Let’s not oversimplify tragedy

By Luke Wilusz

I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this anymore, but news stories keep bringing it up and dragging it out, so I don’t have much of a choice: Video games were not responsible for the murders committed by Anders Breivik in Norway last summer. They were not responsible for the Northern Illinois University shootings in 2008, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 or the 1999 events at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Breivik’s trial started April 19, and much of the coverage focused on how he played “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft.” Articles focused on claims Breivik made about using the game “Modern Warfare 2,” a game that has more in common with a Michael Bay film than any sort of realistic depiction of actual combat, to practice aiming with a holographic laser sight to prepare for the massacre. Meanwhile, these same reports tend to ignore the countless hours he spent at firing ranges practicing with the numerous actual guns he owned, as detailed in his rambling, 800,000-word manifesto, which better prepared him to kill 77 innocent people.

This kind of thing needs to stop, and I’m not just saying that because I like video games. I’m saying it because it’s lazy reporting and it completely overlooks the issues at hand. It’s easy to blame video games, rap music or Marilyn Manson for tragedies like this, but that ignores the deep-rooted emotional, psychological and societal issues that put people in a state of mind that makes them capable of such atrocities. In much the same way that comic books were blamed for all sorts of social fears at the height of the Red Scare, it’s much easier for people to point fingers at things they don’t understand than to examine themselves, their families and their own culture and think about their own shortcomings.

These sorts of tragedies can’t possibly result from bad parenting, unstable home environments, bullying or psychological disorders because that’s too terrifying a thought for a lot of people to entertain. We encounter many of these things in our everyday lives, and it’s too difficult for most people to consider the fact that they might have personally contributed to these problems, or that someone they know could potentially come unhinged at any moment. So instead, they find something they see as strange, some “other” they can’t quite comprehend but is just popular enough to make a convenient scapegoat and spare them the trouble of self-reflection.

People do horrible things sometimes. It’s certainly not a pleasant fact to confront, but it’s true. If we keep shifting blame to entertainment media when we should be analyzing and trying to correct the problems that cause people to become unstable and violent, these kinds of things will just keep happening. So maybe we should be having a serious discussion about the shooter’s psychological state instead of talking about his favorite games.