ISIS’s War Games

Murtaza Hussain introduces the jihadists’ latest propaganda innovation, which looks to court fans of the Grand Theft Auto video game series:

A new video purportedly released by supporters of the group to Arabic language news media appears to show Islamic State, or ISIS, propaganda mocked up in the style of the popular “Grand Theft Auto” franchise. The video shows footage of explosions, sniper rifle attacks and drive-by shootings all rendered in the style of the GTA series. Arabic commentary included as subtitles contain quotes along the lines of targeting U.S. forces and “the Safavid Army”, a reference to Iranian or pro-Iranian forces. They also show images of an assault rifle riddling a police car full of bullet holes — a scene that would not be altogether unfamiliar to Grand Theft Auto players. …

Though the new video appears to constitute a trailer, there’s no indication yet that a real, playable game is in the offing anytime soon. Nonetheless, coupled with the group’s release yesterday of a new propaganda trailer directed at the United States, it appears that the ISIS media war is continuing to evolve in new and weird directions.

But the viewer is clearly meant to understand that the “real, playable game” is available only in Iraq and Syria. At least, that’s what Jay Caspian Kang suspects:

The similarities between ISIS recruitment films and first-person-shooter games are likely intentional. Back in June, an ISIS fighter told the BBC that his new life was “better than that game Call of Duty.” Video-game-themed memes traced back to ISIS have been floating around the Internet for months, including one that reads, “THIS IS OUR CALL OF DUTY AND WE RESPAWN IN JANNAH.” (“Respawn” is the gamer word for reincarnate.) Another ISIS video, as the Intercept notes, looks like a deliberate homage to Grand Theft Auto. Audio clips that sound much like ones in Call of Duty have been spliced into other ISIS videos. Many of the ISIS recruitment videos are dedicated to showcasing rocket launchers, mines, and assault rifles, as if to say, “If you join us, you’ll get to shoot these things.” …

In their recruitment of Western jihadis, ISIS has used a broad, pop-culture-laden campaign that seems to be aimed at turning what once might have been a radical religious message into something more worldly. During the World Cup, an ISIS Twitter account posted an image of a decapitated head with the message “This is our football, it’s made of skin #WorldCup.” That ISIS would try to access Western kids through such avenues speaks to a deep cynicism that discards the religious and the political for adrenaline and gore.