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.
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.