(2020-07-11) Hons QAnon As ARG

Adrian Hon and Dan Hon ponder how QAnon can be modeled as an ARG. Makes me wonder if we should fund or subsidise “healthy ARGs”. There’s precedent for other media.

Adrian thread: Theory: QAnon is popular partly because the act of “researching” it through obscure forums and videos and blog posts, though more time-consuming than watching TV, is actually more enjoyable because it’s an active process. Game-like, even; or ARG-like, certainly... I don’t mean to say QAnon is an ARG or it’s creators even know what ARGs are. This is more about convergent evolution, a consequence of what the internet is and allows.

Dan spin-off: I’m pretty terrified about how it plays out... Every single QAnon behavior I’ve seen is a 10x+ version of ARG player behavior but uncontrolled, undirected and unconstrained... You get the same documentation behavior as you get on ARGs with people generating documents, wikis, narratives, explanations to bring on newcomers. ARGs are predicated on drawing together/discovering evidence to figure out an end-goal/story and "meaning"... I bet that in QAnon, just like in ARGs and pretty much every other online game, (and, I argue, any online social service), you get Bartle's types: achievers, explorers, socializers and killers... ARG players want to believe it's not a game and behave as if it isn't. They provide suspension of disbelief in, I'd argue, same way QAnon does. ARG players also see themselves as secret hero warriors etc, you're an avatar with power...

  • re the content generation problem for "regular" ARGs I mentioned above. For every ARG I've been involved in and ones my friends have been involved in, communities always consume/complete/burn through content faster than you can make it, when you're doing a narrative-based game... This content generation/consumption/playing asymmetry is, I think, just a fact. But QAnon "solved" it by being able to co-opt all content that already exists and, like I say above, encourages and allows you to create new content that counts and is fair play in-the-game...
  • In actual-game alternate reality games, we have to work inside the frame of the game (sometimes we have a little space outside) to create suspension of disbelief, to get you to buy into "what if this was real"... But when you have people "outside the game" in the wider world who explicitly say & acknowledge "when we act, we create reality", the rules for a massively multiplayer conspiracy theory game change. Players are allowed to add their UGC.
  • I said I'm terrified because I don't know how you beat this. I guess I do know how you can slow it down, and one way is by using the tactic we did in 2000. Aggressively moderate & deplatform. Shut down forums, FB groups, hashtags. All of it.
  • You're in the midwest. You don't have a great job. The prospects around you are terrible. The government isn't doing anything. There are bills everywhere. But you can be a winner at this game. To me, that's what's terrifying... Its story and hook has been, I don't know, accidentally evolutionarily selected for dispossessed, disadvantaged people.
  • $10^6 question: how do we fight it? You need to fight it with benevolent ideas, but those ideas need to be more rewarding than the existing QAnon rewards against each player axis. I think those genuine rewards are hard to find in late-capitalism... You fight it with a robust social safety net program. That's it. People are scared this "game" is meeting their needs in a collectively societally destructive way. Fund social services not police services. Black lives matter.

Russell Quinn asks Can we design an ARG that involves reading through peer-reviewed papers and expressing empathy toward others and systemic injustice and… why not… daily meditation?

  • Adrian responds: I’ve spent the last decade making AR things like @zombiesrungame which has helped 9 million people keep physically and mentally healthy, so I’d say: yes, but it ain’t easy... Most of the time this doesn’t work and people just stop playing your annoyingly hard game, but Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Dwarf Fortress, and other deliciously complex games use it to their advantage. (I also pointed out Adrian's Guide to Greatness.) Adrian: Makes me wonder if we should fund or subsidise “healthy ARGs”. There’s precedent for other media... Over a decade ago, I wrote about DARPA’s research into the capabilities of the hive mind via their “Red Balloon” DARPA Network Challenge. There’s even a 4chan mention!
  • see (2010-03-15) Hon Games Can't Change World

This feels like a promising frame. Remember, QAnon is not a designed/managed game, it's a mostly emergent mess. Can't we make (our) real world game more fun/engaging than theirs?

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