In the recent press, Anders Behring Breivik (the person responsible for the violent Norwegian terrorist acts that lead to the murder of a total of 93 people in Oslo and at a Norwegian youth camp) claimed that he used video games to train for his rampage. Specifically, he stated that he used the game World of Warcraft and his fabricated addition to it to deflect questions about his whereabouts while planning his attack. He also claimed the game Call of Duty 2: Modern Warfare was his main training program. In the wake of the killings overseas, Norway has pulled all Call of Duty (CoD) and World of Warcraft (WoW) titles from the shelves. Ironically, they have not pulled the new release from EA Games, Battlefield, which is a spot on copy of the CoD series in that it is a violent, war themed, online game. Obviously this argument has forced media to revisit the issue of what whether life inspires art or if art inspires life. In the past, music, television, movies and video games have holstered the blame for the much of the violence in our culture. Case in point, the release of the movie 30 Minutes or Less is rumored to be protested by a family whose son was killed in a similar bombing attack. In this case, the movie may or may not be mimicking an actual event, but the idea of strapping a bomb to an innocent person is not new to either Hollywood or real life. As for where it started, who knows? Who is responsible for passing these ideas along? Where does media in general fit into this? These are the questions that are looping in my head, and as I analyze my answers and the answers of others, I find myself wavering between different political and moral beliefs.
Who is responsible for violence? Are video games too violent? Do they encourage our children to act out? Do they allow some children with anger issues to appropriately exercise those thoughts and emotions? Should we censor all games because a select few act irrationally? Did Hitler play video games (sarcasm alert)? These questions demand answers. Answers we don’t have. Answers we may never have. Answers to questions that some say don’t even deserve answers. In light of these, here are two most popular opposing viewpoints.
“Guns don’t kill people…video games do.”
I find myself, a person from a Democratic, suburban environment with an extended family from rural, Republican America, torn on gun laws. Do people have the right to legally carry arms? Legally, yes. Do I have a gun? No. Am I opposed to people carrying firearms? Not necessarily, but depending on the person, I do have reservations. Do we need to allow people to have weapons that are excessive for their environments (see: large weaponry that has no place outside of police units: semi-automatic rifles, large guns, etc)…no. If I could ask only responsible people to carry only responsible arms and only use them with common sense, well that would be my answer, but that would be a bit too utopian. As a lover of video games, I find myself always rushing to their defense as I have in the past for music, movies and pop culture in general. I believe that the responsibility for a person’s actions lies solely with that person. However, am I blindly rushing to the defense of some of these violent video games? Do video games need to be this violent?
Though I find myself only partially supporting gun laws, there is a large sect of extremists that blindly support and promote gun freedom. These people believe in allowing all Americans to possess firearms without much reserve. I believe the trouble lies with these organizations mainly in their inability to be sensitive to other sides of the issue. For example, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) propensity to hold gun shows and conferences in towns only weeks after violent and deadly school shootings is extremely ridiculous (Google “Charlton Heston, NRA & Columbine, Co, 1999” to find a wide variety of conflicting information about this segment from Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine film).
But what does this say about my view of video games? If I believe that there is an extremist group of gun supporters that blindly run to the defense of firearms using the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) as a cover, am I also at fault for blindly running to the defense of video games using the First Amendment (freedom of speech) as a cover? Have I become a video game extremist? Has my moral compass, something which I usually pride myself on, gone way off course by thinking Norway is crazy for banning these games and the media is ridiculous for reporting the claims of a madman and his obsessions?
“Guns don’t kill people…and neither do video games.”
As educators we have tough decisions to make. Many of my students play extremely violent video games; video games that I cannot pretend to find an academic avenue to exploit. In fact, most of my students are embedded in a culture where violence is common place in either home life or media. Our current media and culture do nothing to limit this violence, from overtly negative news casts to training programs from our own military. That’s right: the Norwegian gunman didn’t even need to invest in the CoD series. He could have instead opted for the online training game from the US Military called America’s Army. This training program is not only available to our youth, it is completely free!
So if multiple versions of the same type of violent shooter game are out there (CoD, Battlefield, America’s Army) what good is Norway doing by limiting the sale of CoD and WoW games? Isn’t this just making a wide-spread, blanket rule for a slim exception? I find it interesting that one wouldn’t take stock tips from Anders Behring Breivik, but that people have no problem making legislation based on his unprofessional claims regarding video games. Damn the common knowledge that millions of people play these games and a miniscule amount of people react in the way he did. Damn the fact that massacres like this happened for centuries before video games existed. Damn the fact that Breivik is a disturbed man and should be treated that way. He should pay the cost for his actions, not the sources that he claims ‘inspired’ him. My gut says that video games, movies and music did not create violence, although at times they may endorse or exploit violence it. They are not to blame for the people that carry out these senseless acts. However, maybe this is just me blindly defending my stance as an extremist in the video game culture…
Image Credits: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Gun Image by Phaitoon
Collage by G. James 2011
Special thanks to Karissa James for her proofreading skills!