Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

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.

Maine WoW gamer wins seat on state senate

Some of you may recall that I posted about Colleen Lachowicz last month, because the social worker’s history of playing World of Warcraft — and saying some very WoW-appropriate but violent-when-taken-out-of-context things — came up during her campaign for Maine’s state senate.

Well, she overcame that, along with ethics-violation claims, and trounced opponent (and incumbent) Tom Martin in last night’s election.

Hopefully this is a sign that the media-reading public knows better than to buy the idea that a candidate’s gaming passion could be a detriment to her leadership abilities.

In Ridgeway death, “goth” is scapegoated again

Sensationalist media have had a field day with Austin Reed Sigg, Jessica Ridgeway’s alleged 17-year-old killer.

Is Austin Reed Sigg a goth who was infatuated with death? Did he hang out in the “goth corner” with the “metal heads” at school? Was he a Nazi wizard (whatever that is)? Did he play World of Warcraft and Call of Duty?

Over the past week, plenty of news has come out about the demise of 10-year-old Colorado girl Jessica Ridgeway and the 17-year-old boy who led police to human remains, which were underneath his house. He has allegedly confessed to killing her, and a prosecuting attorney has said there is DNA evidence against him.

It’s almost funny how many different tropes the media have tried to pin on Sigg: goth culture, heavy metal, violent video games.

Did Sigg do it?

If so, what would his choice of clothing, school hang-out spot, video games, music, or even speculation about a cross found at a crime scene have to do with it?

Whether or not Sigg committed this horrible crime is for the court to decide, and let’s hope that he has a fair trial, with competent people working both sides of the case and a jury that is capable of setting aside its biases. And let’s also hope that, if Sigg did kill Ridgeway, that he gets more than locked in a hole for life, because a 17-year-old (or anyone) who commits such a crime needs help, not isolation and abuse.

I say that because while I was away, I was lucky enough to see a press screening of West of Memphis, Amy Berg’s new documentary about the West Memphis Three. It is such a stark, vivid reminder of what happened to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, who were jailed for 18 years on charges of killing three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas. Their case has some of the same hallmarks as Sigg’s: a gruesome crime against a child, a community hungry for justice, a teenage boy whose interests are less-than-socially-acceptable; a confession. Yes, there are differences, particularly the fact that Sigg turned himself in, had body parts under his house, and the DNA evidence (if the prosecuting attorney can be trusted); there was no such thing as DNA evidence when the WM3 were convicted, and there’s now ample DNA evidence that they were not involved.

Still, my point is that mistakes can be made this early in the game — mistakes that can send the wrong person to jail for a long time, while the killer may walk free.

My point is that a community starved for a scapegoat will sometimes land on whoever’s most convenient, particularly if he looks different or just never fit in. If something seemed “off” about him. There’s a big difference between someone who makes you uneasy and someone who’s guilty of murdering a child. One is a personal feeling. The other is for a judge and jury to decide.

My point is that calling this kid a goth doesn’t make him any more guilty than he may already be. Calling him a “Nazi wizard” doesn’t, either. All it does is imply that somehow the simple act of being a goth, or even a neo-Nazi, means you might as well be a murderer. And that’s an awful thing to say about a group of people, no matter how you feel about their beliefs.

Goths, understandably, are concerned. In that forum, “CallaWolf” said, “This, to me, almost felt like scapegoating. I wear all black on almost a daily basis (and as I’m writing this, I’m actually wearing a Slayer shirt), and while I do not know any fellow goths outside of this site, I still kinda consider myself a part of it in one way or another, but the very idea of doing these things is apalling to me.”

“Nephele” said, “This happens periodically: The news media confusing sociopaths with goths.”

And CanCanKant said:

Even if the perpetrator does consider themselves a goth, I don’t necessarily think that it was his “gothic” tendencies that caused him to commit heinous crimes. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve met that are goth are very cerebral, calm, introspective types. Hardly the kind to do anything harmful to another human being, especially on this scale.

It’s the tendency of the general public to equate dark, or especially black, clothing, band paraphenalia, tattoos and piercings with the word “goth” that causes this confusion. So many music and art related subcultures use these things, but not all of them would be considered goth. You notice how it’s used to shock. It’s quite sad.

Is World of Warcraft good training for politics?

Maine candidate Colleen Lachowicz, left, and her WoW alter-ego, Santiaga.

Politics is dirty business; everyone knows that. It doesn’t have to be, but that’s how it is. As an elections draw near, rivals have the choice to debate each other on the issues, and set themselves apart from their opponents based on stance, or they can begin attacking every angle they can think of.

In Maine, social worker Colleen Lachowicz is running for a seat on the state senate this November. Her opponent is the incumbent, Republican Tom Martin. Over the past week, the Maine GOP sent out a mailer attacking Lachowicz for playing World of Warcraft. In it, the party questioned the candidate’s “disturbing alter-ego” and “bizarre double life.” The mailer quoted her saying in an online forum that she “likes to stab things”; a CBC report called her gameplay “violent.”

The GOP also paid for and is maintaining a blog related to her WoW gaming at colleensworld.com.

Here was Lachowicz’s response:

“I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends?”

Oddly, while some of the comments the GOP quotes over at colleensworld.com focus on her (obviously joking) violent retorts, others focus on her politics. In one comment, she says she is “slacking at work” in order to call her Congressperson everyday (which proves what? That she’s a politically involved constituent?), that she considers her guild progressive or even socialist, that she calls conservatives “teabaggers.” She criticizes other politicians’ campaign tactics. She talks about protesting fundamentalist churches. Sure, she’s not the most tactful, but it’s not like she said she didn’t care about half of her electorate. In fact, many of these comments are from several years ago — likely well before she knew she’d run for public office.

It would be a grave mistake to think that someone who enjoys roleplaying in a video game would somehow bring any violent aspects of her gameplay into her daily life. It would also be a mistake to take someone seriously who thought this would actually happen.

It’s been a long time since role-playing has been shamed in such a public way. Long enough that it seemed like we were past this kind of misrepresentation of people’s hobbies. Back when people thought games were causing kids to commit suicide, it was understandable, even if it was false hysteria. This, however, is simply a smear campaign — and it says a great deal about the incumbent. Is he so insecure in his ability to win re-election that he has to drag his opponent through the mud on such irrelevancies? Are there no legitimate issues on the table in Maine this year? Like, say, same-sex marriage?

Meanwhile, Lachowicz has worked to the very top of World of Warcraft, and has done so as part of a team; arguably, this proves her ability to work alongside others to get things done. At least one commenter on a WoW forum thought so, too:

“I actually think being an Orc Assassination Rogue is great preparation for diving into American politics.”

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.

Video games: educational, or crime-sparking? Informed & uninformed voices in the debate

As teachers look for ways to bring video games into the classroom, a law-enforcement leader says they’re making teens get stabby.

Many people look at the hours that kids spend playing video games and worry about them wasting their time. Others, such as seventh-grade teacher Joel Bonasera, look at those hours and see an opportunity to harness kids’ passion and teach them something.

Apparently Bonasera was, at first, surprised to find that a girl in her class liked killing bad guys in Call of Duty as much as the boys do. That made him realize the pervasive lure of gaming in his kids’ lives. Although he recognized he couldn’t bring a first-person shooter into the classroom, he did discover another popular game around which he could create lesson plans: Minecraft.

As the name suggests, Minecraft offers players the opportunity to build things — houses, fortresses, gardens — using 3D cubes. You also dig for minerals. For many players, it’s creative, fun, and a little bit addictive. So, Bonasera sits his students down in front of the game…

And then he builds a lesson around the game.

“While you’re doing it, just write your thoughts down over here about what you’re doing. Okay, next week let’s plan out what you’re going to do and show the mathematical reason behind that. Okay, the week after that, let’s make a full blown blueprint.”

Other teachers are finding ways to tie video games into their lessons — connecting the hero’s journey in World of Warcraft to a reading of Tolkein’s book The Hobbit, for example.

Meanwhile, in Australia, at least one law-enforcement officer believes video games are to blame for an increase in teen knife violence.

New South Wales’ Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said recently that he believes young people are being desensitized by playing video games for hours. He didn’t specify which video games — or whether knife fighting was involved in them.

He said he had reached the conclusion that there was “nothing more potentially damaging than the sort of violence they’re being exposed to, be it in movies, be it in console games they’re playing.”

“You get rewarded for killing people, raping women, stealing money from prostitutes, driving cars crashing and killing people.

“That’s not going to affect the vast majority but it’s only got to affect one or two and what have you got? You’ve got some potentially really disturbed young person out there who’s got access to weapons like knives or is good with the fist, can go out there and almost live that life now in the streets of modern Australia. That’s concerning.”

However, what concerns me is something he says toward the end of the article:

“We grab them off the streets, children 14-13, who are drunk that we come across in the city in the Cross and in Oxford St.

“We ring parents and say ‘little Johnny’s down here, you better come in and get him’. And parents don’t even care. They say ‘he got there and can get his way back’.”

So he really thinks that video-game violence is inspiring these kids more than the treatment they’re receiving from their parents? Now, I’m certain we’re both generalizing: Scipione probably doesn’t receive that response from every parent of a kid who’s drunk and fighting. Nor is every parent who responds that way necessarily nonchalant or uncaring. At some point when kids act out, parents often would rather see them face police consequences, and maybe that’s what these parents are doing. However, this comment suggests frayed relationships between kids and parents, and that’s something much more likely to spark juvenile crime than blowing off some steam in a video game. In fact, kids with access to video games would probably be less likely to stab someone.

It’s true that with video games, they’re not all good or all bad. There can be video games that make sense in the classroom, and other video games probably best suited for late nights with friends. You can’t say that just because they’re good enough for school, there’s no way a video game could inspire a bad idea. Many — probably most — video games teach people valuable skills. And, once in a while, someone plays one and winds up hurting someone in reality, whether that act was influenced by the game or not. Heck, there’s no saying Minecraft, cute as it is, couldn’t feed someone’s fury — if that someone was already in a furious place.

However, it’s worth pointing out the contrast in these perspectives, in part because Bonasera saw a way to harness kids’ love of video game and turn it into something powerful and educational. Scipione, on the other hand, saw a month-long blip in knife crime, didn’t know what could have caused it, and blamed it on gaming — without even knowing the perpetrators’ gaming habits. Whose perspective is more thoughtful and informed? Given that, which one seems more worth heeding?

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?