By now it’s a well-known fact that Coop Norway, one of the biggest retail chains in Scandinavia, has decided to remove several video games from their assortment due to the attacks in Norway last Friday. Among the games are Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Homefront, but is it really up to retailers to decide what people spend their money on?If you’ve visited this blog during the last week, you’ve probably noticed my annoyance caused by the media coverage of the games linked to the horrific shooting in Utøya. I won’t spend time discussing the media yet again, as I’ve said all I need to say, instead this will be about today’s reveal of Coop Norway’s removal of video games. I talked to their director, Geir Inge Stokke, earlier today. He confirmed that several games were removed due to being “realistic/role-playing shooters”, including eight named titles:
- Call of Duty: Black Ops
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Call of Duty: World at War Platinum
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Classic
- Sniper Ghost Warrior
- Counter-Strike Source
- World of Warcraft
While you’re busy wondering why WoW is on that list, I’m busy trying to find out how a retail chain can possible defend an action like this. Stokke did explain to me that the decision was made “out of respect for those affected”, and while I see it as a compassionate move, it also seems like an impulsive act that is controlled by feelings instead of being driven by a responsibility to the video games – because there is such a thing. I may seem like a games journalist trying to protect a love child from unjustified criticism, and while that may be true to a certain point, this isn’t about the often dubious criticism of video games, but instead how people decide to receive and process these games instead of instantly seeing them as either innocent entertainment or as hell’s virtual spawn, slowly poisoning our minds.
The thing is, video games do have the ability to affect people. Gamers often don’t notice how they scream and yell during the frenzy we know as multiplayer, or how the anger shows when Angry Birds aren’t angry enough to get all the pigs knocked over. This may sound ridiculous, but video games have the ability to alter our moods, even when we’re not aware of it. This, however, doesn’t mean that they’re in the midst of creating serial killers and mass murderers. Just because I fought of invading forces in Homefront, doesn’t mean that I’m ready to invade an island and in cold blood be able to mow down several dusins of young people, who I don’t share a political persuasion with. While I may be able to imitate tactics from Modern Warfare 2, it’s still things I’ve learned in a virtual world, which I wouldn’t have the slightest idea about how to implement in real life. To do that I’d need real-life training one way or another.
Why am I mentioning this, when I talked about Coop Norway in the beginning? Well, video games are only few among many forms of products that could’ve influenced the shooter in Norway, but you don’t see Coop removing controversial movies, books or even music, even though he did mention several of those in his manifesto. Now, Coop may in fact not have been selling any of those, in which case it does make some sense that it’s only video games being removed, but to me that isn’t reason enough for the removal. I do commend Coop’s decision to show their respect and compassion for the victims of the tragic events, but removing items in their assortment isn’t the right way to do so. After all, if people really want to buy the removed games, they can just go to another store, like GAME and Gamestop, who haven’t removed any of the games (at least not yet, and I seriously doubt that they will in the future). I also realise that it’s a touchy subject for the Norwegian people, but dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude doesn’t call for the removal of video games. Instead we should seek to educate people, let them know that video games can simulate reality, but not necessarily in a harmful way.
The actions of Coop also raise another, perhaps even more serious question: Does the removal of games implicitly promote the motive behind the shootings? By taking 51 various brands of the shelves, attention has been given to the fact that the killer’s action was fueled by a need to change things, albeit by drastic measures. Before going off on me, blaming me for saying Coop is supporting the killer, I’d like to stress that it’s certainly not my intention. As said before, Coop has made it perfectly clear that everything has been done out of respect for those affected, and I have no doubts about that, but what I’m saying is that their actions may have been a great disservice. The removal may show that video games can have an affect on people, and therefore we as customers should be aware of this, but it also shows that using lethal force to get a point across will affect our society through channels we haven’t considered before, which could act as an incentive for other deranged individuels in the future.