It has been reported that Anders Breivik spent many hours on social websites and playing video games. The discussion has focused on whether all the hateful propaganda spewed online and the violent games he loved helped turn him into an extremist and cold-blooded killer. I have a slightly different theory based on Marshal McLuhan’s famous dictum: “The media is the message.”
I would guess that what made Breivik a monster was not primarily the content of the web sites he visited and the games he used to prepare for his mission. The very act of repeatedly spending all those hours in front of interactive computer screens probably fried his brain and induced in him some kind of dissociative syndrome. As a result, he lost his ability to distinguish delusion form reality. This is a common side effect of excessive virtual immersion, which usually does not lead to such extreme consequences. Instead, it can result in a disposition where a “second life” is as good as a first, and maybe even better. The danger of such milder dissociation is mentioned in Elias Aboujaoude’ book, Virtually You, which discusses internet addiction. Of course, most gamers and Facebook or IM fanatics will not turn into “real” world first-person shooters. But Breivik would have hardly become one without the internet either.