The next big government threat is … gamers?

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On March 9, The Intercept, followed by several gaming news outlets, reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Canadian government are working on a new initiative with Roblox, Discord and other gaming/streaming bodies to “tackle extremism.” In their Government Accountability Office Paper, the FBI-DHS’s report states, “Domestic violent extremists use social media and gaming platforms for several purposes, including to reach wide audiences; to insert their extremist ideas into the mainstream; and to radicalize, recruit and mobilize others.” This was, overall, received quite negatively. The Intercept quoted streamer Hasan Piker, who replied, “All I can think of is the awful track record of the FBI when it comes to identifying extremism.” This statement holds multiple ironies when Mr. Piker has made various statements which should have put him on a terrorism watchlist in the past, yet no such action has been taken. 

But why now, and why specifically gaming? Some have argued that a great deal of domestic extremists reinforce their beliefs or express and disseminate their ideas and communication through gaming. The Canadian government’s news release states an intent to investigate how online gaming communities radicalize possible recruits and how “misogyny can connect violent extremist ideologies across geography and culture on gaming platforms.” Their press release includes speeches from several backers, including one from Dr. Jessica White stating, “We seek to improve understanding through an intersectional gender lens of how identities and communities form and intersect in gaming spaces, to better protect gamers from exploitation by those spreading targeted hate-based discrimination and extremism.” 

This is all well and good. However, the majority of posts encouraging, facilitating or disseminating extremism on the internet have undoubtedly been on social media platforms such as X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and TikTok, among others. This is likely due to the nature of the different environment compared to most gaming platforms: these social media bodies don’t have the general backdrop of the game itself for a community to focus on, and people have more freedom for what they want to look at, the algorithm following in turn.  

Moreover, what constitutes hate, discrimination and extremism in general? None of the documents or reports by the US-DHS or the Canadian government give any actual definition. Their mission statements would hold more weight if they had announced greater scrutiny and focus on social media accounts openly promoting civil war, child soldiers, etc. It seems this focus on gamers, mostly young adolescents discovering new profanities and transgressions, is not just an overreach, but also a major case of selective focus, the kind which — even for a state with massive resources — is not only a wastage, but also takes away said resources that could be used for investigating actual threats. 

But why exactly would two Western governments suddenly come out declaring that they plan on studying gamers? Coincidentally or not, the reports came out just days after the blossoming of “Gamergate 2,” the sequel to the 2014 exposé-turned-flame-war of several corrupt journalists and developers in the gaming industry. The event has taken on the name “Gamergate 2” due to many gaming publications choosing to cover this still-developing rabbit hole, which surrounds a host of “narrative consultant” companies, mostly with very oddly similar names such as “Sweet Baby Inc.,” “Baby Ghosts,” “Dragon Baby” and “Weird Ghost.” These consultant firms have advocated for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives within the games they’ve worked or consulted on. Gamers who were suspicious that such initiatives were ruining narratives in recent games such as “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League” and “Forspoken” had begun to investigate such groups since last year. Additionally, a Steam curator group called “Sweet Baby Inc. Detected” was created to begin marking games who had any ties or involvement with Sweet Baby Inc. The group offered no criticism, but simply recommended against said games tied to the consultant firm. In response, Sweet Baby Inc. employees tried to shut the group down, calling for harassment through mass reporting of the curator group and its creator, Kabrutus. This effort failed, and in response, more “Sweet Baby Inc. Detected”–type groups began to grow in variety and size. Gaming media began to report on the growing issue several days later, all agreeing more or less that it was another harassment campaign by deranged right-wingers against misunderstood, hard-working consultants.  

So, what does a mini culture war have to do with D.C. and Ottawa? Perhaps their suspicions are due to interest ties from the Canadian and American governments to these consultant firms: on consultant firm Gamma Space’s website, they cite a government investment paper talking about $50 million in grants for “Social Purpose Organizations,” narrative consulting firms for gaming included. The similar organization Take This! holds a disclaimer on one of their now-archived pages that they were funded by the DHS. Likely due to the recent Streisand effect that is the Sweet Baby Inc. Detected vs. DEI consultant media war, the Canadian and American governments have decided that enough is enough; video gamers are now officially more interesting than TikTok Nazis, Twitter vatniks and Instagram jihadis.  

Of course, such groups exist; of course, there are radicals who try to use gaming platforms to indoctrinate others. But there is reasonable suspicion of foul play given the recent events surrounding diversity consultant firms, those firms’ ties to the U.S. and Canadian governments and the strange focus on a far less dangerous demographic than genuinely threatening ones. This newfound emphasis on the vaguely-defined “extremists” in gaming communities appears less to be a genuine effort by federal agencies and more so a conflict of interest within the gaming industry and government itself. This should be seen as extremely concerning to all.  

I am not against regulation or monitoring of certain content or governments subsidizing game development. What I am against is a too-conveniently-timed zoom-in by security agencies following gaming consultation and media’s attempts to smear and suppress individual investigations by people opposed to certain practices in said consultation industry. It’s a near-transparent attempt to mute those opposed to whatever these “Baby/Ghost”–named consultant companies have been doing with games recently, and a crossing of government lines with consumer-market ones, and that is unacceptable.