ExtremismOnly Playing: Extreme-Right Gamification

Published 1 October 2021

Extremist ideas inspire violence in a few, but for the many, participation increasingly resembles a consequence-free game separate from reality. “As technologies develop further, either in the form of Facebook’s metaverse or other forms of mixed or augmented reality that blur the line between online and offline, the potential disconnect between play and real-world violence is only going to grow more acute,” experts say.

Video games and right-wing extremism (RWE) seem inseparable.

CREST Research says that  new study by Ben Lee, a CREST researcher, shows that multiple links have been documented between extreme-right violence and video-game cultures. These include the appearance of terrorist manifestos with references to video games, modifications to popular games to bring them into line with extreme-right values, the presence of extremists on gaming platforms, and a misogyny-laced controversy in video gaming that did much to politicize and radicalize far-right spaces.

Historically, research has documented attempts to develop bespoke RWE video games, and at present, 2GenPro (formerly 2Genderz Productions) is marketing the game Jesus Strikes Back 2 for the price of $14.88. The game offers purchasers the chance to kill demons, vegans, and socialists.

As with Jihadist propaganda, video games have also been incorporated into extreme-right propaganda, often as a source of memes or, in some cases, used to re-stage terror attacks at an elaborate level of detail, right down to the choice of weapons and music. These developments are commonly subsumed under the heading of gamification.

Although the concept of gamification has a specific meaning, it has come to be used often as a catch-all term for references to video game culture within extremist circles and the incorporation of video-game-like elements into participatory systems.

However, gamification is also a way into a deeper understanding of extremist participation, one in which participation in extremist subcultures offers protagonists a game-like experience.

Mixed Reality
Following Facebook’s attempt to operationalize the concept of a metaverse – shorthand for an ever-closer fusion of the real and virtual worlds borrowed from the influential cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash – there has been an uptick in interest in the consequences of these technologies.

An article in Wiredmagazine suggests that the ongoing global pandemic, with its prohibition on physical mixing, has accelerated some of these trends, adding a virtual layer onto everyday life and likening it to a mixed-reality game blending real and virtual elements.

Examples of previous mixed-reality or related pervasive games include Pokémon GO, which for a time brought together large numbers of smartphone-wielding players in physical spaces attempting to catch virtual Pokémon, often not without consequences.

Within the extreme-right, much has been made of the mass migration to and fusion of digital platforms around extremist participation.