Friday, July 29, 2011

Blaming gaming

This is the link to an interview, in Norwegian, where I say why we shouldn't blame games for what the wannabe did 22nd of July. The journalist understood what I as saying, and managed to communicate that well, all down to the fact that I consider speculation about whether or not games influenced the n00b to be - speculation.

For those of you who came here in order to find proof that my mind has been numbed by too much gaming, if you read Norwegian, why don't you go have a look at this very good description of how a skilled computer gamer thinks. As you will see, "kill, kill" is not on the gamer's mind. It's more along the lines of "optimise routine, check numbers, remember cooldowns, check threatmeter, move with the team, maintain healer safety, balance the output."

At the same time, I don't manage to care that much. In a way, if it makes people feel good, they can blame games all they like for me. They can blame the weather, the radioactive rain after the accident in Tjernobyl, a really bad streak of losses for his local football team, Fox news brainwashing (that's my favourite theory) or the colour pink. Perhaps he was poisoned by his own make-up. It doesn't change what happened. Also, it won't help us avoid these things happening again. It is an anomaly, something totally unexpected and unpredicted, something so far from the minds of regular people that we can't explain it or avoid it.

The only thing we can do, is not to act the way he wants us to. He added those computer game links to his new facebook profile for a reason, just like the deleted the old profile in order to hide what he claims to have been 7000 facebook friends. He wants us to chase down all kinds of paths, causing fear, anger and confusion looking for a reason. The cause is simple: He had a political agenda, and was sufficiently single-minded and ego-centric to go through with it, in an absolutely ruthless fashion. What made him into this monster? We will probably never know. Genetics, upbringing, socialisation - a bit of all, is my uneducated guess.

However, if you feel comforted by keeping your children away from computer games, please, do so. Personally, I take greater comfort in having kept my children away from handguns, single-minded political rhetoric and religious fanatics of any colour, while brainwashing them with analytical thought until they question everything and look for the peaceful middle way in conflicts.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Don't diagnose when you don't know!

While we game researchers are frustrated with how games are used to explain everything, psychologists have to face "experts" telling the media this and that about the wannabe, diagnosing him wildly. The Norwegian psychologist Kristine Tofte is as sick of this as I am of the "too much gaming" angle, and writes an extremely good post about it.

Her post is in Norwegian, but as a super-quick resume, she asks colleagues to quit diagnosing him from what is written in the media, and to remember that so far as she knows, nobody have acted exactly like this, ever, in history. It is an anomaly, and we can't say it's typical for anybody (gamers, sociopaths or trained soldiers), because it is a unique event.

I find this extremely important. We do not know and can not yet start to understand the why of this event.

Thank you, Kristine Tofte.

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" (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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wow and violence and terror

I have been here before, seeing killers connected to computer games. Anders Behring Breivik played World of Warcraft. I do however think his more than 1000 pages long manifest, describing a process that started 9 years ago with the goal to become a European hero, is a lot more important than gaming.

It appears that he fits the FBI profiles of violent shooters, where they are interested in the violence, not the game.

Don't make the mistake of reducing this to "mad maniacal gamer" and claim the world will be a better place if the games are removed. Don't blame anything or anyone but the man who decided he had the right to take lives.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Off to Hohenheim and Southern Germany for the first time since 1978. I suspect there have been a few changes, and the Torill that goes to talk at this conference on the social aspects of games is not the Torill who worked in a green-house in Stuttgart for a summer. At least, I hope the current Torill is a bit smarter, even if she doesn't look as good any more.