Today at the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, it was suggested by the prosecution that the Norwegian killer was influenced in his psychotic fantasy by playing "World of Warcraft" -the most famous MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game).
I can already predict that many publications out there will jump on the bandwagon and condemn this form of gaming for subversion as they have done with other forms of entertainment over the years and believe that this is logical. It isn't.
For those uninitiated, MMORPGs are sprawling fantasy worlds where thousands of people can play and interact together. These on-line worlds are generally extremely friendly environments that bring together people of all ages, races and creeds.
Everyone, no matter who they are, is hidden behind a computer-generated avatar and nobody, in my opinion, cares who lies beneath and this makes these game worlds utopian societies. This goes against everything that Breivik purported to stand for.
Yes, there is violence in these games but in a cartoon manner, not unlike Tom and Jerry.
It was stated in the trial that he spent a whole year playing full time whilst living off his savings.
After playing one of these games for around five years (part time I might add), it is apparent to me that Breivik is not alone by any means in this passion. There is in my world alone a multitude of people, like Breivik, who have given up their normal reality to live within the game, but unlike Breivik, almost all are well-balanced people who can distinguish fantasy from reality.
There are over 10 million players globally on World of Warcraft, and I would suggest that around a fifth of them are full time players.
If these games really held this kind of negative influence over gamers' psyches, the world would be awash with mass murderers.
I'm no expert on human behavior, but I would suggest if there is an issue surrounding these games, it is not one of subversion of the psyche but addiction. It's very clear to me as a player that these worlds are full of "addicts" and despite numerous high profile theses on the subject, I don't think it's clear yet if this is a harmful addiction or not.
The addiction comes about in MMORPGs because they all rely on the same mechanic - you must complete tasks time and time again to level up your avatar, making it stronger and more effective. You can gain new abilities or spells that empower your character but to become the best you can takes an extremely long time and requires you to be industrious.
But that's only part of the addiction - there's also the social interaction. In these games, you don't have to leave your room to make friends with people and it's your relationships with these players that tie you to the games.
I know that many people won't understand who these "addicts" are. From my experience, they are the unemployed (including students), the unemployable (usually people with severe disabilities) and the retired. They want to fill their lives with some meaning and feel important and by playing these games, they get just that.
It's this need to be important that we see not only in MMORPGs but also with most Facebook and Twitter users. But unlike Facebook and Twitter, which often demonstrate bullying and prejudice, these MMORPGs, as I stated before, do not.
This is why I really can't see the connection between World of Warcraft and Breivik's actions. He even admits in his manifesto that playing the game gave him a good cover story as it "can justify isolation and people will understand somewhat why you are not answering your phone over long periods."
However, if Breivik really did confuse reality with fantasy - it was suggested there was a parallel with his character name Justicar Andersnordic and his belief that he is a member of the secret anti-Islamic movement Knights Justiciar - this makes him not only an extremely unusual and most likely insane individual in the real world but also in his MMORPG world.
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