A research & intervention project about conspiracy fantasies in a gamified capitalist world
CONSPIRACY GAMES AND COUNTER GAMES is an interview-driven podcast launched in June of 2021.
We explore the rise of conspiracies, conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking in a gamified capitalist world.
Conspiracy Games and Countergames is the second season of The Order of Unmanageable Risks.
You can listen to the first season, which focused on capitalism and anxiety, here.
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For 15 years Brent Lee not only believed in conspiracy theories but helped produce and popularize them. Today, he warns others about both the danger and the appeal of conspiratorial world-building.
We have been taught to imagine that people fall into the proverbial “rabbit hole” because of isolation, idiocy and paranoia. But in this interview, Brent explains how he and many others came to it from through critical thinking, skepticism towards the operations of social power and empathy with those who were suffering.
We explore with him why he stayed in the conspiracy world thanks, in part, to the sense of righteous community it provided. And we cover how the right-wing weaponization of conspiracy theories in the mid-2010s triggered Brent’s exit from the community. Today, motivated by contrition for what he helped create and compassion for those who, like him, are taken in, he dedicates his time to helping those inside and outside conspiracy worlds understand and challenge them.
Brent Lee, a former conspiracist who now seeks to challenge and reveal the lures and dangers of conspiracism, maintains a blog and a YouTube channel and can often be found on Twitter. His new podcast Some Dare Call it Conspiracy, dedicated to reverse-engineering conspiracy theories, launched in June 2022.
How do today’s videogames inherit and reiterate colonial ideologies, tropes and ways of seeing the world? Can such games be played “against the grain” in ways that defy the colonial script? We speak with Souvik Mukherjee.
Dr Souvik Mukherjee is assistant professor in Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta, India. Souvik’s research looks at the narrative and the literary through the emerging discourse of videogames as storytelling media and at how these games inform and challenge our conceptions of narratives, identity and culture, especially in Postcolonial contexts. Souvik is the author of two monographs, Videogames and Storytelling: Reading Games and Playing Books (Palgrave Macmillan 2015) and Videogames and Postcolonialism: Empire Plays Back (Springer UK 2017). He is also the co-editor (with Dr Emil Hammar) of the special issue ‘Postcolonial Perspectives in Videogames’. Souvik was named a ‘DiGRA Distinguished Scholar’ in 2019 by the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA)
with Clare Birchall and Peter Knight
The line separating conspiracy theories from “legitimate” political discourse or critical theory is far from sharp. Renowned scholars Peter Knight and Clare Birchall join us to to reveal what’s at stake and the broader (neoliberal capitalist) context.
Clare Birchall is Reader in Contemporary Culture at King’s College London. She is the author of Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip and Radical Secrecy: The Ends of Transparency in Datafied America. With Peter Knight, she is writing a book on Covid-19 conspiracy theories, which is the result of a one year AHRC grant on the topic.
Peter Knight is professor of American Studies at the University of Manchester. His research is on conspiracy theories, and the economic humanities. He is the author of Conspiracy Culture (2000), The Kennedy Assassination (2007), and Reading the Market (2016). He is editor of Conspiracy Nation (2002), Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia (2004), and The Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories (2020). He directed the EU-funded Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories network, and a project funded by the AHRC on conspiracy theories and the pandemic. He is currently leading “Everything Is Connected,” an AHRC-funded team project examining how conspiracy theories have changed in the age of the internet.
The left’s relationship with games… is “complicated.” We’re joined by labour organizer, YouTuber, writer and teacher Marijam Didžgalvytė to explain why, and what can be done about it.
Marijam Didžgalvytė, the force behind Left Left Up, is a creator of content at the intersection between videogames and politics. She lectures at the Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Marketing Executive at a Bafta-winning games studio. Didžgalvytė has helped form both the British and International chapters of the game unionisation movement and organizes antifascist gaming events. She has been shortlisted for GamesIndusty.biz’s 100 Women in Games 2019 and was nominated Campaigner of the Year at MCV UK Awards 2019. Her writing has been commissioned for publications including Vise, the Guardian, Kotaku and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and she ha sconsulted for Tate, V & A Galleries, Birkbeck, the European Humanities University and Indiecade.
We explore the possibility of anti-capitalist games and what’s behind today’s conspiracy movements.
Paolo Pedercini is a game developer, curator and educator. He teaches digital media production and experimental game design at the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. Since 2003 he works under the project name “Molleindustria” producing provocative games addressing issues of social and environmental justice, religion, and labor and sexuality.
Paolo is the director of LIKELIKE, a neo-arcade devoted to independent games and playful art in Pittsburgh, PA.
We’re joined by Keir Milburn joins us to talk about the rise of the cosmic right and their conspiritual weirdness, as well as the fate of the acid left and the role of games in revolutionary movements.
Keir Milburn is a longtime political activist from the UK. He spent over a decade teaching political economy and organization but now works on municipalism, economic democracy and political economy for the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. His most recent book is Generation Left. He is a member of the Red Plenty Games Collective and co-hosts the #ACFM podcast on Novara Media.
Ruth and Marc of Furtherfield join us to talk about the connections between art, games and revolutions in everyday life and technology.
Furtherfield disrupts and democratises art and technology through exhibitions, labs & debate, for deep exploration, open tools & free thinking and is London’s longest-running (de)centre for art and technology whose mission is to disrupt and democratise through deep exploration, open tools and free-thinking.
Ruth Catlow is its co-founding artistic director and has spent 20 years exploring games, and more recently Live Action Role Play as a way of engaging people’s imaginations and expertise across silos, around emerging technologies and the wicked social and political problems they give rise to or intensify. Catlow is the founder of DECAL Decentralised Arts Lab crowdsourcing R&D by leading artists, using blockchain and web 3.0 technologies for fairer, more dynamic and connected cultural ecologies and economies. She is also PI at the Blockchain Lab at the Serpentine Galleries R&D Platform.
Marc Garrett is a co-founder of Furtherfield ho has curated over 60 contemporary Media Art exhibitions and projects in the UK and internationally. He is recently the co-editor of the books Artists Re: thinking the Blockchain, State Machines: Reflections and Actions at the Edge of Digital Citizenship, Finance, and Art and Frankenstein Reanimated: Art and Life in the 21st Century.
An eclectic conversation with Aleena Chia about the labour of fans, the joys of rabbit-holing, con/spirituality communities and the importance of democratic engagement.
Aleena Chia is Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University and incoming Lecturer of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. She researches cultures of creativity such as automation in digital game production, lucid dreaming in Consciousness Hacking communities of practice, and wellness ideologies in social media disconnection. She is co-author of TechnoPharmacology (University of Minnesota Press/ Meson Press, forthcoming) and has published in journals such as the Journal of Fandom Studies and Television and New Media.
A feminist care conspiracy? An artwork transmogrified into a world-wide secret society? A free anti-capitalist social technology? A revolutionary pyramid scheme?
Cassie Thornton shares The Hologram project: a feminist, peer-to-peer social technology for collective health and rebellion.
Cassie Thornton is an artist and activist who makes a “safe space” for the unknown, for disobedience, and for unanticipated collectivity. She uses social practices including institutional critique, insurgent architecture, and “healing modalities” like hypnosis and yoga to find soft spots in the hard surfaces of capitalist life. Cassie has invented a grassroots alternative credit reporting service for the survivors of gentrification, has hypnotized hedge fund managers, has finger-painted with the grime found inside banks, has donated cursed paintings to profiteering bankers, and has taught feminist economics to yogis (and vice versa). Her book, The Hologram: Feminist, Peer-to-Peer Health for a Post-Pandemic Future, is available from Pluto Press. She is currently the co-director of RiVAL: Re-Imagining Value Action Lab in Thunder Bay, an art and social centre at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada.
A wide-ranging conversation with acclaimed and bestselling author, essayist and podcaster Hari Kunzru centring on his 2020 novel Red Pill.
Born in London, Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels The Impressionist, Transmission, My Revolutions, Gods Without Men, and White Tears, as well as a short story collection, Noise and a novella, Memory Palace. His new novel Red Pill was published in September 2020. He is an honorary fellow of Wadham College Oxford, and has received fellowships from the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library, the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy in Berlin. He is the host of the podcast Into The Zone. He also occasionally writes for Harper’s, recently about conspiracy theories. He lives in New York City.
We are caught between two wars of restoration: the far-right, seeking to return us to a fabled past and a liberal capitalist “centre” demanding more business as usual. Between these two, dark new “conspiracy theories” breed, especially among men, which reinforce the worst of patriarchy, with deadly effect…
Jack Bratich is professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the Rutgers School of Communications and Information. His research focuses on themes including the interface of political culture and popular culture, conspiracy panics, surveillance, journalism, activism, and the production of truth. He is author of Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and Popular Culture (2008).
with El Jones
How have governments and other powerful forces conspired against Black people in “North America” since the colonial invasion? How are fears about conspiracy theorizies displaced onto Black and racialized people? How do we separate the real conspiratorial functions of power from dangerous conspiracy fantasies?
El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor and abolitionist activist living in K’jipuktuk (Halifax, Canada). She is a two-time Canadian national spoken word champion and served as Halifax’s poet laureate from 2013-15. She is author of Live From the Afrikan Resistance.
Board games for social movements
We speak to Brian van Slyke of the TESA Collective about how board games have become an important part of the social movement ecosystem and what it takes to design a game that contributes to today’s struggles for racial, social and economic justice.
The TESA Collective is a 10-year old worker cooperative that designs and manufactures games for social movements. Their most recent game, “STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion,” builds on a long legacy including “Space Cats Fight Fascism”, “Rise Up: The Game of People & Power”, and “Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.” Brian Van Slyke is a co-founder, lead designer and head of games for the collective.
Conspiracism as Dangerous Play
with Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou, A.T. Kingsmith and Max Haiven
Is it wise to approach today’s rise in conspiracy fantasies as a form of dangerous play? The Conspiracy Games and Countergames team (Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou, A.T. Kingsmith and Max Haiven) kick off the inaugural session of RiVAL: The ReImagining Value Action Lab’s 2021 Summer Institute. They discuss anxiety, financialization and the game they’re working on: DEEP STATE.
Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou is Associate Professor of Sociology at University College London, where he leads the Sociology and Social Theory Research Group. He is the author of Speculative Communities: Living with Uncertainty in a Financialized World (University of Chicago Press, 2021). His current book project, tentatively titled Winning in the Real Fake, is an intellectual history of conspiracy in finance capitalism.
A.T. Kingsmith is PhD Candidate in the Department of Politics at York University and Co-founder of EiQ Technologies, an emotion-AI start-up based out of the Design Fabrication Zone in the Creative Innovation Studio at Ryerson University. His forthcoming monograph, Anxiety as a Weapon: An Affective Approach to Political Economy, explores new modes for transforming the mental health landscape.
Max Haiven is Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice and co-director of the ReImagining Value Action Lab (RiVAL) at Lakehead University. His recent books include Revenge Capitalism: The Ghosts of Empire, the Demons of Capital, and the Settling of Unpayable Debts and Art After Money, Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization.
Transformative Gaming & the Lessons of Play
Rebecca Rouse joins us to discuss the use and misuse of empathy in games and the ways games and gaming can be profound platforms for individual and social transformation.
Rebecca Rouse, PhD is a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Game Development at the University of Skövde, Sweden. Rouse’s research focuses on both the history and practice of storytelling with new technologies. Rouse creates projects for museums, heritage sites, interactive installation, movable books, and theatrical performance, all with the thread of investigating and inventing new modes of storytelling, as well as accompanying historical research into connections of today’s emerging media with technologies of the past.
Neoliberal Feelings Don't Care about Your Facts
Writer an activist Marcus Gilroy-Ware explores how conspiratorial thinking thrives in a digital neoliberal world where truth is sold to the highest bidder and where alienation is rampant.
Marcus Gilroy-Ware is a writer and scholar-activist who is focused on understanding how people learn about the world they live in through media. His work draws connections between a variety of fields, from political economy, to psychology, to journalism studies, to theorise the status of information in the late-capitalist public sphere. He is senior lecturer in digital media at UWE Bristol and author of Filling the Void: Emotion, Capitalism and Social Media (2017) and After the Fact: The Truth about Fake News (2020)
The Muslims are (Still) Coming! & Other Fantasies
Writer and activist Arun Kundnani helps us unpack over two decades of Islamophobic conspiracy fantasies of the War on Terror and think about radical responses to a world of neoliberal warlordism.
Arun Kundnani writes about racial capitalism and Islamophobia, surveillance and political violence, and Black radical movements. He is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror (Verso, 2014) and The End of Tolerance: racism in 21st century Britain (Pluto, 2007), which was selected as a New Statesman book of the year. He has written for the Nation, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Vice, and The Intercept.
Vulnerable games and queer controllers
Game designer, writer and researcher Jess Rowan Marcotte joins us to discuss the importance of community, connection and queerness in game design.
Jess Rowan Marcotte (they/them) is a queer mixed white-passing Mi’kmaw game designer, writer, maker and Doctor of Philosophy (Critical Interaction Design, Individualized Program). Their work focuses on interactive experiences of all sorts. They are the lead co-organizer of the Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon) and one-third of Soft Chaos, a worker’s co-op that designs intimate, vulnerable interactive experiences. Their most recent solo work includes TRACES, a hybrid game about trans experiences and time travel, and UNLOCK. UNPACK., exploring carry-on suitcases, puzzles, and written messages as tools for creating intimacy between strangers who may never meet face to face.
Episodes 01 and 02
The Q in qonspiracy
Narrative, games and other conspiracies
In the first of our two-part interview, Wu Ming collective member 1 discusses his new book La Q di Qomplotto (The Q in Qonspiracy: How Conspiracy Fantasies Defend the System).
In the conclusion of our two-part interview, Wu Ming 1 discusses the power of narrative and games in driving conspiracy fantasies and the forms of activism that have risen to confront a system that gives rise to them.
Wu Ming 1 is an original and ongoing member of the Wu Ming collective, which was founded in Bologna in 2000 and has, since that time, published several collaboratively written novels including 54, Manituana, Altai, The Army of Sleepwalkers, and The Invisible Everywhere, which have been translated into many languages.
Wu Ming evolved out of the experimental collective project Luther Blisset whose famous 1999 novel Q focused on conspiracies of liberation and of repression during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
More recently, that novel and the Wu Ming Collective have been the subject of a great deal of speculation around the rise of the QAnon conspiracy fantasy. Regarding that, Wu Ming 1 has just published a book in Italian, La Q di Qomplotto (The Q in Qonspiracy: How Conspiracy Fantasies Defend the System), which presents a highly original and important analysis of the genesis and dangers of this strange hallucination.
This is a research and intervention project about the role of conspiratorial thinking in a gamified era of digital capitalism.
Led by Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou, A. T. Kingsmith and Max Haiven, its activities include producing a podcast, organizing events (seminars, talks, conferences), sustaining a network of researchers, journalists, activists and game designers, developing and studying (counter)games and acts as a platform for text and media publishing.
Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice
A. T. Kingsmith
Political economist, emotion-AI and mental health researcher
Political sociologist at University College London
We are in the process of developing a global network of scholars, journalists, artists, game designer and other interested people wishing to discuss the connection between conspiratorialism, gamification and capitalism. If you are interested, please get in touch at inquiries [at] conspiracy.games
Ongoing and upcoming
The project team is working on an interactive board game tentatively titled DEEP STATE to help players explore the lure of conspiracy fantasy. If you are interested in the game, or want to help us playtest it, please contact us at deepstate [at] conspiracy.games
Max Haiven, A.T. Kingsmith and Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou.
Conspiratorialism as Dangerous Play in an age of Technofinance: From the GameStop Hunger Games to the Capitol Hill Jamboree. [Academic article]
In TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies 45: pp. 102-32. 2022.
Paywalled, but you can read a perliminary version here.
Max Haiven, A.T. Kingsmith and Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou.
Whither Harmony Square?: Conspiracy Games in Late Capitalism [public essay]
In the Los Angeles Review of Books, November 13, 2021.
Max Haiven, A.T. Kingsmith, and Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou.
An interview with Wu Ming 1 about the Qanon conspiracy fantasy, collective creativity, and the (ab)uses of enchantment.
In Theory, Culture, and Society. In production. 2023.
You can read a preliminary version here and listen to the two-part interview here and here.