Anders Behring Breivik was a likeable loner, a seemingly harmless Norwegian who masked his sudden disappearance from society to prepare for the biggest single-handed massacre in recent history with a modern affliction: video game addiction.
Breivik, 32, the confessed terrorist behind a bombing and shooting spree that left nearly 90 dead, many children, said he used a claimed World of Warcraft gaming addiction to prevent those close to him from prying into his personal life in the days, the weeks leading up to his twin attacks in Oslo.
In his 1518-page manifesto, Breivik writes that it is important to avoid suspicion from relatives, neighbours and friends while planning your attack.
Say you play World of Warcraft or another MMO and have developed an addiction for it,” he wrote. “Say that [you]are going to play hardcore for the rest of the year and it is no point trying to convince your otherwise. Inform them that you will be busy doing that in the future etc. Tell them that you are ashamed of it and you don’t want to talk any more about it. Make them swear to not tell anyone! (You just effectively prevented any more questions from that person AND made the individual assist you in protecting your cover from everyone else.)
This “credible project”, he writes, will “justify your new pattern of activities (isolation/travel) while in the planning phase.”
Don’t get me wrong: the perception of gamers as loners that Breivik used as a cloak to hide his actions is almost inconsequential in light of the devastation that Breivik caused with a bomb and his shooting spree. But it is also bothersome that, for some, gaming continues to be a sort of accepted addiction.
It’s a reminder that for a portion of society, gaming is something alien, foreign, perhaps dangerous. For these people, gamers are by definition social outcasts.
Gaming didn’t make Breivik a killer – or even a more efficient killer, despite his claims. (It would be disingenuous to presume that Breivik didn’t learn something of, say, military tactics by playing games – that verisimilitude to real world warfare is part of the reason we respond so strongly to games like Modern Warfare 2 – but any real knowledge he gained is a rounding error compared to what he learned by actually shooting weapons in real life.)
Reached for comment over the weekend, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister perhaps summarised gaming’s connection to this atrocity best.
“Clearly there is something wrong with this person to cause such devastation in Norway,” Brendan O’Connor told Australia’s ABC television. “But I’m not sure that the argument goes that as a result of watching a game that you turn into that type of person. I think there is something clearly intrinsically wrong with him.”
I’ve wrestled for days with why the twin Oslo attacks have bothered me more than the thousand other acts of violence I wrote about and reflected upon while covering crime for newspapers for a dozen years. Some of those crimes were no less atrocious, the human toll no less terrible.
But this case connects with a part of my life I’ve always seen as harmless: Gaming. That Breivik would kill so many in some atrociously misguided attempt to win people over to his extremist cause is ghastly, that he in some way has a connection to me because we enjoy the same hobby is sickening.
It’s also a reminder how easily this hobby can be misconstrued. Perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on your own gaming habits to see if you’re doing anything to perpetuate those stereotypes. It’s certainly OK to play lots of games – it’s OK to make them your primary activity as far as I’m concerned – but after a human tragedy like the killings in Oslo, it’s worth taking a step back and remembering that we’re all part of communities outside of games, too, and that striking a balance between escapism and fraternity is well worth the effort.
Well Played is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.