Mexican drug cartels are using video games to recruit kids, research finds

MEXICO CITY (ABC4) – Parents of teenagers are already apprehensive of video games due to their violent nature and the possibility to instill aggression into their children. However, how would adults react if they knew their little gamers were at potential risk of being recruited by a Mexican drug cartel? 

As terrifying as the idea may sound, it’s becoming a commonly used tactic among Mexican drug cartels, and for a pretty valid reason. Those partaking in online games like “Fortnite” and “Grand Theft Auto” are mainly young boys who are fascinated by weapons and may even be desensitized to killing. 

In a study published by Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found that “…violent video games can initiate adolescents’ observational learning.” And, “…not only can they imitate the aggressive behavior of the model but also their understanding and acceptability about aggression may change.”

In a recent case, a cartel recruiter virtually locked in his first target in August through the online game platform “Free Fire”, also known as “Garena Free Fire”. Later, after the boy had told his friends about the arrangement and acknowledged their interest to the recruiter, the man reached out to them saying that they would like the job, “given that you like guns and will make lots of money.” The boys were promised $200 per week to work in northern Mexico as drug cartel lookouts. 

After a deal was struck, Mexico’s assistant public safety secretary, Ricardo Mejía, said the cartel recruiter purchased bus tickets for the three boys, all between the ages of 11 and 14. 

The boys were located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca before they could board their connecting bus to Monterrey, which an anonymous woman who has since been detained purchased them tickets for under false names. 

Though Mejía did not reveal the name of the cartel involved, she reported that a similar case occurred in September when the Cartel del Noreste attempted online recruitment. 

It’s apparent that cartels have the access to the technological sophistication needed to successfully navigate security algorithms on popular consoles. 

The Network of Children’s Rights in Mexico stated that between 2000 and 2019, 21,000 youths under the age of 18 were murdered in Mexico, while 7,000 disappeared. 

It’s estimated that around 30,000 youths had been recruited by drug gangs in 2019.

Mexican drug cartels are using video games to recruit kids, research finds

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