Do Videogames Make People (Better) Killers?

Norwegian spree killer Anders Behring Breivik unfortunately brings the violence and videogames link to the world’s attention again.


Anders Behring Breivik’s horrific July 2011 attack, which left over 75 people dead, brought the world’s attention to Norway. And immediately everyone sought answers to why and how this could ever happen.

In a court proceeding earlier this month, Breivik revealed part of his training regimen was utilizing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. He claims he used it to hone his aiming skills. Even in a printed manifesto he made mention that “I see MW2 more as a part of my training-simulation than anything else.”

Well, that was just great. It had been quite a while since a horrific news story and violent videogames had been linked together, and this may have been the biggest story of all.

Of course, the supposed link between new mass media and undesirable behavior has always been made by those fearful of it. Rock ‘n roll was ‘evil’ once upon a time. And while some studies have linked aggressiveness to violent games, being aggressive and being a murderer are far different things.

Over the years, a small handful of crimes have been committed where the perpetrators claimed videogames like Grand Theft Auto helped inspire them. In truth, the number of these cases compared to the number of copies sold of these games (which is in the tens of millions for the most popular of them) puts that percentage so small that to say videogames makes one homicidally violent is pure nonsense. Of course, that never stopped politicians pandering for votes from parents from trying to get laws passed restricting violent content, nor did it stop lawyers from filing lawsuits.

But the twist in the Norway case was Anders indicating that instead of violent videogames making him violent, he was using them to help him be more proficient with his violence. He was always going to go on his rampage; he just used Call of Duty because he thought it would enhance his marksmanship skills.

So now violent videogames don’t just make you a killer, but can also help you become a better killer?

Even just looking at it from a common sense standpoint, the thought that playing a game makes one proficient at something is simply fallacy.

I can routinely shoot 5 under par in Tiger Woods Golf, but it doesn’t mean I can go out and start winning golf tournaments; I scale cliffs and crumbling castle walls in Uncharted, but it doesn’t make me a mountain climber; and I've shot thousands of people through the head in Call of Duty and other games, but I doubt I could in real life.

And looking at this specific example, it’s just all wrong. Think about it. The scale of people on screen that you’re shooting at versus that of a real person is going to be off. The lack of recoil, even if you’re playing a shooting game that uses a light gun peripheral, makes things much easier in the game. Wind, your adrenaline, slight dips and imperfections in the soil, sun in your eyes—all things that typically don’t affect a bullet or your ability to hit a target in a videogame that Anders would encounter in real life.

Anders was proficient with shooting guns anyway, possessing both a hunting license and pistol club membership. In short, his belief that using a first-person shooter as a form of training would make him a better murderer doesn’t make it fact.

And that’s something we can all be thankful for, because if it were true, nearly every guy with a videogame console would be a gun away from being a master killing machine before graduating high school.

Jeff is playing The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass; follow him on Twitter at JKLugar.

James Boyle May 01, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I have always resisted the idea that video games make people more violent, but I think there is something to the games making people better killers. There have been several stories of the military using video games as training and recruiting tools. http://www.livescience.com/10022-military-video-games.html
Dave May 01, 2012 at 05:38 PM
There has been a tonne of coverage of this unfortunate aspect of the Breivik case, from the ludicrous - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2132002/Anders-Behring-Breivik-trial-Norwegian-mass-killer-played-violent-video-game-Call-Duty-16-hours-day.html - to the more considered - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/19/anders-breivik-call-of-duty - and the pro-gaming perspective - http://www.matthewbarr.co.uk/2012/04/norwegian-terrorist-trained-for-shooting-attacks-by-playing-call-of-duty/ I just don't know how a game could really improve your aim with a real firearm. Perhaps I am missing the point.
Mike Shortall Sr May 02, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Until such time as they invent a weapon that operates off a game controller, this sounds like a silly issue with which to concern ourselves. The military can operate pilotless drones from gaming-type controls, but they're millions of dollars to buy. Can they desensitize one to killing? Perhaps. Make you a "better killer"? I can't see how.


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