Video Game Panic And Islamic Fear Mongering: Together At Last

Video Game Panic And Islamic Fear Mongering: Together At Last

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]


  • That article is concentrated stupid. “Jarret Brachman and Alix Levine [the authors] are managing director and director of research for Cronus Global, a security consulting firm.”

    Clearly it is in their interests to have everybody as paranoid as possible.

    Also, a note to the authors, ‘gamification’ and ‘game theory’ are *not* the same thing.

    • More and more anyone talking about videogames and using the term game theory isn’t talking about the economic/probability/mathematical variety. They mean game design, or maybe ludology. Just in case that’s what you’re thinking of.

      So in that sense, they’re still not the same thing, but you need some game (design) theory to do gamification.

      • Oh, I get exactly what they meant. It doesn’t change the fact that they’ve misappropriated the term ‘game theory’.

        Traditionally, the game design/gamification/social impact/etc is referred to as ‘game studies’, specifically to distinguish it from game theory.

        To paraphrase, Inigo Montoya: “Those words they are using; I do not think they mean what they think they mean.” I get the feeling they’ve used the term ‘game theory’ to give the article a little more weight without providing any more substance.

  • (A small caveat: I generally don’t mind FP’s coverage of actual foreign policy and international politics. Some of it I don’t agree with, but it can be interesting.)

    This article, though, is just silly. More than that, it’s disingenuous. Gaming is “topical”, FP’s readers probably don’t understand it, and this article reads like an attempt to link stuffy academic questions of “what drives jihadists” with the modern world.

    Blaming gamification for terrorism isn’t just a leap of logic, it ignores all the other factors behind radicalisation and jumps straight to the moral panic “human psychology affected by gaming” line (replete with a reference to GTAIV). Aside from the fact that this connection has been disproved by decades of study, attempting to link Islamic violence with gaming smacks of a convenient moral panic.

    “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.”

    Really? Any evidence of this? It wouldn’t be, y’know, radical preaching, economic or social marginalization, lack of access to opportunities or just sheer extreme ignorance? Nope. Gaming. The “drive to win” on an internet forum causes Islamist violence. Who knew?!

    Let’s just ignore the theological and practical mindset behind the justification for violence, and blame it on gamification and “individuals striving to live up to their virtual identities”. Ignore the influence of organisations and claim “competition for virtual points” might result in real-world violence. Disregard the sense of dissatisfaction with US foreign policy in the Arab world and immigrant communities and blame gaming, because, well, it’s new and convenient.

    The authors of this piece seem well qualified, but I’d question severely their argument here. Blaming gamification as a whole for radicalisation ignores the real-world motivating mindset of potential jihadists and makes the mistake of painting gaming as a cause of, not a conduit for, extremist propaganda and teachings.

  • Fearmongers… eh

    Gamification is just a technique used to engage people to the subject. Just because terrorist use a technique, it doesn’t make it bad. I’m sure terrorist greet each other (to engage in converstation) too. Heehee

    Let me tell you about the word “Hello”.

    Terrorists around the world are now greeting each other with the word “hello”. This greeting is fostering a friendly relationship among peers in terrorist groups. The increased spirit among individuals increases comradeship, and terrorists are now focussed more than ever of attacking western civilisation.

    The word “hello” is a dangerous and evil word, and if you use it you are a terrorist. Parents need to spy on their children to see if they greet someone with “hello”, to stamp out this evil behaviour.

    • Specifically the greeting that islamic extremists would use (as would most muslims) would be ‘as salaam alaikum’ – ‘peace [of allah/god (implied)] be upon you’ similar to the passing of the peace at a church.

      It could be interpreted by many “people” as dangerous.

      Then again, we live in a moderate, accepting society that understands other faiths and traditions and wouldn’t over interpret a phrase or excerpt from a holy text now would we…. oh wait =p

  • Wow. That’s bizarre.

    I’d like to know what a moderate, non-gamer American thinks of this.

    The end of the world gets closer and closer…

  • “Awlaki [has managed to]: get Americans to compete with one another to put down their keyboards and pick up their weapons.”

    Pfft, like Americans have any problems picking up weapons.
    Hell, it’s consitutional to “bear arms”.
    Damn, mister terrorist, you done the impossible.

    Whole thing is scaremongering, I’d hate to meet the kind of person who would believe this.

  • Seems a bit of a stretch to make this bout gameification or game theory. Just seems like people with way to much time on their hands trying to seek approval from the similar minded faceless masses. A big popularity contest that only seems to matter to those invloved.

    Sooooo…. when do we get points on TAY 😉

  • I dont understand why you’re upset. Does the article say that ‘Gamification’ is bad? Or just report some facts about how gamification is being used? Mark are you so sensitive that if someone simply refers to something vaguely related to your beloved insustry, you just flip right out? Yeah, the right wingers are crazy …. sheesh.

    • It made me upset too.
      Particularly the second excerpt, which is completely baseless, irrational and grossly misleading. It’s claiming that yes, there has been violent crimes in the past in which video games are directly responsible (SPECIFICALLY teen violence), and that these Islamic extremists are seeking to utilise aspects of “gamification” in the same way that these supposed teens are effected by the Grand Theft Auto games.

      I didn’t bother reading the full FP article; but the paragraphs shown in the article above are void of any kind of facts, nevertheless. It may not be so blatant as some other conservative, fear mongering articles we’ve come to expect, but it’s still no less immoral and disturbing.
      Mark is totally spot on once again, in my most humble of opinions.

  • I remember hearing something a few years ago about how terrorists were using wow and other mmos as training tools. then again you dont even need an mmo. all a terrorist or anyone has to do is get a copy of good ole operation flashpoint cold war crisis and bam instant military training tool thats in use by most of the western powers.

    • It inflates the role of games in terrorism, to put it simply. As if gamification is the sole cause of people online becoming radical.

      Then it throws in GTAIV randomly and out of context, solely to push the link between gaming and violence, suggesting that games brainwash people into continuing their virtual activities in the real world.

      It might play a part, but not to the extent that they’re proposing. They’d have better luck addressing the real-world causes of extremism.

  • “US media outlets are generally terrifyingly Conservative”


    Guess that’s why the vast majority of the US press machine basically turned Obama into a rock star prior to the election that won him the White House.

    I presume it’s also somehow responsible for the passing-off of blatantly liberal biased opinion pieces as “news” – much like this article.

    • You know what, I’ll cop this one on the chin. Maybe I did bring my own politics into this one a bit too much.

      The funny thing about US media is that Liberals complain that the media is right leaning, and conservatives claim the opposite. At the end of the day, I just wanted to highlight a strange off kilter story about games that I thought was interesting, and a bit crazy.

      • With the obvious exception of Fox News, i think the U.S. media is reasonably balanced. They, like media in most countries, will always go after the government of the day (i mean, who cares about the opposition anyway? They’re usually just keeping the benches warm).
        Totally agree with the GTA bit. After all, robberies and murders didn’t exist until GTA came out.

  • it’s blizzard’s fault for making terrorism so fun, I mean the capital city zombie invasion, probably the most fun I had in the 6 years I played WoW.

  • us media is no better than the middle east’s. us attitude is no better, us religion is no better. us soldier brainwashing is no different, who are the bad guys, its getting harder and harder to tell these days

    • Less people get killed in the US when they publish media that is anti-religious. Despite many setbacks, the US strives for equal rights for women, and even though it was founded on Christian ideals, they even allow people to practice whatever religion they want, so long as it doesn’t encourage abuse or murder.

    • Also doesn’t Al Qaeda currently support the U.S. Invasion of Libya? So that would put the U.S. in the same league as the terrorists… right?

  • NOBODY TELL BARBARA AND THE ACL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    US media is screwed up in general. Its a lot of sensationalist bull spun into a bit sized segment to cater to a much larger population that has differing forms of education and different personal views. FP generally rights good articles and I imagine that this is directed to a more domestic audience (like the articles that draw parallels between America and God).

    *cue nerdy bit – my speciality haha*

    What the article is actually referring to is an idea that began being run round similar magazines, papers and blogs around 2002, that with the rapid growth of social networking, extremists could use these as methods of recruiting large numbers of people with very little physical effort, as well as appealing to large numbers of people that would otherwise be very difficult.

    In terms of connection, WoW is no different to a local football team – which is where a large number of british nationals are recruited. It provides a backing where people meet each other in an environment where tensions are running high. It also groups people together with similar personalities. WoW is a tad easier. A person could play from the Kush or Somalia and recruit people in Delaware, Maryland, London or Sydney.

  • You know, I heard a rumor that terrorism dates back to the invention of tic-tac-to, damn those evil game theory progenitor bastards!!


  • So by this articals logic the gamification that exists in the US Government and ARMY is also to blame (for war in general!). No, somethings only wrong if the other side does it! The basis of all war – We are right, they are wrong…

  • Guys – thanks for reading the article. I understand that your community would be interested in the topic and hold strong views on the issue. I have to disagree that pointing out a legitimate trend is the same as fear-mongering.

    Please find that nowhere do I indict “gamification” – which to me is nothing more than a neutral process that is becoming ubiquitously employed online – nor do I indict games nor do I suggest that the participants on these forums are introducing games into their forums.

    My argument is simply that gamified environments are built strategically in order to enhance user experiences, which often helps to increase user engagement. When used for good, it can (per Jane McGonigal), save the planet. When used for hate (see the pro al-Qaeda websites), it can have the opposite effect. This isn’t meant to make you curl under your sheets and cry in terror – it’s just the reality of the pro- al-Qaeda boards. If you dont believe me, log on to a few and see.

    Again, thanks for commenting and, even if you think that the article was “concentrated stupid,” your feedback helps me advance my own thinking about the issue.


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