The ongoing trial of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik offered still more glimpses into the mind of the homicidal racist who slaughtered 77 people, many of them youngsters, on 22 July 2011.
First a video summary of today’s testimony from AlJazeera:
Next, a report from the Associated Press:
Confessed mass killer Anders Breivik says he was planning to capture and decapitate former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland during his shooting massacre on Utoya island.
Breivik told a court that he planned to film the beheading and post the video on the internet.
Brundtland had already left the Labour Party’s youth camp on Utoya when Breivik arrived on July 22.
The far-right fanatic said he also planned to kill many more than the 69 people who died on the island.
There were nearly 600 people there. Breivik said, “the goal was to kill them all”.
More from the BBC:
His main target had been Mrs Brundtland, whom he planned to capture and behead – and post a video of this on the internet; Breivik said he had got the idea from al-Qaeda.
However the former prime minister had left the island before Breivik arrived.
“I stand for Utoeya and what I did, and would still do it again,” he said – as survivors and victims’ relatives cried quietly, shaking their heads in disgust at some of the harshest words Breivik has uttered in the trial, AFP news agency reported.
However he insisted he was not a “child murderer”.
“I believe that all political activists who choose to fight for multiculturalism are legitimate targets. And 44 out of the 69 people [killed on the island] had leadership positions,” he told the court.
“Does this also apply to the 14- and 15-year-olds?” the prosecution asked.
“It is not desirable to focus on people under the age of 18 but there was no other desirable political target on that day,” Breivik replied.
The role of video games in Breivik’s mission to kill
But the most interesting part of his testimony focused on the role a popular computer game played in his self-created training regimen in preparation for his killing spree.
From The Guardian’s Helen Pidd:
Anders Behring Breivik has described how he “trained” for the attacks he carried out in Norway last summer using the computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
The 33-year-old said he practised his shot using a “holographic aiming device” on the war simulation game, which he said is used by armies around the world for training.
“You develop target acquisition,” he said. He used a similar device during the shooting attacks that left 69 dead at a political youth camp on the island of Utøya on 22 July.
Describing the game, he said: “It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That’s why it’s used by many armies throughout the world. It’s very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems.”
He added: “If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it’s built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It’s designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you’ve practised using a simulator.”
Blurring the lines between play and murder
The Pentagon is heavily invested in digital war games, both as recruiting tools and as tools for training soldiers to become faster, more accurate killers.
Consider this from Jeremy Hsu of Popular Science, published two years ago:
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) hopes that video game-like training can help warfighters hone their “fluid intelligence,” or ability to confront and solve new problems. Such research feeds into a new sense that the human brain can continue to adapt and improve itself beyond early adulthood, and may allow soldiers to better adjust to the changing tactics and environment of the modern-day battlefield.
“We have discovered that video game players perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than normal people that are non-game players, said Ray Perez, a program officer at the ONR’s warfighter performance department.
Uncertainty remains about just how video games improve the brain’s flexible learning ability, or plasticity. But Perez suggests that neural networks involved in video gaming become stronger over time and improve the brain’s blood flow, and also falls into synch with other neural networks.
“We think that these games increase your executive control, or your ability to focus and attend to stimuli in the outside world,” Perez noted during the Pentagon’s weekly Armed with Science podcast.
And as P.W. Singer, writing for Foreign Policy in 2010, reported:
The Pentagon’s embrace of video games is part of a much larger phenomenon – “militainment” – that is reshaping how the public understands today’s conflicts. The term was first coined to describe any public entertainment that celebrated the military, but today it could be redefined to mean the fascinating, but also worrisome, blurring of the line between entertainment and war. For example, while America’s Army is technically a publicly funded recruiting and training platform, its main commercial rival is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a game published by Activision Blizzard. The two games compete for market share, but also over who can better define contemporary war zones. In America’s Army, you deploy to the fictitious country of Ghanzia; in Modern Warfare 2, you join a U.S. special operations team that roams from Afghanistan to the Caucasus, winning hearts and minds (or losing them) with a mix of machine pistols and Predator strikes. The players also fight it out in a range of potential future areas of conflict, from Brazil’s rough urban favelas to a simulated Russian invasion of Washington, D.C. (This is actually a major flaw in the game; any invasion force would clearly get stuck in Beltway traffic.)
The stakes are high. Modern Warfare 2 came out on Nov. 10, 2009. By the end of the next day, it had racked up $310 million in sales. To put this in perspective, Avatar, James Cameron’s latest Hollywood blockbuster (notably following an ex-Marine remotely fighting through a video-game-like battle environment), earned a measly $27 million on its first day. Another comparison might be even more apt. Roughly 70,000 young Americans chose to join the U.S. Army last year. By contrast, 4.7 million chose to spend Veterans Day playing war at home.
There’s been an ongoing symbiosis between the commercial and military gaming worlds, with corporate gaming contractors making games for the military and the military releasing games to the public as recruiting tools.
And it’s not just the U.S. that’s using games to train soldiers: China’s doing it too.
The relationship goes back to the very beginning of computer games, which were first developed for the Pentagon by a military contractor, as technology journalist Peter Novak notes in this video:
None of this is to claim that video games made Breivik a killer. But they did clearly make it easier for him to envision mass murder, and they made him better at carrying out his self-appointed mission.