A few days ago I vented my feelings about Norway and the media’s coverage about the bombing and especially the shooting, which was quickly linked to Modern Warfare 2. It was a bit short and not particularly elaborated, since I was fuming with anger, but I feel that I need to clarify my view on the whole thing.
First of all, I know that the media has a right and an essential obligation to inform the public about whatever detail that may seem significant. We, the people, need to know what has happened and under which circumstances. It’s natural curiosity and an important part of living in a democracy. There’s a certain openness, which is one of the pillars in the modern society. I acknowledge that fact, and it’s something I feel strongly about. The problem is when the liberty to elaborate every single detail gets confused with a hunger after sensationalism, which in this case happened with the mention of Modern Warfare 2 as a virtual simulator for the perpetrator from Norway.
Now, I’m aware that MW2 was in fact mentioned by the killer in his manifest. This makes the case somewhat different than usual. He clearly stated that he used MW2 as his primary military practice in lack of better alternatives, which doesn’t exactly bode well for the game, at least not if you don’t have any knowledge about it. Of course the media was going to jump all over this, and they did, as hungry sharks smelling a drop of blood somewhere in the big ocean. The thing is, they already mentioned the game before the manifest was discovered by looking at his Facebook profile. They came to the conclusion that because his profile mentioned the game as one of his interests, it had to be connected to the shooting in Utoya. While it indeed was, somewhat at least, the media had already come to a conclusion based on their own perception of video games instead of taking a step back and assessing the situation.
It’s not that I’m condoning the actions of a deranged madman nor am I defending his use of MW2 as a simulator, but even though the game sometimes eerily resembles the real world, it’s still just a game. Albeit a realistic one, it’s entertainment just as well as films are, but did anyone stop to wonder what films the perpetrator had seen in his past or what books he’d read before the attacks? Maybe the media pondered about it, especially after the publication of his manifest, but it didn’t steal any headlines whatsoever compared to MW2 (and even World of Warcraft, which he apparently was quite fond of). Am I the only one noticing a slight problem with the media’s approach and coverage? I’m not saying I’d be less offended, if a certain book or film had been pointed out as part of the motivation for the incidents in Norway, but I’d still see it as a somewhat cowardly move by the press to blame entertainment for being part of something as horrible as the killing of 60+ people.
The fact is that we live in a world, where everything can influence us, if we allowed it. There are no limits to a psychopath’s work, as long as he got the will and opportunity. We constantly believe that things can’t get any worse, when the truth is that games (and films as well as books) constantly show us that we’re living in a bubble of ignorance. They somehow show us the truth even before we’re willing to realise it. There are no boundaries for imagination and creativity, but when a deranged terrorist sets his goals, his means to reach these goal and the actions behind them may seem inexplainable right until the point where someone thinks that they’ve figured out the motive behind it all. When this happens, blame needs to be placed, and often this happens by singling out the weak and easy targets.
In this case the easy target is video games. They’ve been mentioned by the killer himself, which means the media can say whatever they want about them to the public, since initially very few will question the media’s authority during a tragedy of this magnitude. Or at least that’s what the journalists think, intentionally or not. Truth is that it took less than 24 hours for Nordic games journalists, including myself, to realise where the headlines were heading. First it was a single headline placed between several others pouring out of Norway, but then the snowball effect kicked in, and within 48 hours every media outlet in Denmark and Norway had some sort of article linking the shooter to video games while stressing their role in his horrifically successive shooting spree.
As an avid gamer and biased games journalist, though, it’s easy for me to take the moral highground and point the finger at the coverage of video games. I’m fully aware of this. It’s an easy way to avoid the question of whether game developers have an obligation to constrain themselves from making games that could end up in the same unfortunate situation as MW2. But that’s not what I’m after, in fact it’s an issue that we may need to acknowledge exists. As games become a more integral part of society, they also become the subject of a far more relevant problem: Responsibility and social conscience. However, why should game developers be forced to limiting their creativity and thereby not be able to depict the real world and its actual, yet tragic problems, when films can show us horrific torture and brutal scenes without facing the same accusations? The problem is, as I see it, that video games are still considered a relatively new contender in the entertainment business, whereas films eventually has become a deeply rooted part of our lives to the point, where we don’t question their existence anymore than still being able to think of them as harmless, yet realistic fiction. Films aren’t material that killers are inspired by, and if they are, then it’s because of the sick individual fetching their motivation from them, not because of the films’ content. The same goes without saying when dealing with music, books, and – guess what – video games.