The primary way in which we consume such truths is through the news. And there's a lot wrong with our modern news system. The vast majority of successful outlets are built more on getting readers' attention than finding truths in a story. This easily leads hyperbolic headlines (like this article's headline) and to a simulation of reality, even when talking about a virtual reality. Case in point is the article that appeared on the front page of Yahoo, syndicated from ABC News: "Prosecutors: Killer Played World of Warcraft 7 Hours Per Day."
It's so great to see we're all killers.
In the article, the association is made between World of Warcraft and the mass murderer Anders Breivik, who gunned down 77 people last summer in Norway. There are three problems with this article and the associations made therein. And the issues stem from what my debate coach in high school said, "A journalist is always searching for the truth." There are very few truths presented in this story.
Lack of correlation
First, there is no correlation between video games and violence. This is perhaps the most important fact and the one that makes this news story a non-story. The headline implies correlation, but there is none; Breivik could very well have played Super Mario Brothers 3 for seven hours a day and done the same heinous acts.
The best illustration of how there is no correlation between video games and violent crime comes from a 2005 economist article titled "Chasing the dream: As video gaming spreads, the debate about its social impact is intensifying." In it, we get the graph to the right; it shows video game sales have increased, while violent crime has decreased.
If there was a correlation, violent crime would be on the rise. But there's not, and the media has failed to dig just a bit deeper for the truth and instead is perpetuating falsehoods.
Now just to be clear, no one is arguing that children should be allowed to play GTA IV or Call of Duty or anything like that. Violence isn't something that should be left for a young mind to come to grips with sans the help of a trusted guardian. There are just laws in place to protect against that (even if they do go too far sometimes). A 10-year-old boy can't walk into GameStop and buy an M-rated game.
But that singular issue of violence in video games for children isn't what we're even talking about here. We're talking about a deranged adult playing an online RPG where you can go pick flowers to level or kill a big internet dragon, not gun down an airport full of people like in Call of Duty. The media fails to make this distinction in its search for the truth.
Secondly, the very headline itself creates a false logical association in the public eye. "Psychopath did X, therefore he did Y." Breivik played WoW, therefore he killed a bunch of innocent kids. Part of this is the just the prosecutors looking to frame a madman in all possible negative lights in order to see him brought to justice -- but the media, the watchdogs of the truth, should know better than to perpetuate non-facts.
Finally, there's a quote in the Yahoo/ABC article that supposedly justifies the problems this killer experienced via WoW. Speaking about Breivik, Thomas Eriksen said in an ITN interview: "He does not seem to be very successful at distinguishing between the virtual reality of 'World of Warcraft' and other video games and reality."
While this could very well be true, I'm pretty sure given the nature of his crime that the statement would apply to his Call of Duty playing a heck of a lot more than his WoW playing. And secondly, there's a slight problem with who is giving this fact in the first place. Thomas Eriksen is an anthropologist.
An anthropologist deals with the ways our collective culture has progressed. Breivik's disassociation from reality is a psychological issue, one that needs a psychologist to diagnose via standard metrics. While this fact might seem minor to the public, since it appears to be reasonable enough, the media should know better than to let non-experts state overarching facts. This is the equivalent of listening to your lawn guy tell you about fixing your roof. They're both handymen, but you wouldn't let your lawn guy nail in a shingle.
Now to be clear, this Breivik guy is nuts. In my opinion, he needs to be locked up and the key should be smelted on his head, Game of Thrones-style. But does WoW have anything to do with it? If the media would have done its job, then the answer in the public's eyes would have been no.
Filed under: Analysis / Opinion