The Government Gets Gaming Wrong

As proof that video games are rapidly penetrating every aspect of world culture, the Defense Department last month revealed to Congress that Islamic terrorists were using a modified video game--Battlefield 2--to recruit and train Jihadis.

Dan Devlin, a Defense Department public diplomacy specialist, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that extremist groups are taking and modifying video games for an anti-U.S. slant. "What we have seen is that any video game that comes out... they'll modify it and change the game for their needs," Devlin said, according to press reports. Devlin's testimony included a video that showed clips from the purportedly terrorist-modified Battlefield 2 game.

Except, not really. A video game-focused political Web log,, quickly discovered that the video shown to Congress was created by a 25-year-old hospital administrator from Holland. The creator, who goes by the Internet handle "SonicJihad"--a tribute to an album produced by the controversial rapper Paris--said that the video is not connected to Islamic extremism in any way, and that he made the video to have a few laughs.

This fact would have been immediately apparent to anyone with a passing familiarity with either video games or youth culture. The video's voiceover, which begins, "I was only a boy when the infidels came to my village in their Blackhawk helicopters," is lifted from a comedic monologue in the movie "Team America: World Police." Any gamer familiar with the difference between mods--user-designed programs that alter the way a game is played--and machinima--short videos created using graphics and models from video games--would have known that the video shown to Congress was not a mod designed to recruit young terrorists, but a piece of run-of-the-mill, user-generated content. Simply Googling the video's file name would've turned up the Battlefield 2 community Web site where it was first posted--not exactly a hub of Islamic extremist activity.

Congress' ignorance about video games can be overlooked, since they have more important things to be ignorant about. Marketers are not afforded the same luxury. Just as our government can't hope to effectively oversee or regulate a medium that it fails utterly to understand, if marketers don't take the time and effort to suss the ins and outs of video games and their culture, they will end up looking like fools.

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