Mexican drug cartels use video games to recruit children, study finds

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

As terrifying as the idea sounds, it’s becoming a common tactic used by Mexican drug cartels, and for quite good reason. Those who participate in online games like “Fortnite” and “Grand Theft Auto” are mostly young boys who are fascinated with weapons and may even be immune to murder.

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

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

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

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

Although Mejía did not reveal the name of the cartel involved, she did report that a similar case occurred in September when the Cartel del Noreste tried to recruit online.

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

The Child Rights Network in Mexico said that between 2000 and 2019, 21,000 young people under the age of 18 were murdered in Mexico, while 7,000 disappeared.

It is estimated that around 30,000 young people were recruited by drug gangs in 2019.

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