Looking at QAnon Through The Lens of Game Design

Games designer Dan Hon says that QAnon is popular because it works like an alternate reality game.

A few weeks ago, my brother brought up again a theory that’s been around for a while: that QAnon was like the ARGs we’d made and played together. He thought that QAnon was popular partly because doing the time-consuming research understand and contribute to the “QAnon community”, to be QAnon, is enjoyable because it’s active, not passive, like watching TV. This made a lot of sense to me, and it’s part of what’s scaring me about QAnon, too.

Because if you look at QAnon through a lens of game design, it starts to look a lot like behavior I and my fellow game designers have seen amongst ARG players over the last 20 years. Only, clearly, a lot worse. Every single QAnon behavior I’ve seen feels like it’s at least an order of magnitude more intense than ARG player behavior—but uncontrolled, undirected, and unconstrained.

From the outside looking at how people take part in QAnon, there’s a lot of similarities: being a part of QAnon involves doing a lot of independent research. You can imagine the onboarding experience in terms of being exposed to some new phrases, Googling those phrases (which are specifically coded enough to lead to certain websites, and certain information). Finding something out, doing that independent research will give you a dopamine hit. You’ve discovered something, all by yourself. You’ve achieved something. You get to tell your friends about what you’ve discovered because now you know a secret that other people don’t. You’ve done something smart.

We saw this in the games we designed. Players love to be the first person to do something. They love even more to tell everyone else about it.

Read More at Dan Hon Substack

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