The Danger of Games as Recruiting Tools

The Islamic State has been in the news a great deal recently. Even now, they are pushing further into the Syrian border town of Kobane. They have a huge and powerful workforce of committed Jihadists, with more new recruits swelling their ranks at every turn. In Britain, there are constant reports of sympathetic young Muslims, male and female, flying out to Syria in order to help their comrades. I imagine that the reports are not dissimilar for other countries. Their propaganda machine, comprised of a growing number of social network volunteers, seven television stations in Raqqah and Mosul, television channels broadcasting in both Arabic and English, has been described by United States Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson as “very slick.” With the coverage of social media, they are able to bypass a country’s borders and strike as both a message of terror and as a recruiting tool. People are disgusted by videos of decapitations, and share them, spreading further discord. We face a growing threat of Jihadists from within our own borders attacking randomly. Beyond social media there is also the power of video games. A trailer for the group’s appropriation of Grand Theft Auto V as a Jihad simulator was rapidly taken up by world media. What can we do to stop it, and what is its effect?

The Islamic State’s game is not yet released, but the trailer appeared to show a modded version of Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode, replete with the same locations, but with fighters shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they attack United States troops. The background to the game also features the stylised Islamic State logo with Grand Theft Auto written underneath. Whether or not we look at it as a competitive game, with a strong future in the Christmas holiday season and a high score on Metacritic, is irrelevant. What the game does have is power, power to stir the world’s media into a frenzy, passing story after story about its contents and moreover, how the game shows the issues of video games themselves. Unnecessary, but perhaps a valid point made by the media, is that the games are linked to violence. More important is that the media are doing the job of the Islamic State’s propaganda for them. Much as with the sharing of collective disgust, and sharing of videos, on social media, we ourselves propagate the message of the Islamic State as much as they do. In this article, I wholly admit that, alas, I too am contributing.

The Islamic State’s Propaganda machine is slick, and it definitely is effective. They use the tools of the twenty first century against their creators, with thrilling success. Complain what you will about their convoys of petty jalopies, and how a single predator could kill a hundred of them in a missile strike, but as far as their ability to sow worry and fear is concerned, they are dangerous. With their video game, IS target children. Locked in a house all day while their parents work, a video game allows the youths of today to relax in an almost passive state. Subliminally then, the Islamic State’s game could talk to them, convincing them of the apparent benefits of Jihad. A background, a shout, all of these things can enter into the child’s mind and alter it. On television, many European countries have banned advertisements that target children, or heavily restricted the hours in which they can be shown. The reason: children a more susceptible. A game is an advertisement. It is a slick advertisement. I imagine that on the right of this very article, there’s an advertisement to play a game, often with animation. We are more susceptible to interaction, because we become immersed in our being controlled.

A scene from the trailer

There’s no doubt that the Islamic State’s game is dangerous, but the real question is how dangerous, and what can be done about it. In addition to an increasingly “social” world, we also face a world in which it is increasingly more difficult to retain secrets as secrets, and removing them is harder still. The Fappening, the name given to the event recently in which many celebrities had nude snapshots of themselves leaked, showed that most information on the internet is not secure, or private. It’s not difficult to look up security manuals once you understand the operation of Tor, or even Jihadist ones. I don’t, but it’s possible that you could if you were inclined that way. How does this affect Islamic State Jihadists? A game such as theirs wouldn’t be sold, or distributed on any normal channels. There would be no Steam Summer Sale to look forward to. Torrents would be the primary method of accessing their data, and more and more, we are a society comfortable with using torrents. The thing with torrents, however, is the difficulty in exterminating them. For every mirror you destroy, another appears. Servers are often hidden. All it takes is a single man, or woman, to replace something taken down, again and again. A Jihadist game would exist, and keep existing, no matter how hard we tried to remove it.

The game features the IS logo next to the words Grand Theft Auto

Another thing with the games and children is inquisitiveness. Much as with anything experienced, there’s an inherent fascination within children that, while not totally extinguished by adulthood, is often diminished by it. A game about Jihadists would certainly entice children by its difference, the allure of the illegal, forbidden. And with a technologically literate youth, they would not struggle to acquire it. Subliminal messaging then works its way into their minds, and they could be persuaded to take up arms. Or I’m insane.

Not really. Hate preachers are effective, especially with youth. As a child there are plenty of things that we are angry about. We’re frustrated in many ways, often with our parents, our friends, ourselves. And yet, constantly, we’re made to feel we should feel we have everything. We shouldn’t be angry but, at the same time, we must be. We have to let this anger out somehow. It is the mindless aggression towards authority, but it is the aggression felt keenly anyway. We have to have something to fight for, much as we have to have something to believe in. Not religion, per se, but something. We need to have a problem to solve. Hate preachers provide us with a problem and something to believe in, and therein lies their attraction. They make us feel as though we can truly contribute to the progress of society and force change. We exist to force change; as soon as we cease to effect it, we cease to live. Hate preachers style themselves as liberators, because in this instance, the people will not liberate themselves.

So then, the allure of the game is in its readiness to be played, its accessibility, and its ability to appeal to children. It is the hate preacher in the living room. We are constantly bombarded with information telling us to rise up, and perhaps some of us will. It’s slick; it’s effective. It’s invincible; it’s repulsive. We cannot do anything about it, only to try and protect ourselves and those around us from its influence. Yet it’s worked. It’s already done its job, all of this IS propaganda. I’m scared, you’re scared, we’re all so damn scared. And for a child like me, who never knew the Cold War, I’m beginning to see that this is what people meant when they said terror.

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