mass murders, zeta males, and virtual life

Mark David ChapmanIn the comments section of my post on the worst school massacre in US history, I posted this:

I have been thinking, putting the profile of these mass murderers together with my theory of the popularity among so-called Zeta Males of Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other such virtual life forums. They fit very well together, but what are the effects?

Does participation in a community such as Second Life give such people (ego-driven failures, basically) enough gratification and recognition that it reduces their inclination to turn to violence in the real world?

Now that, if I say so myself, is an interesting question.

And so it is.

Let’s review a few things before we get into a discussion.

First, mass murders of the Virginia Tech and Bath Disaster proportions are generally carried out by tightly-wound, ego-driven men who would conventionally be described as failures. They have high ego but low accomplishment, and the disparity between these two drives them literally insane. They account for the difference between their self-opinion and their status by convincing themselves that various conspiracies or forces are working against them.

In Kimveer Gill’s case, he settled on bullies, although he himself had not been bullied; he essentially picked an excuse that was popular with his online peer group, who commonly complained about being bullied. In Andrew Kehoe’s case, he believed it was the School Board and the taxation system’s fault he was facing bankruptcy, ignoring the fact that his farm failed to prosper because he farmed according to his (inaccurate) theories rather than according to sound principles. In Cho Seung-Hui’s case, he blamed the rich and debauched generally, specifically stating repeatedly that the killing was their responsibility, not his.

These are Zeta Males.

Now, let’s look for a moment at the post I did about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I discovered that, even though I have difficulty affording the basics like food and shelter (and my internet bill is three months overdue right now) I am highly self-actualized and recognized by the community. According to standard theory, this should be impossible, but obviously it isn’t. It’s because of this blog. It is because of the internet. It is because I can go online and know that I will be seen and heard and respected if I prove myself, which I know I can do in this arena. I have a record of accomplishment in the cybersphere.

This is precisely what is so attractive about Second Life. In another forum, there was a lively discussion about who joins SL, with those less sophisticated in the ways of the internet assuming that it would primarily be populated with teenagers. This immediately seemed wrong to me and, indeed, proves not to be true; it seemed obvious that Second Life was most attractive to mature people who’d failed in First Life. It’s a Zeta-being magnet, because it gives you the opportunity to hit REPLAY and live your life over, and if you don’t like the way it’s going, you hit DELETE and create a new life. This is not something that those accustomed to success would find compelling.

Now, the question becomes, does participation in online worlds fill these people’s needs for recognition and somehow bleed off the deadly pressure, or do they fail even online, thus reinforcing their destructive tendencies?

If there’s hard information out there about this, I haven’t found it. I would love to hear from psychologists tracking membership in these online forums, though, and what I am hoping to hear is that it can transform people from embittered, dangerous and irrational outsiders into something closer to a sane human being.

I want to be optimistic about this…but…

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35 thoughts on “mass murders, zeta males, and virtual life

  1. Pingback: mass murders, zeta males, and virtual life « raincoaster

  2. Wow. That’s a great question, Rain.

    And, since everything is about me, does that mean i’m genuinely successful in the “real” world because i’m not particularly interested in these online games? {pats herself on the back and goes back to reading forums}


    Seriously, though, i would be very interested to hear some opinions on this.

  3. This is interesting. I think there’s something here about virtual worlds, though I’d hate to imply that all people engage in virtual activity because they’ve failed in life.

    I guess to some extent it depends on your own goals in life. What makes you seem a failure. In virtual worlds you can make your own targets and feel successful, or, in more gamey environments (WoW etc) you’ve got a much more defined set of goals and targets to achieve, and you can normally achieve something in a single session. Then it adds up. I think there’s a lot of addiction to the nature of the rewards and pressures they impose on people. It’s also a known universe…so you can be fairly sure that on your quest to find the eggs of the terrific wildebeest (or whatever) you’ll only face challenges you can cope with (given repetitive trials) unlike life where there may be unexpected obstacles everywhere.

    Interesting. I might think more on this (and maybe write in more detail later).

  4. I didn’t mean to imply that people engaged in online life are there because they’ve failed in “meatspace.” Not at all; just that alternatives to conventional reality are particularly attractive to those who have difficulty functioning in it.

    I, myself, believe that you can practice accomplishment and interpersonal skills in cyberspace and then start to use them in the real world, growing as a person. If I didn’t believe that, there’d be no point in the runningthroughrain project. But I know that at least one of these murderers, Kimveer Gill, was a dedicated participant in online life, and it obviously didn’t do him a damn bit of good. Of course, he wasn’t that successful in his online life either; perhaps that’s the key.

  5. You may have touched upon something here…
    We all know the media likes to blame ‘Video Games’ for breeding violence in society, something I mostly disagree with.
    I don’t know much on the subject as I’m not much of a psychologist, even an amateur one, but I do have an opinion.
    I suspect the answer to your question will vary from case to case. To my mind there are likely to be as many zeta males failing at Second Life and freaking out as there are succeeding. How many that just flip out and shoplift or (god forbid) hit their wife and so never make the news?
    Wouldn’t it be great though if Second Life was like digital valium for these guys? Maybe they could make it available in prison and/or mental health institutes or in universities as a trial. It would make an interesting study.

    I was going to avoid posting on the subject of VA tech because I couldn’t see how my opinion could help heal the victims or contribute to preventing it in the future, but then I saw posts where people were trying to blame university administration for most of the deaths because they refused to allow security or students to carry guns on campus. Then I got angry and vented. Hopefully it’s mostly constructive.

    Oh, and I got an unexpected pay rise today (for realz!) so I’m feeling quite actualised, myself. No cause for concern here!

    Urgh – totally wordy – longest comment ever – sorry

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  7. No worries. Congrats on the raise.

    They say Cho had no video games at all in his room, and I’d like to make a distinction between games where you play in isolation and games which take place in a social context, like WoW; they are fundamentally different and often far less violent. Social skills are important, whereas in single-player games they are irrelevant.

    I can definitely confirm, because I did the research years ago, that there is a direct correlation between layoffs and domestic violence. Failure and violence go hand in hand.

    But it MUST be easier to succeed in SL because essentially they’ve filtered out the people who tend towards success. As I said, those people have no compelling reason to join, so they’ll be underrepresented, and the whole bell curve will shift south.

  8. That is a very good quetion.

    I think that the positive involvement in online communities, be it blogs or forums fill all the needs for recognition. I am currently unemployed [partially by choice] and I am respected online [mainly forums].

    At the end of the day we all want to acknowledged and recognised for something and I personally don’t think that there is much of a difference between online and offline.

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  10. Definately an interesting question although one I think that would vary from case to case – I’ve always wondered about this sort of thing in relation to pornography and sexual assualt – does it act as some kind of valium for the insitincts or promote some sort of female degredation?

  11. I thought omega was the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Wasn’t there something in the bible about “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last”? Although I gotta admit “omega males” isn’t as catchy.

  12. Exactly. And I certainly wouldn’t want to associate them with God: they do enough of that themselves. Zeta is the little Greek letter that couldn’t.

    At this point I can’t remember if I made up the expression “Zeta Male” or if I picked it up somewhere, but to me it fits.

    grumblemouse, there are studies showing that porn increases violent activity and ones that show it decreases it; I’m not prepared to decide for sure which is the case. But I can tell you definitively that once someone begins to commit sexual assaults, they don’t generally stop without forceful intervention of some kind. They just get worse. Most serial killers whose crimes have a sexual component began with simple sexual assault and moved on from there…they have to keep dialing up the violence to get the same thrill.

  13. Ah, the slippery slope theory.

    “If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.”

    – Thomas De Quincey, Second Paper on Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts

  14. Not a theory: I used to be a crime reporter, and it’s an established fact, universally accepted among police. There certainly are those who never progress from assaults to murders, from groping to rape, but unless there is a compelling countering force introduced, they generally don’t go back to just thinking about it, and the pattern is to escalate.

    This is one reason I encourage all victims of attacks to report them and request that the police at least interview the perpetrator. That has sometimes proven to be just the shock needed to make someone realize just how far over the line they’ve stepped. And I speak as one who has called the police in on two men who were stalking me. If I hadn’t done that, they’d have just gone on to do it again blythely unaware that they were out of bounds. One thought it was a big chuckle, and the other thought he was “courting”. One stopped, one didn’t, and the one that didn’t eventually became violent and ultimately killed himself.

  15. I’m sure early intervention has prevented many minor criminals from turning into major ones. But anything that’s universally accepted by police is has got to be suspect in my book. There’s also the cycle of prison and recidivism that the police in no small way contribute to themselves.

    “To a cop the explanation’s always simple. There’s no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you find a body and you think his brother did it, you’re gonna find out you’re right.”
    – The Usual Suspects, Christopher McQuarrie

    I haven’t been stalked for years, I’m almost starting to feel unloved. Though your stalking stories sound a whole lot more icky than mine.

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  21. I think the man you are referring to is not common enough to have a Greek alphabet classification. He is just an Omega male with psychotic envy of Alpha status.

    I have been writing on the concept of a Zeta male archetype emerging in western culture, but it is very phenomenologically different than what you describe here.

  22. Not really. To assert that the term is coined, it would have to actually be a part of the standard cultural lexicon. Which if it was, I would have found another term to use.

    Perhaps the members of the zeta male network, which was established as a fraternity group back in 1920 would have issues with both of us. But I really don’t think anyone can make a claim to have coined anything at this point.


  23. Correct your search term by putting it in quotation marks to rule out all returns that simply have zeta and male in the same body of text. The actual return on “zeta male” is a little over 5,000, barely a scratch in internet terms.

    And it still goes down to definition and frequency of use. Since most of the real returns on zeta male come back in reference to the fraternal organization, then we must infer that the expression is not being used to actually classify at type of male, as you and I have.

    And the rest of the returns don’t indicate anything that one might infer has social significance, or even relevance.

    I would say it leaves things pretty well open.

  24. Wow. Is your ego tied up in this or what? If your skin is that thin, you ought to find a different hobby. Perhaps you could take up something that covers your light bill.

    Have a nice life, asshole.

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