The gamification of fascism

Yet another 8chan-embedded fascist killer with a manifesto. As before, it is extremely referential, drenched in memetic content, Easter eggs, lulz-craving deep cuts designed to get the '/b/tards' cackling, and the performative 'high score'-seeking detachment of the first player shooter. This shooting, an antisemitic assault, was intended to be bloodier, and it was intended to be livestreamed. To that extent it was 'inspired' by the Islamophobic Christchurch massacre. As the author of that massacre sought. As one fascist anon put it at the time, that massacre was "possibly the most powerful meme we have ever had: the shooting video". 

The growing number of 'lone wolf' killers is not surprising. This has been a discernible trend since the turn of the millennium (my essay in the upcoming Salvage discusses this). What is surprising, and what is more recent, is that these killers have an avid, exultant audience, an enthusiastic-yet-detached internet claque. These murders produce evident collective pleasure for "an online community of the lone-wolfish." This is the trend that I want to ask about.

Who knows if every anon is a 'real' fascist? In a medium, a political tendency and an era characterised by ambiguity, that's impossible to say. The murderers themselves take pains to sediment their otherwise mawkish, Marvel-style race war fantasies with irony, trolling red-herrings and miscues. What is more pertinent is that the memetic pleasures of 'joining in' and 'getting it', as conformist as they are, have undoubtedly been conjoined to the politics of white-supremacy, conspiracy theory, and fascist violence. Some of this can be traced back to the functioning of trolling subcultures. The point of being an 'anon' was that to participate was to partake of a collective glee. One's personal background, concerns, morality, were all unimportant. What mattered was that one behaved in such a way as to fuel the sadistic joy of the whole. As the slogan used to have it: "none of us is as cruel as all of us".

The fact that these killers overtly position themselves as gamers, however, is not irrelevant to the group pleasure at stake. Obviously, gaming is not 'to blame' for these massacres. Nor is it just fascism that is being 'gamified'. As McKenzie Wark suggested well over a decade ago, reality itself is being 'gamified' in the context capitalist cyberspace. But here it has particular salience.  As Alfie Bown puts it in The Playstation Dreamworld, games are "devices that operate us". The HUD interface, rather like the "mask of trolling", takes us into a dreamworld that is not our own. Rather, the dream has been thought up, written and designed for us by others. The choices we make are programmed, but we dream as if the desires staged in the dream were our own. 

We can play Blacklist, where we get to control the movement of a knife in the torture of a captive. Or Call of Duty 2 where, in the role of a CIA agent, we can choose to participate in or spectate at an airport massacre by a Russian terror group. It is not that, in playing these games, we tap into our 'real' desires. Rather, what games teach us, Bown says, is that "there is no true desire buried in our unconscious". All desires are displacements "governed by politics and social norms". This is the ideological power of gaming: like all dreaming, it enables us to experience certain desires as if they were our own. It shows us what we are capable of wanting; it educates desire.

Fascism, as both Trotskyists and Black anticolonialists used to argue, is a distillation of the culture of imperialism. Not just gaming, but cybernetic capital as such, has its origins in the apparatuses of Cold War imperialism. Pentagon technologies gave us the computational capital through which the financialised reorganisation of production processes and workplaces was achieved. Fused with Wall Street, they produced successive digital business models in which the 'free time' of billions of people was radically reconceived as a source of value to be extracted. In this spirit, they are generating new social technologies in which a cyberwar-of-all-against-all is written into the protocols. 

The enduring institutional connections between the military and the producers of videogames is well-known. Many popular games become training devices for soldiers, while the game designers seek authenticity in their games by soliciting the real-world expertise of frontline killers. Expertise that, however immersed in ideology, enables state violence to be turned into a source of value. Notoriously, the first-person-shooter is one of the favourite genres of the military-gaming complex. And one effect of this, as Jamie Woodcock points out in his analysis of gaming, is that the first-person-shooter is profoundly saturated in "the ideology of military conflict and imperialism". 

In this respect, gaming is not different to Hollywood, where the audience's loyalties and sympathies are assumed by convention to be with the US Army, the CIA and so on, against fungible hordes of racialised enemies. The convention is so powerful that it would be disturbing, upsetting, politically charged, were a movie script to assume any other alignment. However, gaming demands more involvement on the part of the gamer, and therefore the social and moral detachment it achieves is greater.

Remember that, while you experience your choices as freely and pleasurably chosen, the game chooses everything for you. It chooses your loyalties, and formulates your political and moral ramifications for violence, in advance. They are automated, built into the game's narrative and protocols. By gamifying the combat situation, it enables you to concentrate on how to 'win' -- and achieve a 'high score' -- without being distracted. This is why military technologies often mimic gaming. So, whatever you think, whatever you personally believe, merely by playing the game you identify as a CIA loyalist ready to massacre hundreds of civilians if it furthers your aims. Because there is only one way to win, and you know what it is: point and shoot.

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