgrade his PlayStation 2 console to a PlayStation 3, “with access to more adult games that I get to choose myself.” He also wants a more comfortable sofa or armchair instead of the “painful” chair he has now.

He wrote:

“Other inmates have access to adult games while I only have the right to play less interesting kids games. One example is ‘Rayman Revolution’, a game aimed at three year olds.”

This is, of course, controversial because of the large role video games played in the story of his arrest, trial and conviction. Although he claimed that Call of Duty served as his training program and World of Warcraft consumed many hours of his days, he also recommended in his manifesto that aspiring mass killers claim they’re playing lots of video games while they’re actually plotting their killing sprees. It’s also quite clear that Breivik’s rampage was the result of his disordered mental state — a condition certainly reinforced by some of his latest demands, although probably a better walk and more comfortable chair isn’t unreasonable. But these comments pretty much seal it:

“You’ve put me in hell … and I won’t manage to survive that long. You are killing me,” he wrote to prison authorities in November, threatening a hunger strike and further right-wing extremist violence. “If I die, all of Europe’s right-wing extremists will know exactly who it was that tortured me to death … That could have consequences for certain individuals in the short term but also when Norway is once again ruled by a fascist regime in 13 to 40 years from now,” he warned, calling himself a “political prisoner”.

In some prisons, prisoners are indeed allowed video games. along with exercise, books, and so on. But content is often limited — books that contain criminal activity, for example, or instructions on bomb-making, aren’t generally allowed. That said, if Breivik is going to remain in prison, in solitary confinement, for the next two decades, I fail to see the harm in letting him play video games. Sure, there’s an argument to be made that he’s there to be punished and not entertained. On the other hand, no amount of prison time, however boring it is, is likely to reform him or make him regret what he did. He’s likely always going to find a way to make this into a story about how he’s being held as a political prisoner whose message was unfairly silenced by authorities.

Russia talks “Manhunt” crackdown after shootings


This image of alleged Russian mass shooter Dmitry Vinogradov may look like it’s from a video game, but that doesn’t mean games were involved in the crime.

It hasn’t taken long for Russian politicians to come out against violent video games in the days after a Russian man went on a shooting spree, killing six people in the pharmaeceutical company where he worked.

Specifically, they’re going after Manhunt, because some say the alleged shooter in last week’s Moscow rampage, 30-year-old Dmitry Vinogradov, was a fan of the ultraviolent video game. They can’t agree on what to do, exactly, but no matter:

Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy of United Russia, said that one needed to submit an adequate inquiry to Roskomnadzor (the Federal Surveillance Service for Mass Media and Communications) to ban the game in Russia. The software was designed for adult audiences, but it is available on the Internet to all, including children, which is against the law, New Politics magazine wrote.

United Russia deputy Franz Klintsevich supported Zheleznyak’s initiative and expressed a more radical solution. According to him, access to bloody games in general should be restricted in the country, NTV reports.

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education Vladimir Burmatov put forward an idea to set up an interdepartmental commission to supervise the sales of computer games. According to Burmatov, playing violent games pushed the Moscow shooter towards the crime, wrote MK.ru.

How, exactly, Burmatov knows that these games had anything to do with Vinogradov’s mindstate is anyone’s guess. Is he close with the alleged shooter? Is he an expert in psychology?

According to many of the news reports, Vinogradov apparently brought a gun to work after he was dumped by a girlfriend. He also may or may not have been on a drinking binge in the days before the attack — which in itself isn’t to blame, but may be an indication of a more serious underlying psychological issue. There’s a chance that he played violent video games, or even the most notoriously gory ones, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the crimes he’s connected with.

At least Russian news outlet is already calling Vinogradov “Russia’s Breivik,” after Norwegian mass shooter Anders Breivik, a misnomer for a number of reasons. For one, Breivik killed more than 70 people. For another, Vinogradov’s violent mission seems motivated by a personal passion — lost love — and not some misguided political aim.

The main thing these men may have in common is that, even if they were fans of violent video games, those games didn’t make them kill. There was plenty else on their minds that was much more likely to kickstart their violence, and there’s no reason to take a form of entertainment away from millions of other nonviolent gamers simply because of the actions of one.

Sanity, lone wolves, and violent video games


Anders Breivik: the Oslo shooter is “sane,” and going to jail.

On Friday, major news emerged from Norway: Oslo mass murderer Anders Breivik is going to jail, and has been declared legally sane.

From the beginning, attorneys have argued over Breivik’s metal state at the time of the killings. While one psychiatric team argued that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, similar to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, or perhaps Aurora shooter James Holmes, the winning side argued that Breivik is “narcissistic and dissocial — having a complete disregard for others — but criminally sane.”

They stopped short of calling Breivik a psychopath or sociopath — a form of mental illness, to be sure, but not one that meets the legal definition of “criminally insane.” Instead, he’s classified as a “sane” man who falls into the category of “lone wolf” terrorist, in the same mold as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and most recently, Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page.

So, there’s a dilemma here: is a sociopath — someone who is incapable of embracing the same values of “right” and “wrong” as mainstream society — truly sane? Just because someone is capable of understanding his actions, does that mean he was in his “right mind” when he carried out those actions? Or is he more like a dog that attacks indiscriminately — one of those rare canines whom re-training won’t help?

With so many shooters in the news right now, we have the opportunity to compare and to categorize. Some are obviously suffering some kind of psychosis; others fall into this “dissocial” or even sociopathic category.

But you’ll notice that none of them fall into the “violent video games clearly caused it” category, or the “heavy metal music clearly caused it” category, or even the “Satanism made him do it” category.

From the very beginning, because Breivik claimed he “trained” on Modern Warfare and played World of Warcraft many hours each day, many felt that video games somehow informed his mission.

Instead, it seems clear now that the games were for Breivik, as they are for millions of others, an outlet. A pastime. And, among the millions upon millions of people who play these games, Breivik was the only one who perpetrated such an attack. When such a vanishingly small percentage of gamers commit mass murder, there’s no way you can argue that video games incite mass murder.

I’m glad to see that the conversation has moved on; I can only hope it stays that way.

Hardcore video-gaming: is it saving kids from violent street life, or ruining a generation?


In Somalia, boys face more danger out on the streets than they do in front of the game console. Is that true elsewhere? Photo by Flickr user tkru.

Somalia has been known for years as a place of extreme violence and lawlessness. Since civil war broke out in 1991, all people were at risk, but particularly young people, who faced either being recruited to fight or being caught in the crossfire.

Now that some cultural sanctions have lifted, Somali boys are playing video games — and many adults are glad. Well, kind of:

Some parents say the video games are helping to keep teens off the street, which in turn lowers the chances they might be recruited by al-Shabab. But many teens admit to skipping class to practice their gaming skills.

Although there are downsides to skipping school, of course, there’s one major upside: schools are where kids are most likely to be recruited into the al-Shabab militia, where they would be required to fight.

Mohamed Deq Abdullahi, a father of two teens, watched his boys play a soccer video game in a sweltering parlor on a recent sunny day. He sees the boys’ new hobby as a beneficial development.

“This is his daylong activity because I don’t want him get bored and go to war,” Abdullahi said. “The busier they stay the more tired they get and the more they ignore violence.”

The article doesn’t say so, but I suspect there’s another benefit to these kids’ gameplay: it allows them to process the violence of the past 20 years, all they’ve ever known, in a safe way, without real-life consequences. That’s much healthier for them than getting behind a real machine-gun and being told to fight their countrymen.

In that light, what can we make of a recent CNN article blaming video games (and porn) for “ruining a generation of young men?” It claims that too much gaming sets up players (only male players, for some reason) for addiction — specifically, “arousal addiction,” where gamers need more video games to reach the same “high.”

Oddly, the article cites Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik as a prime example of this phenomenon, even though he doesn’t exemplify the average gamer at all:

Norwegian mass murder suspect Anders Behring Breivik reported during his trial that he prepared his mind and body for his marksman-focused shooting of 77 people by playing “World of Warcraft” for a year and then “Call of Duty” for 16 hours a day.

… Except that it’s not clear whether Breivik was telling the truth. After all, in his manifesto he advised people who were training for similar terrorist attacks to claim they were keeping themselves busy with video games, when in fact they were planning things out. It’s also worth noting, in light of the Somalia piece, that if Breivik had been playing video games all day on July 22, 2011, 77 people might still be alive.

It’s true that playing hours upon hours of video games is likely to have some consequences. Kids who play this much miss out on other things. But it’s important to remember that they’re also getting many important things — positive things — out of that gameplay, and that the things they’re missing out on might be much, much worse. Somalia isn’t the only place where kids can get caught in the crossfire. In inner-city areas where gangs hold power, the risks for kids are quite similar. Research shows there’s less youth violence and crime in places where video games are easy to come by.

What “ruins” kids more: playing video games until their arms are sore, or jailtime and violence?

Call of Duty: War game or propaganda tool?


Are video games making society more militaristic? One academic thinks so.

Did video games help Anders Breivik train for his terrorist attack in Norway? Victoria University lecturer John Martino says such questions are missing the point.

“What has not been addressed in the debate generated by violent military games is the role these games play in the process of ‘militarisation,'” Martino states in a CNET.au article published today.

In sum, he’s suggesting that the popularity and increasing realism of military-based games, particularly the best-selling Call of Duty franchise, is contributing to the “militarization of society.” But his article is riddled with errors and mistaken assumptions that leave his argument in the dust.

First, who is John Martino? His two most recent credits involve — you guessed it — looks at gaming and the militarization of culture, including “No Place for Noobs: Computer games and the Militarization of Youth Culture,” presented at the 6th Global Conference: Visions of Humanity in Cyberculture, Cyberspace, and Science Fiction in Oxford in July 2011, and “Gaming and the Militarization of Youth Culture: Some Initial remarks,” presented at the IADIS International Conference ICT, Society and Human Beings in Rome, also in July 2011.

Martino starts off with Wolfenstein and Doom, which are good places to start, if you’re going to talk about military shooters. He talks about how the military modified the game to help train soldiers. Anyone who thinks you can learn how to navigate a real-life war scene by playing through Doom‘s blocky mazes and fighting its pixelated enemies is arguably suffering from loss of contact with reality.

Anyhow, from there he gets into the fact that Call of Duty developers have worked with military consultants to make sure gameplay elements are realistic. This is the same as bringing in consultants for a film, such as Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. Nobody would call the latter an effort to turn these films into “recruitment tools” — they would, in fact, be described as working toward historical accuracy.

Not Martino.

Such partnerships share the goal of working to enhance the training effectiveness of simulation technology.

Military shooters add to the already potent cultural tools that political systems have at their disposal for propaganda purposes.

Then, he stacks up his evidence that society is becoming more militarized:

1. “The commemoration of war (think Anzac Day) has become integral to our view of Australian history, and the place of Australia in the world.”

2. “Recent data published by the Stockholm International Peace Institute indicates that Australia is one of the largest military-spending nations in the world.”

These are his examples? Has he forgotten that much of the Western world has been engaged in some way with the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade? Has he forgotten that Australia is within striking distance of the unpredictable North Korea, and might have good reason to want to defend itself?

Martino leaves out obvious counter-examples, such as child soldiers in Africa or other countries where high-end video games aren’t readily available.

I find it much more plausible that the military is responsible for “militarizing” societies, and that kids who grow up in societies undergoing such change might seek military-style games as an outlet, and as a chance to safely explore their natural curiosity about what wartime is like.

Do you think he’s on to something? Are Call of Duty and other games making society more militarized? And, if so, is that a bad thing?

Oslo terrorist, World of Warcraft on trial in Norway


Norway terrorist Anders Breivik played a lot of World of Warcraft before his rampage, prosecutors say. But is that relevant?

The trial has begun for Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, accused of shooting and killing 77 people on Utoya Island last July after detonating a bomb in downtown Oslo. That means the trial on his favorite video games has also begun.

Last year, much was made of Breivik’s mention of Modern Warfare in his manifesto. Now, it has come to light that Breivik spent the entire year before his rampage living off his savings account and playing World of Warcraft as though it were a full-time job; prosecutors told the court that the extended gameplay was “a reward for his impending ‘martyrdom.'”

They also claimed that World of Warcraft is “a world of fantasy monsters, wizards, and knights performing violent ‘missions.'” You know, as if that had anything to do with the massacre of nearly 80 innocent people and the terrorization of thousands.

Fortunately, there are more reasoned voices out there (although it’s too bad they’re not in the courtroom). As Rollo Ross, a writer for the Huffington Post, puts it:

After playing one of these games for around five years (part time I might add), it is apparent to me that Breivik is not alone by any means in this passion. There is in my world alone a multitude of people, like Breivik, who have given up their normal reality to live within the game, but unlike Breivik, almost all are well-balanced people who can distinguish fantasy from reality.

There are over 10 million players globally on World of Warcraft, and I would suggest that around a fifth of them are full time players.

If these games really held this kind of negative influence over gamers’ psyches, the world would be awash with mass murderers.

Some will debate whether such full-time gameplay is a good idea (and Ross discusses who those players are — many of them unemployable, unemployed, and/or disabled), but that’s beside the point. While media outlets and naysayers will latch onto the video-game angle — for example, some Norwegian stores banned the sale of certain games after Breivik’s attack — the more germane question of Breivik’s mental state should be the focus.

Let’s take a look at his emotional responses from his time in court Monday:

Anders Breivik showed no emotion as a court read out gruesome details of the 77 people he murdered – but a 12 minute propaganda film outlining his beliefs caused the self-confessed killer to weep.

The 33-year-old was pictured wiping tears away from his face as the Oslo court were shown his film, which centres on Breivik’s belief that Western civilisation faces a threat from multiculturalism.

Is this the reaction of a sane, rational human being whose sense of compassion is fully developed? No. I’m no psychologist, but it looks to me much more like the reaction of a sociopath.

Sociopaths can seem like rational, everyday human beings, but at the root their moral compass is radically off-kilter. Their behavior can make us believe they are just like us. And that’s problematic, because it means when they commit horrific crimes, and we look for a motivation, we assume we’re looking for something so outrageous that it would drive us to kill. When nothing we come up with makes sense, we begin to grasp at straws, and that’s how explanations such as “it was the video games” can come into play.

So far, prosecutors don’t appear to be blaming Breivik’s rampage on WoW or any other video game. However, the fact that these games are being mentioned in the trial and in news coverage will suggest to readers that there is a connection. There isn’t. And the sooner we can clear such irrelevancies from the courtroom, the sooner we can begin to understand what makes mass killers like Breivik really tick.

Oslo: Modern Warfare didn’t lead Breivik to shoot


Alleged Oslo gunman Anders Behring Breivik.

People read newspapers if for no other reason than to understand human behavior. We read for the crimes, the celebrity shenanigans, the “fluff” pieces. When a massive tragedy happens, we want to know why it happened — and who was behind it.

That’s one reason reporters work so hard to find out details about someone like Anders Behring Breivik, who allegedly bombed downtown Oslo and then shot dozens of people, mostly children, on nearby Utoya Island July 22. Before the attack, Breivik penned a lengthy manifesto describing his goals and how he planned to get there. Within it are plenty of juicy details about his life, his tastes, and his philosophies.

A handful of articles this morning focus on Breivik’s use of video games, including one from Kotaku:

“I just bought Modern Warfare 2, the game. It is probably the best military simulator out there and it’s one of the hottest games this year. … I see MW2 more as a part of my training-simulation than anything else. I’ve still learned to love it though and especially the multiplayer part is amazing. You can more or less completely simulate actual operations.”

No doubt, some will see his statement as proof that violent video games are no good. That they inspire murderous rampages. People will see what they want to see in such statements — but that doesn’t make it true.

By the time Breivik got around to buying and playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, he was already pretty far along in his planning process. He was thinking in terms of wanting a “training-simulation.” Playing the game didn’t make him want to go on a shooting spree; wanting to go on a shooting spree made him want to play the game.

This is what people mean when they say correlation is not causation. You have someone who killed nearly 80 people in the biggest mass shooting in history. And you have someone who was fond of a military-style shooter game set in future versions of Afghanistan, Russia, and Rio de Janeiro, among others. That’s a correlation. But in Breivik’s own words, the plot came first; the game came later.

Perhaps of more concern is his use of World of Warcraft to separate himself from society:

Breivik says he spent three years writing the manifesto. In the first year, he played World of Warcraft “hardcore”, living “very ascetic” and in isolation. “I feel that this period was needed in order to completely detach myself from ‘the game,’ my ‘former shallow consumerist lifestyle’ in order to ensure full focus on the matters at hand.”

Many WoW players do wind up disassociated from day-to-day life if they spend the bulk of their time gaming. This is a hazard, and one worthy of attention. It’s worth noting that Breivik did this deliberately; whether other WoW players do probably varies from person to person.

Nevertheless, it’s likely that anti-violent-game pundits will use this opportunity to rail against the dangers of such games, particularly for young people. And indeed, some already are. Not 72 hours after the massacre, “the Australian Christian Lobby [is calling] for games to be banned if the ‘violence is excessive or gratuitous.'”

Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, has reviewed existing research on violent video games. He saw Breivik’s mental state as a much more likely culprit for the shootings than the video games he favored:

I think it really points to, of course, a person who — clearly there is something wrong with this person to sort of cause such devastation in Norway. But I’m not sure that the argument goes that as a result of watching a game you turn into that type of person. I think there is something clearly intrinsically wrong with him.

It’s probably also worth noting that many gamers don’t believe that playing shooters appreciably improves their marksmanship. In addition to playing MW2, Breivik also joined a shooting club, though it’s unclear how much in-the-field target practice he’d undergone in addition to his gaming. I find it unlikely that the game alone would help him learn to wield a gun.

Could the game have inspired Breivik’s rampage — and could it have helped him pull it off? What do you think?