Friday, June 29, 2007

Video Games, Manhood, and Murder: The Strange Case of Hans Reiser...

An article about Lynux visionary Hans Reiser, and the disappearance of his former wife, Nina Reiser, appeared in Wired earlier this week. This is the sort of case that gives me a headache- as a man, a feminist, and a video gamer, this case absolutely blows my mind.

Basically, Hans Reiser is accused of having murdered Nina Reiser. There's no body, but they found blood in his car and at his home, and she hasn't been seen for quite some time. The Wired article is... well... sensationalistic. It's more like a movie-of-the-week than particularly investigative, but it is interesting.

Hans Reiser is, as presented in this article, a nightmare. Reading about the way he acts and the things he says and believes is horrifying. The guy is a mess, and it's a little hard to tell, at times, what I'm supposed to be taking away from the author. Am I, as a fellow geek, supposed to feel sorry for this guy? Or am I supposed to be pointing my finger and going "Hey, look, we're not like this guy!"?

I'm not going to weigh in on the whole "did he/didn't he" debate- I don't know the evidence, and, inevitably, if I said either way, someone would come in to complain about it. Regardless of my opinion about his guilt or innocence in the murder case, I think it's absolutely fair to take a look at some of his attitudes, and how completely fucked up and backwards this guy's concept of gender identity is. This guy comes off as a grade-A asshole, and I have to confess that I don't have an ounce of pity for him over the loss of his children, regardless of whether he killed his wife or not.

On page 4 of the article, the author starts talking about the divorce proceedings. One of the complaints that Nina Reiser had about Hans Reiser, was his love of violent video games. In particular, Hans would play games like Battlefield Vietnam with his son, Rory. Rory is four at the time, okay? Four. I've never played Battlefield Vietnam, but a quick search online shows that it's rated T. Also, the article claims (though it wouldn't be the first time an article got video game info wrong) that the game features scenes where:
napalm explosions envelop villages in fire, bodies are hurled through the air, and, when shot, characters collapse to the ground and choke on their own blood, realistic sound effects included.

It's not particularly shocking to discover that Rory has nightmares and spends a lot of time drawing monsters and soldiers, and is, according to Nina Reiser's testimony, showing signs of sensory integration dysfunction.

Now, the record will show that I don't have a problem with violent video games. I play a few of them, myself. I enjoy games like Counterstrike, which features shooting people, blowing them up with grenades, or stabbing them with a knife. It's a pretty damned violent game. It is rather worth noting, however, that I am twenty-eight years old. I've had two and a half decades of life experience over Rory with which to develop the mental and emotional tools to understand the difference between what I'm seeing on the computer and reality. I can seperate myself from the fiction I'm seeing on the screen in ways that a four year old child can't.

Now, of course, every kid is different, right? Maybe Hans is just naive, and thinks his son can handle it and understands what he's seeing? Maybe he's just being stupidly myopic, and doesn't understand the trouble his son is having with the games? Which is not to say that these situations wouldn't still be bad, but... well... it's a lot worse than that.

See, Hans Reiser is completely aware that his son traumatized by the games. In fact, he states "Becoming a man normally is psychologically traumatic for boys" but that the experience "allows him to achieve results in defending family and country." It turns out that Hans Reiser- geek that he is- is still no less invested in the trappings of traditional masculinity than any other macho jerk.

Hans Reiser's belief is that boys have an "instinct" for "combat rehearsal activities" and that games are a way of honing survival skills. This kind of attitude is dangerous to the extreme. He's subjecting his son, intentionally, to images of death and violence that are giving his child nightmares. He knows that this is the outcome, and he's doing it on purpose. I'm not sure what the courts call that kind of behavior, but I call it abuse. As both a gamer and feminist, I find his attitude shocking and offensive.

The suggestion here is that it's appropriate to subject a child to violent imagry because it will make him stronger- where "stronger" is clearly intended to mean "less womanly." He is obsessed with teaching his son- his four year old son- the "culture of manhood." He's happy to enlighten us with clarification about what that is: an "inherent opposition to wallowing in wimpiness." In other words, his investment in stereotypical male power is pushing him to abuse his son because he thinks it's going to make his son a better Man.

At least, in this case, the courts could see how screwed up this guy was, and gave custody to his wife. The sort of mental and emotional abuse that he admits to inflicting on his children is appalling.

There are other indications and hints... eh... blatant examples of Hans Reiser's screwed up sense of identity and masculinity- from the part where it describes his repeated, regular use of "Russian bride" services to find a woman to marry, to his claim that Sean Sturgeon seduced Nina Reiser to "show that he was a better man," to his outrage over "gender confused alternative sexuality dolls."

Obviously, it's hard to know for sure what's going through this guy's brain- he sounds pretty screwed up to begin with- he sounds more than a little paranoid- but the signs are there.


I'm still fighting back my disgust, hours after reading that article. It's hard to know what to think about the case, but it's easy as hell to know that Hans Reiser is a dangerous man. If he's innocent, I hope his trial shows it. If he's guilty, I hope he rots. Either way, I hope he never gets those children back. I don't know what their situation is like in Russia, but the way he was trying to raise them?


Oh, right... The geek in me wants a say, too.

This is exactly the kind of asshole that gives the rest of us geeks a bad name. It's misanthropic morons like him who do stupid harmful things, who intentionally expose their children to inappropriate game that help legitimize the stigma against geeks. When a case like this starts to get publicity, the fact that he was a computer geek and video gamer are going to be major soundbites. The fact that most of us are quite capable of recognizing "Huh... maybe I shouldn't make my four-year-old child play really violent, disturbing games that are causing him nightmares" won't matter- it'll be "He played Battlefield with his kid! OMG!"

Also: His trial has got to be a bloody nightmare. He's accused of murdering someone when there isn't a body. His former best friend is a druggie into sadomasochism and bondage, and has an affair with the Hans' wife, and later admits to murdering eight, possibly nine people! The grandmother whisks the children off to Russia and refuses to return them to the states.


That's not going to be a circus event.


Yuri K. said...

Great post, as always Roy. I've got a few things to say/add

*Thanks again for drawing the distinction between assholes who play video games and the effects of video games. I don't prefer violent games, but I've played them. I'm 23. I can deal. I don't know if those games should be played by minors, period, or at least, anyone younger than a teenager.

*As someone who was sick of macho bullshit since middle school, and took some refuge in video games, I'd really, really, like to think that it would be a culture more inclined towards rejecting that. But if you've been on or in WoW or whatever, that's obviously not the case: there's more virulent misogyny online then in real life sometimes. I think it proves, if nothing else, that abuse begets abuse, and people are eager to use a power system that benefits them in the same patterns as the one that hurt them. So in my mind, this just reinforces the need to combat machismo/misogyny on and offline.

*The defending home and family line sounds like political speech - like (I don't think I'm exaggerating) Goering. It's both horrifying but clinical and thought out.

Anyway, great post, the more of your writing I get, the better!

Moody said...

I've played quite a few violent video games in my time. But I've made sure that my daughter (now 8 yrs old) has never seen me play them.
That, I believe, is child abuse. I wonder if it would be possible to prosecute someone for that kind of abuse...

Jimmycav said...

So he was just preparing his son for real life? Oh yeah, that's right...why just this morning I dropped napalm on someone on my way into the office. How could I forget?

That d-bag gives over-Cheetoed/caffeinated gamers like me a bad name...

Kate said...

You go, Grandma!

This guy defies comprehension. What do you bet that the defense blames the best friend to ensure "reasonable doubt?"