Jim Wallace had the following opinion piece published in The Australian today entitled "Virtual classes of cold-blooded killing"



AS the witness accounts of the killing spree of Anders Behring Breivik were first told by survivors last weekend, there was for me a chilling resonance in their words and imagery.



At the standing committee of States and Commonwealth Attorneys-General meeting last December, the topic was whether there should be an R18+ rating for games, which would clearly permit a higher level of violence. I was invited as an expert witness.



The meeting presented a selection of clips from various games to provide examples of the levels of violence and sexual content presently allowed under the various classification ratings.



Despite my having commanded the SAS Regiment during the introduction of video simulation to teach the skills necessary to kill, one clip in particular set me back.



The scene was from Modern Warfare 2. It was a domestic airport, and the players simply walked into it and visited cruel mayhem on otherwise peaceful and innocent people. The similarities in that scenario with last weekend's tragedy will concern any reasonable person.



But it is the particular way the game is played that should shock us out of the games industry propaganda-induced indifference to this issue.



A constant theme from the survivors of the Norwegian incident was how the killer was unhurried, methodical and cold, seemingly desensitised to the fact he was killing human beings. Modern Warfare 2 is exactly that.



The players display, like Breivik, all the cruelty of those bent simply on killing. They move with the unhurried arrogance of people enjoying the ultimate power imbalance shared by terrorists or those bent on genocide on unprepared, unarmed and innocent victims. I made the point at the time that the game would never be used in SAS training because it didn't demand restraint in the use of force, or mercy, both required of soldiers.



But the games industry maintains it's just a game.



It seems Breivik is smarter than that. In one of his blogs he said: "I see Modern Warfare 2 more as part of my training simulation than anything else."



Whatever may prove to be his state of mind, he seems to understand this issue better than not just the games industry that produces them but even Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor and some of our state attorneys-general: it's not a game, it's a simulator.



Military simulators aim to achieve two things when teaching killing. The first is weapons handling skill: the ability to shoot accurately in a range of situations.



The second necessary function of military training simulation is to break down the natural aversion every human being has, to some degree, to killing another human being. It's a problem long recognised by militaries.



After World War II it was noted that despite the scale of the human tragedy, for all the bullets fired there were relatively few people killed. Studies revealed this aversion to killing had led many to fire into the air, or "aim off".



The solution was a rather simple one by today's standards of simulation. It was to use human figure targets on firing ranges instead of the concentric bull's-eye rings that had been traditionally used. It was adopted by militaries across the world.



But if this simple change could so break down our natural aversion to killing, how much more effective is today's simulation, with quantum increases in levels of realism and repeatedly played by gamers at rates that no military in the world can achieve in the available training time.



More importantly, how quickly and to what degree will the availability of these scenarios break down this natural aversion in a sick mind?



People entering the military are psychologically screened before being subjected to this training, so that we can be confident they can switch between the battlefield and life in civil society.



The events last Saturday are sure to demonstrate that today's level of simulation can play a big part in producing a detached and methodical killer.



Not surprisingly, there has been a weight of academic proof of this for some time.



But truth and fact travel a hard road against the profit motive of the games industry and the incessant and selfish clamour for their right to play from extreme gamers. It was the case at last December's SCAG meeting.



At that meeting I presented a statement on video game violence signed by 112 academic and professional experts from across the world who endorsed as fact the link between violent video games and increased violence in even normal individuals.



They confirm the effects as immediate and long term, and as including "imitation, observational learning, priming of cognitive, emotional and behavioural scripts, psychological arousal and emotional desensitisation".



They say that they can lead to "an increase in aggressive behaviour, psychological desensitisation to violence and to a decrease in pro-social behaviour".



But at SCAG this evidence, supported by separate statements from the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, was given no weight because a single voice on the gaming side said simply: "that's contested".



That those two words and no evidence can invalidate the testimony of 112 academic and professional opinions from some of the world's most prestigious universities and professional associations would be amazing, if the quality of public policy debate were not so transparently flawed.



When lawmakers respond more to the Twittertariat, with their usually anonymous ranting, than to evidence, all public policy suffers.



But last weekend shows that unless we fix this, particularly on the issue of video game classification, the suffering can go much deeper than mere policy.



Jim Wallace is managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby and a former SAS commander.