Dangerous Games: ARGs, Social Media Platforms and Participatory Propaganda

Abstract (in English): 

Video games and their associated forms stand as the most lucrative entertainment sector on the planet, dominating other forms of visual media in dollars generated annually. In the proposed paper, adapted from a dissertation chapter, I will draw upon my experience as a game designer to illuminate the increasingly dire ways that various actors in the political sphere – from online trolls all the way to world leaders – have combined the language and techniques borne from the industrial practices of game design with the power of social media and other online communication platforms to produce new forms of disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theory. In this paper, I will trace the history of a specific form of game – the Alternate Reality Game (ARG), from its early literary history in 1903 to its modern incarnations. Subsequently, by harnessing lessons from my own work developing ARGs for the 2016 video game Frog Fractions 2 and the 2020 film Dared My Best Friend, I will examine how closely the principles employed during ARG marketing campaign have been in similar use in American politics since the 2016 American presidential campaign, culminating in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capital. I will discuss how modern totalitarian systems will almost certainly continue to refine and deploy these strategies in the future as a new, dangerous form of propaganda: one that lives primarily in online discussion platforms and, much like the narrative of an ARG, is constructed both unwittingly and collaboratively by the targets of the propaganda themselves. Finally, I utilize my experience both as a designer and online community manager to address how, especially during COVID-19 quarantine, these emerging risks can be combated as the daily intersection of digital and analogue worlds continue to merge ever closer.

(Source: Author's own abstract)


ELO 2021: Ethics of Digital Environments, 27 May 2021

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Lene Tøftestuen