Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 20, 2012
Anders Behring Breivik recommends World of Warcraft

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik (and I refuse to use "alleged" here) said he used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to train for his massacre. And he also played World of Warcraft up to 16 hours a day, and in fact recommends it as a cover in case you are planning some illegal you don't want your friends and family to know: "Announce to your closest friends, co-workers and family that you are pursuing a 'project' that can at least partly justify your 'new pattern of activities' (isolation/travel) while in the planning phase. (For) example, tell them that you have started to play 'World of Warcraft' or any other online MMO game and that you wish to focus on this for the next months/year. This 'new project' can justify isolation and people will understand somewhat why you are not answering your phone over long periods." 

While science is pretty clear about the fact that playing video games does not turn you into a mass murderer, there is other scientific evidence on how playing these games for over 40 hours per week can lead to isolation from the real world and psychological problems. Maybe how much somebody plays says more about how much he loses contact with the real world than exactly what games he is playing.

I can only hope that Breivik is wrong about to what degree people will understand if you say you are playing a video game 16 hours per day. I would hope that friends and family would recognize such behavior as problematic, and would help the person to get back into the real world. Just like they should help if somebody watches 16 hours of TV per day. Escaping into a dream world is not a way to solve real world problems, and in many cases is likely to make the real world situation worse.

Please read this and maybe you'll find you want to update your post a bit:
Would you say that the gaming press is in any way less biased than the non-gaming press on this issue?

And furthermore would you call playing a game 16 hours a day healthy behavior?
Of course playing a video game 16 hours a day is unhealthy. But you (and my morning paper too) ignore the fact that he got himself a lot of real guns and practised shooting with them.
Ignored? Maybe you haven't followed the link I gave. I was linking to an article saying, and I quote: "Let's say he did use 'Call of Duty' to help him train in some way. So what? That may sound callous, but let's be real here. If he went to a gun range every single day for the past year, a place that actually trains you how to hit person-shaped targets with a real gun firing real bullets in your hands, would we be talking about how shooting ranges are to blame?"

And I said, quote from my post: "science is pretty clear about the fact that playing video games does not turn you into a mass murderer"

I get the impression you only read the title of my post and immediately concluded that I'm on the "video games cause mad murder" bus, which couldn't be further from the truth. My point is that spending 16 hours a day trying to escape from the real world has negative effects, and that there is scientific proof for that.
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I think I have two problems with this (and I firmly agree that kind of intensive playing isn't healthy):

The first is seems like it's reversing the order. Breivik's 'recommendation' is about using the game as an excuse for why you're avoid contact ... after you've already made the decision. So it's not more that an unhealthy mind would see that as a reasonable thing than that it creates negative symptoms.

The second is the study you linked to seems to have the same sort of issue - it identifies people who play for a lengthy period of time (who do not have offline support) and then seems to mean that the problem is playing ... when it's more likely that the problem is the lack of offline support that provides reasons for NOT playing. As the study itself says :

The high-use group may have low levels of offline SS
and high levels of negative psychological symptoms because
they play WoW for such long periods of time. Alternatively,
they may play WoW for 80 hours a week because of these

I completely agree that the psychological problems and the excessive playing are only correlated, and not one being the consequence of the other. The same underlying cause could cause both, or either one could have come before the other.

Nevertheless that still allows people to observe excessive playing in others and interpret it as a symptom, as a warning sign.
I'm a little nervous about your saying 'as a warning sign' because it can lead to further stigmatization of people with non-violent mental illness or that people with mental illness are at a greater risk for being violent.

MMOGs are a potential source of SS for millions of people
around the world and could thus be used to promote player
well-being. This may be of particular importance to a subsample of players who play MMOGs for considerably longer
than their peers and have significantly lower levels of offline
SS and higher levels of negative psychological symptoms.

This actually means that for those with such symptoms, rather than trying to wean them from the game and back into the 'real world' as you suggest, that gaming' itself has potential as a treatment tool. It's more about further study on how we can DO that than it is about saying 'stop playing too much.'
I believe I understand what you meant to say here Tobold, but I also believe you could've worded it better. it's easy to misinterpret the way you draw a conclusion. or rather, how is it really an important one in this context?

sure, there are unhealthy ways to play videogames - there are unhealthy ways to do anything. you can overdo it, you can hurt yourself.
but wouldn't it be more important, especially in context with such an exceptional case as Breivik's, to emphasize how he abused MMOs for his own twisted cause - in the end it's just another propagandist statement from a sick mind who also happened to write a 1000+ pages long manifesto.

you don't need MMOs to 'prepare' for an act like this - there's no direct connection between overdoing videogaming and sociopath behavior. he just happened to play WoW while also being a psychopath.
one needs to distinguish that and make it clear. MMOs were maybe a tool in his case just like my butter knife can be turned into a murder weapon.

Imo this message came out short in your article. I've blogged on this precise issue myself in July, hence why I'm also leaving this comment.
how is it really an important one in this context?

Every time the "video games make people violent" story runs through the press, we get the same sort of non-debate. Stupid journalists say that playing a shooter game will turn you into a shooter. And stupid gamers say that there is absolutely no way any amount of playing video games can ever cause any harm. Both sides are wrong. There are a sufficient number of well-documented examples where people were clearly taking some video game too seriously and by that caused some harm, from the guy who killed his friend over a virtual sword, to the couple who let their baby starve while playing an online family game.

I think the potential negative effects of video games merit a serious debate, which is hindered by people on both sides refusing to actually engage with the issue and just thinking this is a simple black & white, yes or no question. Real life is a lot more complicated than that.

Of course video games didn't turn Breivik into the monster he is. But don't tell me there has never been a point in time where somebody could have watched him and said "Hey, he is playing WoW 16 hours a day, there must be something wrong with the guy!", and maybe even helped him.
That's a fair point I don't disagree with. but then it's more of a general, social question on isolation in our modern society and how often people are left behind in the system we live in - especially if they struggle with things like shyness, not fitting in, depression or compulsive behavior.

not to suggest that this was the whole of Breivik's issues, but reading all the info on his biography he certainly suffered from such issues too.
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