Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trying to learn from grief

22nd of July 2011 the world was changed for all Norwegians. Thanks to a wonderful leadership (both the political and the monarchy) and an all round amazingly contrary population, Norway became sadder, but also warmer and more aware of the need for each other.

In order to see why this made such an impact, you need to understand one of the first questions Norwegians ask each other, when they meet as strangers. "Where do you come from." Foreigners believe Norwegians ask this only of them, in order to exclude them, to make them "other" and emphasize their alienness. That's wrong: We ask it of everybody. The follow-up question is always something to try to establish a connection. "Oh, really, do you know so and so?" If you don't, it goes on: Which school did you go to? Are you in any way connected to...? Have you been to...? And sooner or later, a Norwegian will find a connection. If you're from Marocco, they have friends who vacation there all the time, and say it's a wonderful place. If you're from Singapore, they landed there once, going to Australia. If you're from Guatemala, they read a book where the hero - or the villain - was from the same place. Did you read that book?

This very common and very important practice means that Norwegians view everybody in the country as connected, somehow. And so, when more than 70 people from all over Norway die, suddenly and dramatically, everybody are somehow touched. In a country where everybody are connected if you're just willing to dig for long enough, everybody grieve together.

Being in Denmark and disconnected from the secret we-are-all-connected network while this happened was mind-numbing. My daughter came home to Copenhagen from Europe and spent two days online and in front of the Norwegian television searching, reading, grieving. It turned out that we were somehow connected to at least three of the victims, luckily mostly professionally and a few steps apart. Still, it was close enough that we all felt it, and while we felt it, we couldn't be there. I wept more those days than I have for years.

Then the journalists started calling, asking about the importance of digital games in this context. Everybody were blind, everybody looking for explanations. I was buffered by the fact that I am in Denmark, and now I was happy about it. I did however respond to one journalist. After that interview, I had the oddest phone-call in my career. A young man, genuinely worried about his friends, called to ask about games, violence and media effects. I have to say, from what he described, he had real reason for worry. Cutting out computer games would not have helped them, though. These were young men who obviously romanticised violence to a degree I didn't believe sane people could. Perhaps they can't. I hope they get help or grow out of it, or channel the interest into something constructive.

All of this made me wonder, forced me to look at what I do, what I think. I have chased down articles on media effects and asked questions about violence. I don't get any other answers than I used to. The research is the same as before, and I can't read it any differently. I have however come to realise one thing. While extreme playing of violent video games alone is not enough, if seen in combination with dysfunctional behaviour in other areas, they can be a symptom of a problem.

This doesn't really change anything though, as it just leads back to what I have adviced parents and gamers to do for ever. Get involved. Teach your children to live a balanced life. Make sure you live a balanced life. Don't disappear from those around you, whether it's to play games, to work exessively, or to drown yourself in politics or religion. Stay social, and stay connected. Be active, mentally and physically, in more than one way.

And after that research-based advice, one piece of advice from the weeks after 22nd of July: Be gentle to each other. We are, at some level, all connected.

1 comment:

peter said...

"if seen in combination with dysfunctional behaviour in other areas,[video games] can be a symptom of a problem. "

Exactly. I think what happens is that some socially dysfunctional people turn to video games as an outlet for violent fantasy--effect, not cause. I know a very balanced young man whose mother forbade me to buy him violent games, and whose grandmother gave him "Grand Theft Auto" (as a 13 year old). He got bored with it in no time.