What is the perfect gift for the man who has killed everything?
If you’re Norwegian Anders Breivik and you’ve received a PlayStation 2 to go along with a mere 21-year sentence for the bombing/shooting of 77 people—the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law—it’s not perfect enough. Breivik wants a PlayStation 3. And he has threatened a hunger strike until he gets it.
It’s impossible to feel concern for the right-wing spree killer who calls himself a “hero.” But the facts are these: Breivik recently mailed the global news agency AFP with a list of 12 demands, which include fewer pat-downs and the receipt of his mail in a timely manner. Then there are the games.
“Other inmates have access to adult games while I only have the right to play less interesting kids games. One example is ‘Rayman Revolution’, a game aimed at three year olds,” wrote the 35-year-old convicted killer.
It’s not surprising that Breivik would ask for video games. According to TED lecturer Jane McGonigal, we collectively spend 3 billion hours a week gaming. The information technology research firm, Gartner Group, writes that video games are a $93 billion global industry, and “the market is forecast to reach $111 billion by 2015.”
But video games are entertainment, a pastime to be enjoyed in one’s spare hours. And many Americans tend to believe that prisoners, particularly those who have killed 77 people, should spend their time focused on rehabilitation rather than recreation.
There’s something to the idea of having video games and television in prisons: It keeps inmates occupied and out of trouble, which prevents the spread of aggression and violence. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have found that video games work as an incentive for good behavior, as well as as a perk for model prisoners.
Although it is unclear which “adult” games are found in Norwegian prisons, the video games found in Canadian prisons tend to be rated for children and teens, without the explicit use of sexuality and violence. Several of the PS3’s best games, such as BioShock Infinite, Beyond: Two Souls, the Uncharted series, and The Last of Us would therefore be disallowed, narrowing the utility for a PS3 considerably.
If Breivik didn’t have a personality disorder, he might recognize that the PS2 is a beloved, albeit outdated, console with enjoyable games such as Ratchet & Clank, Little Big Planet, Ico, and even the one that he’s protesting, Rayman Revolution.He should also be grateful down to his marrow that he isn’t in an American prison, on the fast track to a stainless steel ride.
Did I mention that most of his 77 victims were children?
Although the media has latched onto the idea of video games—and you have but to Google “Breivik” and “video games” to see how many news outlets have run with this story—his demands boil down to rights for prisoners. Do mass murderers deserve to be treated like the kind of people that they are not?
Certainly, if there were a country to update Breivik’s console, it would be Norway. Its prison system is one of the most effective and compassionate in the world: effective because its recidivism rate is one of the lowest at 20 percent, and compassionate because prisoners are given more freedoms than restrictions, as well as education and treatment. Prison guards in Norway have two years of training in management and rehabilitation before they come in contact with prisoners.
Meanwhile, Americans who walk out of prison have a whopping 43 percent chance of taking another trip to the Big House.
Breivik isn’t the largest mass murderer Norway has seen. That unpalatable prize goes to Arnfinn Nesset, who although was convicted of killing 22 people, may have actually murdered 138. The fact that Nesset has been released from prison early for good behavior and is currently living among the people of Norway (albeit under an assumed name) means that the Norwegian system of rehabilitation apparently works.
Breivik, however, will likely not be released. Even though Norway’s maximum sentence is 21 years, they have a system of preventative detention that allows the state to extend the sentence as long as the inmate is considered too dangerous. Cold and calculating, without so much as a molecule of empathy for his victims, he still is very much a threat to the public. Had Breivik displayed any kind of remorse, the question of an updated games console—or any luxury, for that matter—would be less onerous.
Could there be a public interest reason to give Breivik a last-generation PlayStation? Should Norway give him a PS3? It’s an interesting moral puzzle.
I actually can make a case for a more updated console: The PS3 offers non-violent titles, such as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Flower, and The Unfinished Swan, that could occupy a prisoner’s time, making him less likely to come into conflict with another inmate. More interestingly, Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, stated in a recent podcast that violent video games may reduce violence, as they act as a substitute for real-world mayhem (in which case, Breivik should play The Last of Us immediately).
But although a PS3 may benefit other Norwegian prisoners, many of whom are imprisoned for drug-related charges, I doubt it would help someone like Breivik.
Breivik was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and declared sane, even as he “smirked” at his verdict. According to an article in the National Post, “[N]arcissism’s opposite, empathy, might even improve with practice.” And if practice makes perfect, Breivik would need to engage with people rather than machines.
As I see it, Breivik doesn’t deserve a PS3. He doesn’t deserve the joy I felt when swinging on a skyhook in BioShock Infinite or the satisfaction of escaping the island in Tomb Raider.
But he does deserve his PS2. His outdated console should serve Breivik of a reminder of his carefully planned, chillingly executed killing spree: If you take lives, your right to freedom, even the freedom to choose a video game console, will be severely restricted. Your hopes and expectations will diminish as each day melts into the next. Time will move on outside your prison’s walls, but the console in your room and your copy of Rayman Revolution will remain the same.
I’m glad Norway has an effective, compassionate method of helping their inmates become productive members of society; I truly am. I’m even more glad that he’s locked away where he can’t reach another victim, or even another PlayStation.
Photo by William Hook/Flickr (CC By SA-2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III