A screenshot from the massacre sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Word out of Norway, still reeling from Anders Bahring Breivik's horrific attacks that claimed the lives of 77, is that major retailers have yanked violent videogames from their shelves after Brevik claimed to have used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to train himself for the attack.
The retailers are couching it as a public relations move, a means of showing kindness and respect to victims' families. I'd also call it something else: a knee-jerk reaction that demonizes games and avoids any kind of rational discussion on a critical subject. There's no question that Brevik was clearly a very disturbed and dangerous individual, but no one can say that a single factor was responsible for driving him to take deadly action.
Breviik's rambling, 1,500-plus-page manifesto mentions games briefly, yes, but it also includes nods to Oliver Cromwell and Vlad the Impaler. Should Norway also remove all history books that mention either man from its libraries and bookstores?
We've seen this before. Back in the late 1990s, a wave of outrage was built on the fact that Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played the first-person-shooter Doom. Jack Thompson, the disgraced anti-gaming zealot, rushed to the judgment that Counterstrike drove Cho Seung-Hui to kill 33 at Virginia Tech in 2007 -- even though it was later proven that Seung-Hui had only dabbled with the game.
In the wake of unimaginable tragedy, the pressing need for an answer to the unanswerable why? can lead to all sorts of short-sighted decisions that short-circuit serious discussion and understanding. Yanking violent videogames off the market isn't going to get us any closer.