Killers who come from nowhere, set on chaos and destruction

One year divides Norway's atrocity and the Aurora cinema massacre – but there is a connection

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:38 ON Tue 24 Jul 2012

JAMES HOLMES, the man accused of the Aurora cinema massacre, claimed he was the Joker, of whom Batman's butler Alfred remarked: "Some men just want to watch the world burn".
 
In Colorado they're still trying to get to grips with the cold calculation and extreme irrationality of the deed in which the killer pumped dozens of rounds into the auditorium at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Within minutes 12 were dead, including a six-year old, and 58 were injured.
 
As Aurora mourns, millions of Norwegians have been commemorating the 77 dead and 242 injured by the hand of Anders Behring Breivik a year ago.
 
There's a connection between Holmes and Breivik. Both were addicts of complex and extremely violent video games. Breivik's choice games, apparently, were Modern Warfare and World of Warcraft. More spooky, if anything, is that another Breivik favourite was Age of Conan, a Norwegian game based on the fantasy world created by the novelist Robert E. Howard 80 years ago.

Breivik used this fantasy world to flesh out his manifesto, 'A European Declaration of Independence'. But his main focus was the destruction of human lives. He didn't care who they were individually – beyond a crude symbolism of the organisations with whom they might be associated. In his case the symbols were the Norwegian Labour Party, to which both his estranged parents had belonged, and a vague notion of the Norwegian government.
 
Holmes, who appeared in court yesterday, his hair died orange to resemble the Joker, was also apparently focused primarily on killing and bombing. He rigged his apartment - described as looking like the lair of a mad scientist - to blow up anyone who came there, whether it was the cops or the janitor. In this he was following the Joker fantasy, set on destruction rather than any sense of fighting for political or moral ideology.
 
The point is brilliantly argued by Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Christopher Nolan's Batman movies aren't great art, he argues, "but they are effective dramatisations of the Way We Fear Now". Their villains "appear from nowhere to terrorise, seeking no higher end than chaos, no higher thrill than fear".
 
In the end, this was the aim of Osama bin Laden, hidden in his rambling compound in Abbottabad, increasingly detached from a world he only knew from a primitive computer and reports from his sporadic messengers – but a world he felt compelled to destroy anyway.
 
I would take Douthat's argument a little further. The pervasiveness of video culture, of which the Batman iconography is a subset, makes this world seem part of everyday reality. For some minds it brings fantasy closer to achievable reality. The two killers who shot 13 and injured 21 in 1999 at Columbine High School, not so far way from Aurora, had created new "levels" - virtual environments - for the nihilistic video game, Doom.
 
A few years ago the feisty Louise Richardson, now vice chancellor at St Andrews University, wrote a book explaining that most ideologically driven terrorists always want something concrete and political – and this offers a rational negotiating point. Far more worrying are the lone fantasists, like Breivik, Holmes and Harris and Klebold at Columbine. It is always hard to read when their paranoid fantasies, their dreamworlds, will collide with our real world.
 
A friend working on the Norwegian Royal Commission into the Breivik killings in Utoya and Oslo last summer told me that they had received outstanding expert testimony from British security officials. But, she said, what worried them most was the possibility of a hitherto unrecognised psychopathic loner getting among Olympic crowds.

This world of inner demonology and paranoia leading to extraordinary violence is well understood in Scandinavia. They are at the core of the outpouring of brilliant 'Scandinavia Noir' literature and art – the heart of Henning Mankell's Wallander plots, and the thrillers of Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbo.
 
The best response to the dark forces is to be as open as possible – on this both Ross Douthat, and Jonas Gahre Store, Norway's foreign minister, agree. It is down to the people and the mourners to just go on being who they are, debating, arguing and letting out their emotions. "The far more dangerous avenue," writes Jonas Store, "is to force extremist ideas underground, where they can fester without completion." · 

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Good article, poor fact checking... Doom was released in 1993 when the Columbine shooters were about 12. There is a strong case for linking immersion in violent games to violent actions but let's not over egg the pudding as it undoes a lot of credibility.

Predictably and depressingly, the press coverage of this crime has been shameful.
There is already a name for the type of personality you are describing: a psychopath. It is a chemical/psychological condition that has nothing to do with Chrisopher Nolan, Jo Nesbo, video games, the modern world, teenage apathy, video culture, iconography, extremist ideas, politics, terrorism or the 'Way We Fear Now' whatever that is.

And there it is; the predictably ignorant and poorly researched
assertions about the culpability of violent computer games. In this article the
claims go from bad to worse:

1. Undoubtedly Modern Warfare is a violent game which does fetishize guns but
it also has tens of millions of players most of whom are males under the age of
thirty - Holmes played it because he was in the target demographic not because
he was a psychopath.

2. As for World of Warcraft it’s set in a fantasy world with
a cartoon aesthetic and simply couldn’t be considered a violent game.

3. Saving the best till last is the casual assertion that
the Columbine shooters created and marketed the video game Doom (which as
someone else has pointed out was created and released by ID software when the
columbine shooters were children). One of the shooters did create his own
multiplayer levels for the game which is the video game equivalent of fan
fiction (like fans who write their own Harry Potter or Twilight stories).

We’ve been through this with music, with film and even with
literature before that. Please no more of this.

Not up to the usual standard. Trots out the usual logical fallacy implying that because nutters watch these games, it follows that these games create nutters. I doubt the author would agree that since nutters eat breakfast, eating breakfast creates nutters.
And no, that New York Times piece isn't well-written: "Their villains 'appear from nowhere to terrorise, seeking no higher end than chaos, no higher thrill than fear'". This latter mixes up subject and object.

On a side-note, who's the "Norwegian novelist Robert Conan"? I'd always associated Conan the Barbarian with the American novelist Robert E Howard. Or have I missed the reference?

StephenGlynn - you are correct, Robert E. Howard in 1932 created Conan the Cimmeran. Fox has done a sloppy pastiche of googling and cut'n'paste and mixed up what he scanned, rather than akshally read.
There IS a Norwegian video game based on Conan created by a company call FUNCOM but, really, if we want to read this sort of lightweight skimming that's what the redtops are for!

Lazy journalism.

Breivick had a clear political aim - to stop the Islamification of his country and the West in general.

God only knows what Holmes's motivation was. By the way, there's been scant reporting on the (2) witnesses who claim that there were two people involved in the Colorado shootings?......

The comment in the middle was good, but the article started by comparing this eejit with the other eejit Breivik, then finished with a mention of "driving extremism underground". The term "extremist" is increasingly misused to describe people or groups that the writer/speaker disapproves of, generally outside the ambit of the three main parties. As a member of an organisation that is often erroneously called "extremist" (English Defence League), I have to wonder if there is an agenda here to link the two madmen, Breivik and Holmes, with organisations the author distrusts?

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Ephesians 2:8-10
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

I agree with the ridiculousness of blaming video games on this kind of violence. . .if violent video games and movies cause this kind of violence, then please explain what caused the violence of historical figures like Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, all of the Roman Emporors and Attila the Hun. . .and let's not forget about Cain who murdered his brother Abel (if you want to go back to the Bible for reference). I'm pretty sure none of those men played video games or watched violent movies. In fact I can say with 100% certainty that the one thing for sure they had in common is that they are all men.

I agree with many of the comments below: lazy journalism. sorry, this explains absolutely nothing.

So, you're not critiquing the view that many people experience certain acts of violence in the world as "appearing from nowhere, set on nothing but chaos"? You think that both Breivik and even Osama bin Laden had no political motives? I must have misunderstood, or your confusion has prevented you acknowledging that there are at least some namable causes behind these different acts of violence.

What kind of periodical is this?

fox's article in a nutshell - nutters are like other nutters; they sometimes do things that normal people do like play video games and watch films (I'm not sure if there's a link but they might be and i need to write copy so I'm gonna put it out there), they fantasize and want to scare people and then they go and do it and it's all linked to stuff that's influenced them (like movies and video games) so lets make sure we talk about it openly and er, maybe not stop people watching movies and video games but at least, er talk about it, so i can get paid.

taxi for fox...

The description of EDL as extremist is spot on. Your like are just as much aggressive, deluded fantasists as Breivik. The police ought to keep and eye on you, you're a lit fuse just waiting to explode.