It is no secret that video games, much like any other artistic medium, can be used to convey strong messages and ideologies. As history often shows, this inevitably leads to their use as a means of propaganda. The violent ISIS terrorist group sweeping the Middle East has just set out to make their own video game encouraging players to join their ranks. They released a teaser video which appears to be running a modified version of Grand Theft Auto.
The three-minute video posted on YouTube opens with the lines “your games which are producing from you, we do the same actions in the battlefield,” clearly intending to lure naive players who enjoy virtual mayhem. What follows are several scenes of the gameplay, featuring snipers shooting down guards and policemen, as well as military convoys driving through the desert roads and abruptly exploding. Calm music and religious commentary can be heard in the background.
This is not the first time ISIS turns to modern technology to spread their extremist message. Guardian Liberty Voice previously reported how ISIS has taken to both YouTube and Twitter with a new social media campaign. Their tweets and videos have featured many of their captured hostages in order to show their personal view of the group and the ongoing conflict. Many of their videos also, sadly, showcased the hostages’ beheadings. As outdated as their violent ideology of intolerance against western nations is, the group has no qualms about using modern technology of their so-called oppressors to convey it.
However, ISIS terrorists group is not the first organization making a video game to spread their political or militaristic message. The U.S. Army itself has released America’s Army back in 2002, which is a free first-person team-based online shooter pitting U.S. soldiers against middle-eastern insurgent forces in a variety of scenarios. Regardless of which side the players choose, however, their team always appears as the U.S. Army, while the opponents are always the bad guys; there is no way to really play as the enemy of the state. The game has received several updates over the years and is now on its third iteration.
Similarly, the Chinese Giant Network Technology Co. has also developed Glorious Mission, an online combat game intended to convey the “core values” of their People’s Liberation Army. The game put the players in the shoes of their soldiers fighting what appears to be the U.S. military, according to numerous reports. The game was criticized for obvious anti-American and pro-military propaganda. America’s Army attempts just as much, albeit perhaps in a more subtle (and thus cleverer) fashion.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also recently released its own game, albeit of a far simpler and less violent nature. In Mission Majority, the players take on the signature elephant in a colorful 2D platformer, jumping around and defeating mischievous “taxers” in the goal of regaining the Senate majority. Each time a taxer is taken down, a soundclip from one of Obama’s speeches plays out.
Games, inherently, are not an evil medium. They can be used to tell meaningful stories in an interactive fashion, such as The Tales of Two Brothers or Gone Home. They can teach about politics and history, such as Civilization or Europa Universalis series. They can also provide some escapism from the grinds of daily life, such as in the space-opera epic Mass Effect. With so many possibilities, it is inevitable the medium would be used for more nefarious purposes as well. However, video games made by the ISIS terrorists or military organizations with the sole goal of spreading their propaganda are only really a drop in the bucket. After all, music, movies, paintings and books have all been used for similar purposes and often to a greater degree, yet no one questions their artistic and social value.
By Jakub Kasztalski