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.