The radicalization of young people and adults by the alt-right has moved beyond online discussion forums and grassroots protests into the virtual reality of video games, particularly in the Western world, through avenues such as Roblox. If left unchecked, these threats can blur the lines between radicalization and terrorism over time. However, despite the widespread grip of this phenomenon, effective government sanctions and policies are largely absent from the public domain. This is so because efforts to dismantle a skewed sense of solidarity and relatedness held between players have yet to be implemented by counterterrorism experts and officials. Instead, although not entirely dedicated, their focus (experts and officials) has mostly remained confined to radical Salafist Islamism promulgated by groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda, or to Hanafi Deobandism by the Taliban, and similar tactics before. adopted by the IS.
Consequently, counter-radicalization strategies and incomplete policy frameworks devised by the state apparatus have provided far-right groups and individuals with sufficient leeway to gradually infiltrate the societal framework and normalize their efforts to dehumanize “others” in a developing dystopian climate.
For example, reports from a video game titled Ethnic cleansing centered around a neo-Nazi skinhead stalking and shooting targets from minority communities – Jews, Mexicans and Africans – in an apparent race war has emerged. National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization created the game in 2002. The virulent rhetoric promoted by its music division’s ad barely scratches the layer of hatred and violent indoctrination that teenagers, especially Americans, have been subjected to. over the years –
“In this game, the race war has already begun. Your character, Will, runs through a ghetto blasting various blacks and spics in an attempt to enter the subway system… where Jews [sic] hid to avoid carnage. Then you can blast the jews as they shout “Oy Vey!” on the way to the command center.
On the other hand, radicalized people have practically tried to recreate far-right terrorist attacks. For example, players playing Roblox have had the opportunity to recreate the horrific mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand that took place in 2019, or the Walmart shootings in El Paso, Texas, during of the same year. Collectively, these terrorist attacks had killed more than 70 unarmed civilians, with the main targets being Muslims in the first instance and Hispanics and Latinos in the second.
Unraveling the Virtual Reality Security Dilemma
While constituting a tiny sample size, these acts of violence underscore the frightening security dilemma facing the trans-Pacific community. At the same time, they highlight the failure of security and law enforcement officials to push policymakers to secure the gaming arena. The former’s initiative is crucial in drawing the attention of governments to the ramifications of the unfettered leeway granted to alt-rightists in virtual reality. Public administrations usually overwhelmed with civil and administrative defense issues might otherwise not give the required attention that this serious issue deserves.
The continued rise of the pandemic and its variants has also paved the way for alt-right leaders to recruit people who have increasingly suffered from anxiety and isolation amid tight restrictions imposed by their governments. They [gamers] are looking for ways to overcome the loss of close ties and a sense of normalcy.
What is more worrying is that officials caught in the midst of these developments have exposed trends that point to a growing security threat, including in the United Kingdom (UK), which has recently witnessed a series of terrorist attacks. Matt Jukes, Chief of the UK Metropolitan Police [Met Police] Counterterrorism Division, presented its findings on alt-right recruitment through video games and the percentage of terrorism arrests last year. For example, far-right individuals accounted for 41% of counterterrorism-related arrests in 2021.
On the other hand, until recent changes to Crusader Kings, a video game created by Paradox, a Swedish company, neo-Nazis were on a rampage, promoting a distorted narrative of the Middle Ages. The second version of this game, launched in 2014, had the option of expelling Jews from a homogeneous Christian kingdom, militarily protected against threats posed by non-whites. Selling at least a million copies in the first year of its launch, it also popularized the rallying cry given by Pope Urban II – Deus Vult or God willing – during the first crusade against the Muslims. However, until Paradox premiered its third season in 2020, it laid the groundwork for a virtual, utopian dystopia, aligning itself with the divisive alt-right agenda.
Since 2016, the populist and far-right wave has swept across North America and Europe to varying degrees. Therefore, it has become more relevant for game makers to rein in neo-fascist and neo-Nazi users who fabricate the truth to fuel the domestic political violence and disorder they thrive on. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism target vulnerable communities that for centuries have been subjected to widespread tyranny and unprecedented violence.
In November 2017, Angry Goy IIa video game published by a white supremacist, Christopher Cantwell, incorporated a mission where users could break inside the HQ of LGBTQ+ Agenda, a gay club, and slaughter everyone there.
Unsurprisingly, the virulent narrative of these video games is directed against women, Jews and Muslims. These are the three categories of individuals whom the alt-right has relegated to positions of second-class citizens, only worthy of serving the “superior” race through absolute submission and the erosion of their individualistic identities. In particular, most of those arrested belong to families belonging to the majority society.
Additionally, forums such as Roblox and Minecraft provided ways for like-minded radicalized individuals to connect with other gamers and embrace the solidarity offered to lone wolves, via interactive games based on Nazi concentration camps. The brotherhood cultivated by alt-right leaders under these circumstances provides disgruntled and isolated individuals with avenues to air their common grievances against a particular community or perhaps the state establishment perceived as unfairly supporting non-believers. -members by adopting racist characters and through the chat. rooms. Despite being taken down a few years ago, specific profiles on Roblox reported by a concerned mother have proactively engaged in spreading anti-Semitic and white supremacist propaganda. One of the users had even developed an avatar of Gavin McInnes, the founder of Proud Boys – a misogynist, neo-fascist and politically violent American organization, whose members participated in the Capitol Hill riots.
Jason Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, had previously raised concerns about such games. He expressed concern that gamers, mainly the younger generation, could be caught up in the jargon and memes promoted by neo-Nazi groups as the latter advance their alt-right extremist agendas. Alex Newhouse, a professor at the same institute, argued that “there are individuals who are actively on the lookout or people who they believe can be turned into mass shooters or terrorists.”
Overcoming the pitfalls of the radicalization of gamers
While several affected users or organizations brought these profiles to light and urged game companies to take strict action, and Roblox hired thousands of content moderators to pursue and remove these instigators, their efforts continued to fail. The challenge is that private companies will continue to fail to prevent their games from becoming hotbeds of radicalization without equitable support from state institutions and legislation. Unfortunately, some companies are also failing in this goal due to their profit-driven strategy to recruit more and more users who, under the radar, link up with alt-right organizations such as British Nationalist Vanguard and The Patriotic. Forehead.
In addition, close coordination and synergy between civil society cyber activists, government officials and private industry is paramount to ensure that a bottom-up approach can compensate where a top-down strategy to counter trolls and alt-right propagandists fail.
In addition, laws consistent with the advice of gaming and cybersecurity experts to minimize opportunities for non-grata people to join and spread harmful content on these forums should be implemented gradually. Specially trained national staff must lead this change. However, the will to institute these reforms is insufficient. Instead, a defined timeline for implementing the desired transformations, backed by a gradual and simultaneous replacement of redundant measures with these redesigns, is equally relevant.
In addition, administrations around the world must work together with game psychologists and judicial branches to constitutionally introduce political reforms to recruit, through an uncontested mechanism, capable people with experience and theoretical knowledge to train a subsection within the bureaucracies. This staff would provide legislators with the relevant knowledge to introduce the above-mentioned revisions. Without filling this gap in this institution, governments will always find it difficult to tackle this task. Additionally, teaching programs detailing the alt-right agenda and its dangers of spilling over into virtual reality should be adequately disseminated in academic institutions to warn the next generation about what the gaming world might entail. .
Moreover, mainstream and local media have an influential role in shaping this discourse. Nationally and regionally, they can relay informative stories about the vulnerability of impressionable youth to radical indoctrination by alt-right propagandists. Additionally, personalized stories from affected families can add a human touch to the counter-response and warn many people to be more vigilant and closely monitor their children’s gambling activities and ideological leanings fabricated by radicalized leaders. . Additionally, NGOs equipped to rehabilitate and re-assimilate affected players into mainstream society should be set up at the local level.
Perhaps just as crucial, if not more crucial, is to reverse the strategy adopted by the alt-right. Gaming platforms used to incite hostility and cultivate an insular attitude among users could also be used to foster inclusivity and accommodation.