With about 2.7 billion players Around the world, video game platforms have proven to be an ideal and ever-expanding arena for recruitment, finance, radicalization, and the perfect vehicle to spread extremist ideologies, especially among younger users. This has compelled policy makers and academics not to underestimate the multiplier power of gaming platforms for incentive and recruitment and to pay greater attention to video games and gaming communities as they become a key medium for online radicalization.
The trend of radicalization in the world of gaming has alarmed experts. There are growing concerns that the video game industry is being misused and that many extremist and terrorist organizations have started developing their own video games and gaming forums that serve as effective propaganda platforms for young people.
According to Anti-Defamation League, 23% of gamers are involved in conversations about white supremacy ideology, and 9% are involved in debates about Holocaust denial. Further investigations revealed that some virtual organizations on Steam – the largest and most important gaming platform – were distinctly pro-Nazi and white nationalist. Steam is one of the most profitable digital game content platforms in the world and has around 120 million active users.
According to a Bellingcat Analysis of hacked Discord chats, some white nationalists have become radicalized following their engagement on Discord. According to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank specializing in far-right movements, which has published a Detailed report of gaming communities active on Discord, the age at which young gamers came into contact with extremists was of particular concern – the average age being 15. Additionally, researchers have recently spotted anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia on chat platforms such as DLive and Odysee, where people stream and debate games and then move the conversation to private Telegram channels.
Tech Against Terrorism Researchers discovered that some game platforms allow users to experience the role-playing game of The attack on Anders Behring Breivik in 2011 on the Norwegian island of Utoya, the 2019 mosque shooting in christchurch, and the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Some gaming companies, especially those known for in-game violence, have taken a tougher approach to banning players accused of incitement. Call of Duty, a popular first-person shooter that has over 100 million players, declared that “steps we’ve taken to address racist behavior include banning players for racist and hateful names, implementing new technology, and making it easier for players to report offensive behavior in-game “.
Researchers have examined how right-wing extremists have reinterpreted the popular role-playing video game The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim to fit their racist ideologies. Despite the absence of explicit racist messages in the game, members of the white nationalist forum Stormfront formula their own extremist interpretations, “identifying with one of the games’ races, the Nords, and identifying another, the Elves, as [Jewish].” So while games can incorporate explicit messages, through gameplay and characters, the interactive nature of games allows extremists to creatively manipulate how players experience a certain game. Indeed, the Institute of strategic dialogue report also concluded that there was “limited evidence that gambling played a role in serious strategies of radicalization and recruitment of new individuals to the platform. Instead, the game was mostly referenced in cultural terms, used by members of those servers to find common ground.
Video games allow players to express themselves freely by creating their own uncensored messages. According to Patrick Hermanson from Hope Not Hate, “Young people found a low-cost outlet to appear extreme and gain disproportionate influence and fear from other members. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 13 or 30 year old. Hermansson added: “It’s easy to dismiss as posturing, but these kids are doing damage, they’re running far-right campaigns, they’re producing propaganda and they’re radicalizing other kids.”
Studies have shown that video games and gaming platforms harbor extremist ideologies and that these groups use video games to fund their ideologies and socialize within their own ranks. However, the interactive nature of the game means that passively received messages are unlikely to be ignored. Instead, players can creatively imagine their meaning after engaging in the game. In light of this, tech companies and production houses should not just read the ideological messages conveyed in games, but also investigate and monitor how these games interact with players and the gaming community as a whole.
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