Recent psychiatric testimony in the trial of Anders Breivik, the 33-year-old Norwegian man who admits to perpetrating a pair of grisly 2011 terrorist attacks in Oslo that resulted in the deaths of 77 people, has shifted the court’s attention once again to the defendant’s gaming habits.
Breivik has previously discussed using Call Of Duty as a rehearsal sandbox for his attack plans. The most recent round of expert testimony concerns the year-long sabbatical Breivik took between the summers of 2006 and 2007, which he spent playing World Of Warcraft full-time, or roughly 16 hours a day, from a room in his Mother’s Oslo flat.
In response to Judge Elizabeth Arntzen inquiry whether interviews with one of Breivik’s acquaintances in WOW supported their view of a personal breakdown, psychiatrist Synne Sørheim responded: “We feel that playing a lot of computer games gives the impression of a working cognitive function. It is however, something completely different to relate to something in real life, have committed relationships to other people, arrange meetings, go to work in the morning, have a healthy relationship with a girlfriend, or having common social skills.”
When the judge asked whether Breivik’s behaviour during this period might be described as gaming addiction, Sørheim tooks the opportunity to say what she really thinks: “I would still like to point out that sitting alone in your room and playing games, no matter what the scope of the matter, call it addiction or whatnot, is not normal for a man in his 20's.”
While it’s not surprising to hear that many older individuals continue to cling to the stereotype of videogames being an aberrant interest, it should be noted that Sørheim admitted to the judge moments earlier, “We have no form of expertise when it comes to computer games.”
Back in April close to the start of the trial, Breivik defended his immersion in WOW. "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. 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."
In a trial such as this where an apparently sane individual has so remorselessly taken innocent human life, the quest to find a root for the dysfunction is going to touch on some familiar scapegoats. Many will recall the shooting rampage at Columbine high school, which was blamed on the two teenaged perpetrators’ love of firstperson shooters such as Doom. It will always be natural for psychiatrists to blame the thing they don’t understand.
Anders Breivik will be sentenced on 20 July or 24 August.