Nicolas Hanisch


Radicalization in gaming - a real problem?

Inhuman agitation and anti-constitutional symbols in gaming that are disguised as fun - when it comes to radicalization via gaming platforms, many gamers feel that they are under general suspicion and trivialize the problem. Are they right?

Young man playing computer game.

A threat from a foreign power, a struggle for life and death, war aesthetics. These are all central elements of many video games.

A threat from a foreign power, a struggle for life and death, war aesthetics. These are all central elements of many video games, especially first-person shooters. First person shooters are games in which you have to kill or shoot enemies from the first person perspective with various weapons. At the same time, however, they are also breeding grounds for propaganda. Right-wing extremist groups have already recognized the potential of games and their communities. They misuse them to spread their ideologies and recruit new followers.

Expanding the limits of what can be said

It often begins with innocuous statements in forums or comment columns. If gamers hop on, initial fraternization effects are achieved. Once a sense of community is established, the content becomes increasingly extreme. Homophobic “jokes” are followed by racist, antisemitic or other discriminatory statements, often disguised with irony or satire.

Jan-Paul Koopmann, editor at taz and one of the authors of the book “Rechte Ego Shooter. Von der virtuellen Hetze zum Livestream-Attentat” (in English: Right-wing ego shooters. From virtual agitation to livestream assassination), explains: "Strongmen acts and glorification of violence do not have to be taken seriously at first - here and there maybe even critically ironic - and still have the effect of expanding the limits of what can be said." The goal is to test out what triggers strong reactions. Chats simplify this exploration process. "Everything happens ‘in the heat of the moment’, is usually not documented and is long forgotten at the end of the game." Words are accessories, the focus is on the game. And especially that is very dangerous: Discriminatory statements are not taken into account and are therefore tolerated unquestioned.

Subsequently, the exchange often shifts to less regulated platforms such as Discord or Telegram. This is shown by the “Reconquista Germanica” case. Under this name right-wing radicals joined forces on Discord. Their aim: support posts by like-minded people in social media, provoke and weaken “opponents”. They used the game logic for their actions and users collect points for hate comments including a rise in the military hierarchy.

A real problem or negligible?

One thing is clear: right-wing extremists are a minority on gaming platforms - but a loud one. While other areas of society have already developed defense mechanisms and clearly distance themselves from right-wing extremist currents, there are tendencies among gamers to trivialize right-wing extremist forums, comments, images and player names. The majority of them just want to gamble and are annoyed by debates about "killer games" and radicalization.

All the more, this means that extremist groups have an easy time and rarely have to face the consequences. In contrast to traditional social media, gaming platforms are not covered by the Network Enforcement Act and are not moderated much.

For more variety in gaming

But not every gaming community automatically becomes a gateway for right-wing hatred. More and more publishers and platforms are sanctioning discriminatory content and banning players. There are also counter-movements that are deliberately anti-racist, feminist or LGBTQ-friendly. Initiatives such as “Good Gaming – Well Played Democracy” or “Hier spiel Vielfalt” (in English: "Here is where diversity plays") set important signals for diversity and against exclusion and right-wing extremist radicalization in gaming. Out of the gaming industry and together with gaming communities, they become active in order to promote precisely those defense mechanisms that have become normal in other areas - adopting an attitude, setting limits, showing moral courage. So that gaming platforms remain what they are for most gamers: fun, leisure time and get in touch with others.

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