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News IntelBrief: Incels and the Gaming-Radicalization Nexus



Nov 24, 2017
In short - censorship good

Bottom Line Up Front In a landmark case, an Ohio man – Tres Genco – became the first “incel” to be convicted of a federal hate crime in the U.S. last month and was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison. While there are incel-specific games, incels play various non-incel-themed games, and misogyny is deeply embedded in the gaming community. The susceptibility to extremist ideologies is partly facilitated by “identity fusion,” where individuals’ personal and gaming identities become increasingly interlaced. Considering market predictions of the increasing popularity of virtual reality headsets and the proliferation of AI applications in almost every digital product, extremist content could become more immersive, automated, and efficient, requiring less manpower for greater reach.

a landmark case, an Ohio man became the first “incel” to be convicted of a federal hate crime in the U.S. last month and was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison. Tres Genco, a self-described “incel,” or “involuntarily celibate,” had reportedly planned to commit a mass shooting targeting women at an Ohio university campus. Incels define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one and tend to harness extreme resentment. His manifesto, which he wrote in August 2019, stated that he hated women and that he would “slaughter out of hatred, jealousy, and revenge.” Although the plot was never carried out and Genco was arrested in 2021, prosecutors believed he intended to carry out the plans fully. Many incels, including Genco, frequent bespoke online forums which thematically focus on their experiences as incels, “blackpilling” each other, and promoting misogynistic views. Numerous incels who committed violent attacks against women were active on these forums prior to their assaults. The Black Pill philosophy common on these forums emerged as a counterpoint to the Red Pill ideology within the manosphere – a variety of often interconnected websites, blogs, and online forums that promote misogyny, masculinity, and an opposition to feminism. Initially driven by incels conducting pseudoscientific experiments to prove that dating was only viable for exceptionally attractive men, Black Pill adherents often entertain suicidal or violent thoughts, viewing it as the only escape from their perceived isolation, particularly from women. However, the radicalization of incels is not limited to forums in the manosphere. Gaming and gaming adjacent platforms such as Discord, Steam, Twitch, and DLive, are also hotbeds for incels to connect and promote their narratives. According to research by the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) in 2021, incels use gaming adjacent platforms to “connect to each other via private servers to communicate but also share potentially harmful content.” While there are incel-specific games, including "Incel: The Game," and "Dark Hero Party,” incels play various non-incel themed games and are deeply embedded in the gaming community. In addition to traditional gaming, participants in online incel forums also discuss playing sex simulation games, a form of degrading, violent, and interactive pornographic content. The misogynist subculture in gaming is not a novel phenomenon. The misogynistic harassment campaign Gamergate shows one extreme example of the misogyny-gaming nexus and its considerable offline impact. This decentralized but coordinated harassment campaign – attributed largely to right-wing male gamers – targeted women in the video game industry and led to doxing, death threats, swatting attempts, and threats of sexual violence. Incels are not the only online community deeply intertwined with gaming culture, various extremists including those adhering to accelerationism, antisemitism, white supremacy, and other various ideologies on the far-right are intertwined in this culture. According to studies of this phenomenon, it is the formation of tight-knit communities within gaming spaces that can facilitate the socialization processes conducive to radicalization, especially when high levels of misogyny, toxicity, or unmoderated extremist content characterize these communities. In a study by Rachel Kowert, Alexi Martel, and William B. Swann, the susceptibility to extremist ideologies is found to be in-part facilitated by “identity fusion,” where individuals' personal and gaming identities become increasingly interlaced. Moreover, the tight-knit nature of gaming communities, coupled with an environment where members often try to “one up” or "outbid" one another, can also lead to security risks, even when there is a seeming lack of motivation by extremist ideology. Jack Teixeira, a 22-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, pleaded guilty in early March for carrying out what is believed to be one of the most serious U.S. national security breaches in recent years. Teixeira leaked classified military documents over the course of a few months to a closed online community in Discord under the username “TheExcaliburEffect” - allegedly to impress a group of friends on the platform who bonded over gaming and guns. The leaked documents held highly classified information, including a range of documents from details on troop movements in Ukraine to Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Although Teixeira’s motivations for leaking the documents seem to be linked to a desire to impress his online community, the reported presence of racist and xenophobic memes and jokes in the closed-channel he was a part of on Discord demonstrates the interconnected and overlapping nature of specific extremist ideologies and online communities. Gaming is an inherently multisensory, immersive experience that, when riddled with violence or slanted by an extremist ideology, can be more impactful than a simple propaganda text or image in the radicalization process. According to a report by the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) on the intersection between gaming and violent extremism, simulations created by extremists in otherwise neutral games like The Sims and Minecraft allow players to experience the Christchurch massacre from the shooter’s perspective. Meanwhile, in Roblox, a system that allows users to program and play games created by themselves or other users, extremists have created “white ethnostates”. Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist, has explained how far-right extremists use popular games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Call of Duty to recruit and radicalize marginalized youth experiencing social isolation. Additionally, in games that aren’t aligned with any particular extremist ideology, recruiters try to leverage the game characters in analogies to ease the target into the extremist ideology. Extremist groups across the ideological spectrum have been known to produce their own video games to present their ideology in an engaging and immersive format. For instance, Islamic State released custom-made content for games like Grand Theft Auto V and military simulators such as Arma 3, allowing players to re-enact acts of terrorism or take up arms as virtual ISIS insurgents. Hezbollah has also created games in which players can experience fighting against the Israeli Defense Forces or ISIS. The rise in hateful rhetoric within online gaming communities, including antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech, suggests that gaming spaces can reflect broader societal trends and sometimes serve as a medium for the spread of extremist ideologies. Considering market predictions of the increasing popularity of virtual reality headsets, especially among gamers, and the proliferation of AI applications in almost every digital product, extremist content could become more immersive and more automated, and efficient, requiring less manpower for greater reach. The notion of AI-driven game characters capable of enticing, radicalizing, and indoctrinating individuals is not merely speculative; it presents a realistic possibility in today's technologically advanced landscape.


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