My work with Alix Levine on the gamification of the online al-Qaeda supporter forums got a shout out from the famed Brian Michael Jenkins. In his new report for RAND on internet entitled, “Stray Dogs and Virtual Armies,” Jenkins writes:
Some have suggested that al Qaeda is employing a strategy of “gamification,” providingforums where followers share violent fantasies as a means of encouraging them toward real violence.However, it is not clear that this is, in fact, al Qaeda’s strategy—sometimes too-clever analysts get ahead of their subjects. Nor do we know if online blooding will lead to real-lifeblood.
Well, despite the fact that “too-clever analysts” seems to ring with an ounce of sarcasm about the veracity of our claim, I would respond with a couple of serious points regarding the work that Alix and I have done on jihadist use of gamification
Jenkins wrongly defines gamification in his critique of our writing on gamification. To be clear, online gamification refers to the use of structural incentives on a website in order to reward greater levels of investment.Things such as “reputation scores” and “thank you points” – levels such as “elite pen” and “peasant.” Badges, awards, honors and such.
It has nothing to do with “violent fantasies” as he writes . This is the problem with the term, people see it and think they know what it means. It is a massive movement across the corporate marketing space that companies are investing tens of millions of dollars into.
There’s no debating whether or not jihadist websites are employing “gamified” techniques. Log on to any forum and see for yourself. It’s happening.
So, while we appreciate the shout-out, I’d suggest that people both read the article before debating the premise, and do some primary source research to see how this process is being used daily across a host of online pro-AQ spaces.