Mind the gap: what we know and what we don’t know about gambling and radicalization

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gaing and its potential (mis)use by extremist actors is the new hot topic in radicalization and extremism studies. After the 2019 far-right attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, and subsequent attacks in El Paso and Halle were broadcast live as a “Let’s Play” video of a shooter in first-person perspective, researchers, policy makers and actors working on preventing and/or countering (violent) extremism (P/CVE) have begun to pay more attention to the game and its potential use by extremist actors. The three years since the Christchurch attack have seen a surge in interest in the issue of gambling and extremism – a trend that continues. However, despite this increased attention, how and why games, game content and game-related spaces are used by extremist actors and the prevalence of the issue remain opaque. Considerable research will be required before a final verdict on a potential link between gambling and extremism can be reached. Therefore, when talking about gambling and extremism, everyone should pay attention to gaps in knowledge and be careful not to jump to conclusions without having obtained the required evidence.

According to Radicalization Awareness Networkextremist actors seem to use game-related content and spaces in six ways:

  • Custom video game production: Since the early 2000s, various extremist and fringe organizations have produced and published bespoke video games. This includes both far-right and right-wing actors as well as jihadist groups. While drawing attention to themselves and perhaps radicalizing some people may have been part of the reason for producing bespoke games, these games often also catered to those who are already friendly group opinions.
  • Modification of existing (popular) video games: Because custom-made video game production is expensive and requires extensive game design knowledge, modifications (“mods”) of existing video games are a more feasible and therefore popular alternative. Such modifications make it possible, for example, to recreate the Holocaust or to play the Christchurch attack in popular games.
  • The use of communication in the game: Extremists are also suspected of using in-game communication channels such as chats or other networking features. They may be doing this in order to grooming users, encouraging them to join other communication channels established by their group (such as Telegram channels), or fly under the radar of authorities as in-game real-time chat communication is notoriously difficult to monitor and to moderate.
  • Presence on game-related platforms: Gaming related platforms such as Discord, Twitch, DLive, Steam and others have been used by extremist actors in a variety of ways including internal communication, event and assault planning, live streaming of attacks and propaganda , verification of new group members and fundraising. He is assumed that these platforms are used for both strategic and organic reasons. Strategically, a presence on such platforms, which attract millions of users to their site daily, makes sense to reach the widest possible audience. Options for private communication channels (e.g. private Discord servers) and policing difficulties, e.g. live streaming content and real-time communication, add to the strategic appeal of these spaces. However, it is likely that some radicalized people also organically inhabit gaming-related platforms – either because they used them before their radicalization, or because they like video games, or because they enjoy the type of atmosphere and digital community in (parts of) these spaces.
  • Incorporate game cultural references into propaganda: The game’s cultural references have been used in propaganda for years. For example, jihadist organizations such as the so-called Islamic State not only produced propaganda videos mimicking the visual style of first-person shooters, but made explicit references to popular games such as Call of Duty in images posted on the networks social. The aim is to exploit the popcultural appeal of video games by reaching out to a young audience, who not only are familiar with these references, but who can be attracted by the “freshness” of popular video game content.
  • Gamification: Gamification is defined as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts” and refers to the transfer of game components such as points, leaderboards, quests, guilds, or badges into traditionally non-game contexts considered play spaces. Gamification has been used by extremist actors in various contextsincluding, for example, a “radicalization progress bar” in jihadist forums, the organization of “trolling raids” in far-right Discord servers, attempts to create a radar-mimicking app of Pokémon Go to connect like-minded “patriotic” individuals, or the “achievements” detailed in the manifestos of far-right writers.

However, despite these findings, there are still many unknowns about gambling and extremism. So far, most ideas on this issue have been based on anecdotal evidence or small pilot studies. The scope and prevalence of the use of games, game content and game spaces by extremists remains opaque. Additionally, it’s unclear why extremists populate gaming spaces: are these spaces just another digital space like Instagram or is there something unique about gaming that attracts these actors? The question of whether the content of games in propaganda can have an impact on radicalization is another area, in which much more research is needed before a judgment can be made with an acceptable degree of certainty.

Another question that deserves more attention is how P/CVE actors can use game spaces, game content or video games as such to prevent the actions of extremist actors. Gaming can and should be used to have a positive impact and P/CVE actors have various options, including producing their own video games, being present on gaming-related platforms, live streaming, gamifying their content or using gaming references in their public outreach. campaigns. However, we know even less about the promises, opportunities and challenges of gambling and P/CVE than about gambling and extremism. Again, much more research is needed to adequately judge the issue.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that the attention given to the subject of gambling and extremism is disproportionate to the current evidence. We need to be aware of and consider the gap in our understanding of how gambling and extremism might be linked. New initiatives such as the Extremism and Gambling Research Network help fill those gaps, but we are not there yet. Therefore, while gambling and extremism are likely to remain a key issue, their relative importance compared to other areas of concern should not be overstated until new evidence allows the implications of gambling to be more accurately judged. extremist use of play spaces and discussed content. above.

[Photo by Monika Baechler / Pixabay]

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