I read an article today where World of Warcraft is being used by prosecutors and the defense attorney to explain why Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway. He played his human mage an average of 7 hours a day (only 7?), as well as Modern Warfare. They are attempting to prove his gaming is evidence that, "he does not seem to be very successful at distinguishing between the virtual reality of 'World of Warcraft' and other video games and reality."
The effects of media, specifically video games, on people has been an ongoing debate that I've read and listened to most of my life. I still remember when Mortal Kombat came out, followed by a slew of news stories blaming its violence for the actions of children. I played this game at the age of 12, after begging my parents for it as a birthday present. I have played games just as violent or worse since. I can concede games like Modern Warfare help people become better marksman, yet in order to do so, one must practice with real weapons. I have never held a gun in my life, and I'd be willing to bet if someone put one in my hand today I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, let alone headshots or center mass.
World of Warcraft is not on par with Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty; there is no blood in WoW, no gore. You kill, but it is cartoonish, less than what I saw in the movie John Carter last night. Currently, WoW has 10 million subscribers worldwide. If WoW was a direct cause of violence, that would mean more than 10 million people (its peak was 17 or 19 million players that act as a revolving door, new ones coming in and old ones taking a break) were potential serial killers, armed gunmen, and psycopaths. There is no evidence I'm aware of that this holds true.
Personally, I think gaming and violence are coincidental correlations. After all, violence is as old as humanity. I feel a violent person has a predisposition prior to using video games as an outlet, and if anything, postpones or deters their eventual actions. Similarly, Marilyn Manson's music was scapegoated after what happened in Columbine. I listened to Marilyn Manson at that time, and found that bullying and being ostrasicized were better factors to consider in the shootings than what the killers were listening to, reading, playing, or watching. We seek the things we love; would it not make sense then that a person thinking of or thrilled about killing seeks its depiction in many forms?
While WoW is notorious for consuming a person's time and attention, is it the game's fault for ruining marriages, untethering reality, neglecting kids, or are there other factors to consider? If WoW did not exist, who is to say another video game or a completely different outlet would not have the same effect? One could just as easily escape into a book as they can a video game. Hitler, for instance, was into fine art and classical music, yet he was the brains behind one of the largest atrocities in history.
While video games have the potential to be a factor, if not a major factor, in bad behavior, I find they're often used as a scapegoat rather than a component of a much bigger issue and larger problems pertaining to these individuals. Can video games influence weak or mentally ill minds? Probably, and I wouldn't be surprised to find evidence that they do. Addiction in any form, drugs or games, is detrimental, but in my opinion, committing a violent act depends on the person, their history, their environment, and differs from case to case. It can not solely rest on the shoulders of media, or we would all be murderers, thieves, and rapists.