Crime on Discord – Who is Responsible?
August 3, 2023
Exploring the Impact of Extremism in Gaming Communities and the Urgent Need for Public Policies
On June 25, Fantástico, a Brazilian weekly news program on the TV channel Globo, ran a story exposing the crimes that routinely happen on Discord, a chat, voice, and video platform initially designed for gaming communities. These crimes included assault, rape, and extreme violence against women, especially minors. These cases are only the tip of the iceberg in a universe that needs more attention from public authorities.
Still from “Fantástico” on June 25, 2023
Organized extreme right cells and Nazi groups rule these platforms, and there are diverse connections to gaming communities. One of the people arrested in the Fantástico cases, for example, is the owner of PurpleHost and founder of Enxada Host — servers for games including Minecraft, a popular game among many children.
But the games themselves are not responsible for the spread of hate speech and extremism — that is, playing video games is not the cause. And neither are gaming platforms inherently the problem. Whether on- or off-screen, games simply reflect the violent society we live in today. Yes, they’re on Discord, but they’re also on Twitter, Telegram, community forums, and live chats. They’re everywhere.
The Roots of Discord Crimes and Violence: Identifying the Underlying Issues
The extreme right has been working to radicalize gamers’ communities, which are usually predominantly white, male, cis-gender, and middle- or upper-class. Harassment campaigns such as Gamergate have demonstrated how the far right can take advantage of progressive and anti-fascist agendas to create a narrative reinforcing a past that never existed: the past in which games were created only for elitist communities.
According to a study, 71% of women have suffered discrimination while playing and 32% have been sexually harassed
The professor of the Department of Digital Media at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPA), Ivan Mussa, explains that bad actors indirectly insert extreme-right messages into gaming spaces, “attached to content of general interest to gamers, subtly directing them to draw their own conclusions.”
While researcher Linda Schlegel warns that these platforms are not inherently dangerous, she has documented extremist content on almost all gaming-adjacent platforms, ranging from streams to dark humor, memes, and calls for violence.
However, there is little discussion about the radicalization and criminality among gamers themselves either on- or off-platform: crimes go unpunished, there are few effective reporting channels, and few public policies have been focused on this field. And the broader public is aware only when the crimes occasionally leak out to life off-screen.
Meanwhile, many politicians continue to debate whether or not games generate violence, which is a very outdated perception without scientific proof. Moral panic has long been created around video games and their communities because using virtual games (or platforms) as scapegoats is easier than debating the real problems that exist in the gaming universe.
We must remember: anything that exists on the internet grows from life outside the internet. We must exercise caution while trying to identify the suspect hastily – analyzing the games, the gamers, and the Discord platform. Otherwise, there’s a risk of merely scratching the surface of the problem. To us, it is imperative that we engage in the struggle to reclaim territories and spaces of gamer sociability, fighting against extremism and human rights violations.
Is there a way out?
The solutions to these types of crimes are not as simple as “we must shut down Discord” or “stop producing games.” But certainly, one of the paths we need to follow leads us to public policies.
We are missing great opportunities to address violence and radicalization in online gaming. For example, Brazil’s “Fake News Bill” (Bill 2630/20), which addresses freedom, responsibility, and transparency on the internet, only targets platforms with an average of more than 10 million monthly users. This means that, for example, Discord, Twitch, Steam, chat consoles, and numerous other gaming platforms are not included — a major shortcoming.
We need to regulate gaming platforms. We also need to discuss public policies focused directly on hate, harassment, and radicalization in online gaming. We need to put video games on the public agenda for open debate about their relationship with culture, education, sports, job creation, technological evolution, and the promotion of diversity and equity, not just in traditional media but in gaming spaces themselves. We cannot allow the extreme right to spread without a battle in such vast places, and for its values to be reinforced among our youth.
To this end, Purpose Gamer Impact Lab submitted a proposal on the platform ‘Brasil Participativo’, a new digital platform that allows the public to contribute to the creation and improvement of public policies, to pressure Brazil’s federal government to develop programs and goals to counter far-right radicalization in gaming. You can support this cause and vote until July 14 here.
Vote, mobilize your community, and help us pressure the government. We must cut this problem off at its roots.
for Equity & Evidence