One of the more nuanced, and frankly more reasonable, arguments about video games and violence is that people who have a hard time sorting fantasy from reality, or prefer the fantasy to the reality, may try to seek out similar experiences. That’s fair, especially with games that purport to be realistic, and there are some serious ethical issues to consider. That said, any line of reasoning can be followed right off a cliff, which is something the New Yorker did in what’s otherwise a fascinating piece every gamer should read.
Essentially, Jay Caspian Kang breaks down how terrorist groups are using the grammar and style of first-person shooters to create recruitment materials. It’s gut-wrenching stuff:
The similarities between ISIS recruitment films and first-person-shooter games are likely intentional. Back in June, an ISIS fighter told the BBC that his new life was “better than that game Call of Duty.” Video-game-themed memes traced back to ISIS have been floating around the Internet for months, including one that reads, “THIS IS OUR CALL OF DUTY AND WE RESPAWN IN JANNAH.” (“Respawn” is the gamer word for reincarnate.) Another ISIS video, as the Intercept notes, looks like a deliberate homage to Grand Theft Auto. Audio clips that sound much like ones in Call of Duty have been spliced into other ISIS videos.
It’s weirdly funny even as it’s horrible because, in theory, groups like this are opposed to American influence, and there’s nothing more American in pop culture than the unreconstructed AMERICA F*** YEAH attitude of Call of Duty. But then it ends with this:
How many frustrated kids whose only outlets for aggression are Call of Duty, sports, or hip-hop will take a disastrous step in illogic and see ISIS as the real-life evocation of those fantasies?
Oh, for the love of Cortana. Really?
It’s not like this isn’t a researched topic. Although psychologists freely admit that the study of terrorists is more about guesswork and theory than hard data, they do point to a few unifying factors, none of which involve controllers, beats, or watching football. Instead, not shockingly, it tends to be a combination of deeper cultural factors, a belief that they are being wronged and that “traditional” channels offer no way to correct these wrongs, and family who encourage them. The New Yorker’s own example had a father arrested in connection with terrorist attacks in Africa.
Add to this that any organization out recruiting, from the armed forces to neo-Nazis, knows very well: It’s pretty easy to find young men, make them angry, and convince them to direct that anger where you want it to go.
Culture is a reflection of the people who consume and contribute to it, and it always has been. Video games aren’t making it easier for ISIS to recruit angry young men; they’re just following what the angry young men happen to do to have fun to try and get their attention. One of the fundamental problems with how our society approaches entertainment is that they use it to avoid discussing effective solutions, and it’s a shame to see that mentality permeate an otherwise smart piece about a real issue.