Australian kids as young as 12 are being targeted by extremists who are infiltrating online gaming platforms, with a rising number of children being investigated for radicalised ideologies.
Ideologically and religiously motivated extremists are seeking out new supporters online to coerce them into undertaking violent extremism for their cause, the Australian Federal Police has warned.
One popular gaming platform, Roblox, sees users program games for others to play in a virtual universe.
Some games feature virtual worlds where players are able to act out an extremist ideological narrative, disseminate propaganda, recruit other users and generate funds online.
Others feature scenarios such as Nazi concentration camps, Chinese communist re-education camps for Muslims, and Islamic state-style conflict zones.
One simulation depicted a recreation of the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attacks that authorities said aimed to blur the reality of users, allowing them to normalise violence and undertake criminal acts within the game.
Roblox sees more than 65 million users engage every day, with about half of them just 12 or younger.
The platform recently hosted a series of virtual pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel gatherings and rallies where some players have violently attacked others with opposing views.
A Roblox spokesman said the company had zero tolerance for extremist content of any kind and the material was explicitly banned under its standards.
"We have a dedicated team focused on proactively identifying and swiftly removing such content as well as banning the individuals who create it," he said in a statement, adding the vast majority of users were very unlikely to have been exposed to the material.
Investigations identified commonalities among users including the diagnosis of a neurodiverse or mental health condition, being raised in a disruptive, unstable or harmful environment, and experiencing social problems at school.
When the online extremist community encourages and validates the young person, it can become socially and emotionally reinforcing, police said.
AFP assistant commissioner Krissy Barrett says many young people are likely to receive technology-based gifts this holiday season that enable online engagement.
"With more than 3.22 billion active gamers online around the world, these extremists are attempting to target a significant part of the global population to spread their views and propaganda," she said in a statement on Sunday.
"These extremist groups and individuals are using these gaming and online platforms as a mode to transmit violent material and propaganda, across a range of extremist ideologies."
Ms Barrett described some of the recent games as nothing more than a "trojan horse to promote their worldview, blurring the reality of young users with the aim to radicalise them".
Joint counter terrorism teams comprised of the AFP, state and territory police, ASIO and the NSW crime commission are working to prevent and identify the extremist activity online.
Australian Associated Press