In the aftermath of the Oslo, Norway terrorist attack by Anders Behring Breivik, some have fingered video games as a potential contributing factor to the madman's rampage. Retailers in Norway are already clamping down on toys and games that it deems dangerous -- including both Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, the two games Breivik mentioned in his manifesto.
But according to Christopher Ferguson, a clinical psychologist and leading expert on video game violence at Texas A&M International University, video games aren't to blame. Breivik was just plain crazy.
Ferguson, who has spent the past decade studying violent video games and their impact on society, points out that of the over 1,500 pages in the manifesto, approximately a page and a half was dedicated to video games. Of that, most of the writing was focused on how to use World of Warcraft as an alibi to cover for his plotting of the terrorist attack.
"He could have just as easily suggested gardening or stamp collecting as an alibi, rather than World of Warcraft, and nobody would have made a big fuss about that," he told Y! Games.
Breivik also wrote that he used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to help train for the massacre. He believed the game helped him become a more accurate shooter.
"A key point that's been overlooked is that he never made any statement saying that playing this game caused him to become a mass murderer," said Ferguson. "He said that playing first-person shooter games like Call of Duty could improve accuracy, but even then, he recommended getting a real gun. And he actually did train with real weapons before the attack."
But even those accuracy claims fall apart. Ferguson said that a game controller and a gun are so different that it's unlikely being good in the game world translated into real life.
"I've done some target shooting with rifles and even some automatic weapons and I'm actually a pretty good shot with a gun, but I'm lousy with targeting in games like Call of Duty," said Ferguson. "It takes forever to line up a target in the game, so there's no real-life skill translation there for me."
From a clinical perspective, Ferguson said that there is real research that links the positive effects of playing first-person shooters with visual spatial cognition.
"First-person shooters have been shown in lab research to help train players to interpret and track visual spatial cognition," said Ferguson. "That's a good thing.
There's also the issue of Breivik being crazy. After all, normal people don't plan massacres and carry them out. Ferguson has read some, but not all, of the massive manifesto. And he said it becomes quite obvious that these are the ramblings of a crazy person.
"I think we have to be a little bit careful in taking a guy who wrote 1,500 pages about how Muslims are taking over the world in this very garbled way," said Ferguson. "The stream of thoughts that he goes off on and the writing is from someone who's nuts. You can't just ignore that and then focus on the video game writing and think that he has remarkable insight into what makes the brain tick when it comes to Modern Warfare 2 and World of Warcraft."
Ferguson's research was used by the Supreme Court for their recent ruling in favor of the video game industry and the First Amendment. He's also written papers that focus on mass killings like Columbine and Virginia Tech, so the tragedy that has occurred in Norway hits close to home.
At the end of the day, people are looking for answers when something horrific occurs.
"Whenever something new comes out -- from dime novels to rock and roll to gangster rap to video games -- you're going to get the same pattern of societal response where everybody panics initially and worries that this new media form is going to cause youth to become rebellious or dysfunctional or mentally ill or violent," said Ferguson. "And when a killing spree does occur, the media will turn to that form of entertainment as a way to place blame."
In the case of Breivik, just because he wrote about playing games doesn't mean games are at fault for this tragedy. There are millions of gamers playing both of these titles around the world and they live normal lives.
"Breivik spent way more time talking in his manifesto about things like the Byzantine Empire than video games," said Ferguson. "If he was 'inspired' by anything, it seems to have been history. Folks who want to use the manifesto as a rationale to ban anything would be on firmer ground arguing to ban history books."
Let the book banning controversy begin...
- Christopher Ferguson
- clinical psychologist
- Call of Duty
- mass murderer
- video games