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Norway Killer Played World of Warcraft, Which Probably Means Nothing at All
- Updated: April 17, 2012
Blame video games — that’s the watch phrase these days when something tragic happens. The nongaming media seems to enjoy zeroing in on video games highlighted in horrifying crimes, invoking the rhetorical question: Do video games screw people up? Like the trial of Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, 33, a right-wing extremist charged with killing eight people in a car-bomb attack near a government building in Oslo last July and 69 others in a follow-up shooting spree at a youth camp run by Norway’s Labour Party.
In the trial, prosecutors reportedly “painted an image of a Breivik obsessed with the World of Warcraft computer game, prompting the judge to ask whether the game was violent.” At some point the prosecution must have displayed images from the game in the courtroom, because Reuters says Breivik smiled “when the image of his online character was displayed.” According to Agence France-Presse, the prosecution said Breivik played World of Warcraft “full-time” from summer 2006 to summer 2007. None of the reports indicate prosecutors were overtly fingering the game as an excuse for Breivik’s behavior, but implication is nine-tenths rationalization when it comes to anything offered up during trial.
When horrible things happen, we look for simple answers, for easy rationalizations — ways to essentially say, Oh, this is why so-and-so did such-and-such. We want the “why” right now, when the spotlight’s on. We want the dots connected, and we want them to correspond with our suspicions about suddenly ultra-popular activities, like dancing to jazz music in the 1920s, or reading comics in the 1950s, or listening to rock ‘n roll in the 1960s, or playing Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s, or video games pretty much from the 1990s forward — specifically, violent video games.
Reality, of course, is far more complex, and the answers we’re after require patience and careful research. Preliminary studies that attempted to link violent video games with increased aggressive behavior failed to control for critical variables like family history, mental-health issues and gender (they also failed to contextualize increased aggression, e.g. more than aggression upticks caused by playing football, say, or drinking a cup of coffee?).