Tag Archives: Norway

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.

What does “black metal” have to do with Varg Vikernes’ terrorism arrest? Nothing — sort of.

The news broke this morning that Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes was arrested in the Correze region of France after his wife, Marie Chachet, after Chachet purchased four rifles (which she was licensed to own). The couple, who have three children, were charged on suspicion that they were fostering a terrorist plot, based in part on the fact that Anders Breivik sent Vikernes a copy of his 1,500-page manifesto before he went on a terrorist spree near Oslo, killing 77 people.

For readers who don’t know, Vikernes is one of the most famous — and most divisive — figures in the Norwegian black metal scene, to the point that it’s almost impossible to have a conversation about that scene’s early days without his name cropping up. In 2009, Vikernes was released from prison after serving 15 years of a 21-year sentence for the murder of his friend/rival, Mayhem guitarist Oeystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, as well as for the arson of several historic churches in Norway. His involvement in these crimes, and the subsequent coverage in international magazines like Kerrang!, put black metal on the world stage for the first time.

I recently finished reading “Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness,” an anthology of essays and interviews regarding the scene and its progression in the 20+ years since Vikerness stabbed Aarseth to death. Vikernes’ crimes cast a long shadow; they were mentioned in almost every piece in the book. Given that those crimes have now almost become synonymous with black metal’s origin story, it’s easy to see why. However, the book showed again and again how wrong it is to view all of the genre through the lens of Vikernes’ actions. By and large, the musicians and fans involved in the scene are not violent, destructive criminals. Sure, some adore theatrics, simulated rituals and references to Satanism (either real or metaphorical). But that’s another matter altogether.

It’s also worth noting that many, particularly within the black-metal scene, actively boycott Burzum’s albums both because of Vikernes’ actions and because he’s an avowed racist and adherent to neo-Nazi beliefs — which may be part of what attracted Breivik to him, though that’s speculation on my part. Even fans find supporting him complicated.

Euronews’ headline today reads, “Neo-nazi and black metal star Varg Vikernes arrested in France.” They’re not wrong to do so, given that Vikernes’ identity as a black metal musician is his claim to fame. This isn’t like calling Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris “goths,” or Breivik a video-game lover. Those facets, true or not, aren’t what made those figures known to the world.

What would be a mistake is to once again paint all of black metal with the Burzum brush, as happened in the mid-1990s after the arsons and Aarseth’s murder. Again, the genre has largely moved on, incorporating other elements, other philosophies. It’s still dark and harsh and rebellious in plenty of places, but the overwhelming majority of folks in the scene, musicians and fans, are focused on music, philosophy and community; not criminal mayhem.

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.

After horror, reclaiming power through games


A UK LARP gamer gets ready. Photo by Flickr user Bifford the Youngest.

Denmark: Land of Vikings, Beowulf, Niels Bohr, Mærsk ships, GSM phones, and … live-action role-playing?

In a land of 5.5 million people, roughly 100,000 LARP in some fashion, according to a recent article from TIME writer Nathan Thornburgh. As he points out, that’s bigger than the population of Indiana — and a higher per-capita role-playing rate than many other countries in the world. In his piece, Thornburgh examines why the Danes are so into LARPing — and the kinds of games they play.

To some extent, they explore the typical tropes: Lord of the Rings, for instance, is immensely popular. No surprises there. But Danes are also into much darker forms of role-playing: pretending to live in a prison camp for 48 hours, or unspooling what would have happened in Russia if the Nazis had won World War II. It’s not just adults playing, either; plenty of kids participate. Thornburgh speculates:

Larp might be a sensible diversion for restless minds in Denmark, which was recently named the happiest country on earth. Reality is simply more pleasant in Denmark than in many other places, so perhaps escapism means digging for more complicated, intense human interactions.

I’m not sure how much truth there is in this, which is to say, I don’t have enough data to compare. I know other LARPing groups go to some pretty dark places. For example, growing up, I knew people who played “Vampire: The Masquerade,” which got very twisted, personal, and psychological at certain points. And that didn’t come from kids who had trauma-free lives, either. It was a way for them to turn everyday horrors into something they could co-create and master.

Reading Thornburgh’s piece got me thinking about one of Denmark’s neighbors, Norway, which is still reeling from a mass shooting one year ago. Is there some way that role-playing could hasten Oslo’s healing? Would such pastimes only reopen barely healed wounds? Or would it depend on the type of game?

That thought brings me to a commentary that ran in the Baltimore Sun in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado, shootings, arguing (once again) that our media is too violent. Douglas MacKinnon writes:

After the tragedy in Aurora, I spoke with some teenage boys of friends of mine. Each and every one admitted to playing violent video games. Some on a daily basis for hours at a time. When I asked them how many “bad guys” they kill in these games (often times in the most gruesome and graphically visual ways imaginable), one of the boys said, “Oh, over the course of a year, I kill thousands of bad guys.”

There are more than 100 million “gamers” in our county. It stands to reason that if as a demographic, they are virtually slaughtering hundreds of millions of “bad guys,” then some may become desensitized to killing actual human beings and some may be pushed over the edge. In fact, the maniac in Norway who murdered tens of children admitted he used violent video games to practice his targeting.

His argument: especially in light of Aurora and Oslo, kids need to scale back their use of violent media. This, despite the fact that kids are killing “bad guys.” If we want to be black-and-white about it, Holmes and Breivik were “bad guys.” Yes, they’re real “bad guys,” and the guys in the video games are fictional. So is the killing. Most kids are well aware of the difference. It’s adults who seem to have the problem.

I’ll say it plainly:

Anyone in a real mass-shooting situation, or anyone close to such a situation, would feel frightened, horrified, powerless.

So how do you think killing some “bad guys” afterward might make them feel?

Powerless?

Probably not. We need to give kids — particularly kids suffering through horror — opportunities to reclaim feelings of agency. Role-playing games and video games provide ample opportunities.

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?

Why banning violent video games isn’t the answer


British MP Keith Vaz, who has a history of criticizing violent games, is calling for a “closer scrutiny” of first-person shooters. Photo courtesy UK Parliament.

In the wake of Norway terrorist Anders Breivik’s claims that Modern Warfare helped him train for a real-live massacre, British MP Keith Vaz says it’s time for Britain to take a closer look at violent first-person shooter video games.

Vaz’s motion says British parliament “is concerned that PEGI [Europe’s video-game rating board] as a classification system can only provide an age-rating and not restrict ultra-violent content.” Although the motion has only picked up a handful of supporters since it was introduced, he continues to push the measure, even though Britain is already planning tighten video-game rules and make illegal to supply titles to people who aren’t old enough for the age rating.

Vaz has a history with violent video games. After a 14-year-old was murdered in 2004, the victim’s parents claimed they thought Manhunt inspired the killer. Vaz called for closer scrutiny of such games. Police dismissed the claim after it was discovered the victim, not the killer, was a fan of the game. (Britain later banned Manhunt 2, the country’s first such restriction.)

Vaz is also no fan of Bully or Counter-Strike, the latter of which was associated with race-related shootings in Malmö, Sweden.

Here’s the problem with such actions, which have been attempted in the United States as well, and usually are found in violation of the First Amendment: When someone like Breivik claims that video games are partly responsible for his killing spree, he’s letting himself off the hook. It wasn’t me that did it; it was the video games. Plenty of people have trouble owning up to their transgressions, especially criminals. Taking them at their word when they blame an outside “influence” legitimizes the idea that the crime isn’t their fault. Making laws based on such statements is even worse — it tells society that lawbreakers aren’t to blame for their own actions.

Is that what we really believe? If not, why do so many people support such laws?

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?