But no one seems to have noticed that the fervor of online jihadists is actually quite similar to the fervor of any other online group. The online world of Islamic extremists, like all the other worlds of the Internet, operates on a subtly psychological level that does a brilliant job at keeping people like Abumubarak clicking and posting away -- and amassing all the rankings, scores, badges, and levels to prove it. Like virtually every other popular online social space, the social space of online jihadists has become "gamified," a term used to describe game-like attributes applied to non-game activities. It turns out that what drives online jihadists is pretty much exactly what drives Internet trolls, airline ticket consumers, and World of Warcraft players: competition. Gamification started out as a corporate buzzword, meaning any attempt to ensure brand loyalty and engagement through applying gaming principles. It doesn't mean turning something into a game, but rather allowing users to gain status-based awards and reputation, earn meaningful badges, compete with others, use avatars, and trade in a virtual currency. If you've used frequent-flier miles, earned stars with your coffee purchase at Starbucks, or checked in on Foursquare, you've had a gamified experience.
Gamification is purely an appeal to psychology, the principle that competition matters more than fun. When knowledge or experience is given a point value, it can be measured and compared through giving out badges and levels, statuses and prizes.
Hard-line Islamist sites have been increasingly building in gamified elements to their forums. "Reputation points" are the most common of these. Users can now earn status for the messages they post and the quality of the messages as judged by other members. In many of the forums, members can only receive points after they have posted a certain number of messages, enticing users to post more messages more quickly. Points can result in an array of seemingly trivial rewards, including a change in the color of a member's username, the ability to display an avatar, access to private groups, and even a change in status level from, say, "peasant" to "VIP." In the context of the gamified system, however, these paltry incentives really matter.
via Foreign Policy.