There are three constants in life; death, taxes and the constant claims that video games are corrupting our children. Now a recent video released to the internet that appears to be a trailer for an ISIS video game has the likes of Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the Murdoch empire licking their lips.
The video opens with a quote that roughly translated reads “We do the things you do in video games, in real life on the battlefield” and appears to have been made by using a modified version of Grand Theft Auto V. The video then shows ISIS fighters engaging in a number of violent actions, such as attacking military convoys, firing at soldiers with high-powered sniper rifles and pulling police offices from cars before shooting them to death – all the while interspersed with the ISIS logo. According to the Egyptian newspaper, El Fagr, the video was designed to raise “the morale of the Mujahideen” and to aid in the “training of children and young teenagers to fight the West”.
It remains unclear whether the Islamic State has genuine intentions to break into the video game market or if this video is merely a flash in the pan, but it shows that ISIS have recognised the untapped potential of video games as a propaganda tool. It’s manipulative, exploitative and disgraceful, but it’s nothing the West hasn’t been doing for years.
Whether you subscribe to the belief that video games lead to a corruption of minds or not, there can be no denying that violence is trivialised in franchises such as Grand Theft Auto. We don’t need ISIS to do that for us. The real danger is the underlying propaganda of franchises such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Previously filling a niche in the market, these games have expanded into gargantuan franchises every bit the equal of the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Fifa. Coinciding with this emergence has been the shift from a World War Two setting to a near-future scenario. With a new era came new foes, the most popular choices seemingly emerging from the zeitgeist – a resurgent, ultranationalist Russia and extremist, Islamist nations. These games have stigmatised both Russia and the Middle East, casting them as enemies of peace, democracy and freedom with seemingly no exceptions. Not only this, the games glorify and legitimise the interventionist actions of the West in the Middle East – regime change and the invasion of sovereign nations seem to be the order of the day. With Call of Duty: Ghosts, the latest offering from the franchise shifting $1 billion to retailers in 24 hours, it’s fair to say it’s spreading its message a little farther than ISIS.
ISIS’ video is only the latest in a string of social media strategies aimed at spreading their message, but with this campaign they’re not breaking any new ground, they’re just playing the West at their own game.