Did Oslo Terrorist Use Modern Warfare 2 as 'Training Sim'?

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An actual picture of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man who admitted to killing over 90 people in a bomb attack and subsequent mass shooting on Friday, July 22nd. The picture is from a YouTube video allegedly uploaded by Breivik shortly before the shooting.

A few reports circulating this morning about Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man who admitted to killing over 90 people in a bomb attack and subsequent mass shooting on Friday, claim there may be a link between the act and games like first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Let's explore those claims, with emphasis on words like allegedly.

First, the claim stems from a 1,500-page manifesto titled "2083 – A European Declaration of Independence" allegedly by Breivik (pictured above) and written under the name Andrew Berwick, a possible anglicization of the shooter's name. The manifesto's been popping up in mainstream news stories (like this one by Forbes) and in full on various blogs (like this one, which includes a copy of the manifesto in PDF format). The assumption is that it is, indeed, Breivik's political screed.

It's a substantial document which Berwick says took "years of work" to complete. "If you are concerned about the future of Western Europe you will definitely find the information both interesting and highly relevant," he writes at the outset, adding that it cost him "in excess of 300 000 Euros" (about $431,400 USD) and that it's intended as "a gift to you, as a fellow patriot."

I won't attempt to summarize the whole thing. Suffice to say Berwick's disturbed by what he calls "the rise of cultural Marxism/multiculturalism" and "Islamic colonization and Islamisation of Western Europe." In response, the document's basically chock full of Berwick's "advanced ideological, practical, tactical, organisational and rhetorical solutions and strategies for all patriotic-minded individuals/movements," many of them with violent ends.

And, on occasion, those "solutions and strategies" involve video games.

For starters, Berwick talks about "avoiding suspicion from relatives, neighbours and friends," and advises telling friends and family "that you have started to play World of Warcraft or any other online MMO game and that you wish to focus on this for the next months/year." Berwick says that'll help you "justify isolation and people will understand somewhat why you are not answering your phone over long periods."

In monthly updates chronicling his progress, Berwick writes in February 2010 that he "just bought Modern Warfare 2, the game," and says it's "probably the best military simulator out there and it’s one of the hottest games this year." He says that while the original Modern Warfare didn't do it for him—he labels himself a fantasy roleplaying buff—he views Modern Warfare 2 "more as a part of my training-simulation than anything else."

"I’ve still learned to love it though and especially the multiplayer part is amazing," he adds. "You can more or less completely simulate actual operations."

Berwick advises games like Modern Warfare can be used as "cover," along with Boy Scout or "street demonstrating" organizations. The cover organization "must ensure that it follows all laws to avoid persecution and deconstruction efforts by the government," explains Berwick.

Under the subsection "Training Facilities," Berwick says "[traditional] military training facilities focused on physical conditioning and skills training," but that "[newer] facilities make extensive use of computer simulations of various kinds to provide more hours or training in more realistic situations at lower cost and with lower risk to personnel." To that end, he advises "[temporary] arrangements can be made with the local gun club, the local gym and an internet café which facilitates multiplayer Modern Warfare 2 simulation."

And under another subsection titled "Marksmanship," Berwick notes that target practice with "a real assault rifle" is important, but that "[simulation] by playing Call of Duty, Modern Warfare is a good alternative as well."

That's it then. To contextualize, roughly 99.9% of the manifesto has nothing whatsoever to do with video games. You're reading about the less-than-1% of it that does here, courtesy my pullouts.

Those pullouts aren't to suggest there's some link between video games like Modern Warfare and violent behavior, but to show you what's actually written in the document, since it may be seized on by those who care nothing for proportionality or context. And to them: recall that the few serious, thoughtful, longitudinal scientific studies linking games to slight increases in aggressive behavior are still today, at best, inconclusive. They're certainly not actionable at any sort of federal or civic policy level.

I don't know how many people play video games in Norway, but according to the Entertainment Software Association's 2011 data, in the U.S., nearly three-quarters of all "American households play computer or video games." If Norway's percentage is comparable, it's perhaps no surprise video games appear in a mammoth double-novel-sized manifesto.

And as for Modern Warfare 2's mention as a "training tool," what of it? If your aim's to shoot accurately, shooting ranges are certainly also training tools. So are BB guns, bows, pellet guns (and even, to a lesser extent, water pistols and rifles). Flight simulators have been located on computers found at suspected Al Qaeda training bases. Should we ban shooting ranges, BB and pellet guns, archery, and flight simulators because some nutjob goes ballistic, then cites a video game as a "training tool" in a 1,500-page assemblage of philosophical mumbo-jumbo? Simply because of the potential for indirect misuse?

Of course not. There's no causal link here. All we have is another aberrant who's done something shocking but, it's worth bearing in mind, exceedingly rare; someone who allegedly chose to use widely available technology as a savage means to his own twisted political ends.

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