Tag Archives: Modern Warfare

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.

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.

How (not) to talk to kids about video games

The family that games together, stays together. Photo by Flickr user sean dreilinger.

A couple of articles have come over the proverbial wire this week, offering advice to parents whose kids play video games. The pieces couldn’t be more different.

In the Vancouver Observer, teacher Howard Eaton uses an Angry-Birds-obsessed youth as a jumping-off point for a neutral-to-negative treatise on kids and video games. He reminds a pair of worried parents about the dopamine effects of video gaming, then meanders into the concept of whether doing “too much of something” (can that be measured objectively?) can indicate addiction.

I know that I often ask myself if my children’s video gaming activity is useful or productive. I find myself saying, “Isn’t there something else you could be doing?” You see, I don’t have any interest in video gaming. None. No interest. I can’t understand how it could be at all interesting. I then expand my remarkable reasoning by saying to myself, “What a waste of time.” I put my own need for valuing your time with productive activities onto my children and then judge for them what is a productive use of time. Simple. I know best, right?

Of course, if you don’t understand someone’s interest in something, then any amount of time spent with it can seem like “too much.” And no, Eaton doesn’t “know best,” as he next refers to that murky neuroscience study that showed that playing video games changed gamers’ brains — temporarily — without acknowledging that just about anything we learn to do will change our brains, because that’s how brains work.

He does acknowledge that video games can serve as stress relief for troubled teen minds — but then suggests that “soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and photography” might be preferable. Remember, this is a guy who doesn’t understand the appeal of video games. Of course he’s going to recommend something else.

He does linger for a moment on studies that show the benefits of video games, but then veers straight back into the question of violent video games and teens. Then, he does another promising thing: asks his own teen what he thinks. And his son gives some smart, if cautious, advice:

“Video games and children has been a somewhat controversial subject for some time now. Parents no doubt frequently ask themselves “should my child be playing this game?” As far as I’m concerned it all depends on the maturity level of the individual child. Does he/she understand the difference between the game and reality, and does he/she have a strong moral compass?

Meanwhile, over at Forbes.com, E.D. Cain talks about how to talk to kids about video games when you’re a hardcore gamer yourself. His kids are too young yet to be gamers, but the question is weighing on his mind. He expresses his conflict in a tongue-in-cheek way:

By the time my kids are old enough to play with me we’ll be on Modern Warfare 8 and Killzone 6 and the violence will all be much more lush and realistic because we’ll be playing on next-gen consoles with Avatar-like graphics.

In the meantime, I’ll have to think about how to talk to them about the things they see not just in games but in movies and elsewhere. As John notes in his piece, they’re going to see this stuff whether or not we let them. The important thing is that you’re able to talk to them about it.

I agree, that is the important thing. I wonder, if you don’t spend time with your kids’ games, if you instead look down your nose at them and wonder why games are so interesting, how you can honestly have that conversation.

Why do so many gamers heed “Call of Duty?”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 alone has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. What makes this series so popular?

Ten years ago, a group of men working with Al-Quaeda hijacked four American airplanes. They crashed two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York, toppling them. A third crashed at the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed over Pennsylvania. Within weeks, American troops had invaded Afghanistan and declared war on the Taliban. By 2003, the military had moved into Iraq as well. A decade of messy, complicated war followed.

It may be no surprise, then, that the Call of Duty franchise has become one of the all-time best-selling video game series during this decade. Many Americans were justifiably angry, but couldn’t go to war themselves. Others wondered what our soldiers were going through, but the news reports just weren’t enough. The Call of Duty games feed just those kinds of emotions, providing lifelike and detailed versions of military operations in spots around the globe.

As the world looked back this month on September 11, 2001, The Denver Post’s John Wenzel spoke up for Call of Duty, saying the games helped players make sense of the terrorist attacks:

Instead of promising escapism, they provided an outlet for ordinary Americans to vent their rage and frustration by aiming virtual weapons at otherwise nebulous foreign enemies.

Video-game environments are entertaining and tidily self-contained — unlike real war, where the blood lingers long after players switch off the Xbox 360. But as funhouse mirrors of the past decade, “Call of Duty” and other war games have reflected a certain distorted collective therapy that, at times, makes for an eerily lifelike portrait of the aggression and anxiety that violence breeds.

The new Call of Duty game, Modern Warfare 3, is due out next month and is likely to be a top seller at Christmas. The #2 holiday pick is another military game, Gears of War 3. Clearly there’s a hunger for war games in this long era of military exercises in far-flung places.

With such brisk sales, it’s inevitable that some teens and younger kids will play Call of Duty. And there are some who say they shouldn’t. But kids were just as effected by the terrorist attacks and the vagueries of war as adults were — and they have a right to explore these ideas as well.

Call of Duty players: what attracted you to the game? Did playing it help you process the 9/11 attacks or the “War on Terror” in any way? Has it helped you understand your feelings about war and military action better?

New zombie shooter puts Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich, and other tea partiers in the crosshairs

Ever wished you could blow away a zombified version of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck? In Tea Party Zombies Must Die, you can.

In the new game, authored by the folks at Starvingeyes.com, your character totes around a massive gun and dispatches zombies bearing the faces of conservative pundits and politicians.

The game is already raising eyebrows among folks like the brothers at The Daily Conversation (above) and The Raw Story, which smartly points out the tongue-in-cheek nature of Tea Party Zombies Must Die.

Still, the game is apparently not devoid of meaning or message:

In between levels, the game presents quotes from journalists and activists from organizations like The New York Times, The Guardian and Greenpeace, outlining the activities of Koch Industries, the influence of Fox News and the impact of big money on American democracy.

As with games like Kuma War, which lets gamers carry out their own version of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, or Modern Warfare 3, which gives players the chance to explore a terrorism scene in a London subway, Tea Party Zombies Must Die is a way to blow off steam, rather than doing it for real.

If you want to check out Tea Party Zombies Must Die for yourself, you can play it online.

Is this game all in good fun? Or does it go too far? Would you play it? Would you let your kids play it?

Norway’s backlash against video games begins

Norwegian stores have pulled several video games, including Modern Warfare, from store shelves following Anders Breivik’s killing spree.

Remember how I said last week that video games didn’t lead Andres Breivik to kill dozens of his fellow Norwegians? Even Breivik himself already seemed to have terrorism firmly in mind by the time he described Modern Warfare 2 as “probably the best military simulator out there.”

Nevertheless, some Norwegian stores, including Coop Norden and Platekompaniet, have suspended sales of Modern Warfare and other violent video games, such as Homefront, the remainder of the Call of Duty series, Sniper: Ghost Warrior, and Counter-Strike: Source. Coop pulled World of Warcraft while Platekompaniet is still carrying it. In all, 51 games are off the shelves.

It’s unclear why the decision to stop selling some of the top-grossing video games was made. Are they concerned that Breivik’s manifesto — which encourages playing MW2 and WoW — will inspire copycats? Or are they worried about looking insensitive by continuing to sell such games while Norway is grieving?

Coop representatives explained:

In light of Friday’s horrific events, and of respect for those affected, we have chosen to remove simple items from our range … Coop believes that terrorism has been guided by motives other than computer game universes and Coop therefore sees no direct [connection] between them.

Not much of an explanation, eh?

Unfortunately, this decision has the side effect of separating people from a powerful way of processing fear, anxiety, and shock. And Norway is currently a country full of people attempting to process fear, anxiety, and shock. Sure, some of them will find other outlets — but to deny this one seems unreasonable, particularly if nobody truly believes games were to blame for Breivik’s actions.

It also winds up punishing video-game companies for an act of terrorism they had absolutely nothing to do with. Stores usually have the option whether to carry a certain product, so no laws are being broken, as far as I know. But I wonder what the ultimate effect, if any, of this sales decision will be.

What do you think? Should retailers stop selling such games when they’re associated with an act of terrorism? Why or why not?