The effects of violent video games on users has come under the spotlight again after Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik commented during his trial that he used the popular video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to train before the shootings in July last year.
In the game players are able to equip their weapon with a holographic sight, something which Breivik used when he went on a killing spree last year.
“You develop target acquisition. If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it’s built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It’s designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you’ve practised using a simulator,” Breivik said about the holographic sight.
In court he mentioned that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 can help a person train for real attack scenarios. “It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That’s why it’s used by many armies throughout the world. It’s very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems.”
It’s not the first time that he has mentioned the title – in a 1 500-page manifesto written before his rampage, he said that Modern Warfare 2 was “part of my training-simulation”.
Breivik devoted more time to play another game during a “sabbatical” in 2006 and 2007. He told the courts that he played strategy title World of Warcraft (WoW) for up to 16 hours a day, but that the game had nothing to do with what he did.
“Some people like to play golf, some like to sail, I played WoW. It had nothing to do with 22 July. It’s not a world you are engulfed by. It’s simply a hobby. WoW is only a fantasy game, which is not violent at all. It’s just fantasy. It’s a strategy game. You co-operate with a lot of others to overcome challenges. That’s why you do it. It’s a very social game. Half of the time you are connected in communication with others. It would be wrong to consider it an antisocial game,” he added.
Telling his friends and family that he would be playing video games for an extended period of time served as a good cover up for him. In his manifesto he mentions that protracted bouts of video gaming “justify isolation” and “avoid suspicion from relatives and friends”.
While some lobbyists might make a correlation between his actions and violent video games, others are brushing off the ideas as mere sensationalism. “How many times are we going to do this? Really now, it’s getting absurd,” wrote Paul Tassi on Forbes.com in an article entitled “The Idiocy of Blaming Video Games for the Norway Massacre”.
“To say that Call of Duty was a significant factor in these murders ignores the fact that there are probably 10 million COD players that did NOT go on a mass killing spree last year. In fact, only one did,” he continued.
Academic and TIME contributor Christopher Ferguson also echoed the same sentiments, saying that there is no connection. “The most up-to-date research has not found that children who play VVG [violent video games] are more violent than other kids, nor harmed in any other identifiable fashion.”
Ferguson’s studies in the link between violent video games and killing sprees, which was recently published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, mentioned that he found “no long-term link between VVG and youth aggression or dating violence.”
This isn’t the first time that a video game has been blamed for the violent actions of other. One of the most popular First-Person Shooters, Doom, was blamed as an influence for the Columbine shootings, and the Grand Theft Auto franchise has been accused of glamorizing criminals and promoting violence.
But it’s a struggle that will rage on for many more years, as pro-videogames and anti-violent games protesters clash over what is acceptable and how it affects the players of these titles. Violent videogames are unlikely to go away anytime soon, and until a conclusive report can be formulated, the debate will continue.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor