There has been another school killing in Finland, a horrible tragedy that turns out to have been the result of a long-standing plan. A young man has entered a school and killed students, teachers, a health professional and himself. He killed 10 people.
In the shock of this people look for something to blame. And look, he played Battlefield II just before he committed his acts.
Battlefield II is a multi-user game from the producers of Battlefield 1942. It's a game where they put a lot of emphasis on details and correctness both in images and in the function of the weapons and strategies. A lot of people who are interested in strategy, tactics, weapons, uniforms, history, current politics and a long list of other issues that connect into the playing of a complex game, like Battlefield II.
The two school-shooters in Finland in (2008) and (2007), knew each other, according to witnesses. One of the things they did together was to play Battlefield II.
It's very easy to assume that the game caused the killings, when you look at it like this. But the truth is, it's harder to find a person their age who has NOT played a computer/video game, than one who has. And if your main interest in life is weapons, violence and death, you won't be playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour.
The second killer probably did a lot of very common things the last hours before his act. He got dressed. He probably ate or drank something. He was studying to become a cook, and went to his school. He had a cat. He played a computer game.
These are not the things that turn a person into a killer. A person who wants to kill others may choose to surround himself with things that will make his decision and his task easier and more acceptable to himself. If you believe the only solution to a problem is violence, then you surround yourself with proof of this. There's enough proof. Look at Iraq. Israel. Afghanistan. Or closer: the entire south/east of Europe. People who believe that a problem can be solved by violence are not hard to find. Did the second killer watch the news? Did he listen to the radio? Did he read a newspaper? Did he hear George Bush speak about warfare, and a firm line?
Faltin Karlsen is interviewed in Dagbladet.no, where they discuss games and violence, and the fact that the second killer played before he died. Faltin's research is on games and violence, and his response is as sane as it can be. To plan for six years to kill others is not something you do impulsively after playing a computer game. It's absurd to say there's no connection, as it's probably not a coincidence that a man with his interests preferred Battlefield II. But it's equally absurd to claim there is a direct causal connection from gaming to killing. It's more likely that his gaming is a result of what ever made the second killer kill. He wanted to shoot. The game let him pretend to shoot. So he played the game. Gaming should be viewed as an effect, not a cause.
Karlsen suggests another angle at the end of the article. He points out that the media give killers a huge amount of attention. If you want to be famous, murdering your schoolmates means instant fame. Like terrorists, they use terror to become visible.
A way to dampen this trend might be to stop fetishising the killers. Don't show their pictures, don't mention their names. They are not heroes, they deserve no fame. Give their victims a face, show the lives they disrupt and ruin, show the devastation left in their path, and grieve the deaths they cause. But don't make them famous.