American Autumn

From KillCap To WikiSwarms

Gaming and activism combine.
WikiSwarms: Gaming and activism combine

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

Guy Debord, the maverick Situationist philosopher, practiced living as if it were a game because he theorized that doing so could spark a revolutionary upheaval. “The sole thrilling direction remains the fragmentary search for a new way of life” beginning with “systematic provocation” that transforms existence into an “integral, thrilling game,” a 24-year-old Debord asserted in 1955. And in the years following the May ’68 uprising, while he grew increasingly reclusive, Debord privately dedicated himself to inventing Kriegspiel, a military strategy board game.

Half a century later, in practically every domain of human endeavor, whether it be selling cat food or meeting up at a bar or planning an insurrection, an operation is struggling with how to “gamify” itself. A dozen or more recently published books cover the application of gaming to life – from alternate reality game designer Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken to Tom Bissel’s Extra Lives and Tom Chatfield’s Fun Inc. But the one author who really glimpses what the future holds is media theorist McKenzie Wark. In his seminal manifesto, Gamer Theory, published in 2007, Wark makes the profound ontological claim that it is no longer a matter of transforming life into a “thrilling game,” as Debord believed, because life under consumerism has already been gamified.

“Ever get the feeling you’re playing some vast and useless game whose goal you don’t know and whose rules you can’t remember?” asks McKenzie Wark. “You are a gamer whether you like it or not, now that we live in a gamespace that is everywhere and nowhere. As Microsoft says: Where do you want to go today? You can go anywhere in gamespace but you can never leave it.”

If Wark’s proposition is true then every being, from friends to fedoras, has become either a player or a prop in an immersive global game of consumerism in which no matter what we do or how we play, capitalism gains. A bold claim, for sure, but Wark’s argument transcends philosophical quibbling: it offers us a profound way to rethink the future of internet-enabled activism.

The tactical genealogy of nearly every major online activist organization can be traced back to the fortuitous sale in 1997 of a Berkeley, California, gaming and screensaver software company whose flagship product was You Don’t Know Jack, an “irreverent” trivia game. The $13.8m sale of Berkeley Systems made husband-and-wife founders Wes Boyd, a computer programmer, and Joan Blades, a vice president of marketing, overnight millionaires. With an excess of leisure time, they founded MoveOn and brought activism into the digital age.

Within months of its formation, MoveOn established itself as a brilliant pioneer of leveraging the nascent internet to transform everyday people into political activists. MoveOn’s success was arguably due to its unique mixture of the spirit of gaming with activism. By connecting members with each other on a local level, MoveOn built a decentralized, grassroots network capable of pulling off surprising nationwide missions that were fun, game-like … and had a political impact.

In 2003, for example, MoveOn members held voter registration house parties and collectively made 300,000 calls in a single afternoon; volunteers visited the offices of every US senator to voice opposition to the impending war; then, in a stunning kickoff, they organized public peace vigils on every continent and in thousands of small towns … with only six days notice. MoveOn’s website at the time conveyed optimistic exhilaration. Members used an ActionForum to sway the direction of the larger organization by posting suggestions and voting up or down on the ideas of others. Those ideas that achieved a critical mass were then acted on by the group. Powered by digital flows, offline campaigns were going viral and not just at MoveOn: from our small office in Vancouver, Adbusters watched in awe as practically overnight Buy Nothing Day became a global sensation. All of us were getting a taste of what might happen if a vibrant activist community were to emerge from a playful cyberspace.

Today, digital activism has reached adolescence and its adult years look to be more game-like than ever. At Adbusters we’ve got KillCap brewing, an anticonsumerism game built on the simple premise of escalating missions that target the visible signs of consumerism: 10 blackpogs, or in-game experience points, for walking away from Starbucks, 15 for defacing the Golden Arches, and 25 for subverting American Apparel’s patriarchal advertising. Here the proverbial “ladder of engagement” that online campaigners reverently talk about becomes a literal leader-board where the highest rank goes to the most active jammers. The beauty of KillCap is that knowing such an urban game is being played alters one’s perception of the city and what constitutes a political act. A jammed billboard, an anticorporate prank and a capitalist hit with a pie, rather than being seen as isolated events, all become signs that jammers are earning blackpogs in KillCap, an exciting game you’ll also want to play.

KillCap works by appropriating the gamespace of consumerism for radical play where jammed corporations become opportunities for leveling up. But it is just the beginning of a whole new kind of activist game. A clue as to what comes next can be found in the emerging field of indie storytelling and roleplaying games. Here the emphasis is placed on the construction of an alternative reality, a counter-narrative that reimagines life. Picture a roleplaying game that takes place in real life where players become actors in an unfolding story whose final scene is global revolution.

Out there, right now, I anticipate that an eccentric game designer is working to craft precisely this kind of narrative activist game that weaves a story bold enough to disassociate players sufficiently from the mores of consumerism. Once “in character,” perhaps players will find the courage to live without dead time, to assume a heroic posture toward life, to embrace a destined overthrow of the corporatocracy. With a strong story line, compelling characters, sufficient players and an element of playful risk, the game world takes on a life of its own. Played seriously enough it becomes reality.

Combining all of these elements is WikiSwarms, perhaps the most rebellious game of all: one that upgrades the MoveOn ActionForum to the needs of playful social revolution. Imagine flashmobs of jammers that appear suddenly, function without leadership, and are the pure manifestation of an anonymous will of a dispersed, networked collective. Targets are suggested, actions are proposed, manifestos drafted … everything is voted on and next steps chosen within minutes. One hour, neoclassical economics departments across the nation are flooded with Kick It Over manifestos, and the next, an impromptu anti-banker street party is being held on Wall Street. One day, a thousand volunteers show up unexpectedly at a nonprofit and ask to help out for a few hours, and the next, overnight guerrilla gardens appear in backstreets. In the downtown Niketown a flash-trial has convened to sentence the swoosh to death row, and online hacktivists are leaking emails that expose city council shenanigans. In this kind of metagame, where a constant people’s assembly determines the rules and objective of the game, anonymous players vie to influence the erratic swooping of the swarm. Welcome to the thrilling world of WikiSwarms, the culture jammer game being played right now in which the future of the Earth is at stake.

The revolutionary spirits of the future – the next Bakunin, Mao, Malcolm X and Debord – will be the ones who create these kinds of fluid, immersive, evocative metagaming experiences that are both playfully thrilling and, as a natural result of their gameplay, an insurrectionary challenge to the capitalist state. We are not far off from a time when revolution is an unauthorized game modification played across the gamespace of entire cities, states and cultures … a kind of radical play that re-enchants the world and transforms our subjectivity, a détournement of the symbolic order at the deepest level.

Micah White wants to meet the next generation of activist game designers. Email him at [email protected]

20 comments on the article “From KillCap To WikiSwarms”

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A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?


Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?


What is a KillCap?
What are WikiSwarms?
Does anyone know?
Or is it that we just being foolish?
What I know for sure is that we are not going to fix the world this way.
Stop wasting our time.


Anonymous is Rogue CIA everyone knows that. They have all the knowledge and all the resources available to enact whatever agenda they choose to pursue. This agenda is not rooted in serving the elites and wearing freemason rings, although we like to believe that. Instead it is about bringing the worlds nations under American hegemony to enact new paradigms of civilization in order to unify our earth for the purposes of being an intergalactic entity at play in the greater reaches beyond our solar system. Indeed their will eventually be a staged alien intervention, a mass spectacle along with never before seen technologies which have been reverse engineered from alien knowledge. We as normal people along with the wealthy elites are not privy to this information, we only get to see the spectacle and be ushered into new paradigms of human nature, the purpose being to unify our species, as the existence of alien civilizations is without a doubt. The extent of their incursions into our world are clouded by what information we will be tailored to know. Too much truth can shock people, like Orson Wells War of the Worlds radio broadcast, causing mass hysteria and panic. This event will be specially crafted like the moon landing to inspire hope and a collective vision and new mythos. We are meant to enter a new era of understanding, of course their will still be war and conflict among people, but we will see the deep horizon beyond the oil. Its better that we be manipulated in this way, otherwise people will run around in hysteria with their guns shouting like morons and killing each other because they just wouldn't be able to integrate this type of information without traumatic reaction to it. Its tragic but its human nature. Probably these things will happen within our lifetimes after the skirmishes with the Chinese and Russians ( All out Harmonic Resonance warfare using modified eldritch technologies which manipulate weather and cause 'natural disasters' under the guise of 'climate change')

" Volcano's erupt in China today completely inexplicable, scientists are baffled blame climate change, now back to entertainment with gay news correspondent who talks only about fashion and where we can buy it" * people at home change channel and drink beers to watch sports programming whilst asserting their awesome dominance.

The CIA is the brain. Im sure they have some bright young individuals working their who have greater insights than say former director George Bush would have, as he topped out at Mr. Burns impressions and gettn' oil. I'm sure they are thinking outside the box, beyond the sphere. Otherwise with this type of short sighted ignorant cold war thinking, we will be buried in debt, radioactive fallout, and swaths of brainwashed militarized zombies crushing what is left of our American dreams. Which is really the ability to think freely and make the future into what we want it to be. Even if we had a mass democracy that was digital where everyone voted, there would be no shortage of stupid people to wreck the whole fucking process. A loose confederacy of talented and intelligent individuals is probably allot more effective of an organization than millions of marching people venting their rage and frustrations. Its not just about economics and these old arguments about class warfare, there is a shift occurring and no one person or group or entire species has a grip on what exactly that is. Chaos theory applies to any system and organization, applies to everything which exists in tangible and intangible form. This is what drives evolution and ingenuity, this is what drives revolution, expanding the context and re-envisioning over and over again, and even when something is working perfectly their are always more variables unaccounted for and its only a matter of time before a stable plateau gives way to tumultuous motion. Through history and time, this is the nature of the process. The more secure and closed a system becomes, the more chances for exploitation. This is why hackers will always be ahead of the game, because they see the architecture of the digital gestalt, and can remake it at their will.


The NYtimes seems to be opening up


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