Oslo, R18+ And Default Media Finger Pointing

About three years ago I interviewed a group of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan about gaming on the battlefield. Here were three men, fully trained soldiers, trained in combat, who spent most of their spare time LANing Modern Warfare on their laptops.

"Why do you guys spend so much of your time," I began, tactfully, "playing a video game that attempts to replicate the kind of real, terrible violence you guys have to deal with day in and day out?"

Their response was uniform and shocking.

They laughed at me.

The reason for their laughter? The fact that the gameplay featured in Modern Warfare, and any other 'military shooter' for that matter, was so dramatically removed from the reality of actual warfare that they, as soldiers, barely even bothered to make the connection. In one switched-on soldier's view, Modern Warfare was about as close to a real combat situation as The Sims was to real life.

From reading various news reports about the Oslo shootings, you'd think that Modern Warfare was a streamlined killing simulator, a training ground for wannabe terrorists. Next they'll blame The Sims for the rise in teenage pregnancies and the subprime mortgage crisis. When will the madness end? Where did it even begin...

You'd think the media might have learned their lesson from irresponsible reporting on high school shootings, heavy metal music, hip hop, video nasties, comic books, penny novels - the list, tragically, goes on. Making video games the scapegoat for an international tragedy is as idiotic as it is passé, and the attempt by the media to hitch this impotent scare-mongering to the recent R18+ announcements is almost staggeringly cynical.

It makes me feel for Brendan O'Connor, a politician who was brave enough to stand up for an R18+ rating for games, who then has to answer idiotic, completely loaded questions combining the two topics. You have admire how tactfully he navigated such stupidity.

"Because there is a madman who has done just such atrocities in Norway," he said, "I don't think that means that we are going to close down film or the engagement with games.

"I think it really points to, of course, a person who - clearly there is something wrong with this person to sort of cause such devastation in Norway. But I'm not sure that the argument goes that as a result of watching a game you turn into that type of person. I think there is something clearly intrinsically wrong with him."

Of course it's hard to blame hit hungry journalists too much for following the well trodden trail of moral panic, particularly when Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the Oslo shooting, was so explicit in his own description of Modern Warfare 2 as "training-simulation", but what's so conveniently side-stepped is the fact that Breivik is clearly insane.

Utterly insane.

Modern Warfare 2 is nothing but a convenient excuse - for lazy reporting, for an act of complete lunacy, an excuse for an unfortunate act of violence that resulted in the death of over 90 people. It's certainly not a reason to question the existence of the Modern Warfare franchise, let alone the existence of an R18+ rating - particularly when you consider the fact that every single Call of Duty game was passed as MA15+.

It's far too easy, and too convenient, to blame a video game like Modern Warfare when millions of people worldwide continue to play the game daily without incident. Far too easy to stoke the fires of moral panic than explore the issue with any kind of restraint or good sense.

The speed and efficiency with which the mainstream media moved from shock and surprise the shooter wasn't Muslim, to blaming video games is something that should irk every single person who has played a video game - and every Muslim for that matter. Default narratives in the media are based on fitting news into negative, fear-inducing stereotypes.

The soldiers in Afghanistan openly burst into laughter when I tried to suggest that Modern Warfare replicated real life combat. They laughed at the absurdity of it. Right now, as 93 people lay dead, laughter is hardly the correct response, but we should be angry at the ease with which the media has blamed video games, and the ease with which that explanation was accepted by the public at large.

Surely, by now, we should all know better.


Comments

    Charlie Brooker attacked the lazy journalism going for the cheap excuses in his article in the Guardian.

    Really, I'm just sick of seeing that damned photo of him that looks more like a glamour shot than the picture of brutal murderer that he is.

      I'm going to piggy back on the fact that I got the top comment and post this blog from a Norwegian cartoonist.

        I clicked on the link just out of curiosity and ended up reading the whole thing in silence.

        Everyone everywhere should read that blog post.

    It shouldn't surprise really that this would be the first port of call for the media. When I heard he was a gamer, I knew this would be their focal point, not the fact he was an unhinged mental case. Should we focus on what he read? Listened to? What mental nuances he had or mental defects?

    No. Lets focus on if he played 'No Russian' or not... surely that's more relevant than if he was a raging nutbag.

    The fact is that you can take just about any console gamer nowadays, and there's a far greater than even chance they'll have played a 'Military-themed FPS'. You can't throw a rock out your window without hitting a couple. And the games are popular because the audience wants them. There's an entire generation who have grown up having to deal with the 'war on terror' and it's not surprising that that generation gravitates toward those games as a means for exploring and coping with the issues that arise from this. It's not much different to the way that film explored the gritty detail of the Vietnam war, which was very real and immediate for that generation too.

      This is kinda off topic but it really annoys me when people over psycho-analyse people and their choices.
      Millions of people play FPS's not as a "means of coping with the war on terror" but because they are fun. Nothing more.
      There does not have to be a deep physiological meaning to everything and you definitely can't put an entire group of people on the couch based on a single thing you know about them.

      This is little different to what the media is doing, take any two pieces of knowledge and you can tie them loosely together if you try hard enough. Does not make it correct.

      Not ripping into you personally but it just seems like a lot of people should stop judging until they walk in the others shoes.

    As a survior of the 1991 Strathfield Masscare, i abosolutely hate it when the media tries to blame something like books, porn, movies, games what ever as the reason for such a thing happening.

    Wade Fulcum, the person who took my mother and grandmother away from me when i was 9 years old was a nutjob end of story. he suffered a nervous breakdown when his mother passed away from cancer. Martain Bryant was also a nutjob. the V Tech killer was Nutjob.

      Edit to my post. Wade frankum not Wade Fulcum

    Great article, Mark.

    People like Ed Gain, Dahmer, David Koresh and the Unabomber certainly didn't exist and do what they did because of video games. People forget that the urge to kill, and the will to carry it out, comes from within. Whether its evil, insanity or the agenda of a deluded psycopath, ultimately the human at the heart of the disaster is fully responsible.

    I don't suppose you have a link to the interview with soliders you did? I would like very much to read that.

      It was for Australian 360 back when I was the Editor. So not online! Sorry!

        http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-snc4/41787_214277156210_9019_n.jpg

    Haven't seen any of the news about this, missed it all somehow other than a little of the first mentions of it happening. Doesn't surprise me at all that it's happened though (the media bit, not the shooting >_>).

    Great piece, Mark.

    Will be interesting to see if the ACL pipes up about this issue- especially given that said crazy loser has identified himeslf above most other things, as a Christian.

      and not just any christian either, but one of the ACL's main demographics. The killer stated he was a far right fundmentalist concervative christian.

      Not saying all ACL people are child killing fuckjob nutters, but they are gunna need to find some new ways to spin this

      My thoughts exactly. I'm seeing a lot more damaging links between Christianity and his behaviour than gaming and his behaviour. But it would be ridiculous to make that claim, right?

      In fact yes, it probably is. But it's worth raising as a rebuttal to anybody who tries to seriously support these ridiculous claims.

      ACL Media Release:

      "The Australian Christian Lobby voices disappointment at the Minister of Home Affairs statement on video games and violence which clearly stands in the contradiction of academic opinion, research and now tragic experience....."

      I read the entire release, they are forgetting to mention about the whole fundamentalist Christian thing...
      And the fact he was very sick and needed help..

        Also forgot to mention, in the release they say:

        “If there are even a few deranged minds that can be taken over the edge by an obsession with violent games it is in every Australians interest that we ban them"

        So.. that being said.. in their logic.. if people do bad things because they are taken over the edge with an obsession.. then we can also ban the bible... huh...

          Nothing pisses me off more than some twit removed from reality trying to use inclusive language in an effort to get me (us) to side with them.

          Also, exploiting this tragedy in an attempt to further their own political agenda? Pathetic.

        I read their release. I'm actually shaking with rage that they would be so unashamed to try and use this tragedy to push their agenda.

        I left a comment on their site, that I know will never be published, telling them exactly what I thought of this.

          Anyone have a link to this media release?

            http://australianchristianlobby.org.au/2011/07/mr-norwegian-tragedy-highlights-impact-of-violent-video-games/

    The guy is also a fundamentalist Christian with right-wing political views. So how come the media aren't out there railing against Christianity (or religion in general) and / or calling for conservative political opinion to be banned?

      Because if the media do, it will get viewers angry at them.

        Well I wonder the same media realises that a lot of people are angry with them now for railing against video games.

    The thing that gets me about scapegoating, is not (in this case) that my hobby is being put in a negative light again, it's more this isn't even being taken seriously. Instead of actually looking at why this happened, how to prevent it, and actually treat the victims with respect, a lot of people just go straight to blaming dem vidya games.

    You will know better when you feel you no longer need to write these hit chasing articles. They will know better when people actually try the very things they are condeming.

    We know better because we have stopped listening.

    WORD.

      I'm reminded of when my mate returned from a tour of Afghanistan were he was involved in some intense fire-fights. I was cautious about what to do when we were hanging out, because one of our favourite pastimes before he flew out was co-op shooters.

      So I'm tentatively courting the subject, not entirely sure yet of whether he may have killed a man in real life. He realised what I was thinking, basically considered me a knobhead for comparing the 2 situations, and we continued to play where we left off.

      But I found it pretty interesting, I doubt there are many people more qualified to assess the comparative impact of violent videotapes than actual combat veterans. This dude was clearly born a broken man.

    Great piece Mark.

    I know a guy who's been deployed to Afghanistan twice (or possibly three times), having been wounded on his first tour he still went back for a second (or third). He had some crazy stories to tell. I asked him over a game of MW2 whether it bothered him than kids play these games. His response was basically the same: "dude, this is just a game".

    This is why is refuse to watch, read or listen to any form of mainstream media.
    The rate at which random correlations become taken as actual facts in media is disguting.
    Honestly, it's exactly like The Simpsons (the world would be a better place if more people understood it) funnily enough, from the "think of the children episode)
    Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a
    charm.
    Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.
    Homer: Thank you, dear.
    Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
    Homer: Oh, how does it work?
    Lisa: It doesn't work.
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
    [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
    Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
    That right there, is how mainstream media take EVERYTHING.
    I'm ashamed to live in a society that takes these outlets as "news"

    I must say this Norway attack has disturbed me quite heavily. I certainly do not blame his action on video games, as you keep saying Mark almost EVERYONE plays video games and the term gamer is almost moot in this day and age. Reading up on the whole situation the problem was more related to politics and religion, I sincerely hope that the real cause of this massacre is realised rather than the stupidity the media will likely try and spin this into.

    Last night I tried playing some Bad Company 2 and I must say after this massacre I really just didn't feel like playing.

    Every current affairs program in the world rubbed their hands together in glee. 40 of their 60 minutes of weekly 'journalism' taken care of.

    You'd think so but no, the mass media runs wild with stupidity and feeds the fear the simple public craves. One idiot pulls a trigger and they look at everything but him for an explanation. That guy is a poor excuse for a human being, blame him for what he did not what he does. Want someone else to blame? Blame the mass media for feeding us these lies for so many years. Within an hour of that happening there was accusations of him being Muslim but no one pulled them up on that. The mass media needs to be regulated but how will that ever happen when they directly and indirectly run the world. Up yours mass media, your an absolute disgrace i really hope you're hand is forced when it comes to reporting because i know if i did a degree in journalism and was producing that sort of garbage then i would go and jump off a cliff. End rant, Good article Mark.

    Why don't they suggest that since he is a Christian that maybe Christianity is to blame for this?

    Stupid people who can not discern coincidence from causation.

    He's not insane - at least, not legally. All evidence suggests that he knew exactly what he was doing and who he was shooting. The common thrust of the anti-violence in games crowd is that the player becomes disconnected from the real consequences of their actions, and even if that were a legitimate phenomenon it simply isn't at all what we're looking at here.

    This guy was absolutely a terrorist. He was working towards an extremist right-wing agenda of eliminating young people who believed in multiculturalism. His hope was that he could kill the next generation of left-wing political leaders, and terrify the immigrant population. This was not some random cry for attention, or deranged outburst - he planned meticulously for 2 years. The fact that he worked alone is perfectly reminiscent of other western domestic terrorists like KKK/Neo-Nazi "lone wolves" and Timothy McVeigh; his being a lone gunman shouldn't disqualify this from being seen as an act of terror.

    The really disturbing thing for me is that the media has stopped using the word 'terrorist' now that it's clear that the perpetrator isn't a Muslim. Us white guys can be terrorists too, folks! He's a non-state actor using violence and intimidation to achieve a political goal - surely that's the definition of terrorism, it's not defined by his religion or ethnicity.

      That is so interesting - the word terrorist gets removed from the dialogue as soon as it was discovered he wasn't a muslim. Great point.

        The same thing happened a couple of years ago when that whack job in the U.S. crashed his plane into a government building to protest against tax reform. The media even went out of the way in a number of cases to actively tell people that he was in fact not a "terrorist".

      Wow, they really stopped using that word? (as I stated above, I don't follow news outlets)
      That's ridiculous.

      Although I won't totally disagree in that he's not insane.
      There has to be something not quite right in there.
      People can have their beliefs and live a fine life with no problems against others.
      There's no way, someone in a totally sane state could commit those acts.

      Exactly the (thing) was a terrorist pure and simple - he bombed a government building and then, goes to a camp sponsored by a political party and kills 86 people (86?? That is a staggering number). If that is not terrorism I don't know what is.

    HE WAS A FREAKING HUNTER, MAYBE THE FACT THAT HE WAS ACTUALLY USED GUNS HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT?

    dear god, current affairs shows have probably got there stock footage of young kids playing COD ready now in preperation for the reports -_-

      This ^ I play shooters, but if held a real gun I think I'd soil myself. I imagine the majority of gamers (especially in the this country) would be in a similar boat.

        Not me. :)

        That said, it gets drilled into you in training programs (before getting anywhere near a firearm) that you only ever point it at something you're willing to destroy. Might make you a little paranoid about where the business end of the weapon is, but that's really the way it should be.

    Games don't make me want to kill people. Politicians signing petitions to block adult content from adults makes me want to kill people.

    I'm Muslim, and a gamer, and a few other things to boot, as well as being me.

    As is the often the case with you Mark, well said.

    Anders is insane, just as the al Qaeda types. They both may cloak their disconnection from the rest of humanity in religious or political language, but the fact remains that at one point in their pasts, a switch flicked in their moral compasses/minds/souls said: "yes, it is ok to consider this person/these people as less than human, to do horrible things to them.

    Terrorists (people who use terror as a weapon, as some journalists have forgotten) are just plain sociopaths, with fancy words and sometimes the odd costume to dress it up.

    Plenty of people don't go down that path - be it Niemoller in Nazi Germany or massive sections of the Egyptian and other Arab Spring youth today vs the fundamentalists.

    If everyone took a leaf from South Park's book - don't be an asshole - the world would be a better place.

    (i know its not thursday, but what was going to 2 sentences kinda rolled on from there)

    The other thing that's really bothering about all the coverage focusing on MW2 as a "training simulator" is that all the articles mentioning it also seem to ignore the fact that this guy had completed compulsory nation service. He had actual military training.

    I knew this was going to happen. This man's motivation didn't come as a result of video games but the fact he is a extreme right radical. He attacked the Government building of a Coalition government which is lead by the Labor party. The youth camp he attacked was a labor party youth camp. He has been known to make extreme comments regarding the increasing muslim population in Norway and similar comments about people who oppose his political views. It is absolutely ridiculous that this happens, "OH SOMEONE WENT ON A SHOOTING RAMPAGE, LETS BLAME ISLAM AND IF THAT FAILS LETS BLAME VIDEOGAMES, DUHHHHHHH". sorry.

      i couldn't see that kind of political violence occurring in oz, but imho you can see a trend. hardline talk by some etc - e.g. that liberal party morning tea in which some old guy chased a greens voter who was attending down the street. we're not arizona or oslo yet thankfully though.

        Caught a cab (Sydney, Aus) the other week, and the driver went on a norway muslim hating rant. How great it was they were going to get rid of them all and what not. It was so bad I had to get out of the cab.

        People are people, what country your in doesn't matter as much as that fundamental fact. Sure there's some culturial bias to certain things but the kernel of the human condition is still the same.

        Unfortunately that means some people are born unstable and to terrible things. But blaming gaming, movies, books, whatever for these things doesn't make sense when its been going on since pre-history.

        PS - I'm not a muslim, and it was still so horribly offensive I couldn't stand to be near the person.

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