The Tragedy In Norway Was Not Caused By Dragon Age 2
It only took a few days, but it finally happened. We have found a way to worry that video games are partly to blame for the horrific terrorist attack that devastated Norway last week. Thanks to the release of his manifesto, we now know that Anders Behring Breivik, suspected perpetrator of the attacks that killed 76 (and injured 96 more) likes Modern Warfare and the Dragon Age series. Some choice excerpts:
January 2010: “I just completed Dragon Age Origins not long ago. A brilliant game!
February 2010: I just bought Modern Warfare 2, the game. It is probably the best military simulator out there and it’s one of the hottest games this year. I played MW1 as well but I didn’t really like it as I’m generally more the fantasy RPG kind of person – Dragon Age Origins etc
April 2011: (The month Dragon Age II was released) “It was now April 25th and I was finally back to normal. I had spent the past couple of weeks playing through Dragon Age II and a couple of other newly released games. Awesome!
And with this new information, the inevitable worrying about the influence of violent media on real world events has begun.
When something unspeakably terrible happens, people grasp for any kind of explanation that makes sense of the situation. This is entirely understandable, since the vast majority of us do not sympathize with, nor even understand the mindset that turns someone into a murderer. This problem is worsened when the murderer looks and sounds like we do. Rather than address potentially explosive underlying problems that might contribute to someone going down that dark path, it’s easier to imagine that they’re insane, a ‘madman’, an unstable mind unhinged by external stimuli. Such was the case in our own country in the wake of the horrible 1995 Oklahoma City Bombings, or more notoriously, in the aftermath of the tragic Columbine murders of 1999.
The Columbine shooters were popularly believed to have been influenced by violent movies and controversial music. The immediate result was a moral panic that led to a kind of self-censorship in the media, and to renewed calls to limit access to constitutionally protected forms of artistic expression. But while blaming Marilyn Manson or The Matrix might have provided an easy answer for traumatized parents and a shocked nation, it did nothing to make us actually understand what happened. Unfortunately, with the news that, like more than half of all adults, Anders Breivik is a gamer, we appear to be going down the same road.
One notable example is The Post-Chronicle, which has breathlessly reported the news of Breivik’s gaming in tones similar to the release of the Pentagon Papers. They ask, quite seriously, “was he directly influenced by the video game “Dragon Age 2″?” and go on to explain how the story arc of Dragon Age’s Anders compares to that of Anders Breivik. The article then claims that this is “quite possibly the saddest moment in video game history”. How the history of the video gaming industry is itself tarnished by the actions of a violent criminal is unclear, but it’s certainly one of the saddest moments in journalism history.
One might suggest that liking some of the most popular media of recent times is the least unusual thing about Breivik. His enjoyment of them demonstrates not that such games will cause violent behavior, but that they are part of our shared cultural heritage linking all of us, sinner and saint alike. Furthermore, Breivik’s manifesto weighs in at 1,516 pages, in which only a tiny number of references to video games are actually made. One might as well argue that access to a computer and word processing software had more of an influence on his behavior, and start wondering if his decision to write in English instead of Norwegian reveals a dangerous obsession with irregular grammar.
Based on what Breivik actually wrote in his convoluted but surprisingly lucid manifesto, the evidence seems fairly clear-cut that he is a disaffected, racist extremist with ties to ultra-nationalist groups. He describes in detail his opposition to immigration, to ‘multiculturalism’, to ‘political correctness’, Marxism, and to numerous other such targets. After his arrest, it’s been reported that he has claimed to be part of a larger team containing two separate cells. Though the truth will eventually come out, the obvious (and disturbing) conclusion is not that he has been unhinged by video games, but that he committed his heinous crimes in order to advance his political goals. In other words, he is the dictionary definition of a terrorist.
Our hearts and thoughts must be with the victims of this terrible tragedy, and with the nation struggling to collect itself under what must be intense pressure to do something, anything, about it. And it would be a disservice to those victims and their loved ones to begin looking for easy answers that obscure the actual problem at hand. Video games did not turn this man into a terrorist. Bigotry, hate, xenophobia did. We can’t combat those problems if we’re more worried about access to popular entertainment. So please, enjoy your copy of Dragon Age 2 guilt-free, and take a moment to be thankful that you haven’t had to endure this kind of tragedy in your own life.