Santa Barbara Attacker Epitomizes Dark Side of Technology

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 12:12 PM

By James Hirsen

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The tragic scenario is hauntingly familiar.
 
A young man possesses limited social skills, indulges over the course of time in an inordinate amount of video game play, receives periodic professional assistance for issues with which he is dealing, and is at one point prescribed psychiatric medication (whether taken or not is yet unknown).
 
He somehow crashes through the internal guardrails that keep vindictive fantasies from emerging as vicious realities. A horrific killing spree results and multiple lives are left in tatters as the nation attempts to cope with the chilling aftermath.
 
The disturbing fact pattern has been repeatedly laid bare in Columbine, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut, and now in Isla Vista, California, near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
 
Seven people, including the attacker, were killed in the recent Isla Vista tragedy, while 13 other individuals were wounded. The mayhem began with a stabbing attack at an apartment, followed by a series of drive-by shootings and hit and runs.
 
Police confirmed that the man who carried out the murderous rampage was 22-year-old Elliot Rodger. Elliott was the son of Hollywood filmmaker Peter Rodger, who is credited as a second unit assistant director for the movie, “The Hunger Games.” Elliot was also the stepson of actress Soumaya Akaaboune.
 
In one video posted on YouTube, Elliot appears to have looked upon himself as a character in a movie. In another video, he actually made reference to one of Hollywood’s more detestable pieces of cinema, “American Psycho,” citing the main character in the movie, Patrick Bateman (portrayed by Christian Bale).
 
The film may possibly have served as nefarious fodder for an ill-fated mind, as the Bateman character engages onscreen in intimate relations with various women, and after having done so proceeds to mutilate and murder them. 
 
Elliot fits the profile of a self-absorbed youth with a pronounced victim mentality, and he left behind a voluminous amount of material online, which provides a rare window into the thinking processes of a mass murderer. A sign of the times, he had a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and his own blog, and he additionally participated in Internet forums. Posted as well on the Internet was a 136-page manifesto, an autobiography of sorts entitled “My Twisted World.”
 
Elliot’s intense self-absorption, also known as narcissistic personality disorder, is acutely displayed in the obsessive manner in which he placed so much his life story on the web.
 
A privileged child of Hollywood, he was accustomed to obtaining throughout his life any number of material objects that he desired. However, he was evidently unable to win the hearts of the females of whom he sought affection. He expressed outrage over the concept that women were not desirable of him, despite his outward signs of wealth, success, social stature, etc.
 
His Facebook page is replete with selfies that chronicled his opulent lifestyle, including his attendance at the red carpet premiere of “The Hunger Games” and a private Katy Perry concert.
 
Others on the web had noticed the potential menace in his postings. He was described as “a serial killer in the making” by users of a bodybuilding website, where he often engaged in web conversations.
 
In his net archive, Elliot repeatedly referenced the “Day of Retribution” for which he had a plan. If the phrase sounds as if it is the name of a video game, it is probably because video games loomed so large in his life. He was, in fact, a self-described video game addict as a teen. After being introduced to video games at age six, he progressed toward multiplayer games in his teenage years, including many that had extremely violent themes.
 
Elliot blamed his obsession with the online multiplayer game, “World of Warcraft,” for his stunted social development in middle and early high school. When he was 13 years old, according to his web manifesto, his loss of a social life, coupled with the advent of puberty, caused him “to die a little inside.”
 
“It was too much for me to handle, and I stopped caring about my life and my future. I even stopped caring about what people thought of me. I hid myself away in the online World of Warcraft, a place where I felt comfortable and secure,” Elliot wrote.
 
He candidly referred to his video game playing as an addiction. At a time when without limitations he was able to play “World of Warcraft” at his mother’s house, he wrote, “I became very addicted to the game and my character in it. It was all I cared about. I was so immersed in the game that I no longer cared about what people thought of me.”
 
Acknowledging his multiplayer video game fixation, he wrote, “I was so obsessed with playing WoW that I never gave much serious thought to the fact that I would have to go to High School soon.”   
 
At age 14, he wrote that he “withdrew further into the World of Warcraft” and neglected his homework, spending all of his free time playing the video game.
 
In an almost detached observational way, he described himself as withdrawing “even further away from the world.”
 
“I drowned all of my misery in my online games. World of Warcraft was the only thing I had left to live for,” Elliot wrote. He “had become very powerful in the game …,” something that appears to have given him comfort as well as a twisted sort of confidence.
 
As a 19-year-old attending college in Santa Barbara, Elliot actually engaged in the act of committing “virtual murder.” While playing the online game, he was fully aware that the avatars he targeted and killed represented real people, real acquaintances of his.
 
His college class had ended so he was immersed in playing “World of Warcraft,” in his words, “every waking minute.” The last session in which he played the online game was described by him as “an intense one.”
 
“I repeatedly took pleasure in killing James’, Steve’s, and Mark’s characters as they tried to level up, as a petty form of revenge …,” he wrote.
 
It is unique to online multiplayer games that someone is able to “kill” with the knowledge that another actual person is the recipient of violent acts. It appears as though this virtual experience may have served as a sort of stepping-stone to taking the leap into real life violence.
 
Prior to the Isla Vista rampage, Elliot carried out a series of belligerent acts against random people, using hot coffee in one instance and a supersoaker squirt gun filled with orange juice in another. He also attempted to push people over a ledge.
 
According to the attorney for the Rodger family, Elliot saw numerous therapists. The lawyer indicated that Elliot had been diagnosed as “a high-functioning patient with Asperger syndrome,” an autism spectrum disorder in which individuals display significant difficulty with their social interactions and nonverbal communications.
 
Asperger syndrome is routinely treated with antipsychotic medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Elliot’s manifesto listed a number of drugs that he was prescribed to use, although whether he took the drugs, how long he used them, and the identity of the drugs currently remains unknown.
 
On April 30, less than a month prior to the killings, Elliot’s parents became concerned about his YouTube videos and reported him to police. It was his third contact with police officers since July 2013.
 
Part of coping with a tragedy that spreads out in so many painful directions is trying to work to heal the hurts while at the same time discovering ways in which we can alter life’s course for those who are living in the darkest of worlds.
 
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
 
 
 
 
 

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