Saving Lives One Gamer at a Time

A Radical Deradicalization Program

Traditional deradicalization program can only work if you can convince the radicalized that it is not Allah's Will that he or she go out and kill unbelievers. This is not that easy since Islamic scriptures tell them otherwise.

A pointless exercise for many, including for the author of "Les Revenants" (The Returners, my translation) a book about French citizens who joined Islamic State and who have made their way back to civilization.

The abject violence experienced by many returning Islamic State recruits has done what deradicalization programs, which author David Thomson calls "a joke", could not do, turned holy warriors into pacifists.

Matthew Grizzard, a professor at Michigan State may, however, have stumbled upon a way to test if an individual is still a risk without exposing them to actual violence. He did so while immersed in a particular violent video game that, at one point, required him to shoot up a bunch of innocent people.

From an episode of Through the Wormhole hosted and narrated by Morgan Freeman. 

[loud extensive gunfire can be heard]

Freeman: Professor Matthew Grizzard has spent a lot of time playing video games, but as a communications researcher, these mediated realities are more than just entertainment.

Grizzard: We don't necessarily distinguish very much between mediated reality and real reality. We see visual elements. We hear things, auditory elements. And our bodies respond to those elements as if they were real.

Freeman: Immersed in a game, Matthew can feel his pulse pounding and his stomach churning from the intensity of the experience. But one day, a level in a game downright disturbed him.

Grizzard: So, I'm in an elevator. And I'm looking around, and there are a lot of armed men in military fatigues with me. The elevator doors open and we step out into what appears to be a crowded airport. At that point, the order is given, and we raise our guns to point at innocent civilians surrounding this airport. And then, we start firing [sound of gunfire and people screaming, moaning, sobbing].

Freeman: Matthew felt guilty for murdering so many innocent pixels. But as a social psychologist, he knows that guilt is a feeling that can profoundly change our behavior.

Grizzard: We wanted to see if this guilt that was elicited from virtual environments could cause people to think more about real-world morality and could actually increase their moral sensitivity to real-world issues.

Freeman: Media pundits often accuse violent video games of destroying the morality of our youth. Is that really true? Matthew has a series of test subjects play a game where they can hurt simulated human beings. So, Matthew gives the order to commit blatant crimes against humanity.

Grizzard: So, we set up a situation where people are gonna play a violent first-person shooter where they're engaging in terrorist behaviors, where they're committing genocides and they're killing innocent civilians, they're bombing areas, they're engaing in things that would be considered morally reprehensible in the real world.

Freeman: Matthew's subjects surrender to the alternative reality of the game. Inside their minds they are living through the experience of being a mass-murderer. The game is guilt-inducing to say the least.

Grizzard: So we also had a control group because we wanted to see and distinguish video-game-induced guilt from real-world guilt. So we had individuals remember a situation in which they felt particularly guilty.

Freeman: Writing this out is emotionally taxing. It brings back painful memories, perhaps of the time they cheated on a lover or lied and got someone else in trouble or sabotaged a friend for selfish gain. In every case, real people were really hurt. Matthew compared this group to the murder-simulator group.

Grizzard: So, our findings showed that individuals recalling a real-world guilty experience actually felt more guilt but that guilt solicited by video game was positively associated with increased moral sensitivity.

Freeman: Committing virtual mass murder gave his subjects a stronger sense of morality. It's a surprising result, but Matthew thinks he knows why it's the case. The players violated their own personal sense of fairness. They cannot right the wrongs they have committed, so they atone with a subconscious desire to be a better person.

Grizzard: I think that's the real power of video games. You can think of them as kind of moral sandboxes, as areas where we can explore different aspects of morality or even take viewpoints that are opposed to our very core  morality.

Freeman: But it's hard to imagine everyone agreeing to play guilt-inducting video games... Could it be that we are just too tolerant of intolerance. What would really happen if we cut off the worse offenders. Could we ever do it?

"MRIs of subjects experiencing remorse from playing a video and from people experiencing genuine remorse light up the same area of the brain. A side benefit of exposing people to remorse inducing video games was that it identified sociopaths, those whose murderous rampage did not highlight the remorse part [of the brain] but the pleasure centers."

Bernard Payeur, December 15, 2016