Anders Behring Breivik smiled during court on Monday as the prosecution displayed an image of his World of Warcraft character, Andersnordic.
The Norwegian mass-murderer, who admitted last year to killing 77 people, must have tapped into some inner well of nostalgia when he thought about Blizzard's massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Breivik has said he played the game non-stop, using the "smokescreen" of World of Warcraft addiction to mislead his mother while he planned the deadly attack.
He spent quite a bit of time playing the MMORPG. For at least a year, it took over his life. As The New York Times writes:
Mr. Breivik said he had taken the year beginning in December 2006 as a "sabbatical," during which he spent 16 hours a day playing the video game World of Warcraft.
"I know it is important to you and the media that I played this for a year," he told the court in response to Mr. Holden's questions. "But it has nothing to do with July 22. It is not a world you are engulfed by. It is quite simply a hobby."
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World of Warcraft was a "hobby," but it also amounted to Breivik's virtual life. His alter ego. It affected more than just his victims. And you can find its remnants all over the web.
Breivik's Video Game Alter-Egos
Andersnordic, pictured above, was one of Breivik's first World of Warcraft characters. He was a level 77 mage with the Justicar title, an accomplishment that takes quite a lot of time (and quite a lot of player-killing) to acquire.
According to the site WarcraftRealms.com, Breivik used Andersnordic from 2006-2007 on the European Nordrassil server. He joined and eventually led several guilds, named Virtue, Unit, and later, Nevermore. All three guilds were "hardcore"—that is to say, focused on being the first in their respective servers to take down the game's massive raid bosses.
At some point later, Breivik and many of his guildmates migrated to the European Silvermoon server, where he played on two characters, a human female mage named Conservatism and a tauren female druid named Conservative—names that perhaps signalled how central Breivik's political ideology was to his sense of identity.
During May, 2011, Breivik took to the World of Warcraft forums to make several posts, some of which are still active.
Sometimes he had kind words to offer his fellow players and guildmates. He would congratulate and give out strategies to other people on his server.
Other times, Breivik showed flashes of the radicalism that would eventually lead him to an act of terror.
At one point, Breivik joined a thread about Swedish "cyberbully" Erik Walfridsson. A Swedish website had profiled Walfridsson as somebody who enjoyed anonymously harassing and attacking people, and Breivik came in to defend him.
"Hillarious! Poor woman with the dead dog:))" Breivik wrote. "Basically, according to the article; he likes to take the piss out of ppl he sees as pathetic, stupid and/or incompetent attention seekers."
In response to another user who called Walfridsson "an idiot," Breivik defended the bully.
"So why exactly do you think hes an idiot? Because he works against the Islamisation of Sweden?" he said.
Remembered By His Fellow Gamers
In a thread on the forum for Last Legion, a World of Warcraft guild on Silvermoon, several of Breivik's old guildmates united to discuss the time they spent leveling and killing bosses by his side.
"This is surrealistic, as an Norwegian it is hard to even comprehend what he has done and even harder to fathom his motives," posted one of his old guildmates, Oda. "The killer portraited in our news papers and on television seems so far out that it is easiest to judge him as a rabbit psychotic. To know that i have been guilded and chated with him for over a year in Virtue, at least back then he seemed pretty normal, makes this even more uncomprehensible." [sic]
Breivik had taken over the guild, once called Virtue, after the departure of a player named Skil. Skil went back to the forums last August to lament what had happened.
"Back in Virtue," Breivik's former World of Warcraft guildmate wrote, "at the time I valued his 'edginess' and constant desire to get things done but we agreed it was best to leave the people management to me, especially when he often aggravated people with his words without even realising."
Skil said Breivik mismanaged the guild. "I knew there was always that hardcore side to him to push progression raids, but manageable (with a lot of effort) from a guild perspective while I was around. When I returned from the break, I was disappointed with what was left behind."
Other players wrote last year that Breivik seemed perfectly harmless.
Blizzard appears to be deleting threads and conversations about Breivik that pop up on the World of Warcraft forum. One thread asking if anybody had ever interacted with Breivik was immediately deleted.
Though the mass murderer will likely be imprisoned for a very long time, his virtual footprint seems to have affected quite a few European World of Warcraft players. Just today, the player Dumli posted on Last Legion's forums to say it "sickens" him to think about the long chats he had while playing with Breivik.
As a player named Cherub writes: "It's very shocking though to know that we all spent many hours in the company of someone with that potential."
Elyas Gorogo-Baker contributed to this report.