Baseless media attacks on video games we’re used to that. Violent crimes occur, middle-aged men find a way to blame the thing they don’t understand – in this case video games – we get that. Borderline racist Islamic scare-mongering, we also get that. US media outlets are generally terrifyingly Conservative and cater to a bizarre culture of fear. But what happens when you combine the two? This article, The World of Holy Warcraft, happens.
Gamification is, like most buzz words, useful to an extent – but increasingly irritating when used out of context or, in this case, used to fuel a morbidly racist ‘investigation’ into how game mechanics are being used to ensnare Islamic terrorists in waiting. For the uninitiated, ‘gamification’ is the act of inserting game-like mechanics in non-game applications. Your Frequent Flyer points are an act of gamification – forum ‘rep’ points are another example.
Said term is at the centre of the Foreign Policy article. Foreign Policy is a right leaning political magazine in the United States. It features insightful articles titled ‘Stop Whining About Syria And Do Something’, and ‘The Man Who Hates Humanitarian Intervention’.
However, that’s not really relevant right now. What’s relevant is this feature: ‘The World of Holy Warcraft‘. The sub-heading of this article? ‘How al Qaeda is using online game theory to recruit the masses’.
It gets worse.
The online world of Islamic extremists, like all the other worlds of the Internet, operates on a subtly psychological level that does a brilliant job at keeping people like Abumubarak clicking and posting away — and amassing all the rankings, scores, badges, and levels to prove it. Like virtually every other popular online social space, the social space of online jihadists has become “gamified,” a term used to describe game-like attributes applied to non-game activities. It turns out that what drives online jihadists is pretty much exactly what drives Internet trolls, airline ticket consumers, and World of Warcraft players: competition.
According to Foreign Policy video game mechanics are now being used, and are to blame for, a new generation of Islamic terrorists.
The obvious implication of Islamist online spaces becoming gamified is that an increasing number of users are likely to go there and spend more time there. Based on the limited personal information most of these online participants reveal about themselves, however, even the most obsessed seem to limit their play to virtual space. But for a select few, the addiction to winning bleeds over into physical space to the point where those same incentives begin to shape the way they act in the real world. These individuals strive to live up to their virtual identities, in the way that teens have re-created the video game Grand Theft Auto in real life, carrying out robberies and murders.
Video game panic and Islamic fear-mongering – together at last. Right wing media, I have only one question – what took you so long?
By gamifying his followers’ Internet experiences, Awlaki has been able to rally a more engaged online fan club than any other hardcore Islamic extremist to date. Through the creation of an online community of like-minded individuals, al Qaeda has mobilized these e-recruits through a natural process: competing with their peers for status and reputation. Awlaki has used gamification to do what al Qaeda had been unable to do before him, at least in any systematic way: get Americans to compete with one another to put down their keyboards and pick up their weapons.
Foreign Policy – fueling irresponsible moral panic since 1970.
The World of Holy Warcraft [Foreign Policy]