Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Games and massacres - again

I thought I had dodged this, when nobody had called me all through Monday, after the massacre on Utøya. I did not want to stand there and sound like I defended a mass murderer, by claiming that no, computer games are perfectly innocent, particularly not after glancing through his manifest. Luckily I don't have to go through the manifest step by step with you myself, Nick Ross at ABC went through it for us all.

Oh, by the way, I am not linking to it. Find it yourself. I am not linking to anything any more, that's written by that wannabe. Actually, from now on I will refer to him as the wannabe or the n00b, because he is a wannabe that doesn't get what it means to be a hero, and a total n00b when it comes to stringent, rational, critical, political thought. I don't even want to hate him. He wants hate. The only thing I want to feel for him is contempt, and I want to drown him in ridicule. Like this.

Anyway, the wannabe was a gamer, and he did great in PvE. He writes about how he uses games to strengthen himself when he is in doubt. This has lead to the inevitable conclusion: Computer games made him a monster. Dagens Næringsliv, otherwise a pretty sober newspaper, neglects the caveat, but at least they are honest enough to tuck it in at the end:
Hun presiserer at dataspill ikke nødvendigvis skaper mordere, men legger til at mennesker med personlighetsforstyrrelser kan være svært mottagelige for slike inntrykk.
Their expert points out that games don't create murderers, but that people with personality defects can be vulnerable to that kind of impressions.

The world is full of impressions a man like the wannabe can be vulnerable to. He quotes them happily, and spends a lot of time for instance on religion. He thinks of himself as a Christian, and struggles with the sin it is to use prostitutes before he plans to go on a killing spree. He decides however that, like a holy crusader, he is about to do so much good that minor sins will be forgiven him. Now you'll claim there are crusaders in games, but there are crusaders in history, in poetry, in literature, as Knight Templars and Freemasons, and in a whole lot of graves all over Europe and the Middle East. If you want to be a crusader, you don't need to make the effort of leading a raid guild to get your ideas confirmed.

And then there are the political debates. Even now, after the shooting, people manage to write things like "we don't agree with how he did it, but he is right, the multiculturalists are dangerous and are ruining our culture, and should be stopped." Even as he was killing people in Oslo, the website "for promotion of Nordic culture" nordisk.nu (where the wannabe supposedly was a member, and where there are people he emailed his manifest to) had members claiming that somebody needed to clear out the multiculturalists once and for all. The n00b didn't need to play games to feel like his ideas were justified.

OK, back to games, violence and wannabes.

Yes, there is research which states that murderers like the wannabe play games, but also research that shows that there is no causal link. Let me link to an article I have linked to before, The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic?. Ferguson writes: "Although much speculation persists regarding the role of violent video games and school shootings, this speculation is seldom based on factual evidence." Ferguson goes on to cite and quote studies specifically of school shooters, where the scenes tend to look like first-person shooter games. I am attaching a long quote here, because I know many will not go on to read the article itself:
The FBI report (1999) had included ‘unusual fascination’ with violent media amongst its potential predictors. As most young males consume considerable amounts of violent media (e.g. Griffiths & Hunt, 1995; Olson et al., 2007), ‘unusual’ consumption necessitates reaching a very high bar. The report also suggests that incessantly reading/viewing a particular book or visual media with violent, or school violence content, may be a predictor. The FBI report appeared to focus on individuals who approved of hateful or destructive messages in the media, rather than merely enjoying the media for entertainment purposes. For instance, an individual who praised Mein Kampf and its message of racism and hatred would arguably be considered more ‘at risk’ than would someone who enjoyed playing the violent video game Medal of Honor because it was fun. Indeed, related to violent video games, the FBI report specifically stated, “The student spends inordinate amounts of time [although inordinate is never defined and is left subjective] playing video games with violent themes and seems more interested in the violent images than the game itself ” [italics added]. Thus, an overall interest in causing harm is potentially predictive of violence, not exposure to violent media in and of itself, a conclusion supported by the recent Savage, (2008) meta-analysis.
This is what the research shows. If you have learned that violence is the solution to problems, then you may show an interest in violence, including games.

Now who are these experts Dagens Næringsliv have contacted? Deborah Schurman-Kauflin is a profiler. Her list of publications is impressive, with a heavy bias on imported violence and female killers. The other expert is Pat Brown, who offers cost-effective profiling if you have a problem with serial killers.

Two American profilers who have not done research explicitly on games and gamers, where the one with the more impressive list of articles tries to point out that there isn't necessarily a causal relationship between games and mass murderers; and Dagens Næringsliv goes out and reduces the entire political agenda behind the wannabe's horrible act to something to do with games.

I didn't want to talk about this, because I felt it would be insulting and misleading to push the debate into yet another "dangerous media" discussion. This goes far beyond computer games.

The truth is that I have no idea what exactly set the wannabe off. Anything could have caused it. Perhaps he dated a girl who went to Utøya and fell in love with somebody else. Perhaps his teen-age friends who were muslims turned him off multiculturalism by being too conservative islamists and displaying the unlucky, but existing, opinion that white women are all asking for it if they get raped. Perhaps his father wasn't there in those formative years when he could have learned that real men protect others, rather than harm them. And so I was hoping not to have to stand there and say "No, games don't lead to violence."

But here it is. Political terrorism is committed in the name of ideas and conviction. Ideas are the most dangerous thing on this planet. Ideas created the wannabe, not games.

And a last, deeply felt statement: If I thought abolishing games would lead to world peace, I'd never play again. If I thought forbidding rock was the way to go, I'd never dance again. If I thought the reason why people hurt each other was because we have television, I'd break it, right now. But it isn't that simple. We had war, violence, crime and fanatic killers - some of them real crusaders - long before we had modern media.


Klepsacovic said...

Ideas have so many similarities with disease. They spread person to person. They can lie dormant and re-emerge. They mutate, with the most pervasive ideas being those which are not especially dangerous, which those which kill are more limited. If that last part seems to not fit, just compare the number of people who think an army is a good idea (I'd guess almost everyone) with people who think suicide bombing is a good idea (very very few, even if they get a lot of attention).

When a new disease, however minor breaks out, some people hide. Swine flu, bird flu, west nile, these all were mildly dangerous but hardly worth all the fuss. Some people advocate sterilization, and so if a disease comes, they have no resistance. Others advocate cleanliness but not excessively so, causing exposure to disease, but rarely anything deadly, and so the adherent to this model has more resistance, so that minor disease does not become worse.

I wonder if ideas function in a similar manner. If we are exposed to enough ideas, do we develop resistance to their harmful effects?

I only pray that Norway does not over-react and institute a useless security state.

M-H said...

Thanks Torrill. Well said.