How Not to Fight ISIS and the Trouble with Jillenials

A few weeks ago, the FBI released a game called “Slippery Slope” that was aimed at a Gen-Z and Millennial audience, but was apparently developed by the “Department of Tone Deafness.” I use that snark, as the game itself, aside from being oddly crafted, is a poor attempt to replicate a “flappy bird” type environment while succeeding in being offensive to Muslims everywhere.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, I was the interim CMO for an MMORPG called Next Island. For the lay person, that stands for Massively, Multiplayer, Online Role-Playing Game. MMORPGs range from platform games like the World of Warcraft (WoW) to Everquest and more Gen-X and Boomer friendly games like Tom Clancy’s Division (which is launching this year). MMORPGs are the end all, be all of where Gen Z’ers and Millennial gamers go online.

Now, MMORPGs and Console Titles like Grand Theft Theft Auto are often modifiable by user created or studio created alterations called MODs. These MODs allow users to change characters, equipment and even environments within a game – allowing for gameplay that can be in line or completely against what the game developer originally intended.

MMORPGs cost millions to build but MODs cost thousands. If you’re using an offshore development team or have your own – that cost can be nominal.

With Next Island, we had MODs that were put out by the platform developer, Entropia, and a handful that cost us between $10,000 and $40,000 to create. If you have your own development staff – its even cheaper.

Fun fact: ISIS has its own development staff, in addition to an in-house social media agency to push their propaganda.

Last year, ISIS started rolling out their own MODs for a popular European MMORPG called ARMA III – these MODs allowed a player to play as ISIS and attack and kill virtual American soldiers.

That’s not good and allows the enemy a cheap option at developing a recruiting tool, while we do the opposite. If we’re going to fight these terrorists effectively, we need to get up to speed with what they’re doing and catch up with the times. Launching websites and “games” that would have been popular in 2008 isn’t going to work for the Snapchat generation, much less Gen Z who are increasingly turning to messaging apps and Instagram over Facebook.

So what to do? Here’s a start:

1. Build Anti-ISIS game in places that Gen Z and Millennials will gravitate to

The Game that the FBI developed was tied into a CVE platform called “Don’t be a Puppet” which leverages a lot of CVE rhetoric but doesn’t really work in a way that would engage a 14 – 28 year old (who are ISIS’s primary age targets). If you want to get them to understand that they’re being seduced by the devil – you have to make it cool, hip and now. Consider the cheap ARMA MODs vs. the FBI site that probably cost over $500,000 and was laughed at by the media.

2. Anti-ISIS propaganda needs to take the intended audience into account

While “Flappy Bird” was a hit on mobile devices, trying to take a concept that was popular and re-hash it typically never works. People buy Transformers, not Go-bots, Barbie clones usually don’t sell and using a goat as the game character strikes of both tone-deafness and the inability of our government to hire a basic cultural consultant who would have pointed out that the concept is relatively offensive.

3. An Anti-ISIS strategy needs to target “Jillenials” not just random youth based on outdated research

Dr. Zeeshan Usmani of has conducted years of research on terrorism and motivating factors that drive people to join terrorist organizations. The Jillenial factor became more apparent recently, as similar contributing factors of wealth, a LACK of religious education, boredom and looking for something to do were more relevant factors in correlating radicalization risk.

Jillenials refers to 16 – 28 year olds ACROSS the globe, specifically in Western countries – you could say in a sense that they’re a global generation looking for something punk rock, but instead of Elvis, Henry Rollins or Nirvana – they’re getting ISIS recruiters.

Combating ISIS means moving away from prejudices and looking at the data. The data here shows that Jillenials are the most likely to be radicalized in the West and developing engagement programs that help them understand what they’re looking at stops ISIS. Plain and simple.

4. Education works, but it has to be interesting

Th FBI site is chock full of interesting information that was probably collected from RRG and other global anti-terrorist organizations, but it’s not presented in much more than an academic way. To put it more simply, if you wouldn’t buy a textbook on ISIS radicalization methods – why on earth would you interact with the online learning tool for that book?

Making content interesting is what marketers do – in the 1930s we had a Ministry of Propaganda that effectively helped stop Nazi radicalization of German immigrants in America. In the 2010s we need to do the same across the board as a bored 15 year old lapsed Catholic from Wichita is as likely to get caught up by the ISIS rhetoric that their “secret online friend” is feeding them as the Muslim kid who only knows his faith from Eid and Muslim high holidays.

5. Leverage Startup and Civilian Tech

Government Agencies that have spent millions of US taxpayer dollars on wild goose chases like the FBI game would be better served by tapping into Silicon Alley, Silicon Valley and Silicon Harlem.


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