top of page

PLAYING AGAINST RADICALIZATION



THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF VIDEO GAMES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR P/CVE


Gaming is one of the most popular leisure time activities and billions of gamers play with and against each other, watch others play video games, or spend time on gaming-related digital platforms. While the vast majority of gamers are peaceful, the 2019 right-wing extremist attack in Christchurch (New Zealand) and the subsequent discovery that extremist actors are seeking to exploit digital gaming spaces for their ends, has caused concern that gaming could potentially contribute to radicalization processes. While research efforts on gaming and extremism are still in their infancy, the last years have shown that extremist actors use gaming in various ways, including the production of bespoke games, the modification of existing games, the use of in-game communication features, the presence on gaming (-adjacent) platforms, the use of video game references and aesthetics in propaganda output, and the gamification of digital spaces.


Unsurprisingly, the discourse on the potential nexus between gaming and extremism does not only involve discussions on how extremist actors are seeking to exploit gaming in various ways, but also how this exploitation may be prevented and how gaming may be used for positive interventions such as increasing democratic attitudes and tolerant perceptions. GameD is a pilot project seeking to utilize gaming to make a positive impact in the context of preventing and countering (violent) extremism (P/CVE) and develop a game-based intervention to support the development of positive attitudes towards democracy. While several games with P/CVE-related content exist, these games are often focused on education rather than entertainment. They are often text-heavy, employ simple graphics, are based on a static game world and linear storyline, use relatively simple mechanics and controls, afford players only binary choices, and prioritize serious topics over fun and engaging gameplay. GameD seeks to go beyond existing P/CVE video games and design a game that is a true entertainment-education experience, i.e. a game with education content that is genuinely appealing and entertaining to create a genuine gaming experience. To do so, the project is anchored in a thorough understanding of the existing literature on video game design, player types and differences, the psychological appeal of video games and which factors may satisfy players’ emotional needs, and insights into the positive effects video games are able to elicit.


A recent GameD report reviews existing literature on the positive effects of gaming in light of the specific needs of the P/CVE field and deduces recommendations for practitioners seeking to develop a bespoke game for the P/CVE context. This includes, most prominently:


Learning & Education

Video games have been successfully used in educational settings to improve a range of learning outcomes. Videogames are viable tools to facilitate learning, because they are more fun than other forms of instruction, provide immediate feedback to the learner, and match the level of difficulty to the players’ abilities, which allows a tailored learning experience and the opportunity for each learner to progress at their own pace. Video games with P/CVE content could build upon existing research on video games’ positive effects on learning and, for instance, seek to increase players’ knowledge about issues surrounding radicalization and extremism or improve their critical thinking skills to inoculate them against online disinformation or conspiracy theories – similar to Moonshot’s digital literacy game Gali Fakta.


Social Outcomes

While the public discourse often focused on the anti-social effects and violent outcomes of playing video games, research has also uncovered a range of positive social outcomes that video games are able to elicit. This includes, for example, the development of social communication skills, a greater willingness for teamwork and collaboration, the decrease of aggression and increase of empathy, and the development of social connections and friendships. Unsurprisingly, it is the content and the narrative underlying the video game that is the strongest facilitator of prosocial outcomes. Current P/CVE games do not usually focus on social outcomes and are often aimed at the individual level only. Future games could, however, seek to facilitate positive social outcomes, e.g. by strengthening feelings of belonging, nudging players to work together, or encouraging intercultural communication.


Attitudes & Perceptions

Research has also uncovered that video games can impact players’ perceptions and both implicit and explicit attitudes by encouraging perspective-taking and facilitating prosocial attitudes. Here too the games usually elicit such effects via the narrative that guides the gameplay. P/CVE actors could seek to facilitate the development of positive attitudes in players, e.g. by encouraging perspective-taking with out-groups, and the decrease of negative perceptions, e.g. by seeking to reduce stereotypes or Manichean worldviews.


Behaviour

Lastly, studies on the positive effects of video games have uncovered that video games may support positive behaviour change, e.g. by encouraging players to make health-related behavioural adjustments for a healthier lifestyle or by reducing anti-social behavioural tendencies. Importantly, video games may be able to both reduce negative behaviour and facilitate positive behavioural choices. P/CVE actors could seek to facilitate desired behavioural changes, especially regarding the reduction of anti-social behaviour and increase in prosocial behaviour to advance their prevention aims.


Crucially, there are not the video game effects. Because video games are so diverse and span a number of different genres, their effects are far from uniform. Hence, when designing a serious game, it is important to ask which game is most suitable to elicit which effects. Similarly, there are also not the video game players. Players have vastly different preferences, personality traits, different motivations to play a certain video game, and seek to fulfil different psychological needs through the gaming experience. Consequently, while research has uncovered a multitude of positive effects video games are able to have on players, individual reception is contingent upon the type of game and the player type of any given user and cannot be fully predicted.


Overall, the existing research clearly demonstrates that video games can elicit a range of positive effect. P/CVE actors could seek to leverage these positive effects in the video games they design. To do so, it is recommended that:

  • Even serious games must be enjoyable and entertaining in their own right to elicit persuasive effects. This means that good game design is key and cooperation between P/CVE actors and game designers and other gaming experts is crucial. Current P/CVE games are often simple, text-heavy, and offer only binary choices, suggesting that there is room for improvement in the games’ entertainment appeal.

  • Ideally, P/CVE games should cater to different player types and should allow players to fulfil important psychological needs such as competence, autonomy, and relatedness as well as offer motivational drivers for engagement.

  • Existing research points to a variety of positive effects video games can elicit and, consequently, the goals serious games may seek to achieve can range from educational outcomes to shaping or changing attitudes, facilitating positive social outcomes, and even influencing behaviour. This suggests that P/CVE games could seek to elicit similar effects. However, more research is needed on how games can support P/CVE-specific aims and outcomes.


Linda Schlegel ist Research Fellow bei modusIzad und Doktorandin an der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. Ihre Forschungsschwerpunkte sind narrative Kampagnen gegen Extremismus, digitale Radikalisierungsprozesse sowie Gaming/Gamification und (Counter-)Extremismus.

Commentaires


Socia Media Intelligence
bottom of page