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Game Over. The dangerous nexus between Gaming, the Metaverse and violent extremism - Part One

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1. Introduction. Gaming and Metaverse: a definition of the two phenomena

Technological development has been an exponentially growing phenomenon for several decades and it is still ongoing. Among those dimensions that have most benefited from this development, surely the Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most important. This is a dimension that would be simplistic to consider merely virtual. On the contrary, it should be given a digital nature, as it can produce tangible effects in physical reality and space.

In this regard, the choice of using the adjective “digital” (instead of “virtual”) is not accidental. Something cannot belong to virtuality if has consequences in the real world and is therefore not separate from it.

Particularly, some of the most recent innovative applications have involved two highly profitable phenomena for the major companies in the industry: gaming and the Metaverse.

The successful outcome of the two examined dimensions is mostly (but not exclusively) due to travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that induced increasing numbers of individuals to spend most of their leisure time in the digital world. The lockdown encouraged interaction via gaming platforms, which became the preferred environments for youth and adults, and continues to be so even after the post-pandemic return to normality.

So far, so good. The ability to overcome physical barriers and connect individuals in the whole world is for sure a plus in terms of opportunities for interaction and sociability. However, like many other aspects of technological progress, these can conceal risks too. How people use it makes difference.

This first part of the analysis is aimed at explaining the possible uses that violent extremist and/or terrorist groups (could) make of gaming platforms and the Metaverse for recruitment, group identity strengthening, and planning purposes. It also intends to highlight the potential offered by such digital environments for financing the aforementioned groups and the legislative and operational vulnerabilities to counter their activities.

The second part will focus on a thorough description of the major gaming platforms, the related messaging and live streaming systems, the main hacks that are potentially harmful as they are useful for planning and enacting terrorist actions within the Metaverse, as well as some representative case studies of the two themes here explored.

2. Why do gaming and the Metaverse deserve attention concerning violent extremism and terrorism?

2.1. Gaming platforms as “hotbeds” for radicalisation

In the multifaceted world of gaming, the most popular games played by teenagers and young people are the so-called “shooter” or “strategy” games. Set in historical settings or futuristic scenarios, they offer digital experiences geared toward the reproduction of war or crime scenarios.

Thus, the user population is mainly composed of individuals who are strongly attracted to weapons and war or conflict issues. However, this does not necessarily indicate an inclination to violence; however, by leveraging certain cognitive and behavioural elements, violent extremist and terrorist groups succeed in spreading their narratives and recruiting new followers or strengthening ties with their members, even creating national or transnational connections among pre-constituted groups.

According to research by a pool of experts from the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network, gaming platforms are “hotbeds” for radicalisation. This is particularly true for the diverse world of violent right-wing extremism and Islamist extremism.

The success of using gaming or related platforms to carry out extremist activities has been boosted by the strong de-platforming campaigns[1] carried out in mainstream social networks.

The shift from the most popular social networks to platforms such as Discord, Twitch, Steam, or DLive[2] has thus merged the gaming dimension with the messaging function, prompting millions of users to interact through them during gaming sessions. It happens thanks to the messaging features in the aforementioned platforms and the numerous live-streaming events dedicated to real gaming sessions: as the related content becomes more and more explicitly extremist and hate-inspired, users who continue to follow or even fund such channels automatically could reveal themselves as potentially prone to radicalisation or already radicalised. Being able to communicate with each other, it is therefore not surprising that they can create usual networks that go beyond the mere gaming dimension.

The gamer identity

The strong sense of belonging produced by gaming pop culture makes gamers more susceptible and vulnerable to radicalisation.

Indeed, it seems that the gamer is «a strong identity that induces feelings of solidarity and self-sacrifice towards other members of the group. Some undergo a process of “identity fusion”, meaning that their membership of the social group “gamers” becomes core to their fundamental self».[3]

And further, some research «[...] shows that social bonds between gamers tend to be closer, more intimate, and more durable than the looser companionship typical of other online relationships, in part because they are forged through simulated battles and struggles».[4]

Moreover, loyalty is achieved through an inverse process compared to normal socialisation processes: at first, trust is established; then, acquaintance is deepened, whereas traditionally the second action precedes the first.[5]

This method greatly favours recruiters, making gaming a fertile ground for the enlargement and consolidation of extremist groups.

At the same time, other research argues that gaming platforms, even before being means of proselytism, are even more effective in reinforcing beliefs that are already held by individuals, building and consolidating community, as well as developing stronger online ecosystems. [6]

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2.2. The potential of the Metaverse in terms of planning and operational capabilities.

As already mentioned, even if in different terms, the Metaverse is a digital environment within the IoT where people can interact with objects and digital representations of themselves and others (avatars), being able to move freely from one digital space to another one.

Through augmented reality objects and tools, the Metaverse enables a fusion of virtual and physical dimensions, either by representing people and objects from the physical world in the virtual or, conversely, by bringing the virtual into the perception of physical spaces.

In doing so, the boundaries between the digital and physical become permeable, and within the Metaverse, people can find meaning and have experiences that can have important consequences in the real world.[7]

Source: Copernicosim

Considering the blurring of boundaries between the virtual and real world, any experience in the digital environment can provide real trauma and emotional suffering. As a result, vulnerabilities can be exploited by those who set out to commit violence. In the case of violent extremism and terrorism, the Metaverse thus promises new opportunities to exert influence through fear, threat, and coercion.[8] In this regard, the digital dimension offers opportunities both for recruitment purposes, making it easier for members and potential followers to meet and keep in touch, and for coordination ones. Many terrorist groups are improving their operational capabilities to plan attacks in this dimension and translate them into the real world. For example, they could virtually move around or within a specific location that is a reliable replica of an existing location (e.g., an embassy), learn viable and efficient routes, and coordinate alternative ones if some turn out to be blocked or inaccessible.

Additionally, as already anticipated, while attacking the physical world, augmented reality objects (e.g., virtual arrows), can guide violent extremists in the field to move and identify targets. As one can easily deduce, this poses a high-security risk to individuals and critical infrastructure. Indeed, it is no unexpected that Europol has recently stated that it has begun working assiduously to counter potential crimes and threats within the Metaverse. [9]

Source: La Repubblica

2.3. From crowdfunding to NFTs: how violent extremism and terrorism are financed in the digital world


The match between gaming and terrorism financing begins when extremist groups exploit gaming platforms to organize live-streaming sessions in which they disseminate propaganda content for proselytizing purposes. Declaring that they can offer entertainment services only through the financial support of various followers, they promote crowdfunding campaigns to receive money that will be used for violent extremist activities. The term crowdfunding is therefore understood to mean « (trad. Eng.) the process by which several people (“crowd”) send sums of money (funding), even small amounts, to finance a business project or initiatives of different kinds using Internet sites (“platforms” or “portals”) [...]».[10]

Gold farming

Financing extremist and terrorist groups can also receive funds through an unofficial exchange of virtual in-game currency on online marketplaces that are unrelated to the game itself. Known as “gold farming”, this practice involves playing online to obtain valuable items and resell them to other players. Since they can acquire real value, virtual in-game currencies can be converted into illicit income, exchanged for different currencies, and monetised.[11] In both the physical and digital worlds (e.g., cryptocurrencies), the value of a currency or commodity is established and defined by the people involved in the network of transactions and/or exchanges according to the importance they ascribe to it as they go along.


Regarding cryptocurrencies, “cryptographic digital currencies that do not require a physical entity to control or authorise their transactions”[12], the ability to maintain pseudo-anonymity[13] in economic transactions and the absence of strict regulation have been strong incentives to fund extremist activities in gaming and related platforms.

Non-Fungible Tokens

A separate mention should be made of so-called Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). An NFT is a proof of ownership recorded on the blockchain, “ (trad. Eng.) a chain of blocks that contain financial transaction data and are uniquely identified by so-called ‘hash codes’.” [14] Each proof of ownership turns out to be unique and must be secured by the blockchain on which it is located to prove, precisely, ownership of an asset: this, although the seller does not even need to own what it offers to sell it as an NFT.

However, the difficulty of proving the ownership of a digital asset enables fraudulent activity within the Internet of Things, and even more so in the Metaverse, where it is feasible to enhance the pseudo-anonymous nature of one’s activities by interacting exclusively as an avatar, moving - for the time being - in an international regulatory vacuum environment. It is therefore possible to sell the same asset multiple times, using sufficiently different smart contracts or offering them on a different blockchain. Although large marketplaces presume to verify ownership, this is not practically possible due to the huge number of NFTs offered. The use of the latter thus enables fraud that is frequently carried out by extremist groups for funding purposes.

3. Lack of both regulatory clarity and cooperation

Another issue concerning online games is that they are not precisely and effectively regulated. Indeed, to date, it is unclear how gaming operators can identify all money transfers that are suitable for financing criminal activities.

In subparagraphs 2.2 and 2.3, the potential anonymity in gaming chat rooms, through the use of avatars, and the pseudo-anonymity of certain economic transactions have been already mentioned. Unlike other platforms, gaming and related programs are not properly regulated from a normative standpoint to counter the dissemination of violent extremist content.

Moreover, gaming companies generally do not pay enough attention to the emotional effects that some gaming dynamics can have on individuals in terms of anger, rage, anxiety, and, more generally, addiction. [15]

4. Conclusion

This analysis provided insight into the heterogeneity of risks associated with an uncontrolled development of the gaming industry and, to some extent, the Metaverse. Therefore, it appears necessary first and foremost that there should be an extension of existing regulation and, where needed, ad hoc cybersecurity regulation for this sector, both for content moderation and control over potential illicit transactions. To reach this goal, a collaboration between developers and relevant authorities is required to obtain effective and binding regulations.

At the same time, institutions, law enforcement agencies, and frontline practitioners must know in increasing detail the structure and operation of the above-mentioned platforms, as well as the user base and activities that are being conducted within them. Without a thorough knowledge of these dimensions (gaming and Metaverse, precisely), it will not be possible to address risks and threats related to the vibrant, changing and increasingly organised violent extremism.

The second part of this analysis will describe in-depth the previously cited gaming platforms, the potential uses of the Metaverse for planning attacks in both the digital and physical worlds, along with some representative case studies of the given phenomena.


Analisi Area Terrorismo_Davide Lauretta_Sara Senno_FINAL VERSION_ENG
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[1] “Deplatforming” is defined as “the ban of users from a social media platform by closing their account based on violations of the platform policy”. L. MARINONE, F. FARINELLI, Emerging factors, trends, and pathways of radicalisation: new challenges for preventing violent extremism, Radicalisation Awareness Network – Ad-Hoc Paper, 2021. [2] These platforms will be explored in further detail in the second part of this analysis. However, a brief description of them is provided below. With the exception of Steam, Discord, Twitch, and DLive were originally developed to enable communication among gamers and only later to extend to a wider user base. Discord contains chat and forum functions, including audio and video modes. Twitch, on the other hand, is a live-streaming platform. The ability to exercise control over communications within live-streaming platforms is really difficult, not only because they occur live, but also because speech is less detectable than, for example, text, in which one can search for keywords. In addition, streams can simply disappear after they have ended, making it almost impossible, except in real-time. DLive is partially a gamified platform: viewers are rewarded for their continued engagement by streamers to make money through an internal currency, Lemon, a very interesting fact in terms of funding violent extremism, as we shall see. Steam is the largest digital distribution platform for PC games, and it also provides access to forums for discussions, images, screenshots, guides, and a digital space for submitting user modifications to popular games. Source: L. SCHLEGEL, Extremists’ use of gaming (adjacent) platforms. Insights regarding primary and secondary prevention measures, [3] I. DODDS, “A time bomb ‘supercharged’ by the pandemic: How white nationalists are using gaming to recruit for terror”, in The Independent, [4] Ibidem. [5] Ibidem. [6] S. LAKHANI, VIDEO GAMING AND (VIOLENT) EXTREMISM: An exploration of the current landscape, trends, and threats, Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) – Policy Support, 2021. [7] J. S. ELSON, A. C. DOCTOR, S. HUNTER, “The metaverse offers a future full of potential – for terrorists and extremists, too”, in The Conversation, 7 January 2022 (Accessed November 14, 2022). [8] Ibidem. [9] EUROPOL, Policing in the metaverse: what law enforcement needs to know, an observatory report from the Europol Innovation Lab, 2022. [10] Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (CONSOB), “Crowdfunding”, [11] EUROPOL, Policing in the metaverse: what law enforcement needs to know, an observatory report from the Europol Innovation Lab, op. cit. [12] D. LAURETTA, S. SENNO, “FINANZA ISLAMICA E FINTECH: SFIDE NORMATIVE E MINACCIA TERRORISTICA. Nuove dinamiche globali. Le banche islamiche nel contesto della Western Legal Tradition e la rivoluzione tecnologica come ostacoli al Counter Terrorist Financing”, in L’Orizzonte degli Eventi. Questioni geopolitiche e analisi giuridiche, n. 5, July 2021, AMIStaDeS – Fai Amicizia con il sapere, p. 15. [13] For further information, D. LAURETTA, “Jihad e finanza 2.0: lo pseudo-anonimato del bitcoin, alleato del terrorismo nella blockchain”, in AMIStaDeS – Fai Amicizia con il Sapere, September 4, 2021. [14] Ibidem, p. 2. [15] Extremism and Gaming Research Network (EGRN), State of Play: Reviewing the Literature on Gaming & Extremism, 2021.



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