Stop me if you’ve heard this before: video games can cause violence. Although the theory is already somewhat exhausted (unless the United States has to justify a new shooting), this does not mean that the subject has been abandoned. In fact, this week Vice reported that the US Department of Homeland Security awarded a $699,763 grant to a group of researchers to see how games can be used to radicalize youth.
The clear distinction between the study and others like it is that it is not directly accusing the games of generating violence, but the spaces they create for other people to approach and spread a discourse that can generate violence. In other words, the problem is not with GTA for having weapons, but with WoW for that guild full of racists.
“Over the past decade, video games have increasingly become focal points of social activity and identity building for teens and young adults. The relationships that are created and fostered within gaming ecosystems routinely intersect with the real world and are impactful parts of local communities,” reads the description of the grant on the Department of Justice page. “Consequently, extremists have used video games and targeted gaming communities for activities ranging from creating propaganda to mobilizing and training terrorists.”
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The objective of the investigation is to find new ways to monitor and identify the strategies used by these people to turn players into extremists. To be fair, this is an investigation that makes a lot of sense considering recent events. Video game communities have become a major crop of extremists and Nazis. Unfortunately, this is used by other groups to accuse video games of being the source of violence, instead of understanding the social components behind it.
It is not the first study of its kind. The Anti-Defamation League, an organization in the United States that seeks to expose cases of racism against the Jewish community, presented a report showing how Steam was being used to gather and expose extremist ideologies on stream.