In this episode of the Tech Against Terrorism Podcast, Maygane Janin and Flora Deverell discuss how terrorist and violent extremists exploit gamification and gaming culture for their own ends. They are joined by Linda Schlegel, a senior editor at The Counterterrorism Group and a regular contributor for the European Eye on Radicalization, where she recently published a number of articles on the exploitation of gaming culture. They also welcome Dr Nick Robinson, an associate professor in politics and international studies at the University of Leeds who has been researching the links between videogames, social media, militarism, and terrorism for over a decade.
Together, they address in particular the “gamification of radicalisation,” the exploitation of gaming culture and gaming platforms by terrorists and violent extremists, and dwells on how terrorist organisations have in the past developed their own video games.
From Call of Duty to World of Warcraft, terrorists and violent extremists are increasingly exploiting gaming culture, especially popular first-person shooter video games, to radicalise and recruit new followers, as well as to desensitise users to violence. To do so, they especially rely on what is known as “gamification”, the introduction of gaming elements such as collecting points and leader boards into a non-gaming setting. Popular images, speech and references common to the gaming environment, are thus exploited by extremist groups so that their ideology and messaging resonate with their target audience.
In line with this exploitation of gaming culture, many violent extremists are also exploiting online gaming platforms, which host live streaming and discussion forums. These online gaming platforms are used by violent extremists to try reinforcing community ties amongst existing violent extremist communities, and to deliver their propaganda to young players – a favourite target audience for terrorists and violent extremists, and the main user base of gaming platforms.
First person shooter games are also particularly popular amongst terrorists and violent extremists, creating the feeling that the player is actually in the perpetrator’s spot controlling the action. The popularity of first-person perspective shooter games amongst terrorists and violent extremists is particularly striking in the live-streaming trend seen in many far-right motivated attacks, which often relies on first-person shooter perspective. The 2019 Christchurch massacre being an infamous example of such practice.
Particularly underpinning these strategies of gamification and exploitation of gaming culture, is the blurring of the line between reality and games. As Junaid Hussain, a British Muslim who went to Syria to fight for ISIS, once tweeted, “You can sit at home and play Call of Duty or you can come and respond to the real Call of Duty… the choice is yours.” It was an effective piece of propaganda, as it appealed to a disaffected and disengaged generation for whom the online world was every bit as real as the one around them, and as it also promised an easy and relatable path to glory for those who craved excitement and recognition.
Linda Schlegel (@LiSchlegel):