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The Radicalisation of Digital Playgrounds: The Need for Multistakeholder Dialogue

The Radicalisation of Digital Playgrounds: The Need for Multistakeholder Dialogue
17th April 2024 Rachel Kowert
In Insights


The potential nexus between gaming and radicalisation into extremism has become a hot topic for scholars, tech companies, policymakers, and organisations working on preventing and countering (violent) extremism (P/CVE). The last few years have seen a stark increase in research and monitoring efforts to explore how and why extremists seek to exploit digital gaming spaces. While it is clear that video games do not cause radicalisation and a new ‘video game panic’ is uncalled for, current evidence points to a range of extremist activities connected to gaming and gaming culture. 

This includes, but is not limited to, the production of bespoke video games by extremist groups, the modification of existing video games for propagandistic purposes and to re-enact past terrorist attacks, the use of in-game communication and networking features to reach and potentially groom (young) gamers, the instrumentalisation of gaming and gaming-adjacent platforms to disseminate propaganda and connect with like-minded individuals, and the utilisation of video game aesthetics and gamification elements by extremists. While right-wing actors seem to be particularly involved in digital gaming spaces, there have also been several attempts to exploit the popularity of video games and gaming culture by jihadist groups, e.g. by producing bespoke video games with propagandistic content or appropriating video game aesthetics in their propaganda videos.

This Insight discusses the need for multistakeholder dialogue to address all kinds of extremism in digital gaming spaces. It introduces a recently published foundational text that can provide a common basis for all stakeholders from research, industry, policy, and P/CVE fields to come together and delineate potential avenues for cooperation.


The diverse social spaces associated with video games and gaming culture are of particular interest and concern. These social spaces not only enable radicalised individuals to connect and communicate with each other but may allow extremist actors to identify at-risk individuals, engage potential new supporters, disseminate and normalise hateful and extremist narratives, influence online discourses, and exploit the social affordances of these spaces. Extremist and hateful content has been detected in in-game communication features of popular games such as Minecraft and Roblox, but also on digital platforms associated with or used by gaming communities.

These include game stores and distribution sites such as Steam; video and streaming websites like Twitch, DLive and YouTube Gaming; communication platforms such as Discord and Guilded, and forums such as Reddit/gaming and Mod DB. Just like extremists are exploiting other popular digital platforms such as Instagram or X (formerly Twitter), they are seeking to instrumentalise the online ecosystem of gaming and gaming-adjacent platforms for their ends.

While it is still unclear how systematic the use of digital gaming spaces by extremist actors is, a series of separate studies by UNOCT, ADL, and Take This report that many gamers and users of these digital platforms come across and are affected by propaganda, hateful slurs, extremist narratives, conspiracy theories and harassment. A large number of these users have been subjected to or have witnessed antisemitism, anti-government sentiment, racism, LGBTQAI+ hate, misogyny, white nationalism, and/or xenophobia.

Despite the surge in interest surrounding extremist activities in digital gaming spaces, this research is still in its infancy. Large gaps in our understanding of the phenomenon remain, and systematic efforts to deepen our understanding of extremists’ exploitation of the gaming ecosystem are just starting. In addition, the current knowledge is dispersed across journals, blog articles, and think tank reports, rendering the field highly fragmented and disconnected. The lack of a systematic overview of the current state of knowledge impedes dialogue and limits opportunities for cross-sector cooperation between tech companies and their content moderators, researchers, and P/CVE practitioners to develop effective countermeasures. This is highly problematic; extremist exploitation of digital gaming spaces is a complex issue that requires multistakeholder knowledge exchanges and collaboration. 

The Radicalisation of Digital Playgrounds

Our new edited volume, Gaming and Extremism: The Radicalization of Digital Playgrounds, seeks to overcome this fragmentation and bring together the formerly dispersed research on extremist activities in digital gaming spaces. It provides an overview of what is currently known about the phenomenon, outlines gaps in knowledge and important debates, sketches challenges and opportunities, and provides a shared basis of knowledge and common ground to support cross-sector dialogues. The book brings together extremism and game studies researchers, counter-extremism practitioners, and tech experts to bridge existing divides. It is accessible to readers from all related fields and practices and lays the groundwork for future multi-stakeholder cooperation. 

The book contains information about the digital gaming ecosystem and how it may relate to radicalisation processes; how extremists use video games and modifications; in which ways video games could contribute to recruitment and mobilisation efforts; what we know about extremists’ presence on gaming (-adjacent) platforms and experiences of the gaming community with such content; the use of video game aesthetics and gamification elements in propaganda; (tech) policies aimed at countering extremism in digital gaming spaces, as well as gaming-related P/CVE efforts.

Efforts to systematically research extremist activities in digital gaming spaces are in their infancy, and there are many discussions on how and why extremists seek to exploit these spaces. However, the sheer magnitude and variety of gaming-related extremist content and instrumentalisation of online gaming culture discussed by the book’s contributors suggest that these activities are not isolated incidents. Rather, it becomes apparent throughout the volume that extremists have succeeded in penetrating and exploiting digital gaming spaces in substantial ways. This alone is reason enough for enhanced knowledge sharing and cooperative approaches between researchers, P/CVE practitioners and the tech sector to address extremists’ influence on the discourses in these spaces.

It becomes abundantly clear throughout all contributions to our edited volume that many gamers witness, are subjected to, and are affected by extremist content, toxicity, and hateful narratives disseminated in digital gaming spaces. This suggests that the potential impact of extremist activities in gaming spaces is significant. Not only because extremist actors may seek to spread their views, find new supporters, and radicalise or even recruit new members, but because this phenomenon potentially influences digital gaming spaces as a whole. While the number of individuals at risk of radicalisation may be small, extremist narratives may become normalised in parts of the gaming community, drive non-radicalised individuals out of these spaces, and provide a fertile ground for the spread of toxicity that stands in stark contrast to the connecting and uniting powers of video games.

Challenges and Opportunities for Cross-sector Collaboration

The rise of extremist activities in digital gaming spaces poses a new, complex, and multifaceted challenge for tech companies, policymakers, and P/CVE practitioners. It is crucial to bring all relevant actors together to develop effective countermeasures across all sectors. Doing so requires a shared understanding of the phenomenon, a joint commitment to action, and a shared language to address the issue holistically. 

Notably, while there have been some direct efforts among game industry advocates to empower the industry towards change, the impact of these initiatives is not yet known. Many in the games industry remain hesitant to acknowledge the presence of extremist activity in games, let alone enact policies or strategies to combat it. And while moderation certainly has a place in these discussions, it is not sufficient to debate actions for removing extremist content once it appears. Industry-level shifts are needed to tackle the underlying drivers of extremist activities in digital gaming spaces to support healthy, inclusive gaming communities. Two areas are particularly important: harm mitigation/safety by design efforts and joint efforts to implement effective P/CVE measures in digital gaming spaces.

The good news is there are some pockets of innovation already happening in the industry that we can lean on and grow from. For example, the Fair Play Alliance has been developing their Digital Thriving Playbook for several years to create a resource for developers to design spaces that promote prosocial behaviour. and have opened discussions around industry-wide standards related to ethics and Trust and Safety. Additionally, Activision updated their code of conduct and moderation strategies to better address extremism in games, signalling shifts in how the industry acknowledges and actively addresses these challenges.

In addition, prevention and intervention measures against extremism must be implemented to curb extremists’ influence in digital gaming spaces and make a positive contribution to discourses and communities in these spaces. These efforts require a close collaboration between tech companies and civil society organisations. While gaming-related P/CVE efforts are still in their infancy, several promising approaches are already being tested. This includes ideas on building resilience against extremism in gaming communities, the production of video games to reduce players’ vulnerability to radicalisation attempts or hateful content, online youth work approaches on gaming and gaming-adjacent platforms, and the use of gaming aesthetics in counter-extremist content. It is decisive that such P/CVE interventions complement efforts to remove extremist content and improve harm mitigation and safety by design in digital gaming spaces.

The book is available as an open-access publication and can be downloaded here

Rachel Kowert Ph.D, is a research psychologist, the Research Director of Take This, and a science content creator on YouTube Psychgeist. She is a world-renowned researcher on the uses and effects of digital games and, in her current work, she serves as one of the primary investigators on the first grant-funded project from the Department of Homeland Security about games and extremism. She tweets: @DrKowert

Linda Schlegel is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), where she co-leads the RadiGaMe project and researches extremist activities in digital gaming spaces. She is also a Research Fellow at modusIzad, where she explores new avenues for digital P/CVE approaches, and a founding member of the Extremism and Gaming Research Network (EGRN).