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Anders Breivik ‘trained’ for shooting attacks by playing Call of Duty

Breivik tells court he practised his shot using a 'holographic aiming device' while playing video game

Anders Behring Breivik has described how he "trained" for the attacks he carried out in Norway last summer using the computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
The 33-year-old said he practised his shot using a "holographic aiming device" on the war simulation game, which he said is used by armies around the world for training.
"You develop target acquisition," he said. He used a similar device during the shooting attacks that left 69 dead at a political youth camp on the island of Utøya on 22 July.
Describing the game, he said: "It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That's why it's used by many armies throughout the world. It's very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems."
He added: "If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it's built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It's designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you've practised using a simulator."
The prosecution asked Breivik if he was aware that "there are some bereaved people sitting here in the courtroom who lost children at Utøya". How do you think they are feeling, Breivik was asked. "They are probably reacting in a natural way, with disgust and horror," he said.
The court also heard that Breivik took what he called a "sabbatical" for a year between the summers of 2006 and 2007, which he devoted to playing another game, World of Warcraft (WoW), "hardcore" full time. He admitted he spent up to 16 hours every day that year playing from his bedroom in his mother's Oslo flat.
But he insisted WoW had nothing to do with the attacks he carried out last year, leaving 77 dead. He said: "Some people like to play golf, some like to sail, I played WoW. It had nothing to do with 22 July. It's not a world you are engulfed by. It's simply a hobby."
He added: "WoW is only a fantasy game, which is not violent at all. It's just fantasy. It's a strategy game. You co-operate with a lot of others to overcome challenges. That's why you do it. It's a very social game. Half of the time you are connected in communication with others. It would be wrong to consider it an antisocial game."

The Guardian – Don’t blame video games for Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre: Simon Parkin

The aftermath of any public killing spree will include tears, candlelit vigils and, if the perpetrator is under the age of 40, a spotlight on video games and the question of whether their shadow falls across the story. At one time, these headlines were generated in the cultural friction that exists between generations. On one hand, the game literate – for whom video games have always been part of the entertainment diet, alongside Blue Peter and Enid Blyton. On the other, the video game illiterate – for whom games are to be mistrusted for their ability to make the implied malice of our playground fantasies explicit.

The media have picked up on this friction, creating indignation and outcry among a majority readership that is predisposed to be anti-video game: "Those video games had a hand in this. I just know it!."

Studies continue to be inconclusive as to whether there is a causal link between violence and consumption of violent media. While the police were only too eager to point to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's gaming hobby (Harris created his own levels for Doom, which were widely distributed) in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre 13 years ago, at most, violent games were simply providing an escape for troubled minds.

But when killers cite specific video games as being "training tools" for their killing sprees, as Anders Breivik admitted this week, it becomes more difficult to dismiss the headlines as reader bait. The link between video games and mass murder was made even more quickly in his case due to entries in his "manifesto" diary, in which he mentioned completing the Tolkienesque fantasy role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins, using the online game World of Warcraft to relax, and playing Modern Warfare 2 as part of his "training-simulation".

In context, the quotations were part of a general discussion of pastimes Breivik used to unwind, and crucially, came long after he had formed his initial plan for mass murder. This didn't stop papers such as The Mirror claiming that Modern Warfare 2 allows players to "shoot people on an island", implying a causal link between the game and the killings. When Breivik testified of his fondness for World of Warcraft and his particular understanding of Modern Warfare 2 as a "police shooting simulator", this led to headlines such as The Times' "Breivik played video games for a year to train for deadly attacks."
But it's difficult to imagine World of Warcraft could "train" a person for any acts of violence, other than perhaps suggesting that murdering swamp rats is an effective way to pay for some fur-lined boots. More importantly, for many of its 10 million monthly subscribers, it's an experience that creates community, provides the lonely with a virtual family and promotes teamwork and competition. Modern Warfare 2, while a game thematically more analogous to real-life shooting, is as mainstream as a Michael Bay summer blockbuster, selling more than 10m copies in the US alone. In both cases, as with poker or golf, the games allow humans to play, compete and make social connections. They may improve hand-to-eye co-ordination, and in this sense could be used to "train" one for murder, but no more than an obsession with clay pigeon shooting might.

Most would argue that Breivik's actions were insane. Trying to rationalise the irrational leads to a peculiar type of madness of its own, one that the media have been only too quick to enter into in exchange for page views. But beyond the sensationalism, it's more difficult to explain away the disproportionate focus on violent content, a point that few of video gaming's apologists bring up. Hollywood may share an obsession with bullets and explosions, but cinema's thematic range is more diverse, offering romance, drama and documentary – subjects that games fail to meaningfully address. In part, the juvenile focus is tied to the medium's own adolescence: game designers only now begin to explore away from the baser themes of competition and domination. In part, it's also a technological bias: the barrel of a virtual gun allows players to impact a 3D game world both near and far with the touch of a button, in a way few other of humanity's tools manage.

As game-literate writers rise to editing positions in the mainstream press, this backlash against games will surely fade. Likewise, designers must work to broaden the thematic ambition of their work. But even then, broken humans will no doubt draw whatever inspiration they are seeking from it to feed their own madness. That's one protection no creator can offer their creation.