"Online games are not a threat in themselves, but ..." Even the first sentence of the analysis by Gilles de Kerchove, the EU coordinator for combating terrorism, makes it clear that gamers are not comfortable with him. He thinks they should be monitored more urgently. Because their platforms could be used by terrorists and extremists as a recruiting site, serve them for communication and enable money laundering, he writes in a 20-page paper, which is available from ZEIT ONLINE. He does not provide much evidence for this fear. Above all, it seems the high level of anonymity there and the growing importance of gaming services such as Steam, the Epic Games Store, Playstation Network or Xbox Live that have led to his assessment.
Steam, for example, has a billion registered users - although the number doesn't say much as there are tons of bots and dead accounts. More important, however, is the number of those who are active every month, according to de Kerchove, around 95 million people. "Gaming platforms are not monitored in the same way as large social networks like Facebook or cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. As a result, they act in a kind of vacuum and are therefore at risk of being misused by terrorists and other criminals," he says Analysis. Steam is "still largely unsupervised" and therefore very popular with right-wing extremists. Various groups would "glorify right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and other hateful content".
At the same time, most platforms would "offer their users a high degree of anonymity" and in many games strangers would communicate with one another and form groups. Both would make it easy for radicals to make new contacts.
Anonymity is not
Of course, there are examples that terrorists have used game platforms for their purposes, just as they use cars, phones, and other modern technologies. Right-wing extremist and anti-constitutional content can always be found on Steam. In 2015, a 14-year-old was convicted in Austria for seeking contact to IS and downloading bomb plans - the relevant data was found on his PS4 console. David Sonboly, the radical right-wing assassin from Munich, was previously active on Steam in groups that shared extreme-right and anti-Muslim content. The racist alt-right movement discovered games to find like-minded people there. And IS has also been using popular chat services such as Discord for some time now, where everyone can set up their own server and use it to communicate with others.
But the anonymity De Kerchove writes about is limited. It is possible to create a free account on Steam or on the PlayStation with any email address and incorrect contact information. But at the latest when you want to download and play paid games, anonymity is over: the large game platforms use all payment models; The users are at least clearly identifiable for the operators, since they have to link credit cards and account information to their accounts. Since the operators are primarily based in countries such as the USA, querying this data is no problem for state investigators.
Another point that de Kerchove gives as reason for his fear is rather difficult. He writes that there are certainly many people among gamers who are susceptible to terrorism and extremism, since many games deal with violence. Quote: "Many popular video games involve violence and war, which appeals to players who might be attracted to violent extremist messages." In addition, most gamers of such violent games are young men - including many who "may be socially isolated or disenfranchised and may be attracted to violence for these reasons."
As a reason for surveillance, the prejudice of gamers as an anti-social nerd is used. Science has vehemently contradicted this picture for many years. Computer games are neither violent nor do they promote anti-social behavior. For many games these days, social interaction is even necessary because they are played online in larger groups.
The analysis cannot say whether the thesis that terrorists are increasingly switching to game platforms is correct. "It is still difficult to determine the exact extent of the presence of terrorists and violent extremists," the paper said. This would require further investigations.
The situation is similar for the second topic, money laundering. The growing number of players and the "ever stronger connection to the real economy" made services vulnerable to this, writes de Kerchove. Currencies and goods used in games could be transferred across borders quickly and almost invisibly. Gaming services are "still a relatively unsupervised and in some aspects unregulated industry". "Popular games like Fortnite , Call of Duty , Counter-Strike and Overwatch are ideal targets for money laundering." There are actually corresponding examples: For example, security analysts at Sixgill 2019 discovered a model for which Fortnite was used for money laundering.
But that is also not so easy. Whenever digital currencies and goods are exchanged for real currencies, large-scale transactions quickly become apparent. The manufacturers of the games themselves are very keen to control trade because transactions past them reduce their profits. The Ebay trading platform, for example, has long been monitored to see whether game currency traders make many sales there.
It is above all the theoretical possibilities, the fact that a large number, often young people, are active on game platforms that prompted the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator to write his report. Not so much actual dangers.