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Edward Snowden's morality was influenced by video games

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Edward Snowden — the whistleblower who outed the National Security Agency's plans for secret mass surveillance — was influenced early on by morality portrayed in video games, according to a recent interview in GQ with the reporter who assisted Snowden with the leak, Glenn Greenwald.

In May 2013, Snowden — a former CIA employee and NSA contractor — brought himself to the attention of the world by disclosing numerous NSA documents to Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poltras, exposing the NSA's plans to implement mass surveillance systems across the United States. After fleeing the country, the U.S. Department of Justice charged him with espionage and his passport was revoked. Snowden is currently in Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum for one year on Aug. 1, 2013.

Greenwald notes in his book — No Place to Hide, set to be released this month — that Snowden told him video games had an impact on his worldview and morality. According to Greenwald, Snowden's moral compass was guided by video game stories — ideas like saving the world by subverting a greater evil, ordinary people taking it upon their shoulders to defend those who can't take action themselves and finding the means, no matter how small at first, with which to take that action. 

"In Hong Kong, Snowden told me that at the heart of most video games is an ordinary individual who sees some serious injustice, right?" Greenwald said. "Like some person who's been kidnapped and you've got to rescue them, or some evil force that has obtained this weapon and you've got to deactivate it or kill them or whatever. And it's all about figuring out ways to empower yourself as an ordinary person, to take on powerful forces in a way that allows you to undermine them in pursuit of some public good. Even if it's really risky or dangerous.

"That moral narrative at the heart of video games was part of his preadolescence and formed part of his moral understanding of the world and one's obligation as an individual."