Violence

Captain America was to be the topic for this week, probably posted on Sunday after I’d seen the film, but due to the attacks on Oslo I’ve decided instead to talk about Anders Behring Breivik, albeit from a slightly different slant than most new stories. This slant is video game violence and how it’s now being blamed on games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft for pushing Breivik over the edge.

The murders have caused talk of banning video games, although not actually in Norway. No, the effects of Breivik’s spree has spread all the way to Australia, where The Australian Christian Lobby is trying to ban games because they were mentioned in his manifesto as a part of his training regime and as a cover for his other activities. Managing Director of the organisation stated that the killers indifference, his dehumanisation of his victims and methodical nature were all hallmarks of video games, but thankfully, some Australian politicians have stepped in. In particular Brendan O’Connor said this:

“Look, because there is a madman who has done just such atrocities in Norway, I don’t think that means that we are going to close down film or the engagement with games,” he said. “I think it really points to, of course, a person who – clearly there is something wrong with this person to sort of cause such devastation in Norway. But I’m not sure that the argument goes that as a result of watching a game you turn into that type of person. I think there is something clearly intrinsically wrong with him.”

You can read the full story here, but I thought that it was interesting how quick modern society was to place the blame for this tragic event on video games. Of course, it’s nothing new actually since video games have long been blamed for tragic events, such as Doom and the Columbine school shooting , or more recently, when Bulletstorm was suggested to inspire rapists and murderers. Those claims were made before it was even released.

In case you hadn’t heard, Video games are horrible constructs of the human imagination and are currently twisting the mind set of our children in to demonic shells that will rape and murder the planet. Seem harsh? Well, Fox News didn’t think so, or so they suggested in a February 2011 preview of the game. It’s really difficult to combat the line of thinking that video games are not going to cause your son or daughter to murder their entire school whenever the news itself has a bias against the positive aspects of gaming. Bulletstorm is a rather average first person shooter, only made special by the overtly sexual naming motif that it has in place to describe attacks. Calling them something sweet and cutesy wouldn’t detract from the fact that you’re shooting a man in the face, an act that has been shown and described by literature for centuries.

Bulletstorm's naming motif in action.

It wouldn't make it any less degrading to call it puppy snuggles.

This is really quite ridiculous; I can partly understand that if you give someone a game where you shoot and kill, and create a lot of blood and mess, players are going to become desensitised by violence. However, I don’t think that you place the entirety of the blame on video games either, since movies and television shows revel in violence just as much. Just look at the Expendables, which intentionally brings together a bunch of old action heroes and pitted them an absolute evil, and although the plot was nothing to rave about it wasn’t really meant to be. The point of the movie was for you, the viewer to sit back and enjoy the bloodshed and violence. How can we blame video games when our movies are asking us to enjoy violence? The obvious answer is that we can’t, we’d have to blame both equally, but wait a minute…these action heroes aren’t new to film. Stallone’s major action films, the Rambo and Rocky series are 70s and 80s classics. One of Schwarzenegger’s most memorable roles is the intensely violent and terrifying Terminator films. Die Hard is basically a collage of explosions and foul language, interspersed with Bruce Willis’ witty banter with the villain.

We can go back even further. Who didn’t want to be The Man with no Name in the 1960’s classics A Fist Full of Dollars, A Few Dollars more, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Before Clint Eastwood, John Wayne’s no nonsense character was an American icon during his many years in film, ranging from the 1920s to the 70s. Notably, in John Wayne’s case we can already see the blurring of violence and sex. John Wayne usually resorted to violent means to win the woman, and beat the bad guy and during this time, he even gave an interview to Playboy magazine. In the interview, he said, “I eat as much as I ever did, I drink more than I should, and my sex life is none of your goddamned business”, although considering that this was in a playboy issue, we can imagine that John Wayne’s sex life was not understated, and in the same issue John Wayne made a number of pro-war comments. Here we have what is probably the first American action hero, in person as well as film. He can fight for what he believes in, comes out on top, and usually gets the girl, if there is a girl to be got. If nothing else, John Wayne was certainly a prelude to James Bond and the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.

Granted, it’s a little factious to say that men were influenced by John Wayne in the same way Bulletstorm will supposedly inspire rapists, but there is a valid point to be made that the tethering of violence and sex is not a recent development. It is something that has been bubbling within human nature for centuries. Genghis Khan raped and pillaged the places he conquered, and the Romans and Greeks were absolutely decadent in their hedonism and military conquests. Two of Shakespeare’s plays about Rome, Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra were all about war and sex. Then along comes the swinging sixties. On the whole, Sexual freedom is seen as a good thing, that to be sexually active shows a person to by physically and mentally healthy.  Perhaps current culture is a backlash against these, although it’s less on the level of sexual freedom, and more on the level of violence. You’re free to be whoever you want to be sexually, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, at least as far as modern views on sex go, but war and violence will only inspire you to murder anyone in the surrounding vicinity.

So should we blame Shakespeare for all of the violence before film? And John Wayne before the invention of television? Then Chuck Norris until the invention of video games? Are we going to suggest that from Pong to Mario incensed our children and teenagers so much that the world is now a horrible place filled with murderers and rapists? No, of course we aren’t. What we should do is recognise that people with a disregard for human life and an unstable disposition are not only likely to go out killing but they’re going to be drawn to these types of games. The games do not cause them to kill, but within the game they can fulfil some sort of fantasy until they’re ready to act it out in reality. A lot of my friends play Call of Duty. Are they going to become terrorists? No. Is the terrorist out there waiting in the wings going to play Call of Duty on his down time? Probably. It may very well be that a killer is playing video games but banning video games is not going to stop murderers. First off, these people are generally immoral so the legal structure of banning a game is hardly going to stop them if they really want to play the game, and secondly, I’d say playing violent games are only a symptom of the metaphorical disease. We need to deal with the social and cultural aspects that drive people to rape and violence. The underlying issues of how someone with a deranged mindset can plan an attack and execute it eventually without being noticed need to be addressed before a frank discussion on the violent influence of video games can really be had.

However, on the whole the stigma of gaming and violence seems to derive from the stereotypical figure of a sweaty, socially awkward teen sitting alone in a dark room playing video games long into the night. It’s not true, but it still seems to persist in our current society and why consoles like the Wii and the games that go with it are seen as more social and family orientated compared to those of its big brothers, the X-Box and the Playstation. I’m sure there are a minority of people who do fit the stereotype, just as I’m sure there are a few Irish people with ginger hair who love to drink and fight, but neither is a true representative of the whole group. The perceived stereotype with gaming is similar to that of potential killers though. They’re thought to be socially awkward, usually bullied and loners. Yet, if we were to look at both Columbine and the recent Norway attacks, we see a different picture. The Columbine killers were bullied but journals suggest they dished out as much as they got, and both attended prom, one of whom had a female date. Concerning Breivik, he was involved on a number of online social networking sites and claims to be a member of more than one cell. A loner, he ain’t.

Anders B. Breivik apparently used Call of Duty as training.

He probably also listened to Marilyn Manson.

Aside from society’s attempt at a fixed reason for human cruelty, there is one other issue concerning the  Anders Behring Breivik case that needs to be mentioned, if only in passing. On Breivik’s Facebook profile he identified himself as a Christian. As much as there’s blame on video games for Breivik’s actions, there’s also been some blame placed on Christianity, especially in relation to Islam. Let’s get one thing straight though; saying you’re a Christian on facebook does not make you a Christian, especially as far as Norway is concerned. Norwegians are practically born into the state church, The Church of Norway, and must remain as part of the Church if they wish to partake in baptism, marriage or funerals. Furthermore, if you are born in Norway to at least one Norwegian parent you’re automatically added to the state church register from which you must sign out of. So it’s easy to see how 80% of the population can be categorised as Christian, and yet only 20% would consider religion important to them. A further 5% only attend Church regularly, so it’s understandable that Breivik could technically belong to the Christian denomination without really practising his religion. It’s not like he was seeing angels in the trees, people. It’s also important to note the difference between religion and faith. Religion is when you go to church and feel good about yourself.  Faith is when you belief in God as a persistent, active force in the universe and have a personal relationship with his Son Jesus Christ and experience the power of the Holy Spirit within. There are many, many variants, but that’s the basic difference. Religion is about what you do and don’t do, faith is about what you believe and experience. I can guarantee you one thing: Anders Behring Breivik didn’t have a personal experience of Jesus when he planned this attack. Perhaps he’ll come to find one in the future, but regardless of what his facebook profile says, he didn’t act like a Christian on 22nd July 2011.

So we can’t pin the blame on video games, film, television, literature or religion as driving people into the deepest depths of human darkness. Instead, we must search through culture and society to find why violence, whether physical, psychological or sexual is so prevalent in the minds of today that they would look to the various forms of media, politics and religion to support their dangerous ideals. Sound like a lot of hard work? Well, uncovering the actual truth beneath general assumptions and people’s snap judgements often can be, but in the end it’ll be worth it if the world doesn’t label someone as a terrorist for simply playing a video game or going to church.

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